Recently I was reading through the F260 Bible Reading Plan, and I came across a passage I had read before but that struck me in a unique way. I was reading 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul discusses the very foreign idea of eating food sacrificed to idols. But what struck me was what Paul said first:
“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1–3).
As I read that passage, I started to think about an author and book I’ve recommended recently—James K. A. Smith and You Are What You Love. In another one of his books, Smith says this: “What defines us is what we love."1 As I read 1 Corinthians 8, I thought about that quote. The Corinthians were intelligent, gifted people. Like many, they thought knowledge, especially knowledge about God, was what was ultimate. But Paul reminds them that knowledge is not what defines Christianity; love does.
How Mature Are You?
If we’re not careful, our faith can quickly be equated with knowledge. We will begin to measure our spiritual maturity by what we know. This is what the Corinthians did. But knowledge does not necessarily mean you’re more mature or growing in your faith. I think back to my Ph.D. studies. There were scholars I read who knew far more about a subject matter than I did, but they rejected Jesus. They know more than me, but we would surely say they’re not more spiritually mature—they don’t even believe.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Love defines Christianity. Love, not knowledge, is the cornerstone of our faith. Therefore we should measure our spiritual maturity and growth not just by what we know or are learning but based on how we love. Do you love God more today than you did one year ago? Do you love others more now than yesterday? Love is the measuring stick of maturity.
How Do I Grow?
James K. A. Smith also says this about love: “Our ultimate love/desire is shaped by practices, not ideas that are merely communicated to us.”2 Here’s the crazy thing—the things we often do to demonstrate our love for God and others are the very things that stoke and grow our love for God. For example, we attend worship on Sundays, read our Bibles, pray, participate in community because we love God and love people. But these very habits or disciplines are the means which God uses over an extended period of time to change us, to mature and grow us.
Do you want to grow spiritually? Do you want to be more spiritually mature? Love God and love others. Do you want to love God and love others? Practice the spiritual disciplines consistently. Make them habits in your life. You’ll practice these disciplines out of your love for God and others, but you’ll find they are the very things that cause you to love God and others more. May we know more about our faith than others, but may that knowledge not define us. May love for God and others be our defining trait.
1James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 25.