Every local church faces challenges and struggles. The Lord’s first-century church in Corinth was no exception. The members there had been washed, sanctified, and justified (6:11). Yet, as we read this epistle, we learn that there were problems that plagued the church there. Those problems were both legion and serious.
The apostle Paul labeled the members at Corinth as “carnal,” as we see in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4:
(1) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (2) 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; (3) for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (4) For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?
When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the church in Corinth had been in existence for about five years. It is obvious from the four verses quoted above that at least some of the members there were not maturing as they should have. Let us take a closer look.
Spiritual versus carnal – What was the Holy Spirit’s description of the saints in Corinth? Three times He called them “carnal” (3:1,3,4). They were people who were not successfully abstaining from “fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). They should have been spiritual people – spiritually-minded and spiritually-focused. But, no, they thought and acted like the world.
What happened in the minds and lives of God’s people in Corinth should serve as an eye-opening, sober reminder to all of us. It is still possible today for a child of God to become flesh and world-oriented instead of spiritual and Lord-oriented. What about you, my brother or sister? Are you carnal-minded, or spiritual-minded?
Babes in the Christ – Paul would have preferred to speak to the members there as mature brethren, but he could not. Why? Because they were conducting themselves “as babes in Christ” (3:1). Anyone that is in the Christ “is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), meaning that he has become a new or changed person. The term that applies to those who are recent converts is “babes.” This is not a derogatory word, but simply points to the reality that since they have not been in the Lord a long time, they are like babies in the spiritual realm.
The saints in Corinth had been in the Christ long enough that they should have progressed past the stage of infancy, and yet they were acting like spiritual babies. How sad. Even today there are those who were baptized into the Christ “ages ago,”but they have failed to mature spiritually. They whine. They cry for attention. They think only about themselves and what they desire. They want the church to pamper them. Yep, in short, they act like little babies. It is high time for some of us to stop being so easily offended, cease being hyper-critical, and put an end to being super sensitive. What words do the church’s babies need to hear? “Grow up!”
Milk versus solid food – Milk is for babies; solid food is for those that are more grown up. What kind of spiritual food could the saints in Corinth handle? You are right – only the milk (3:2). There is a time in a child’s physical development when it needs a diet of milk. There comes a time, however, when it is time to move on to more solid stuff. So it is in a Christian’s spiritual development.
The words of our text remind us of Hebrews 5:12, where it is written, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”
Brother or sister, how about you? Are you still on a milk-only diet, or have you progressed to solid food? If we want to grow, we need to spend time, lots of time, in the word of God. Those who desire to grow and actually put their desire into action will be blessed (1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 5:6). Those who do not have such a desire, well, they will still continue to act like spiritual babies, even if they have been in the Christ for decades.
Proof of carnality – Paul’s words had a strong sting: “For you are still carnal” (3:3). What was the evidence of such? Envy, strife, and divisions existed among them (3:3). They acted more like worldly people than washed-in-the-blood-reformed people. They acted more like followers of worldly ways and worldly philosophy than followers of Jesus.
Appreciation versus allegiance – Some in the church at Corinth claimed to belong to Paul, while others claimed to be “of Apollos” (3:4). Both of those great men had preached in Corinth. The church should have appreciated what those two men had done for them. But, these two brothers were servants, not the Savior! Christians’ allegiance ought to be to King Jesus, not to mere mortals that struggle not to be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).
—Roger D. Campbell