1st Corinthians 3:1-4 reads, “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. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (NKJV) Let’s take a close look at this.

Verse 1: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.” When Paul first visited the city of Corinth he preached the gospel of Christ and many believed and were born again (see Acts 18:1-8). When this letter was written to them some years had gone by and yet they were STILL BABES in Christ! They should have grown spiritually but instead of being SPIRITUAL they were CARNAL. What does this mean? Paul had ended chapter 2 by speaking of one who is SPIRITUAL: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED. But he who is SPIRITUAL judges all things” (verses 14-15). The Corinthians were in a very sad state; their spiritual growth had been STUNTED and as a result they lacked SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT, which meant Paul couldn’t speak to them “as to spiritual people, but as to carnal.” What does the word CARNAL mean? It means “fleshly” which means they were behaving as if they had not been born again; as people who still lived according to the desires of “the flesh” (the “old nature” they were born with). When Paul ends verse 1 with the words, “as to babes in Christ” he is simply pointing out that instead of growing spiritually they had REMAINED BABY CHRISTIANS. This leads us to the next verse.

Verse 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.” Again, when the Corinthians were first born again they needed the “milk of the Word” as we see in 1st Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere mild of the word, that you may grow nearby.” Just like a literal baby needs milk to grow, so the “babe in Christ” needs the milk of the Word,” which means the “elementary truths of the gospel.” As they grow and mature in the faith, they will then be able to eat “solid food,” which refers to the “deeper truths of God’s Word.” Yet because the Corinthians had remained babes, they weren’t able to take in the deeper things of God that would have brought them to full maturity.

Verse 3: “For you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (NASB).  Paul now gives PROOF that they are CARNAL. Jealousy and strife are two marks of THE FLESH. “Now the DEEDS OF THE FLESH are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality….STRIFE, JEALOUSY, outbursts of anger…” (Galatians 5:19-20). These are things that characterize the unsaved men of the world and when a believer is CARNAL he is “walking like mere men” (men who have never been born again, like the “natural man” that we noticed in 1st Corinthians 2:14). Now let’s be clear; these were true believers and thus they were truly born again and possessed a new nature, but they still had the old sinful nature and due to their lack of growth they were governed by the appetites of THE FLESH. When people saw the way they acted they would have seen no difference between them and the unsaved men who only have the sinful nature.

Verse 4: “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” Here Paul gives them more evidence that they were carnal; they were looking up to certain men and forming parties around them. This is what unsaved people do. They exalt men and want to be known as followers of those men. This does NOT mean Paul and Apollos were seeking followers; it means that the Corinthians had their eyes on “mere men” instead of on “Christ” and this naturally leads to exalting certain men above others and identifying with them by calling yourselves by their name. In chapter one Paul had already addressed this problem: “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be NO DIVISIONS among you…For I have been informed concerning you…that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos,’ and ‘I am of Cephas,’ and ‘I am of Christ.’” (verses 10-12). As stated earlier Paul did NOT seek followers and here he plainly condemns anyone following him or any other man. Some were even saying, ‘I am of Christ’ as if they alone belonged to Christ while other believers didn’t. These divisions in the early church were sowing the seeds of the full-blown divisions we have today where carnal Christians call themselves “Lutherans” (followers of Martin Luther), “Calvinists” (followers of John Calvin), “Wesleyans” (followers of John Wesley), et al. As we have seen, to behave like this is to be CARNAL and NOT SPIRITUAL; it means our growth has been STUNTED and we are still BABES.

This has been a solemn lesson and I pray we will all take it to heart. May our desire be to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2nd Peter 3:18). The Lord Jesus Christ should be the sole object of our faith and as we continue to learn of Him (see Matthew 11:29), we will grow and be known as “spiritual people” instead of “carnal.”  (425.3)  (DO)