There’s a big difference in something that puffs up and something that builds up. Sure, both give the appearance of growth, but there’s a lot more to one than the other. Like a balloon filled with air, puffing up happens quickly but isn’t all that durable. A little bit of pressure or even a blade of grass can burst a balloon. The appearance of growth can vanish in an instant, with as little effort as it took to attain, and that isn’t to say that something built with more substance can’t be damaged or destroyed. In fact, it is precisely Paul’s point that it can, but something that has been built up isn’t nearly as fragile as that which is puffed up. It takes a lot more to demolish a well-built structure than to pop a balloon, and it takes a lot more to demolish a a well-built relationship than to burst an overly-inflated ego.
The exact occasion of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians isn’t one most of us experience, but the principle he applies is surely one we need. Knowing things is great, but there’s something far better–love. Seeming to have all the answers can make us feel (and even appear) big and important and accomplished, but it’s in living out what we know in love toward our brother and sister that real growth happens. And love means my brother or sister come before my insistence upon my own rights, even before my insistence that I am right.