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1 Corinthians 8:1-13
I love many things about being a Presbyterian, but one of the things I love most is the emphasis we place on learning and knowledge. We take seriously the part of the great commandment that Jesus taught us… "to love God with all of our mind…" A mind, for us is a gift of God and indeed, as the old ad used to say, "a terrible thing to waste." It is bad stewardship if we do not develop the mind God gave us. My old theology professor John Leith used to talk about one of the important ways Presbyterian and Reformed Christians express their faith is to remember that the life of the mind is in the service of God. As a result, I don’t think you will find a smarter bunch than Presbyterians in the Christian community. Not better, but fairly intelligent.
You will find that education is very important for us. We have been the leader in developing Sunday School and education- both Christian and secular. I remember Philadelphia Presbyterian Church near Red Springs had built a school house about 100 years ago to educate the children in that farming community. It was that important. Today the heritage remains with colleges like Davidson and Princeton (started by Presbyterians) still providing some of the best education and the brightest minds around.
Presbyterians have been leaders in biblical and theological education because we believe that the mind is a gift of God to be nurtured, developed and used to understand God’s world… God’s truth… and to be used for the glory of God. We should make no apologies for that. Ignorance does not serve us or God well.
Presbyterians have been so insistent on this that we do not allow people to serve the church as pastors without a good education. As a result, you will not find as many Presbyterian churches as other denominations. Before we would send out people to start churches in the early days- we insisted that they receive the proper education. That slowed us down in starting churches… but we thought it was important.
We believe every Christian should be an educated one: so we set up Sunday School classes not just for children, but for adults. You shouldn’t stop learning after High School and College. What if you tried to run you business or your life only on what you learned at the end of a high school or college education? How far would you get?
The Kirk has some of the most challenging Sunday School classes around… to help you grow. We also offer Disciple Bible Study, short term classes, College of Faith… all in order to help you become a better informed… dare I say smarter Christian. It’s hard to think you can honor God without developing the mind God gave you.
I think the Corinthian Christians would agree with me. They would have made good Presbyterians. These are Christians who live in a Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill kind of community. These are smart, smart people from the well educated community of Corinth. People who lived in Corinth came from all over the world because it was one of those crossroads of the Greco-Roman world.
So these are smart people… in almost every respect. Most of them knew for instance… that the food offered to idols was not tainted… it was just meat after all. Most of them knew idols didn’t really exist (just wood and stone after all)… anyone who was smart knew that. So there is no harm eating meat offered to idols. Any well educated person knew that… so go ahead… eat the meat… it is likely angus prime cut. And those few who were offended? People who had grown up believing that God didn’t want you to eat that meat… it would offend God… those who had listened to the instructions from the great Jerusalem council that had indicated that it was okay for the gentiles to be included, but they should refrain from eating meat offered to idols… Well, they needed to wise up.
Of course, Paul would agree with them that eating meat offered to idols is harmless… but Paul would also say that they were wrong… right intellectually but still wrong. Because they were dumb about one thing.
They may know a lot about theology and science and faith… but they lacked the most important… the necessary kind of knowledge. And Paul seems to indicate, if they do not learn this kind of knowledge… they are dumb indeed– it will tear their church apart.
Paul in trying to settle this dispute wants to teach them the kind of knowledge they all really need in order to live as Christians. This is a different kind of knowledge as I hear it:
"Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge’. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him."
Paul then goes on to say that he knows idols do not really exist… he quotes their confession that there is only one God… But he also wants to point out that not everyone is there yet… some who grew up believing have not yet reconciled eating food offered to idols… so be careful with them… be careful not to hurt them…. so that you are not the cause of them losing faith. There are some things more important than being right.
Head knowledge alone is not enough… Head knowledge must be used wisely and lovingly in order to honor God and build up the church.
Sometimes I fear we forget that. That the knowledge we most need in the church is how to love one another…
Fred Craddock tells the story of a brilliant seminary student preparing to be a pastor– who could offer up the most exquisite Greek translations with ease but who had little insight or understanding into what those words were trying to convey. Once, Craddock asked the student what he thought of a particularly difficult passage in Romans 9, which the student was able to parse the Greek with great skill.. He had translated the passage:
"I could almost wish myself to be lost if it would save them."
Then he said: "It’s not professional to get that close to people. Pretty soon their problems are your problems. You should keep your distance from people."
