The Expository Files

"Spiritual" Or "Carnal"

 1 Corinthians 3:1-8


1And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2I 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; 3for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? 5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

In the first verse of this chapter it is evident, there are two kinds of people under consideration: Spiritual and Carnal. The word "carnal" in this setting has to do with childish, immature attitudes and behavior. The word "spiritual" identifies the opposite - the mature, growing spirit. To be "carnal" is to be dominated by fleshly, worldly tendencies. To be "spiritual" is to be dominated - in this context - with that behavior and mentality which is produced by "solid food."

Paul's point is - when I "speak to you" I know I'm speaking to people who are carnal. There were evidences of carnality among these people: the rival factions in the church based on favoritism, irreverence and childish competition were not traits of spiritually minded people.

I believe it is significant to observe the use of the little word "still." Paul fed them with milk, "not with solid food" because they were "not able to receive it" and he said they were still not able! In the next verse, "you are still carnal." This has to do with time, and what they had not done with their time. Since the whole of this passage is accusatory, it is clear that these Christians were not growing; they were "still carnal."

The evidences of their carnality? Envy, strife and divisions. This is further evidence of immaturity and the resulting strife and division. Childish human competition tore this church apart. Some claimed loyalty to one man, while others argued in favor of their man and against the other groups. "For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal?"

In an effort to put this childish behavior to rest, Paul wrote to put matters in perspective. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor."

If there is a singular point here, it is captured by one word, "God." Men like Paul and Apollos functioned or ministered (served) in various ways to plant and water, "but God gave the increase." Paul minimizes the role of men: "So then neither he who plans is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase." Let the attention, the emphasis and the loyalty be directed to God. Compared to God, the human servants are not "anything" (though each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor). {See further teaching on the role of men in chapter four.}

The spiritually minded person will be characterized by just this perspective. The carnal person will place emphasis on men, groups of men and childish competition. Please note, later in this context, verse 21: "let no one boast in men." This was one of the key problems in Corinth. It can become a problem in us. May our faith not be in the wisdom of men, but "in the power of God," (2:5).


By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 7.6; June 2000



 

 

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