“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
1 Corinthians 8:1b (NIV)
Many years ago I ran into a pastor in a coffee shop in Des Moines. He was a charismatic and persuasive teacher and had been on the staff of a large church in the area until he and a small faction of his followers led a coup against the senior pastor and elder board. The church broke asunder.
This young pastor led a small group to form their own church that was predicated on his own brand of arcane, intellectualism that split people into a spiritual version of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches. If you agreed to his personal list of spiritual criteria then you were part of the small few who “get” the “truth.” In his eyes you then had an acceptable star on your heart and were among the chosen few. If you disagreed with him then you were pitied, ignorant, and his version of the spiritual star on your heart was woefully missing.
I make it my intention to love everyone and treat everyone with deference. So, when he recognized me and offered to sit down for a chat over coffee I invited him to join me. Over the next half hour I listened as my friend gave me the most subtle and insidious dressing down I’ve ever received in my life.
With a smile on his face and in the most gentle, patronizing tone my friend proceeded to inform me of all the ways I did not measure up to deserving his version of the Sneetches spiritual star. My education was woefully inadequate and poorly sourced. My belief system and theology did not include his requisite knowledge and acceptance of various teachings and “isms” that were necessary to elevate me to the minimum state of knowledge that he, and therefore God, clearly required.
I listened quietly as he waxed his own profundity over our cups of dark roast (at least the coffee was good). I said very little, as I’d quickly learned that any thing I said only earned me a new line of insult cloaked in arrogant, spiritual intellectualism. By the time we shook hands and he departed to his booth with his backpack of books, my soul felt coated in thick, sludgy, spiritual slime.
I thought about this experience as I read Paul’s words today. I have no idea where this gentleman is today. His own church seemed to fall apart over a short period of time and he seemed to fall off the map. For all of his own impressive knowledge, his brand of belief appeared to me not to be structured on foundation of love that builds others up, but rather on a foundation of knowledge that separated and diminished all but the few who followed him blindly and, therefore, he deemed acceptable.
This morning I’m getting ready to train and coach some wonderful people on the principles of customer service, principles rooted in the teachings of Jesus (who understood and exemplified humility and servant-heartedness better than anyone). I have a lot of knowledge built on a quarter century of experience in my industry, but my knowledge is nothing if I use it simply to prove to my clients how much I know and how little they know. I will only be successful if I build on a foundation of love and use my knowledge as a tool for building them up to be better at serving others.