Spiritual or Worldly?- 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

In this passage, Paul refers to the church at Corinth as worldly rather than spiritual. He begins here by telling the Corinthians that “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly”. What does Paul mean by these terms, and how can we, as believers, tell which we are? We will examine verses 1-4 in order to see just what Paul means here and how it applies not only to first century Corinth, but to all believers at all times and in all places. We must begin by noting that Paul here addresses this to “brothers”, showing that this is written to believers, to Christians. The terms used here are pneumatikos (spiritual) and sarkikos (worldly). Both are adjectives, showing they describe the basic characteristic of something, what they “are”, and the ikos ending in the Greek indicates that they are manifesting (displaying) what they are through their behavior. Our first clue as to what worldly means here is that worldly believers are described as “infants in Christ”. The word infants here is the Greek nepios, whose root means “wordless” and describes a child too young to speak intelligible words. It is interesting to note here that this term “wordless” may also be used to describe immature believers, for those who are not in the Word of God (and the Word of God is not in them) will remain “immature”, babes in Christ. In verse 2, Paul refers back to when he first started the church in Corinth (5-6 years earlier), to the time when he “gave them milk”, and he is now (years later) still having to give them milk, for they are still immature. What leads him to the conclusion that they are “worldly” and immature? He tells us in verse 3, mentioning jealousy and quarreling among them. The reason he brings this up is that the jealousy and quarreling are evidence of the immaturity, evidence that they are worldly not spiritual. And what was the source of the jealousy and quarreling? He tells us in the climax of this passage in verse 4, for the believers were saying “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos”. What was the cause of the immaturity, what made them worldly rather than spiritual? It was who they “followed”. It must be mentioned here that the word translated “followed” here is actually eimi in the Greek, the verb “to be”. They were literally saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos”, looking to Paul and Apollos (other human beings) as their source and their identity rather than to Christ. One who is worldly here is one who looks to other people to tell him who he is, and to be the source of his worth and identity, rather than to Christ. The spiritual believer is one who looks only to Christ to tell him who he is and to be the source of his worth and identity. It is this looking to other people to define them which caused the Corinthians to remain worldly and engage in the jealousy and quarreling which Paul here condemns, and the same is true of believers in this day. As long as we look to other people to tell us who we are and look to them as our source of worth and identity, we will remain worldly, babes in Christ. It is only as we learn to look to Christ as our source of worth and identity that we will become “spiritual”, ready for solid food, no longer babes characterized by jealousy and quarreling among us.

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Pure Spiritual Milk

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