On Christian Arrogance

Paul writes to the local church at Corinth in order to encourage unity through maturity in the faith. He begins a new section about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, or the participation in what is perceived as unholy actions by some. I have heard people apply this portion of Scripture to the eating of certain foods, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and presence at places or events that are perceived as unholy by religious culture. Indeed, most of the applications I have heard are good when it comes to this text. As usual, Paul begins with the heart of the matter—the matter of heart. He begins his answer to Chloe’s people about eating meat sacrificed to idols by differentiating between arrogance and edification. One cannot be both arrogant and edifying in the local church. Arrogance stems from immaturity and leads to division. Edification stems from true maturity and leads to unity in the body.


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1 Corinthians 8:1-3

8.1 Περὶ δὲ τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων, οἴδαμεν ὅτι πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν. ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ, ἡ δὲ ἀγάπη οἰκοδομεῖ.  2 εἴ τις δοκεῖ ἐγνωκέναι τι, οὔπω ἔγνω καθὼς δεῖ γνῶναι·  3 εἰ δέ τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν θεόν, οὗτος ἔγνωσται ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ.

The root (v. 1)

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.

Now, Paul begins a new topic in his letter concerning things sacrificed to idols–likely in response to the letter he received from Chloe’s people. In his opening statement, Paul says that they know that they all have knowledge. Paul has knowledge. Chloe’s people have knowledge. The Appolosites have knowledge. The purists have knowledge. Every person has knowledge in his own right. When each person thinks about him or herself, each one believes him or herself to be the most knowledgable. Each one spends all of his time trying to pour his knowledge into others without receiving knowledge from others. Therefore, knowledge makes arrogant.

The more knowledge a person has, the more prone he or she is to arrogance. Knowledge comes by education, study, experience, age, and whatever else. If any person is not careful, he will fall into the arrogance of knowledge. I have a few examples, but I do not use these examples to belittle anyone. I love knowledge. I love learning the deep things of Scripture. I love learning new trades. I like being able to share from my experience. I am just as prone to arrogance as anyone else because we are all sinners in need of great grace–both from God and the community of faith. May we never forget that God is making foolish the wisdom of this world:

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

This being said, here are a few examples of knowledge leading to arrogance that I witness in the world:

  1. Theologism
    • Including the Cage-Stage Calvinist and Argumentative Arminian, there are many who believe they are better or higher than others because they have deeper theological knowledge than others and can articulate doctrines better than others. Their knowledge about God, however, does not constitute a knowledge of God. Such factual knowledge, even if it is correct, can lead to great arrogance.
  2. Generationalism and Experientialism
    • Different is not synonymous with evil, yet generations tend to treat other generations with disdain because of mere philosophical and practical differences. They treat others as immature because they differ in their experiences, use of technology, and knowledge base. Their experiential knowledge can lead to great arrogance because they assume that the world is static rather than dynamic. Experiential knowledge does become outdated and no longer practical with time because the world is in flux. This is true for the young as well as the aged. We all get stuck in our ways and assume they are better than others, but we don’t know what the world will be like next year.
  3. Religionism
    • We believe, like the Pharisees, that more religious practice is better and makes us better than others. I was recently condemned because I didn’t carry anointing oil with me all the time for the purpose of healing like the person doing the condemning. How odd to be outwardly religious but forget the heart of Christ. Religionism causes us to promote ourselves because of our outward practice, which seems religious to worldly people but is actually void of the power of God. Religious knowledge can lead to arrogance.
  4. Inward Focus
    • Inward focus automatically assumes that we are basically good and anyone who disagrees with our natural desires, preferences, our perception of self, and expectations is unworthy. The arrogance of self belittles others and causes us to open fire on them when they disagree with us at all. Such arrogance leads to a “my way or the highway” attitude. It leads to kindism, the desire to only have our kind of people around us and push everyone else away. What I think is best, no exceptions.
  5. Intellectualism and Credentialism
    • The higher one’s education or the more credentials one has, the more likely he or she is to think of self more highly than others and become arrogant.
  6. Entitlement
    • Many people feel as though the world or some group owes them something because of their titles, whether their titles refer to an office (e.g. Pastor, Mayor, Boss) or a social, economic, or ethnic group (e.g. black, gay, impoverished). The identification of ourselves by our titles or reputation and expecting what we are owed (e.g. money, land, respect) is arrogance.

God is making these things out to be the foolishness they are. Knowledge is not evil. Knowledge is good, but the arrogance that can result from knowledge is evil and a sin against God and our neighbors. We should be careful how we walk.

Paul continues. In contrast to knowledge leading to arrogance, love edifies. Paul will expound on the superiority of love over knowledge later in 1 Corinthians. For know, we see a basic difference. Paul draws an immediate dichotomy between arrogance and edification. If I find my identity in my knowledge, I will become arrogant and cause division in the body of Christ, stretching out even to the community. If I have sincere love in my heart, I will not tear others down but work to edify them–build them up for their good. True Christians deny themselves by seeking humility in their knowledge and depth in their love for others, particularly the bride of Christ. Hopefully you can see how arrogance breeds division and the tearing down of others and how love seeks to edify others know matter the differences in knowledge (factual, experiential, religious, or practical).

The evidence (v. 2-3)

If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

No one believes him or herself arrogant. No matter who you ask, almost everyone, if they are honest, would say, “No, I don’t think I am arrogant.” When we think about arrogance, we always point at others to point out what we perceive as arrogance even though we cannot see their hearts. So, Paul gives evidence for self-evaluation. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know–in humility. The fruit of arrogance is the supposition that we know anything. If we believe that the theological or factual information our brains have stored constitutes genuine knowledge and we exalt ourselves, we are arrogant. If we believe that our experiential information, habits, preferences, or expectations constitute knowledge and we exalt our own opinions, we are arrogant. If we believe that our religious practice constitutes knowledge and we exalt ourselves based on what we do, we are arrogant. We do not know as we ought to know.

This means that there is a way we ought to know. Factual, experiential, religious, and practical knowledge is not evil, but there is a way we ought to store the information we do. Paul immediately references love. So, we store information in light of our love for God. Our love for God over our own factual, experiential, religious, and practical knowledge reveals our relationship with Him–or, rather, His relationship with us.

Paul, here, reveals a great truth. Our knowledge in any form is not as important as we make it out to be. God’s knowledge is, particularly His knowledge of us. Only if we are known by God, relationally speaking, will we love God more than our own factual, experiential, religious, and practical knowledge. Paul makes this a salvation issue. If we are not known by God, we are not His and do not have eternal life. If we exalt our own factual, experiential, religious, or practical knowledge, we are not even known by God and incapable of escaping the arrogance of the world. If we love God, we seek to edify others rather than merely promote our own knowledge, facts, ways, experiences, reputations, expectations, and so on like Paul has been addressing in 1 Corinthians so far. This is why he wants to set an example so that the local church does not exceed what is written in Scripture; he has already stated that to exceed Scripture is evidence of arrogance (cf. 4:6). So, we do not hold others to our preferences, expectations, experiences, theology, and so on. We edify them according to Scripture alone. 

We measure our own hearts. Are we arrogant or edifying? The fruit of our lives reveals whether we are truly in Christ or of the world. If we are not in Christ, may we repent—for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. If we are in Christ, I hope we are encouraged to continue edifying others even when they seek to tear us down—for we are to love even our enemies, and to love is to edify rather than destroy (cf. Matthew 5:44). Amen.

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