Puffed up or Built up?
While driving to work a few weeks ago, I came across a passage that literally s t o p p e d me in my tracks. Has that ever happened to you?
I was listening to the Bible app in my car and heard a verse that took my breath away. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true! I ended up listening to the same chapter over and over again, probably five or six times.
The passage read:
Now concerning (eating) 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 (ESV)
Immediately, the Holy Spirit showed me an empty balloon and a tall skyscraper in my mind. So many thoughts and images flashed through my mind in a matter of seconds, but still I heard His message loud and clear.
The “knowledge” I think I have in my head is like the empty balloon - easily deflated, fading, and insignificant. But “love?” Love has some substance to it. It’s a firm foundation. Love builds families and connection and generational, lasting change.
Knowledge can tell you about God. Love draws us into relationship with Him.
Knowledge cultivates arrogance and pride. Love edifies others.
Knowledge makes us feel important. Love strengthens the church.
Knowledge overestimates our potential. Love is our potential identity.
People should know us by our love, not by how much we know.
We are the “puffed up” generation.
We have access to more information than anyone else at any other time in history.
And what do we do with all of this knowledge?
Well, I’m not sure how much we’re using it to build others up in love!
To quote John Piper, “If you have knowledge that is making you proud, rather than loving, you don’t really know anything.”
The Greek word used here (in 1 Corinthians 8) for “puffs up” is phusioó. It’s derived from the word bellow. You know…the thing you see in cartoons to fan a flame? That thing. The word means “to inflate by blowing, swelled up, like an egotistical person spuing out arrogant, ‘puffed-up’ thoughts.” (credit)
Speaking for most westerners, we are the generation who is busy puffing ourselves up, while consequently, deflating those around us. Instead of living out Paul’s teaching that Jesus must increase and I must decrease, we are increasing in knowledge and “puffiness” and decreasing in compassionate, Jesus-worthy love.
We have opinions and ideas and “knowledge” and we actually think we know things! We think we have the right stance on politics and abortion and human rights and immigration and all the things.
We have answers, but do we have love?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in John 3. I love the story of Nicodemus because he saw the more in Jesus; he saw the love-builder and the fountain of knowledge and wisdom.
See, Nicodemus was a “prominent religious leader among the Jews” and a member of the Jewish ruling council.
In other words, he was kind of a big deal. In other, other words, he wasn’t supposed to be on Jesus’ side. He was teamed up with the guys who were trying to imprison and kill Jesus.
But, he came to Jesus at night. In secret. He didn’t want his friends (the other know-it-alls) to know that he was curious about Jesus.
He came to Jesus and immediately started telling Him everything he knew about Him. “I know you’re a good teacher, I know you were sent by God, I know His power is in you to perform miracles…”
Instead of arguing with him or tearing him down, Jesus used the opportunity to teach Nicodemus that there was so much more, far beyond what he’d seen so far.
Jesus told him that he must be born again - of water and spirit! Nicodemus admitted that he was completely lost. He didn’t understand a word of it.
Jesus responded with, “Nicodemus, aren’t you the respected teacher in Israel, and yet you don’t understand this revelation? I speak eternal truths about things I know, things I’ve seen and experienced—and still you don’t accept what I reveal. If you’re unable to understand and believe what I’ve told you about the natural realm, what will you do when I begin to unveil the heavenly realm? No one has risen into the heavenly realm except the Son of Man who also exists in heaven.”
To sum it up: “Nicodemus, don’t you remember your credentials? Shouldn’t you know this already? If you can’t understand this basic teaching, how will you possibly understand heavenly, kingdom truths?”
Nicodemus went radio silent. The Bible records no response from him.
It isn’t until a few chapters later (John 7) that we see evidence of the impact Jesus had on Nicodemus on the night he went to him.
Because of the time he spent with Jesus in secret, he was empowered to speak up for Jesus in public.
In the midst of a heated argument among the Jewish leaders, Nicodemus spoke up. Even though he’d be mocked and ridiculed, he spoke up. Even though the religious leaders claimed to know more about the Law than God Himself and even though they cursed Jesus, he spoke up.
Jesus had shown him a new model; instead of being puffed up with knowledge, He’d actually built Nicodemus up in love.
Others said, “He’s the Messiah!” But others said, “How could he be the Anointed One since he’s from Galilee? Don’t the Scriptures say that he will be one of David’s descendants and be born in Bethlehem, the city of David?” So the crowd was divided over Jesus, some wanted him arrested but no one dared to lay a hand on him. So when the temple guards returned to the Pharisees and the leading priests without Jesus, they were questioned, “Where is he? Why didn’t you bring that man back with you?” They answered, “You don’t understand—he speaks amazing things like no one else has ever spoken!” The religious leaders mocked, “Oh, so now you also have been led astray by him? Do you see even one of us, your leaders, following him? This ignorant rabble swarms around him because none of them know anything about the Law! They’re all cursed!” Just then, Nicodemus, who had secretly spent time with Jesus, spoke up, for he was a respected voice among them. He cautioned them, saying, “Does our law decide a man’s guilt before we first hear him and allow him to defend himself?” They argued, “Oh, so now you’re an advocate for this Galilean! Search the Scriptures, Nicodemus, and you’ll see that there’s no mention of a prophet coming out of Galilee!” So with that their debate ended, and they each went their own way.
In chapter 19, John records an account of two secret disciples of Jesus - Joseph from the city of Ramah and our good friend Nicodemus. These two men are credited with taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapping Him in strips of linen, and covering him with a hundred pounds of valuable spices.
Because of the time Nicodemus had spent with Jesus in secret, he was compelled to honor Jesus in public.
One night with Jesus changes everything.
And if the Spirit of Jesus lives inside of you, then one encounter with you should change everything for those around you. Because you are carrying Jesus!
We’ll either be known for what we knew or how we loved.
Puffed up or built up.
That’s it, friends.
I know this post is a little all over the place and not as long as most of my posts (you’re welcome), but just a few final thoughts…
I’ve “wasted” so many hours sitting in this chair this year with this as my view.
I’ve paced around this room in prayer and worship and dance. I’ve torn through the Word to learn more about the heart of my Father.
So many hours were spent writing, blogging, reading, texting friends, or staring at these four walls as I reflected on the goodness of God.
And I’ve found that there's no shortcut to intimacy.
It is only developed with time. The truth is that not even a second is wasted in His presence.
If there's more of Him, I want it. I want all of it. I want the adoption, the new name, the perfect Father, the abundant life, the friendship, the gifts, the fruit, the overflowing joy. I just want Him.
“For just one day of intimacy with you is like a thousand days of joy rolled into one! I’d rather stand at the threshold in front of the Gate Beautiful, ready to go in and worship my God, than to live my life without you in the most beautiful palace of the wicked.”
Father, strip me of my know-it-all mindset. When I think I know something, show me another side of Your face. Your glory puts me back in my place. Teach me humility and compassion and how to be a love-builder. I have no desire to be puffed up, full of empty air, pride, and arrogance. I want to be one who is known by you and known for loving and building others up. Amen!