And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul is writing in order to deal with reported divisions in the church. After making an appeal for unity followed by a statement of the facts as reported to him, Paul ventures into a lengthy discussion stressing the reasons for the factions, the first being a misunderstanding of the source of power and divine wisdom of the Gospel message. This pericope, or section of Scripture, which we have covered over the last four sermons and will conclude next week, extends from chapter 1 verse 18 through chapter 3 verse 4. So far in our studies, we have seen several hints that Paul does not believe that the Corinthian church is as mature and spiritual as they think themselves to be. He has made a stark distinction between spiritual thoughts and worldly or carnal thoughts concerning the Gospel’s power and wisdom, suggesting that the church had fallen for worldly ideas. So as not to be confused, he emphasizes that the Gospel is indeed wisdom, only not the kind of wisdom that comes with worldly philosophies to one’s natural mind; rather it is a revealed wisdom that comes from God and is only understood by the spiritual man. Up to this point, his teaching very clearly distinguishes between the natural or unsaved person and the spiritual individual who has been regenerated and possessed by the Spirit of God. At the end of chapter 2, he emphatically states that “we have the mind of Christ;” the “we” presumably includes the recipients of this letter in the Corinthian church.
In chapter 3 Paul gets to the point by making a most stinging indictment of the church’s spiritual condition. As chapter 3 opens, he again deals with the church as “brothers;” however, he comes to the conclusion that the previous 30 verses had been hinting at, namely that their divisions are indicative of their immaturity and lack of spirituality. When Paul first preached the Gospel in Corinth, he preached a simple Gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ. At that time, the Corinthians were still new converts with little or no time for spiritual growth, so it should not be surprising that they would still resemble their carnal background. However by the time Paul writes this letter, it is clear that he expects that there should have been some spiritual growth. He finds their divisive behavior to be a sign that they are stuck in the “milk” stage. They had not grown in their understanding and application of the Gospel, and were exhibiting behavior more characteristic of wretchedly fallen human nature, than of spiritually mature men.
There is much misunderstanding as to who Paul is referring to in this text. Some have used this text to introduce a third way – that of the “carnal Christian” who professes to have made Christ Savior but not Lord. We will deal with this in the sermon, but by now you should have a very clear understanding of this text and be able to refute this relatively novel idea. Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; then read the entire pericope (1:18 – 3:4), and consider how you would argue against the idea of the carnal Christian being a middle road of salvation between Christ’s full Lordship and utter worldliness.
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