I hope that bright student didn’t become a pastor… he doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to be a pastor. Sadly, he would miss out on one of the joys of ministry… the joys of loving and sharing in the lives of people.
I’m sad to tell you I’ve met Pastors like that student who never learned the necessary knowledge… how to love especially the weak… and frankly I’ve met Christians like that… who know a lot… but do not know how to love… and how to use love as the means to help people along their journey. They don’t understand that knowledge by itself is useless to the church and to the kingdom of God. You need to possess the necessary knowledge.
Today much of the conflict I observe in the church – both in congregations and the denominations…is caused by some of the smartest people in the world who lack this necessary knowledge. They can quote you Bible passages to defend their positions on the liberal and conservative side of any issue…
I’ll bet we’ll see this at a Presbytery meeting this month where very well meaning and very smart people will be debating some very hot issues… they will line up at the microphone to state their position… they will be able to quote Calvin, the confessions and other sources… Some might talk down to you in patronizing tones as if to say "if you knew what I knew then everything would be okay"… In my previous Presbytery there was someone who did that every time. Drove me crazy.
The problem with conflict in the church is not the lack of smart people. May I submit, that where you find conflict, there is often a lack of people who have the necessary knowledge… the knowledge of love.
I would suggest this is not true just for churches… but for companies… and families… and friendships… and marriages… that some of the smartest people in the world can be so dumb when it comes to the necessary knowledge… the knowledge of the kind of love that heals, forgives, renews… and builds the relationships that make companies, families, friendships and marriages healthier. Helps them grow.
Paul would later expand on this in that great hymn he would either write or quote…
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing…love never ends. But… as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part…now faith, hope, love abide, these three but the greatest of these is love. " (1 Cor 13 selected verses)
Last week I read an interesting story about Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I think he has the necessary knowledge. I imagine Dan Rooney is one bright and intelligent millionaire.He and his family have built a football dynasty. But according to all reports and his players, he and his franchise is different than most.He still lives in a red brick, two story home on the city’s blighted North side that used to be owned by his parents. It’s a third the size of the average McMansion. He walks to home games past an abandoned gas station to get to the games. On away games, he doesn’t get in a private jet… he travels with the players.
One of the players said in recalling the first time he saw the owner travel with them, "I wasn’t used to the owner flying on the plane, and not only was he on the plane, he was sitting in the seat that doesn’t recline, in front of the bathroom.
Rooney goes to Mass every morning before driving his buick to the training facility. He eats lunch in the cafeteria with the players and the staff.
Nick Eason, defensive end says, "Some owners treat you like rental property. They come around… they look and leave. Mr Rooney comes around, he always sticks his hand out to you. ‘Hey Nick’ – and I’m like. He knows my name?"
Strong safety Troy Palamalu says he treats all the players as his equal: from Hines Ward to a free agent rookie." Some players have his cell phone number. One day a couple of years ago, cornerback Ike Taylor was exhausted and, at Rooney’s invitation took 2 hour nap on the couch in his office while Rooney worked elsewhere. Hines Ward said it was Rooney’s example that taught him the importance of a handshake. "I never used to shake hands. It was always just, ‘Hi, how ya doing?" But something about him made me realize is’s all in the handshake and every time I meet somebody now, I shake their hand."
As is his way, Rooney takes none of the credit. Sitting behind his desk for the interview, he steered the conversation away from himself. "It started with my father, " he said. "He gave me the values. He treated players, coaches, general staff as people. He was concerned about them."
That culture now permeates the entire organization-a sort of ego free zone in which players and coaches can occasionally seem as if they are competing for a Nobel prize in humilty. "We don’t care who gets the credit, and all we want to do is win," Coach Mike Tomlin said. 1.
You know, if Paul were here today, I think he might pull for the Steelers. (forgive me Cardinal fans) Because I think he would see within the culture of this team, something he’d like to see in the culture of the church… a self less and loving humility… that looks out for the good of others… that encourages… that builds and does not divide. I think he would say that organizations like the Steelers have learned some necessary knowledge… that the game is not only about knowing how to play football… the "x’s and the o’s"– it is about how to live a life and care for one another.
I’m thinking that if we in the church could live that lesson… we would be a very smart group of Christians indeed. Amen.
1. New York Times article the week of Jan 24