First Corinthians 3:1-9
The Spiritual & The Carnal
1. Where we read today we find the words, "the man of the spirit" and "the man of the flesh." "Persons of the Spirit" are "those matured in the faith," (2:6). As it is recorded in verse one, "a carnal person" is the person who is "a suckling baby in [his or her] relationship with Christ." As we go back and forth between these two expressions, today I would like for us to think about maturity as a believer,
The Carnal Person, A Baby On Milk In Christ
"Brothers, as I was unable to speak to you as spiritual persons, I spoke to you as carnal persons, that is, as persons who are suckling babies in your relationship to Christ," (3:1).
3. Before we get into the specifics of "a spiritual person" and "a carnal person," we need to take note that Paul has addressed them as "brothers." In other words, even though they were "carnal," they were "brothers," which means they were christians. "A carnal person" is said to be "a suckling baby in [his or her] relationship to Christ," but if translated literally, it would be "a suckling babe in Christ." They are definitely in Christ. They have certainly been baptized and have entered into [the body of] Christ. We should recall that Paul had written in the address section of this epistle, "To those who are called and sanctified," (1:2).
4. Therefore, we shouldn't judge and be so brash with others or even ourselves, saying, "A person like that ain't no christian!" We shouldn't glibly say, "She might have been baptized, but she's not a real christian." We must respect the fact that [someone] has been baptized and has become a christian.
5. Having reviewed this [somewhat], I would still like for us to think about "the person of the spirit," "the person of the flesh," and a mature adult and a suckling babe. We must seriously consider that even though we are just as much christians, our situations in Christ are not all the same. We must seriously ask our own selves about where we are and whether we are growing. Because if we have become persons who are called and sanctified and belong to God, to continue on being a person of the flesh and a suckling babe is sad indeed. Because the Lord who called us wants more for us than that.
6. First off then, let's give some thought to "the carnal person." When we hear of "the person of the flesh" or "the carnal person" we probably think of a worldly person unconcerned with spiritual matters. But, Paul doesn't seem to mean that. The reason I say that is because the Corinthian believers were not at all carnal people in that particular sense.
7. When we read chapter twelve of this epistle we understand; it looks like they were far from being unconcerned with spiritual matters, but rather were fervently seeking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit was richly manifested among them. Many of them spoke in tongues. Some even were prophesying. It seems some were there who performed miracles and some who had the power to heal sickness. And their worship services that they had were taking place in such a way that they sang songs from the Psalms as they were quickened by the Spirit, those whose hearts were moved gave revelations, lessons, messages in tongues, and interpretations of them. Didn't a meeting like that committed to spontaneity in each and every one's heart seem more spiritual than worshipping in a set order and sequence, and more spiritual than a designated person expounding the Bible?
8. But, Paul doesn't call them spiritual. Instead, he says they are carnal. He says they are suckling babes in Christ. A baby on mother's milk cannot eat solid food. In order to nourish the infant we only give it milk to drink. So Paul says, "I gave you milk to drink and I did not give you solid food."
9. What is milk? What is solid food? These expressions are not unique to Paul, but seem to have been in general use in the early church. As an example, in The Epistle To The Hebrews it says the following:
"Although you actually ought to be the teachers already by now, you must be taught the basics of the word of God again by someone, and, it's because instead of solid food, you require milk. Because anyone who drinks milk is an infant, they cannot understand the word of righteousness. Solid food is for mature adults, who have been instructed in their senses by experience to discern good and evil. Therefore, let us walk aiming for maturity, apart from the basics of Christ's teachings, not having to relearn the fundamental lessons of repentance from dead works, faith in God, lessons on various baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and the eternal judgment," (Hebrews 5:12).
11. When we read this passage, we see that milk is defined as "the basics of the word of God." That's the basic lessons dealing with repentance, faith, and baptisms. In contrast to this, solid food is said to be "for mature adults, who have been instructed in their senses by experience to discern good and evil." A clear distinction between nursing babies and adults is shown here in this passage. Training in the faith is required to become an adult. It is the exercising of stimulating our senses to discern between good and evil in the real world of our daily lives. According to the way Paul expresses it in another of his epistles, it means [practicing] "to be able to tell if something is the will of God, and if it is good, pleasing to God, and perfect," (Romans 12:2). An adult is one who joins his or her understanding of the faith and his or her every day real world close together as one. A nursing baby is one who separates them so that faith is faith and daily life is daily life.
12. In reality, that was where the problem of the Corinthian disciples was. No matter how spiritual a person we are, or how visible is the appearing of the abundant work of the Holy Spirit in our meetings, or though there has been a number of mystical experiences there, unless it is connected to how we are growing in our real lives, he or she is a nursing babe and only but a person of the flesh. So, Paul could not help but say this: "Isn't it so that since jealousy and strife are incessant among you, you are carnal and walking as mere men? If some say, 'I am following Paul' and another says, 'I am following Apollo,' aren't you no more than mere men?," (3:3-4).
13. "Just as mere men walk" means to live as if one has no faith. People without faith don't think about God. Since the company of sinful humanity does not think about God but only lives thinking about themselves, it's not surprising that jealousy and strife emerges out of that. Human nature born sinful is like the ground after the rain. Jealousy and strife sprouts like weeds one after the other. But, the Corinthian disciples had received baptism, were buried with Christ, and were supposed to have begun living a new life. In spite of that, they were practicing jealousy and strife in their actual lives and "walking as mere men." It's not just other people's problem either. It's ours. That we, too, are such "people of the flesh" is all too true.
Turning Our Minds On God
14. Of course, Paul wasn't saying this just to criticize them. More than anyone else, Paul must have certainly wanted them to be "persons of the Spirit." He definitely wanted them to become mature adult believers after [being] nursing baby [believers]. So, by taking up the sayings, "I follow Paul," "I follow Apollo," he shows the point of view that mature believers are supposed to have by nature.
15. He says, "Who is Apollo? And, who is Paul? These two are persons who have responded in service to a portion which the Lord has given in different measures in order to guide you in the faith. I planted, Apollo poured the water. But, it is God who made us grow. Therefore, the important one is not the one who plants or the one who pours the water, but God who causes us to grow," (verses five through seven).
16. If he is not just taking issue with fighting among political factions in the church, neither is he giving a speech with the purpose of removing the causes of the quarreling and divisions. He is not saying, "Since neither Apollo nor Paul are great people, it is foolish to say I follow Apollo or I follow Paul or whomever." That's not what he is trying to say; what he is wanting to say is this part about "It is God who makes us grow." In short, he means that it is God himself who is really the one who does the caring for them. As far as the eye can see it may look like it is Paul or Apollo who is caring for them. But, they are no more than responding in service to the portion they have been given by the Lord. They are being used. God is the one using them and working through them. Thus, he comes to say, "You are God's field, God's building," (verse nine).
17. We won't avoid living as carnal persons if we think all there is to it is the world we can see, or people we can see, or messages we can hear. In order for us to live as spiritual persons, we must think of Him who truly cares for us. We're God's field and God's building. We must direct our thoughts right onto God our maker and shaper and not onto the planters or the waterers. We grow in relation to Him. We grow in God's presence. That is precisely where our faith trains. That is also where the maturity of our faith is found.