September 9, 2012

Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #2: The Problem of Divisions, 1 Corinthians 1.10-4.21



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.


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.

I have fed you with milk,
Here Paul stresses the fact that the Corinthian Christians were infants, spiritually speaking. It is typical of the Jews to compare the law to milk, and they say, “as milk strengthens and nourishes an infant, so the law strengthens and nourishes the soul”; but in this place the apostle does not mean "the milk of the law," but the gospel. The Gospel can be compared to milk, because, like milk, it is pure, wholesome, nourishing, and easy to digest. God designed it to be one of the plain and easy doctrines of the Christian faith, so that babes in Christ were capable of understanding and receiving it. Certainly, physical babies cannot eat meat, and Paul declared that he could not give them the spiritual meat of God’s Word, because they were spiritual infants, still needing to be “bottle fed.” Acts 18.11 tells us that Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and six months, teaching them the Word of God: “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11; KJV). During that period, he instructed them only in the fundamentals of Christianity—its simplest and easiest truths; because they had a minute amount of religious knowledge, and as a result they were incapable of comprehending the more solid doctrines; such as, the mysteries of grace. By relating to them their weak spiritual condition, he exposes to them the absurdity of their conduct in pretending to judge the quality of the preaching of Paul, Apollos and Peter, while they had only a very partial acquaintance even with the rudimental doctrines of Christianity.

and not with meat:
Meat means the solid and deeper doctrines; such as, the mysteries of grace, how a man is made righteous by the righteousness of Jesus, sanctification of the believer, the resurrection of the dead, etc. The Corinthians were spiritual babies, and in that condition they were incapable of comprehending the more solid doctrines. In the school of Christian learning, like all others, the teaching must be adapted to the maturity and experience of the learner, but Paul could not get past the milk and into the meat, as he ministered to the Corinthian believers. He could have been referring to them when he wrote these words: “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Heb 5:12; NLT). Notice that he said you ought to be teaching others (You ought to be able to instruct others.). He does not mean to say, evidently, that they all ought to become public teachers, or preachers of the gospel, but that they ought to be able to explain to others the truths of the Christian religion. As parents, they ought to be able to explain them to their children; as neighbors, to their neighbors; or as friends, to those who were seeking the way to eternal life. But again, they didn’t know enough themselves, to be capable of teaching others; they were babies and didn’t have teeth to chew the meat of the Word.

for hitherto ye were not able to bear it;
They could not accept, enjoy, and digest it; it was meat, but it was too tough for them, since they were weak in faith and babes in Christ; therefore he wisely adapted things to their capabilities. But the Gospel he preached to them, which he calls "milk", was not another Gospel, or contrary to that which he has called "meat": the only difference between them being that the one consisted of truths, which were easier to understand, and he delivered it in a manner more suited to their ability to comprehend it. Here he adds, ye were not able to bear it, which carries with it the notion of laziness and negligence; that it had been some time since they had become Christians, received the Holy Spirit and been baptized; and yet, they had not improved in the knowledge of the truth; they were only in the alphabet of the Gospel, and needed to be instructed again in the simpler principles of the oracles of God, because anything beyond these was beyond their comprehension.

The apostle seems to allude to the method used by the Jews to teach their children. The custom followed by the Jews said they should begin school when the child was six or seven years old; it varied according to the child's strength, and the maturity of his body, but they were never placed in a school before the age of six. But a father was obliged to teach his child at home sooner than this. The Jews say, “from what time is his father obliged to teach him the law? as soon as he begins to speak, he teaches him the law Moses commanded us, and "hear O Israel." At home his instruction begins as soon as he can speak; then he is instructed verse by verse, until he is six or seven years of age, when he can go to school, but only if he is able to understand the teaching. The schooling proceeds slowly and tenderly until the boy is twelve; and even if the boy cannot learn he is treated kindly.

Friends, it is natural for babes to grow up to be men; and babes in Christ should make an effort to grow in Stature, and become men in Christ. It is expected that their advances in knowledge should be in proportion to their means and opportunities, and the time they have been professing Christians. They should be able to bear preaching and teaching on the mysteries of our religion, and not always be content with the simple things. It was an embarrassment to the Corinthians to have for so long sat under the ministry of Paul and had made so little improvement in Christian knowledge.

Note, Christians who do not endeavor to grow in grace and knowledge are to blame; not the Bible, the preacher, or the Lord.


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?

