*At my church- Aletheia Community Alliance Church, we are doing a sermon series on the first book written to the Corinthian church. We are finding the book to be very impactful to our lives, so each week I will be posting the sermons in blog form here! Enjoy the journey of discovering how we can be a Church in the City!*
1 Corinthians 3:1-8
I love my kids tremendously! Being a Daddy is one of my favorite things in life and I’m about to have a third child! One interesting thing about kids is their eating habits. You have to make sure as the parent you are introducing the right foods at the right times otherwise things could go badly. If you move from milk to puréed food too slowly, they can develop swallowing problems. Yet, if you move forward too fast, they can have severe stomach and allergy problems. They have to be ready to go to the next level. Many babies have varying levels of readiness for the next level and the parents have to be patient, yet also discerning on when to push the next level. Some babies think they’re ready and aren’t and still others are ready but simply avoid changing. Bottles are cute for a time, but it stops being cute when they need solid food. This change in diet-giving solid food allows them to grow to the fullness of what their bodies have capacity to grow into. It’s definitely a challenge moving into food from milk, spills happen, messy faces happen but so does the growth.
There can be times in a Christian’s life where they stop desiring the next level and are content with milk, rather than seeking out the meat. I believe that many of us stay in this place and become carnal Christians rather than spiritual Christians. We may feel as if our growth is done; yet there is so much more. God desires for us to move out of carnal Christianity and into spiritual Christianity, so the question we are face with is this: How can we move from carnal Christianity to Spiritual Christianity?
“3 But I, brothers,[a] could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 Soneither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”
Last post from this series, we discussed the powerful issue of surrender and how Paul was inferring to the Corinthian church their need to surrender and recognize His wisdom and their arrogance. Here Paul states why they (and in view of this we) have not surrendered. They were living as Carnal Christians, even though they felt as if they were supremely pious and spiritual Christians. Paul then points out the things causing their carnal living and in so doing attempts to direct them (and us) towards Spiritual Christianity. The first thing he points out is for us to
Admit our carnality and seek to walk in maturity (vs. 1-4)
The Corinthians were doing neither of these things because they thought they had arrived. Paul hits hard with this portion of Scripture. He just finished discussing their arrogance in thinking they were the loftiest of all Christians and how they needed to surrender to the Spirit in all things. Here he states that not only are they not mature believers, they are still infants in the faith. God doesn’t state this to shame them, but to convict them. He doesn’t make this statement to demoralize them, but to humble them enough to see the truth of his words and to shock them into not only seeing their carnality but admitting to it. Confession brings deep freedom! They felt as if they’ve matured but Paul showed them the things in their hearts and lives that pointed to the reality that they had not. When Paul in verse three states: “…for while there jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh behaving only in a human way?” he is pointing to the place they need to admit their carnality the most- their self-centeredness. I believe he likened them to babies, because babies too are self-centered. Everything in a baby’s life is centered around them…trust me, as a dad, I know this truth all too well. Warren Weirsbe hit the nail on the head when he said: “A mature Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about. Many of the members of the Corinthian church enjoyed “showing off” their gifts, but they were not interested in serving one another and edifying the church”. Our gifts are tools for service, not toys for showing off. Leaving behind infant Christian hood is embracing that you are not simply saved for your self, but you are saved for the sake of the world. We quickly touched on that last week, but it is so utterly important that we catch that. In our American society, this is countercultural and semi-offensive. We easily embrace the good things for ourselves, but when we are asked to serve others in the same way Christ served us, we bristle. When this happens, it is good to see this as a red flag for us to seek to walk into deeper maturity. We must first admit our carnality. If we lived as more mature Christians, jealousy and strife would be rare commodities in church. Sadly they are very prominent in our western church walls. We live to much on the outer portion of our faith.
Another red flag that points to our carnal Christianity is the fact that many of us simply live Sunday to Sunday. We live simply for the next lesson and not seeking God’s face for ourselves. A.W. Tozer once said: “A carnal Christian must be tricked into studying the Bible and it must be made out to be something that is fun”. He stated that over 50 years ago! That reality has only gotten worse in western culture. To the carnal Christian, as long as they look good on the outside and “feel’s good” on the inside they are good and a strong Christian. This simply isn’t the case. We may be saved, but we are allowing our fleshly desires to rule our lives instead of God. Seeking to walk in maturity causes a deeper seeking after God, never thinking we’ve attained enough of Him, but always seeking for more. Seeking more of God let’s us…
Recognize that God is the one who causes growth, not man (vs. 5-8)
When we seek after God, we grow because growth comes from Him. No matter how awesome we feel we are, or how awesome our pastors or teachers in the Lord are, He is the one who causes growth. We can better position ourselves to grow, but we do not bring about the growth. This is why we must continue to seek more of God and never feel as if we’ve “arrived”. God is the one who is everything and anything. When we go after Him, we begin to move away from our carnal self-centeredness and He leads us to love the world. I fear that we, in our educated culture feel that we are the ones who develop growth by our effort, but here we see that God is everything. In our current western church culture as well, we find that “The Church” pushes a very works righteousness type of faith; yet, as we saw a few weeks ago, without the Spirit, the Word doesn’t even make sense. How often do we read the Scripture and beforehand pray and ask the Spirit to make it make sense? Or do we arrogantly open our Bible and say: “I’m going to have bible study now!” I fall prey to this thinking all the time and need to be reminded He is the one, not me. I cannot comprehend the fullness of God. He is a vast, large ocean and I can never have enough of Him!
I was reading in a book titled The Counselor: Straight Talk About the Holy Spirit by A.W. Tozer, when I came across this awesome bit of writing. “Dr. AB Simpson used an illustration which was about as good as any I ever heard. He said, ‘Being filled with the fullness of God is like a bottle in the ocean. You take the cork out of the bottle and sink it in the ocean, and you have the bottle completely full of ocean. The bottle is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the bottle. The ocean contains the bottle, but the bottle contains only a little bit of the ocean. So it is with a Christian’. We are filled unto the fullness of God, but, of course, we cannot contain all of God because God contains us; but we can have all of God that we can contain. If we only knew it, we could enlarge our vessel. If we desire, the vessel gets bigger as we go on with God” (Page 65).
God is an ocean and we are mere vessels, when we recognize he is the one who Grows us and that He offers limitless amounts of himself to us, we realize we simply need to enlarge our capacity for more of Him. This may mean less of the entertainment we call “discipleship” and more of an intentional seeking after Him.
When we begin to look at God in this way as if we can never get enough, and attribute our growth to Him and continuously desire the things he desires due to our proximity to His heart, we move from carnal Christianity into a more Spiritual Christianity. Paul urges the Corinthian church and us to surrender as we saw last week, but here he exposes our desire for the worldly, fleshly things that hinder our ability to surrender. There will be times in our walk where we will feel very unspiritual and caught. My advise to you is to not fear judgment, but seek out brothers and sisters who can walk you through it in love and pray with you, but fight and pray through it! We do not battle flesh and blood, but the enemy, so we must come together and fight together. “Spiritual Christians have a life of labor; they look upon the world not as a playground but as a battleground.” When we understand this life is not about us and when we capture the desire for more of God, we will begin to desire to fight for the same thing for those around us.
My prayer is that all of us can be the church Paul saw the Corinthians capable of being. He challenges us to look at the things we see as important and change our focus to the things that God sees as important. Much of what we (and I include myself in this) focus on isn’t what He would focus on. May we seek to be men and women who desire more of Him and by so doing seek to focus on what He would focus on.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 578). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.