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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 8

Verse 1

THE MORE EXCELLENT GIFT

‘Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.’

1 Corinthians 8:1

The Apostle does not mean to depreciate either scientific or religious knowledge, but there is in the text a caution as regards the use and abuse of knowledge. He points out the defectiveness of knowledge alone as our counsellor in life.

I. Wherein and why is it that knowledge alone is thus imperfect in teaching us how to govern ourselves, whether as regards our own life or as regards others? The Apostle tells us it is because it ‘puffeth up,’ that is to say, because knowledge tends, if unsanctified and untempered by love, to generate and foster in us the vice of pride; and if so it generates and fosters in us just those two qualities, or rather those two faults, which most unfit men to judge of the affairs of life. One is selfishness and the other short-sighted ignorance. That which we despise we cannot understand; and when we despise in the pride of our knowledge any thing or any person, be sure of this, that we are profoundly ignorant of that thing or that person.

II. How is it that love edifies, as distinguished from a merely scornful ‘knowledge which puffeth up’? Love edifies, that is to say, it builds up perfectly the whole man; secures an entire, an harmonious and proportionate development of his nature. It does so by casting out that selfishness in man, that self-worship which always leads to a diseased and one-sided growth of his nature. Have you ever noted, and even smiled at it as you have noted, the wonderful humility of love, how it is the nature of the heart that loves to prostrate itself, as it were, before the creature that it loves, and to invest that creature with a thousand graces and a thousand excellences that it may be none other sees in it. But if this love be in us not merely the human passion with its deep tenderness and self-sacrifice, which reaches to so small a portion of society; but if it be the Divine gift of love, if it be that love which bringing us first into the presence of the all-loving Father, teaches us to contemplate all His perfections and to lay ourselves in lowliness in the very dust beneath His feet, and which teaches us next for His sake to honour and love every one of the children of His creation; then that love, and that alone, teaches us the deepest lesson of humility, teaches us to know that we have nothing that we have not received, and to glory in the fact that we have received it, and that we are nothing but what the common Father has made us; teaches us, in lowliness of heart, each to estimate others better than himself; teaches us to honour the humanity for which Christ died, in which Christ became incarnate; teaches us to see in every human brother in Christ the glorious lineage and descent from the eternal Father, and the infinite capabilities of the being that has been redeemed by the Eternal Son.

III. Because knowledge unsanctified and untempered with love and the humility which love brings, puffs up, we desire not that knowledge may be diminished, but that love may be increased. We would not check in the very slightest degree if we could—and we could not if we would—the rising tide of knowledge; but we have no fear that it can ever reach into those regions of our being in which love dwells. Know all things you can know; advance as far as it is possible for each one of you to advance in the knowledge that enlightens, but with this knowledge join love, learn to trust, learn to believe, learn to love, and then, however far you may have advanced in human knowledge, you will with it, equally and in proportion, advance in that truer, in that deeper, love, which consists in the knowledge of your own hearts and souls, in the knowledge of God, and in the fear and love of Him which is eternal life.

—Archbishop Magee.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

LOVE BUILDETH UP

St. Paul referred to knowledge when it is by itself. And certainly where knowledge is alone and is not crowned with love it only leads to pride and vainglory.

I. Our supreme need is a vision of Christ.—And we ask, ‘Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us and not unto the world?’ The answer is ready, the same as it was nineteen centuries ago: ‘If any man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him’ ( John 14:22-23).

II. Love is the greatest of the graces.—‘Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.’

III. It brings gifts.—It cannot give enough. It gives itself.

IV. It means obedience.—‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments.’

V. It effaces itself.—It rejoices to say like St. John the Baptist, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Bishop Phillips Brooks visited Tennyson in the Isle of Wight, and in his letter home he says: “We were sitting with Tennyson after dinner, and I asked him to read the choicest piece of his poetry; and the poet gave us—

Love took up the harp of life,

And smote on all its chords with might;

Smote the chord of self, that trembling

Passed in music out of sight.” ’

(2) ‘Love is the greatest thing that God can give us, for He Himself is Love; and it is the greatest thing that we can give to God, for in and with it we also give ourselves and all that is ours. The Apostle calls it the bond of perfectness: it is the old, and it is the new, and it is the great Commandment, and it is all the Commandments; for it is the fulfilling of the Law.… We consider God’s goodness and bounty, we experience the outflowings of these towards ourselves, and these constitute the first motive of our love for Him, but when we have tasted the goodness of God we love the spring for its own excellency.… We pass on from emotion to reason, from thanking to adoring, from sense to spirit, from considering ourselves to the desire of union with God: and this is the image and little representation of heaven; it is beatitude in picture, or rather the infancy and beginnings of glory.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-corinthians-8.html. 1876.