4. Paul Encourages Right Love over Right Knowledge
Paul concludes his discussion by picking up on a statement made in 1 Cor. 8:1: “...knowledge puffs up while loves builds up.” Right knowledge can only get you so far. It puffs up the individual because it is only concerned with the individual.
Puffed-up knowledge creates the dynamic of right versus wrong, this way versus that, me versus you. In puffing up the individual, it destroys the community of faith.
Love, however, builds up. Love supports. Love encourages. Love concerns itself with how it is received by another. Love is completely and utterly sacrificial. The word Paul uses here is the Greek word agape. We find this word in all the wonderful scriptural passages about love. You may even have highlighted some of these verses.
“For God so agape-ed the world that he gave his one and only son.” (John 3:16)
“A new command I give to you, that you should agape one another, as I have agape-ed you.” (John 13:34)
“Agape is patient. Agape is kind. It is not self seeking….” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
“The fruit of the spirit is agape, joy peace...” (Galatians 5:22)
Agape describes the divine, sacrificial love of God most uniquely expressed in the cross of Christ. Our experience and expression of agape is rooted in the presence of Christ in our lives. When ancient peoples said of the Christian community “see how they love each other,” they were commenting on the lived-out expression of Christlike agape
The love we are to express as a person of faith is to be of this character. This means it is concerned with the other, and constantly gives to the other. For Paul, the demands of Christlike love are such that he must concern himself with the other person’s life of faith. Thus, in the spirit of love, he declares in 1 Cor. 8:13: “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again.”
Even though he himself affirmed that idols are nothing, and therefore eating food sacrificed to a non-entity would be nothing to be concerned about, Paul remains filled with the spirit of love. He sees that the only faithful response to this matter is to limit his own freedom for the sake of other.
This is the only faithful response to the face mask matter at hand, because this is the response of Jesus. Paul says elsewhere that our attitudes in life should be the same as Christ Jesus, “who being in the very nature of God...made himself nothing.” (Phil. 2:6-7)
In Christ, God Emptied Himself for Our Sake
Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross, just so we could have the opportunity to experience the most liberating, life-changing, transformative love that God has to offer us. Jesus could have called us to smarten up. He could have appealed to right knowledge, insisting that his blessings were reserved for the like-minded. He didn’t. Jesus exuded love and demonstrated his agape for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ gave himself for us.
So, let us not make the matter of wearing a face mask about the perfect execution of right knowledge...whether it be theological or virological.
Rather, let us recognize the call to Christlike love. Let us take up the call of the cross, and willfully empty ourselves for the sake of another. Let us emulate Paul as he emulates Christ. And, if a refusal to wear a mask causes a brother or sister to fall into sin, may we consider wearing them as a way to express agape love, instead.
Recommended for You:
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The Four Types of Love in Scripture and How to Experience Them Today
Is the Coronavirus Exposing Our Idols?
10 Ways Christians Can Exemplify Faith and Peace during COVID-19
10 Ways to Reach Out in Love during the Coronavirus Outbreak
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Taizhan Sakimbayev