I've been studying the Bible a lot, but I feel stuck. How can I truly grow in my faith?

When people are around you, do they get glimpses of God? Or do they just see a lot of knowledge?

First Corinthians 8:1-3 says, "Now concerning food offered to idols, we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know, but if anyone loves God, he is known by God."

The issue Paul is talking about is that of eating food offered to idols. A lot of the Corinthians had come out of a pagan background where they spent their lives worshiping these idols. To the best of my knowledge, the reason there was controversy over eating the meat that had been offered to idols was because some of the Corinthians believed that demons actually inhabited this meat. They believed that the idol would actually cleanse the meat of those demons. To eat the meat, now inhabited by their god or idol was an act of worship.

Some of the more mature believers in Corinth recognized that, really, there was no such thing as an idol—an idol was not really God—so eating the meat from the idols was no big deal. But so many others still felt in their consciences that eating that meat was almost like idol worship. The Bible says the attitudes of the more mature believers wounded the consciences of the newer believers. Paul's point in writing to them about the whole thing was to say, "Yes, you're right in that those idols aren't really God. But that's not the point. The point is that you more mature believers are not thinking about those younger in the faith.

I love what Paul says in verse 13. He says, "If food makes my brother stumble, I'll never eat meat again, lest I make my brother stumble." Paul is saying that he loves his brother so much that he'd go vegan if he had to! Eating meat was just not that big of deal to him in light of the love he had for his brother. He says in verse 11, "By your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died." If that's not enough, he goes on to say, "When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ."

We admire Paul for so many things—his theology, his understanding of God—but I love Paul just as much for his love for people. You can see this love throughout his writings. Probably the most powerful statement he makes is in Romans 9: "I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying. My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh."

When I read that, I think, That's impossible. I care for people, but I can't imagine ever making a statement like that. Can he really mean that?

But he starts the passage saying, "I'm speaking the truth, I'm not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit." He anticipates that I'm not going to believe him, that love that extreme could not be real! But he's telling us the truth. And he says he has this "unceasing anguish" in his heart for those he loves who are lost. Does that describe how you feel about those you love?

Love is better than knowledge
First John 4:12, says, "No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us." Somehow we're supposed to embody God's love. John says that no one here has ever seen him. But if we love one another, God abides in us. If we could love each other the way God wanted us to, someone who doesn't even know God, who has never seen him, should be able to walk into this room and see the love of God. As Christ embodied God in the flesh, we are now that incarnation of God. People aren't going to see God, but if we would love each other the way God called us to, they would see God's love in us, and they would actually get a glimpse of him.

At the beginning of this passage concerning food offered to idols, Paul says, "We all know that 'We all possess knowledge.'" He's referring to their own attitude about the knowledge they have. He calls them out on it: "But knowledge puffs up while love builds up." Paul isn't saying that having knowledge is bad; he's talking about the attitude of the people—how they seem to be saying, "Come on, everyone knows there's no such things as idols." Their attitude is prideful, not loving.

Paul affirms that these more mature believers are right: "We know that 'An idol is nothing at all in the world' and that 'There is no God but one,'" but he goes on to say that not everyone has that knowledge. Some people aren't there yet, which is why their consciences are still pricked by eating food offered to idols. Paul says to the mature believers: Be mindful of where your brother is. Don't be puffed up with your knowledge of the truth.

John MacArthur once said regarding this passage, "Knowledge is essential, but it's not sufficient." That's why Paul says in chapter 13, the famous love passage, "If I have prophetic powers and I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing." Knowledge is important, but it's not enough, because knowledge without love amounts to nothing. That means some of you could be brilliant and worthless. It's like being a great basketball player, never missing a shot, but you always shoot at the wrong basket. Paul is saying here, "Look, you're so brilliant, but you're killing the team. You're not building up the brothers; you're making them feel dumb. You're wounding their consciences; you're not stirring them up to love and good deeds." He goes on to say, "By your knowledge, this weak person is destroyed."

Sometimes I'll read comments that Christians leave on other Christians' blogs, or Tweets about an article or something, and some of the things people say burdens me. I can't believe some of the stuff Christians will say, and I wonder, How is that comment supposed to build this person up, or anyone else who read it? I thought we weren't supposed to let any of these unwholesome words come out of our mouths or out of our fingers.

