“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 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?” (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, NASB95)
In that same Crusade booklet, “Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life?” I learned that while there are only two camps for men in the large scheme of things, there are also two camps for Christians. There are those who, like the description in the previous post, live Christ directed lives and who are marked by their trust and growth in Him even in the midst of stumbling, and there are those who while being saved still live as if they are largely in control. It may be because of a lack of maturity and not growing in their knowledge and understanding of who they are in Christ and how they are to walk before God or it may be because they are in a season of rebellion and choosing to ignore the things of God.
Paul wrote of the Corinthian believers that he could not write to them as to spiritual men because they weren’t living as spiritual men. Instead he was placed in the position of writing to them correctively as men of flesh. The word “flesh” in our modern translations is written as “carnal” in the King James and subsequent New King James translations. The roots of “carnal” are not in the Greek word used (sarkinos), but in Latin and then late middle English. And, a form of this word, “carne” is frequently found in many Latin-based foods where it simply means meat. It is this word carnal, that flows from our earlier translations that Crusade and others have adopted this term to describe the Christian who is living a self-, or of himself- or his flesh-directed life. This the person who walks according to his wisdom and his own desires without significant regard to the ways of God. He may go to church on Sunday or things like that, but the rest of his life or certain areas of his life bear little resemblance to his true identity as one who belongs to Christ. In Crusade we learned that this is the person who while possessing great a great spiritual inheritance lives in spiritual poverty and defeat. In the simplest of terms, he has not grown up. These people are still “infants in Christ.” (https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/the-spirit-filled-life.html)
The Corinthian church was struggling because the believers in the church were not growing in the Word. They were still being influenced by the outside world and most probably the things of the pagan worship surrounding them and that had influenced many of them. Paul wrote to them as believers, meaning that they were no longer “natural.” They had been saved. This was clearly stated in chapter 1, verse 2 where he wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NASB95) But they also could not be called “spiritual” because they were not living as if they had been saved. For these people their walk did not match their identity. To the world they looked one way, but God knew them to be different. And, it is this difference for which Paul is calling them to account.
It didn’t matter their chronological age or even the number of years or months that they had been saved. What mattered is that they had not grown from the initial things they had heard from Paul which was the basics of salvation. Paul called them “infants.” There are a number of words used in the New Testament to refer to children. There is only one used to refer to a group younger than the word used here, and that word refers to those yet unborn or just born. Here the word “nēpios” is not a general term used of children such as even children of God which is true of all of us who are saved, but specifically referring to little children or infants. It would be like saying they had not grown beyond the initial milk and were still acting infantile in their faith.
My littlest grandson and granddaughter are grabbing for their parents’ food. What they see them eating is very enticing and they want to move past the milk to get the seemingly good stuff that everyone else is eating. But they are 7 and 5 months old. It would be problematic if they were 7 or 5 years old and they were not eating what the rest were. For them, even at their young age they know there is something more and they want it. These believers in Corinth had not gone past the spiritual milk, and this was a real problem in the church.
Paul added that this problem was such an issue that they still were not able to receive solid spiritual food, because they were still “fleshly” as evidenced by how they were interacting with each other. Specifically, he returned to an issue previously brought up; “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” There problem was not that they could not understand more complicated doctrines, but that they weren’t even applying the truths that they knew. There was not spiritual depth in their lives. They had not put off the things that they probably knew they were supposed to and started to live as they were led. Later in this letter Paul would speak of himself writing, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, NASB95) This was the step that these believers needed to take in order to start seeing real growth.
In the English Standard Version, the end of verse 3 reads, “…are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:3, ESV) This was the question Paul rhetorically asked them as he presented to them what he had heard. Paul pointed t how they related to each other as a mark of their immaturity. Jesus presented this same mark as the standard for how we are to be as believers. He wrote, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, NASB) And the result of this kind of love in the church, rather than souring people toward Christianity, Jesus went on to say, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NASB)
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” … “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16, 22–25, NASB)