God Causes Us To Grow

August 3, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First Corinthians 3:1-9

1. Today the epistle from Paul which he had written to the church at Corinth was read. In it Paul said the following. "Brothers, I cannot speak to you as men of the spirit, but I have spoken to you as men of the flesh, that is, men who are sucklings in their relationship with Christ," (3:1).

2. In this text appear the phrases of "men of the spirit" and "men of the flesh." "Men of the spirit" refers to "persons mature in the faith," (2:6). "Men of the flesh" refers, just like it is written in verse one, to persons "who are sucklings in their relationship with Christ." A literal translation of it is "sucklings in Christ."

3. Though equally Christian, it is possible for one to be a sucking baby and the other a mature adult. Of course even though they are babes, because they are "suckling babies in Christ," they are joined to Christ, and having taken unto themselves of Christ's salvation they have certainly been made into children of God. But, if a nursing baby stayed a nursing baby for a long time, that would be something odd indeed when all is said and done. God naturally desires that babies grow and turn into mature adults. So with that let's think today about going from the condition of "a nursing baby" to becoming a mature adult.

From Nursing Baby To Grown-up

4. The Corinthian believers were called by Paul both "nursing babes in Christ" and "men of the flesh," and when we hear "men of the flesh" or "carnal men," what kind of person do you all imagine? Would it be a worldly person? Would it be a person unconcerned with spiritual matters? Yet, Paul does not seem to mean that kind of thing. I'm saying that because the Corinthian disciples were not carnal persons by that definition by any means at all.

5. When you read from chapter twelve on of this epistle, you know how [they are], and far from being unconcerned about spiritual matters, they much rather had a very deep interest in it. These people were fervently seeking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In fact, works of the Holy Spirit had been abundantly manifested among them. Many of them had spoken in tongues. There were even persons prophesying. It appears that there were also persons doing miracles and persons with the power to heal sicknesses and more. If there was ever a thing as spiritual experiences, they were given them in abundance. In addition, the worship services they offered up were held in such a manner that, quickened by the spirit, they would sing hymns of praise, and those moved in their hearts [by the spirit] would give doctrines, or else, some would speak in tongues, and others would explain [what was said in those foreign languages]. Rather than worshipping in accordance with a set order and system the way we always do, and a set person explaining the scriptures, their meetings, the way they had them, looked more "spiritual" in a certain sense [than ours] as [the meetings] were given over to spontaneity as per the hearts and the minds of each person.

6. Thus at first glance the Corinthian believers looked like very "spiritual" persons; yet, Paul does not call them "persons of the spirit." Instead he says they are "men of the flesh." He says they are "suckling babes in Christ." Nursing babies cannot eat solid food. To nourish a nursing baby you only give it milk to drink. Therefore, Paul says, "I gave you milk to drink, I did not give you solid food."

7. Well now, what is milk then? What is solid food? It seems that this expression was not one that only Paul was using, but also it was used widely in the early church. For example, in the epistle [to] the Hebrews, the following is written as well. "For, as a matter of fact, even though you should have already become teachers by now, you need to have someone teach you the ABC's of God's word again, and instead of solid food, unfortunately the end result is that you require milk. Anyone who is drinking milk, because they are small children, cannot accept a message of morality and righteousness. Solid food is for fully grown adults, disciplined by experiences in sensory capacity to discern between good and evil," (Hebrews 5:12-14).

8. Milk is "the ABC's of God's word." It is the basic fundamental doctrines pertaining to the Christian faith. In contrast to that, solid food is said to be "for fully grown adults, disciplined by experiences in sensory capacity to discern between good and evil." It is made clear here what is meant by "a fully grown adult." It is a person trained by their experiences in their senses to tell the difference between right and wrong. Put another way, they are people who have learned to tell apart good from evil in their actual every day faith lives. Of course, what good and evil refer to in this text is seeing from God's perspective what is right and what is wrong. If I could put it another way [even more], it means what is in keeping with the will of God or what is against his will. They are people who have learned to discern between the two in real life, in their every day faith. If I can make it even easier to understand, it would be that they are people who have been trying to live in obedience to the will of God. According to the phraseology in another of Paul's epistles, it would be "[You] will come to learn to tell what the will of God is, or what is good, or what is enjoyed by God and is perfect," (Romans 12:2). That's how believers become grown-ups.