Joni Eareckson Tada is one of my heroes. Joni's been a paraplegic for over 40 years now, and she's started some amazing ministries. When we got together a few months ago, she had to leave because she was experiencing so much physical pain. I didn't realize that as a paraplegic she would feel that kind of pain, but she does, and it's so hard to see. Recently, Joni found out she has breast cancer, and she started chemo treatments, which have really wiped her out. Then a couple weeks ago, we found out she got pneumonia. I don't understand why all of this would happen to her. And while she had pneumonia, she wrote me a letter encouraging me to stay strong. She wrote, "Francis, I love you as a brother. You stay strong in the faith. I believe in what you're doing."

I'm thinking, Are you kidding me? How can you be thinking about anyone else? When I just have the flu I'm only thinking of me. But Joni's constantly thinking of other people. That's humility, right?

Humility is not self-degradation. Because putting yourself down is still all about you and about self. Humility is about thinking of others, considering others more important than yourself. When I read Joni's letter, I just cried out to God, "God, make me like that. I want to be focused on eternity. I want to focus on building up those who are discouraged."

When talking about the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, Paul says, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." God didn't gift you for you. He gifted you for us. You've got to be constantly thinking, How can I build up the people around me?

In verse 2 of chapter 8, Paul says, "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know." This is after he says, "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up." What does that tell you? These people with all this knowledge really didn't know anything. In God's eyes, he says, it's not real knowledge. If it was real knowledge, they would be using their knowledge to love. That's true knowledge in God's eyes. That's a person who really gets it. Paul says that if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

He doesn't say that if you know a bunch of information about God, you are known by God. It's when you love God—when you don't just understand truths about him, but you actually love him—that's when he knows you. It has everything to do with love. It's about relationship.

One of my favorite verses is Galatians 4:9, where Paul says, "Now that you have come to know God," and then it's almost like he breaks his thought, "—or rather are known by God."

I love that. To be known by God. There's such a big difference between those two thoughts. That means right now in heaven there's a sovereign being sitting on his throne, and the angels are covering themselves and crying out, "Holy, holy, holy." This God dwells in unapproachable light, yet if someone could enter his gates and say, "God Almighty, do you know Francis?" God would look down and say, "Man, Francis, I love him. Francis is my son. I love him. I know him." The creator of everything, the all-powerful one, knows me. Despite all the junk that was in my life, God sent Jesus to pay for all of it. This God listens to my prayers; he listens to the desires of my heart. He knows me.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, "Thus says the Lord, 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows me'" Want to brag about something? Brag about the fact that God knows you. Brag about the fact that you know God.

Love makes us like Christ
Maybe you've been studying the life of Christ and the statements of Christ, and you've been thinking hard about Christ for years. But does your life look anything like his? Can you say like Paul was able to say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ"? Based on the way you are living, do people want to imitate your love for others?

A lot of people can talk. A lot of people have knowledge. In Hebrews 13:7, it says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." Do you look like Jesus? Do you act like Jesus? Do you love like Jesus? Do you love like Paul?

You might know so much about the Bible, but at the end of the day, do your actions make people say, "Being with you is like what being with Jesus must have been like"? Do you love people so much that it hurts? That you sacrifice? Wasn't that supposed to be the goal of all this knowledge we have of Christ? That we become more like him? As I thought about all this, I prayed, "Lord, that's what I want. I don't want to be the best speaker in the world. That doesn't matter. I don't want to be the most intelligent person on the planet. That's not what I want to be known for. I want to be known for someone saying, 'Wow, he's a lot like Jesus.'"

I just don't want anyone one of us to be fooled. It's great that we've thought so hard about Jesus, but my prayer is that this becomes true, inner knowledge and that we actually become like him. My prayer is that our knowledge doesn't make us arrogant, where we just show off what we know. My prayer is that we try to love and build up everyone we come in contact with, that we would think, How can I lift this person up with the knowledge I have?

That's my prayer for you and for me. Let us truly believe and live out what we say. Jesus is our great Savior, but he's more than that. May our lives be conformed to his, so that when people look at us, they see Christ; and when people see us loving one another, they see who God is.

Adapted from "Think Hard, Stay Humble," by Francis Chan, Preachingtoday.com. Click here to read the original sermon and for download information.

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