1 Corinthians 8:3


Monday, 18 August 2014

But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. 1 Corinthians 8:3

This verse completes the parenthetical phrase which began in 8:1. In this, one might expect Paul to say, “But if anyone loves God, that person knows Him.” However, this would only lead to more ego within an already puffed up church. It is possible to know God in a general sense, but it is impossible for a finite man to know the infinite God in His fullness. And so he uses the passive “is known by Him” rather than the active “knows Him.” He states the same type of thought in 2 Timothy 2:19 – “The Lord knows those who are His…”

Such nuances in communication  are essential to recognize. An important thought which requires understanding the nuance of what is being said is found in 1 John 4:8 –

“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

John says that “God is love” but this cannot be turned around to say “love is God.” There is a definite article in front of God – “the God.” God is not limited to love, but it is a definition of His character that we can understand. Again, Paul uses this same type of wording in Galatians 4:9 as when he says, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God…” It is true that the Galatians (and the Corinthians) “know God” but it is only in a limited way.

Understanding this then we can then apply what Paul is relaying to the context of the rest of the parenthetical statement. He is using what is known as a metalepsis for us to grasp his intent. A metalepsis is a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase is used in a new context. A good example of this is, “I need to go and catch a worm tomorrow.” This leads to the common expression that “The early bird catches the worm.” This means to get an early start on the day and thus to be successful in whatever endeavor is intended. The subject “I” in the first phrase is compared to the subject “early bird” in the next.

He is substituting “love” with “knowledge” in order to show that love is the principle thought in that which edifies. In our love of God, we are “known by Him.” Such should be the case in our love of others then. The main subject of this chapter is “food sacrificed to idols” as mentioned in verse 1. We can have completely accurate knowledge about the subject and yet err in our handling of it. If we fail to act in love towards others (who have less knowledge than we do) in the use of our knowledge, then we will fall short of what God expects.

As Barnes notes on this topic, “…a man should not be guided in his contact with others by mere knowledge, however great that may be; but that a safer and better principle was ‘love, charity,’ … whether exercised toward God or man. Under the guidance of this, man would be in little danger of error. Under the direction of mere knowledge he would never be sure of a safe guide.”

It was important for Paul to include this parenthesis at the beginning in order to establish the truth that knowledge is no substitute for love, but love mixed with knowledge is necessary to complete the picture in the guidance he will present.

Life application: The subtle nuances of how words are used in Scripture are important to pay attention to. When we grasp what is being relayed, we can then act on the matter appropriately. Love is necessary when exhibiting knowledge on a matter in order to ensure that the weaker in knowledge isn’t further weakened in his faith. Having said this, no matter how delicately one handles an issue, people will almost always find offense in religious and political dialogue. Eventually, one can “love” another to the point where nothing at all can be said. This is a trap the Christian must also avoid.

Heavenly Father, I am very passionate about Your word, including the right application of every detail. I’m also passionate about other things, such as politics, adhering to set laws, etc. Because of how I perceive these things, I am zealous to express my beliefs, but I would ask that You help me to exercise what I believe in a charitable yet firm way. Give me the ability to balance right thoughts with amiability towards others, but without giving up on an inch of what is right in Your eyes. This is surely a gift which can only come from You, and so I ask for such wisdom today. Amen.

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