1 Corinthians 3:1-9 - Paul Urges Believers to Grow Up
3And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
The situation in Corinth: Corinth was an unusual city. It had been leveled by Roman legions in 146 BCE and lay waste for more than 100 years until Julius Caesar rebuilt it about 44 BCE. It then grew rapidly, largely because of its location at the neck of a narrow isthmus that connects two parts of Greece. Corinth controlled the sea routes from east to west and the land routes from north and south. By the time of Paul’s visits, nearly 100 years after rebuilding, Corinth had become the third most important city in the Roman Empire and was a melting pot of cultures. Corinth was wealthy and young; excess was the order of the day. People wanted to appear intelligent, but they didn’t seem to be as interested in thinking deeply as in being emotionally caught up by the faddish topics of the day. The city developed a worldwide reputation for sexual freedom and for vice, debauchery and luxury. The church was in a mess and tending in too many ways to relect the values of the culture rather than the radical love, humility and generosity of the new Jesus movement. Conlicts were rife. Worship had degenerated into a wild free for all where everyone was trying to outdo everyone else, speaking in unknown tongues, louder and louder. People’s views about sex and marriage were distorted. Incest was tolerated. Certain wives were suggesting that it might be best if their husbands occasionally visited pagan temple prostitutes while publicly urging young people not to marry and to remain celibate. To top it all off, they couldn’t stand each other! They divided into warring factions within the church and spent a great deal of time, money and energy, suing each other in civil court for one infraction or another. It was in this wild situation that Paul faced his irst
major battle to keep Christianity from being lost in the enticements of a culture with values run amok.
Today’s Passage: When we begin chapter 3, Paul has greeted his friends, let them know that he has heard of the troubles and divisions they are experiencing, reminded them not to be worried that the culture thinks they are fools, that God loves to use the foolish to teach the wise. He has told them that true wisdom comes from the Spirit. Now he returns to one of the main problems they church is experiencing: divisions and strife. Here we learn that they have invested particular teachers with special knowledge and status and they are choosing teams. They are a laughingstock in the community and their own spiritual growth is at a standstill. So what can he tell them? Today’s verses set the stage for an extended teaching on spiritual maturity that then leads him to deal with each of the vices that he has heard about. He starts with division because he knows they cannot receive any new insight if their energy is consumed with who has ‘got it right.’
Vs. 1 – spiritual people – this beautiful word refers to people who are ruled by the Spirit as opposed to those who are ruled by their own desires and egos.
Infants – this is the word for a child not yet able to speak properly. What Paul is saying is that they are so molded by the spirit of the age that they are like babbling babies in Christ.
Vs. 2 – Paul continues the image of spiritual immaturity by reminding them that growth in Christ is a process. First we receive what we can handle, then more and more as we grow deeper and stronger. To continue the analogy, he sees them as failing to thrive in Christ.
Vs. 3 human inclinations – Greek ‘mere mortals’ – Paul reminds them that he has his data on their condition by observing their behavior. Mere mortals, ruled, at least to a degree by ego, will always display that in jealousies, divisions and jockeying for power and influence.
Vs. 5 – servants – the word used here is diakonos as opposed to the more common word for servant or slave, doulos. Diakonos is the word for minister, servant, deacon. It comes from the root ‘in the dust laboring.’ This is not a servile word like doulos. It is a leading-by-serving-rightly word.
Vs. 6 – I planted…Paul is trying to help them see that everyone has a role in raising people in faith, BUT it is not the leaders that make things happen. God makes good things happen. God uses mature leaders, without a doubt.
Somebody has to plant and water. But growth is always a function of the Spirit. Lining up behind one teacher over another misses the real Life Force at work in the community.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. Pause for a moment and think about who planted faith in you? Thank God for that person! Who are some of the servants God has used to water your faith and create and an environment in which you can grow? Thank God for those ones.
2. Have you ever planted and watered in such a way that something prospered and your knew the results could only have come from God?
3. Today, what do you think it means to be ‘worldly’?
4. Today, what do you think it means to be mature in Christ? What are the qualities that such a person displays?
5. Where do you see divisions within church or communities? What is the milk or solid food needed to begin to grow through those divisions?