Updated: Feb 21, 2022
By Doug Bell
1 Corinthians 3:1-4
1 ¶ But I, brothers, 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.
Here I’m using the ESV Version for its clear rendering of the Greek. It’s unfortunate that the KJV and the NKJV use the word “carnal’ instead of the word ‘flesh.’ I say unfortunate because this has led some to wrongly think that there is a sub-Christian group known as ‘carnal Christians.’ The Bible knows none of this! There are only two groups of people in the world, I.e., the Saved and the Lost. And among the ‘saved’ group, according to the Apostle John (in 1 John 2:12-14) the three types of Christian: (1.) the Immature (little children), (2.) the Young Men (Young in the Faith), and (3.) Fathers (Mature in the Faith).
The word ‘Carnal’ is the definition of an unconverted person! Romans 8:5-9;
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 ¶ You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him
So, it is impossible for anyone who is saved to be a ‘Carnal Christian!’ Of all the Churches Paul has started; the Church in Corinth is the one Church that had the hardest time pulling away from their pagan background. They had a young man sleeping with his step Mother (and they were proud of it). They had allowed false apostles come in and confuse them, there were divisions in the church. They were suing other Christians in pagan courts. They were weak in their faith about meat offered to idols. And some were thinking about going back to their idol gods! Head coverings and spiritual gifts were bones of contention for this people. On and on we could go. But, you see what the Apostle was up against!
So then, what IS Paul saying to these Corinthians in our verses for today? This is what we would call ‘Sarcasm.’ They were Christians. They had the Holy Spirit. They had put their faith in Jesus Christ to save them. But, they were not progressing in their Sanctification! They were yet ‘Infants’ in their faith. And so the Apostle Paul is ‘calling them out!’ In essence, he is saying (to embarrass them), “when I look at your lives, I see no real difference between your life and the life of any lost person in Corinth! Shame on you. You have been given a new life, a new Spirit. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). And you are acting like this! This is apparent when he later is speaking to them about tongues; 14:20 ¶ Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
Evidently the writer to the Hebrews had the same type of problem in his church, for we read in Hebrews 5:11-14; 6:1-3
11 ¶ “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,
13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil
1 ¶ Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
3 And this we will do if God permits.”
Now Notice the writer here gives us the answer to “How we are to be growing in Sanctification.”
13 ‘for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.’
If you’re still an infant, it’s because you are ‘unskilled’ in the word of God! A New or baby Christian should be craving the Bible like he craves air to breathe. As Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Someone once ask C.H. Spurgeon what was more important; reading the Bible or praying? To which he immediately replied, ‘tell me which is more important; breathing in or breathing out?’
And how does one mature?
14 “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
The mature are those who have “exercised” their faith. They are trained by the word to “discern truth from error and holy behavior from unholy.” 1
Isn’t this exactly what the Apostle told us is the ‘work’ of the Bible in 2 Tim. 3:
16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
1 The McArthur Study Bible, Note on Hebrews 5:14.