And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1)
Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, those part of the congregation Paul founded when he spent a year and a half there (Acts 18:1-11). The Corinthian church had plenty of problems, and here Paul dealt with the root of those problems: many of them were carnal.
It’s important to recognize that those whom Paul addressed were part of the family of God; they are called brethren. In a sense, that was their problem. They were not behaving like spiritual people, but like carnalpeople – that is, fleshly people. They behaved like immature Christians, as babes in Christ.
There are some who think that there is no such thing as a carnal Christian. Some say it is a contradiction in terms; that what Paul really meant was that these carnal ones were not Christians at all. Yet Paul clearly called them brethren, and he said they were babes in Christ. It’s hard to see how Paul could consider them brothers and call them babes in Christ if they weren’t in the family of God and as babes in Christ, had made a genuine start in the Christian life.
These Corinthian Christians, to some extent, were thinking and acting according to the flesh, not the Spirit. Of course, the flesh did not dominate every aspect of their life, or they would then have had no evidence of being born again. But Paul confronted them where they were clearly thinking and acting in a carnal (fleshly) manner.
Paul didn’t mean that our material substance – the cells and tissues that make up our body – are inherently sinful. There is weakness associated with being “made of flesh,” but this weakness isn’t automatically sinful (2 Corinthians 3:3). Here, the problem with the Corinthian Christians was they were carnal, that is “fleshly” – they were characterized by the flesh. This speaks of the believer who can and should live differently but does not. They aren’t spiritually minded, but they are fleshly minded.
Paul told the Christians of Galatia that they must “walk in the Spirit” and then they would not “fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:6). There were more than a few among the Corinthian Christians who were losing that battle; they were believers, but at least in some ways, their life was marked more by the ideas and actions of their flesh instead of the ideas and actions of the Spirit of God.
Paul spoke of three categories.
– The natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14), is patterned after Adam and rejects the things of God.
– The spiritual man (1 Corinthians 2:15), knows the things of God and endeavors to think and live according to the Spirit.
– The carnal man knows the things of God, yet in some significant ways doesn’t walk in the Spirit, but is characterized by the flesh.
Which one are you?