Studies in I Corinthians
Lesson 9 Misconceptions of the Ministry
I Corinthians 3:1-4
Trying to describe a Christian is a lot like the old story of a group of 4 blind men who had been given the task of describing an elephant by feeling of the various parts. The first man felt of the legs, running his hands up and down the length, and circumference of each leg, and pronounced that an elephant looks very much like a small grove of trees. The second man felt of the tail, and insisted that an elephant looked like a thick rope. The third felt of the trunk and reported that an elephant looks like a firehose. And each of the men insisted that they were right and the others were wrong! And to the unsaved that can be very confusing – in fact chapter 2 is going to say that the unsaved really cannot understand the Christian.
But actually those differences don’t need to be so confusing – in I Corinthians 2:14 through 3:4 Paul divides the whole spectrum of Christianity into 4 basic categories. And in our last study we looked at the first two of those: “the natural man” in verse 14, and “the new man” in verses 15 and 16.
Now as we move into chapter 3, the chapter at which we will look today, Paul is going to continue the same theme, but with a little different emphasis. While the first part of the chapter will look at two more classes of Christians, it will also deal with something that results from immaturity in Christians.
By way of outline, the chapter falls into 3 parts:
A Misconception of Ministry in verses 1 through 8.
Then A Message for Ministers in verses 9 through 17.
And third, motivation for Ministry in verses 18 through 23
So we will begin our study of chapter 3 with the misconception of ministry in verses 1 through 8.
Among the problems in the church in Corinth (and sometimes in churches today) was a misconception of leadership. And further down in the chapter Paul is going to elaborate on those details. But in the first few verses he continues talking about the theme from chapter 2 by talking about the participants in the misconception. And there are two kinds: First, “the unable” in verses 1 and 2 – some who were simply unable to understand the correct concept of the ministry.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, even as to babes in Christ I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.
The key word in verse 1 is the word “babe” And we have to be careful, because that term can be used in a couple of different ways. It can refer to “baby” Christians – new Christians. Or it can refer to one who is so immature that he acts like a baby Christian. Or it can refer to one who has been a Christian for some time, but is still so immature that he acts like a baby even though he should be more mature. But notice that verse 1 is written in the past tense – so it is describing their condition when he first came to Corinth. So actually the category he is describing is that of the “new” Christian. And the primary characteristic of the new Christian is in verse 2: he is limited in his ability to understand spiritual truths.
I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.
They could take in milk, but they couldn’t take in meat. Thus they were somewhere in between the two types of people described in our last study: “natural” (unsaved) and “new” (believers.) Incidentally, “milk” and “meat” are sometimes confused. We tend to think of the doctrine of salvation as “milk” but election and prophecy or predestination as meat. But in reality, all of the “simple” doctrines have unfathomable depths. And some of the most difficult doctrines have aspects that even a new Christian can understand. So these terms don’t refer to two separate areas of truth, but to the “depth” of the various truths. John Calvin (of all people,) Said, “Christ is milk for the babes and meat for the men.” Also – teachers and parents: there are not some truths that you need to hold back until later.
Paul is an example: he taught the Corinthians many truths – didn’t hold any back. But even though he taught them truths such as election (in chapter 1) he didn’t go to the depths of it that he later did with the Romans in Romans 9. Our responsibility as teaching parents and pastors or Sunday School teachers is to give a balanced diet of all of the doctrines of scripture, but on a level that our particular hearers can understand and assimilate. Now there is something else to notice about this verse: Notice that there is reprimand in the first part of the verse for being immature.
I fed you with milk and not with solid food:
But the last phrase of the verse does contain a reprimand: . . . for until now you are not able to receive it.
The problem was that these particular people had had enough time to become mature, but they were still like babies. And that leads to the next point . . . remember now, Paul is talking about “the participants in a misconception of the ministry. And he has said that one group that often participates in this misconception is the unable, according to verses 3 and 4
But a second group that participates in this misconception is the unstable, according to verses 3 and 4
For you are still carnal For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you are you not carnal and behaving as mere men? (4) For when one says “I am of Paul,” or I am of Apollos, are you not carnal?
Again there is a key word here – the word “carnal.” It is the translation of the Greek word “sarkakos,” which means “fleshly.” And the way it is structured Greek (and the English) indicates being under the control of the flesh.
We saw that the “natural” man is under the domination of the soul (the psychological aspect of things) And the “spiritual man is under the domination of the spirit (which is under the control of the Holy Spirit). And in the same way, the “carnal” man is under the domination of the flesh – this life and bodily activities. Satisfaction of the senses is involved in even whatever spiritual activities he may be involved in. In fact, there is an example right here in verse 4: “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” is satisfying to the ego and/or the intellect rather than the spirit. Or an example from experience might be that the Holy Spirit might direct someone to witness, but it’s too embarrassing. Or to have early morning devotions but its too hard to get up, or to be more honest in business, but that is too demanding. And the result of all this domination by the flesh is in verse 3: “envying and strife and division”
There are many symptoms of carnality, but these are probably the most obvious. And it is very natural: if these believers have the ability to be in step with God but they aren’t, how can they be in step with other believers?
There is one final thing to notice about this carnal man, and it is back in verse 2:
I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.
Why were they not able? Because they chose to satisfy the demands of the flesh rather than the demands of the Spirit.
When we see a human baby that is under developed mentally or physically, it is very sad – even though it is no one’s fault. Think how much sadder it is in the eyes of God when a spiritual baby chooses to remain in that condition!
The secret of the Christian life is not some great or mysterious experience. It is not the result of some self effort program, it is really not even a “secret” at all. It is a process of growth. Taking in the word of God and being obedient to it, and moving ahead on that basis.
A simple example of Christian growth is from earlier times in history when a little girl was visiting with her grandmother until after dark. The grandmother gave her a lantern and said, “Just walk to the edge of the light and you will be all right.
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him it is our prayer that these studies will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If you are already a believer in Christ we hope that the studies will help you to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” If I can be of help to you at any time I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org