Immature Corinthians and Wisdom: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

September 9, 2012
First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 1.2: Immature Corinthians and Wisdom
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3.1-3.4

1 Cor 3:1-4 (KJV)
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

Introduction (The Corinthians criticized for their discord.)
The simple truths of the gospel—subjects such as man's sinfulness and God's mercy, repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ—stated in easily understood language, satisfy and benefit people more than the deep mysteries of God. Men may have memorized a lot of scripture and possess an admirable head-knowledge of biblical doctrine, nevertheless they are mere beginners in the life of faith and personal experience with the Savor. Strife and quarrels about religion are sad evidences of carnality. True religion makes men peaceable, not argumentative. But it is regrettable that many Christians walk, live and act too much like other men. Many professors and preachers display their carnality by an eagerness for argument, a willingness to despise and demean others, an inclination to gossip, and by initiating strife.

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you
This is a continuation of the preceding discourse, particularly verses 2.14, 2:15, and 2:16, where it says—“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. Although the apostle was a spiritual man himself, had spiritual gifts, even the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, could judge all things, had the mind of Christ, and was able to preach the wisdom of God, nevertheless, he could not speak it to them.

as unto spiritual,
All believers receive the Holy Spirit when they are saved. We are born again through the effects of the Holy Spirit, we are indwelt by the Spirit, we are sealed by the Spirit; but spiritual development and growth depend upon the extent to which we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to be led and controlled by him. Paul pleaded with the Romans to present their bodies a living sacrifice and their members as instruments of righteousness. He admonished the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit. It is a Bible fact that a person can possess the Spirit, even though the Holy Spirit does not possess that believer.
Now we know that the Corinthian believers had the Spirit of God in them, and a work of grace upon them; because they were, as the apostle says later, the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelt in them; they were washed, sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God; but unfortunately they had not acquired that spiritual discernment, which some believers had, at least when the apostle was first with them; and now they were under great spiritual decline, and they lacked the spiritual foundation and spiritual experience, which some other Christians had.

but as unto carnal,
In verse 3 of this chapter Paul uses another Greek word for “carnal” which is more severe than the word he used here: it signifies “the Sensual; being under the control of the fleshly nature instead of being under the control of the Holy Spirit.” While the believers at Corinth were not anti-spiritual, they were not making spiritual progress. They were truly born-again, they were sons of God—but they were spiritual babies. The word used in verse 3 is indicative of their jealousy and strife and suggests that they were guilty of yielding to the lust that originates in man’s corrupt and fallen nature. They were immature Christians, lacking in spiritual understanding and power, under the influence of fleshly appetites; coveting and living for the things of this life. It is clear that they were in Christ, and thus (since they were in Christ) they could grow and develop if they would only hear the warning and obey the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

I have heard it said, “There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.” Those who make this statement are showing their Bible ignorance and spiritual stupidity. It is a Bible fact that a person can be a believer, although they have carnal tendencies. The unregenerate man is lost and possesses only one nature—that of the natural man.

Paul said to the Ephesians, “In the past … ye were by nature children of wrath”; but the born-again person possesses two natures—the flesh and the Spirit—and these two are constantly warring against each other. There is no excuse, however, for the believer allowing the flesh to get the upper hand, because “we are more than conquerors” through the Lord Jesus; and all we need to live a dedicated, consecrated, victorious, spiritual life is provided in our salvation.

even as unto babes in Christ.
This could be taken as a terrible insult; after all, what does a baby know; nothing, he or she can’t communicate, feed itself, change its diaper, protect itself, nothing. I love babies, but they don’t know anything and I would be upset if I was called a baby. The Corinthians were in Christ, and so they were new creatures; they were, as the Arabic version says it, "in the faith of Christ"; though babies and weaklings in it, they were believers in Christ, converted persons, yet children as far as understanding, knowledge, and experience are concerned. They acted and talked like those recently born into his kingdom, and unable to understand the profound doctrines of the Christian religion. They lacked judgment in spiritual things, and knew little of God’s word; at least this was the case with many of them; though others had studied God’s word and was proficient at communicating it.

In these verses, Babes are contrasted with the perfect (fully matured) in Christ: “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe, But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:13, 14; KJV). This implies they were not men entirely controlled by the flesh, although they had carnal tendencies. They had life in Christ, but it was weak. The apostle blames them for still being to a degree babes in Christ, when by this time they should have matured into a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ"—“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph 4:13; KJV). The measure of the stature is the full measure of knowledge, love, and holiness, which the Gospel of Christ requires. Many preachers, and multitudes of professing Christians, are observers of the life of other believers and they report on what they uncover; of imperfections, infidelities, and inward sinfulness. But very few are bringing out the fair Gospel standard to check the height of the members of the Church; whether they are fit for the heavenly army; whether their stature qualifies them for the ranks of the Church militant! The measure of the stature of the fullness is seldom seen; the measure of the stature of littleness, dwarfishness, and emptiness, is often exhibited.

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