For ye are yet carnal:
The Syriac reads "ye are in the flesh": a phrase the apostle uses elsewhere to refer to men who are in an unregenerate state; but this is not his meaning here, as has already been explained; here the meaning is that carnality still prevailed among them, and he gives evidence in the next clause to back it up. The Corinthian believers still could not understand the higher teaching, the “hidden wisdom,” the meat. They were carnal in some areas of life, and that stopped their growth and maturity in the Christian faith.

for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

The existence of jealousy and strife and the presence of group loyalties are clear evidence of immaturity, of a life controlled by the flesh or by self-centered concerns. Some of the Corinthians may have been boasting about their superior Christian experience and knowledge. If so, Paul reminds them rather unsympathetically that they are merely men. Men truly united with Christ are not disunited when strife surfaces. When factions (divisions) are formed it is not the work of the Spirit, but of man (see Galatians 5.15-26). Persons who are led by the Spirit of God to spiritual maturity know they belong only to Christ. The awareness of belonging to Him transcends earthly loyalties.

Envying—it is used here in the same sense of envy, as it is in James 3:14-16: “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth…This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish…For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” It denotes passion, zeal, enthusiasm, and may be applied to any exciting and agitated feeling. The envy referred to here, was that which arose from the superior advantages and gifts which some claimed or possessed over others. Envy has always been a cause of strife. Most conflict in the church is somehow usually connected with envy. The Corinthians envied each other's gifts and knowledge, argued about the meaning of certain words, entered into hot debates about their ministers, and joined the faction behind their preferred minister. These factions or parties were distinguished by the names of the minister they followed. Actually, they gave clear evidence of their carnality: They lived like other men, who made no pretence of being religious; they were led by the opinions of men, and were carried away with human passions; and in their conduct they could barely be distinguished from the rest of the world. The things that are mentioned here, and with which they are charged by the apostle, are considered to be among the works of the flesh: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness…Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies” (Gal 5:19-20; KJV).

Strife— Conflict and argument. They could not agree, they argued until they separated from each other, and arranged themselves into factions, and thus split the Church of Christ. In this state, we might expect the apostle to say, “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men? Ye act just as the people of the world, and have no more of the spirit of religion than they.”

Divisions—Caused by Disagreement and quarrels. The idea is, that they were split up into parties, and that those parties were bitter and opposed each other at every opportunity, and they plotted recriminations and criticisms against the other parties. The phrase, "and divisions", is omitted in the Alexandrian copy, and in some others, and in the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions.

are ye not carnal—Although you are Christians, your divisions and strife show that you are, in some degree, still under the control of the principles which govern the men of this world. Men who are governed solely by the principles of this world demonstrate a spirit of strife, imitation, competition, fighting and conflict.

Walk as men—Paul’s final accusation against them is that they live (walk) as unregenerate men: “But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt 16:23; KJV). The word walk is used often in the Scriptures in the sense of conduct or actions. You conduct [yourselves] as men, that is, as men commonly do; you show the same spirit that the great mass of men do. Instead of being filled with love, of being united and harmonious as the members of the same family ought to be, you are split up into factions as the men of the world are.

4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

For while one saith, I am of Paul;
This shows what their envying and strife, and divisions were about, and it serves to strengthen the proof, and support the charge of carnality brought against them; because when one group formed a party for Paul, and set him up as their minister; and said I am of Paul, they essentially placed a wall between them and the other parties. The fact that they are divided by following different human leaders, instead of all following Christ, demonstrated that they were still carnal.

It was obvious to all that both Paul and Apollos adhered to the same creed; between them there was not the slightest difference.  Therefore, when dissidents began to prefer the one over the other, it was perhaps the best proof of their carnality; because in the doctrines of these apostles there was no difference: so that what the people were captivated by must be something in their outward manner, Apollos being probably more eloquent than Paul. Their preferring one over another on such an account proved that they were carnal—led by their feelings and mere outward appearances, without being guided by reason or the Spirit. There are thousands of such people in the Christian Church today.

and another, I am of Apollos;
This party preferred Apollos, probably due to his eloquence which was better than Paul’s, or any other preacher, and was first mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:12: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” Notice: there was a third party for Cephas, whom they thought was superior to the other two, or any other man; and a fourth were for Christ, and they despised all ministers. Once again, this is proof that the Corinthian believers were carnal; that they loved their fleshly interests more than Christ. Notice: Controversy and quarrels about religion are sad evidences of residual carnality. True religion makes men peaceable and not argumentative. Factious spirits act upon human principles, not upon the principles of true religion; they are guided by their own pride and passions, and not by the rules of Christianity.

are ye not carnal?
Carnal is often used for “flesh.” The "flesh" includes all feelings that aim not at the glory of God, and the good of our neighbor, but at gratifying self.—“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness … Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies … Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21; KJV). All this (what’s mentioned in verses 1-4) was a demonstration of their carnality, and they could never get completely away from it. If they wanted to be free from carnal desires they should have prayed to God for help, and that would have brought the Holy Spirit to their aid, and he would convict their consciences against these things. This is the appeal that the apostle makes to them; because he certainly loved them and wanted them to grow in faith in, and in the knowledge of Jesus. The Alexandrian copy and the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "are ye not men?"


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