Those Who Stay Nursing Babies

9. The opposite can be said about that as well. In real every day life, unless a believer is willing to live in obedience to the will of God, unless a believer is learning to practice the will of God, it is quite possible that he or she will keep being a nursing baby no matter how much time passes. In the faith life, when we're just interested in "What do I desire?," and don't care about "What does God desire?," then we will stay babies no matter how much time passes. Even if [somebody] has been seeking passionately for gifts from the Holy Spirit, and even if [somebody] has actually been given great power and [that person] has been given such spiritual power so that he or she can perform even miracles with it, yet [the person] is only interested in becoming great, unless he or she learns to obey the will of the Lord, it is possible that that person will always be a nursing babe.

10. In fact, the problem at the church at Corinth was that the people stayed in this nursing baby condition. Paul put it like this, "As long as the jealousy and the fighting among you is endless, you are men of the flesh, you are walking as mere men, aren't you? When some say 'I follow Paul' and others say 'I [follow] Apollo,' aren't you nothing more than just mere men?," (3:3-4).

11. As I touched upon earlier, they were not disinterested in spiritual matters. They fervently sought for spiritual gifts and sought for special abilities from God. They had an interest in mystical experiences as well. But, if we ask if it lead to a real interest in God, it didn't necessarily do so. The main matter of interest was only on the person himself or herself. What kind of abilities does a person get by believing in the Lord? How does a person experience a feeling of happiness? Who is superior in [his] spiritual abilities, Paul or Apollo? Which one would be more advantageous for me to be with? Which one is living the faith life like I want? -- Thus it always arises that people are only concerned for themselves, for the human [element]. That's how it goes. Thus, when persons are only interested in their own thing, and when they live in comparison between themselves and others, or in comparisons among peers, then strife and jealousy will arise.

12. Upon final analysis then, the issue that we must consider here could probably be put in the following words as well. -- Do we wish to make God something that belongs to us? Or do we wish to become God's? Do we only think of "God for my purposes?" Or are we thinking of living as "me for God's purposes?" Having been made God's, we will live as God's. If we ask for the will of God in our practical every day lives, we will live offering ourselves up [to God]. By going through that kind of training, the believer becomes a grown-up. When we're only thinking of "God for my purposes " [and] when we're only thinking "What will God do for me? Or what will [God] not do for me?," we stay nursing babies till who knows when.

13. With that then, the ABC's of the faith need to be given: that God has already given us even his son unsparingly; that through the blood of his son our sins have been atoned for; which means that we have been bought by [his ] having paid the price; that we have indeed been made Christ's in that manner; which means that we have been made God's. We will need to state it again and again even, that our true salvation lies in these very points. The first question and response in "The Heidelberg Catechism" is written as follows. "What is your one and only comfort both while alive or dead? (Answer) It is that I, both body or soul, while alive or dead, am not my own, but I belong to my true savior Jesus Christ."

14. Paul said, "Who is Apollo? And who is Paul? These two are persons who have served in response to the portion which the Lord has given respectively to each one in order to lead you in the faith. I planted, Apollo poured the water. But, the one who caused you to grow is God. Therefore, the important thing is neither the one who plants nor the one who pours the water, but God who causes you to grow," (verses five through seven). They needed to turn their thoughts on God in a true sense, not on Apollo or Paul or anybody. God had been the one to cause them to grow and God will be the one to cause them to grow.

15. We will certainly have many requests. Whether to God or whether to others, we will have all kinds of wishes and requests. But, above all else, we must request and seek to grow. Let's wish and request that God the one who causes us to grow will cause us to grow indeed. If we're in the baby stage, if we're in the state of the person of the flesh, we are to become mature adults in the true sense. Let's seek to become persons of the spirit. In [our] current church life, let's ask and seek for God to train us to live by seeking for God's will.