The Corinthian church was a divided church – one group following Paul, another Peter, another Apollos, etc. (1 Cor. 1:12). In fact, they were split over many issues and were publicly fussing about them – acting like children. Paul wrote First Corinthians to administer a little corrective surgery. He began by unveiling some of the most amazing truth in the Bible – the mystery of God’s hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 1:7). He implied that the deeper truths of God – the truths that no human eye had seen, nor ear hear, nor every entered the mind of man – could be and should be known by every believer. This truth is clearly revealed by God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:10-13). God’s wisdom produces real ministry, repairs divisions and heals wounds.
So why were the Corinthians still divided? Paul made the huge observation that the Corinthian division could be much deeper than they realized. He described three possible slots that his readers could fit in. The first slot he called natural people. He said that natural people – soulish people – do not receive the things (the truths) of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them; nor can they know them, because these truths are spiritually understood (1 Cor. 2:14). The natural person is void of the Holy Spirit. Paul was aware that there were unbelievers within the Corinthian church.
The next slot was the spiritual people. These were people who had believed the gospel and received the Holy Spirit. They had the capacity to understand the mysterious wisdom of God – the Scripture. In fact, they had the mind of Christ, the God/man (1 Cor. 2:15-16). So why was the mind of Christ not being used at Corinth?
Paul mentioned a third slot – a third group of people. He referred to this group as “brethren” (1 Cor. 3:1). By his use of this term, he was saying that he considered them spiritual people having the Holy Spirit. But they certainly were not acting like it. Paul called them carnal minded Christians – fleshly acting Christians – as babes in Christ. They had the Spirit of God living within them but had not utilized His ministry (Gal. 5:16). One of my early mentors put this group of believers into two categories: carnal weak and carnal willful. The carnal weak would be new believers needing time and teaching to grow (1 Peter 2:2).
Paul had fed the Corinthians the milk of the word and felt he had given them sufficient time to progress to the solid food of Scripture. But they had failed to make the trip. He made this clear by using the term “even now, you are still not able” (1 Cor. 3:2). This was so true that they could not even be spoken to as spiritual people. They were still living like Spiritless people. These would be believers saved for many years, yet continuously “spitting out” the deeper wisdom of God truths (1 Cor. 2:10). They become carnal willful. They would be classified by the writer of Hebrews as children who by a certain time should have reached the point of becoming teachers but still needed the elementary portions of Scripture (Heb. 5:11-14). They were children tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, falling prey to the trickery of men and their cunning crafty deception (Eph. 4:14). They acted like children – selfish, always wanting their own way; easily tricked; easily falling for the slightest deception; lacking stability; happy one moment, mad the next; lacking proportion; fussing over trivial matters allowing the important matters to pass on by. They failed to study the Scripture as the Bereans did to see what wonders the Word holds (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15). They may have fallen prey to the lusts of their flesh, constantly going after Satan’s worldly lures that keep them from the Scripture (1 Pet. 5:8). They may have spent an inordinate amount of time in God’s woodshed of discipline (Heb.12:6). These believers would have been saved for many years, yet they fail to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Paul measured the Corinthians’ lack of spiritual maturity by the fact that they should have long since become united together, doing the work of God. But there was still envy, strife, and divisions among them. Just like children! Paul mentioned later that when he was a child, he spoke, understood, and thought as a child. But when he became a man, he put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).
Paul asked the Corinthians this question; “Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” They were carnal and willfully so! Blessings!