1 Corinthians 3:1-4 ~ 20130512 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/12 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 The Milk and Meat of the Gospel; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130512_1cor3_1-4.mp3
1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. 2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε, 3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε; 4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;
1Cor 3 [ESV2011]
1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Paul has been holding up God's wisdom, the gospel, the message of Christ crucified, and contrasting it with so-called human wisdom, that which gains the applause of the world; that which promotes status and respectability, those who are considered wise, powerful, and noble. Paul says that God is making fools of all those who think themselves wise because human wisdom can never discover the one thing that matters; how to know God; how to enter into a right relationship with the God of the universe. This God chose to reveal to us by his Spirit, otherwise it would have remained unknowable. This is the message of the cross.
Paul has re-defined the categories for his readers. They were in constant competition with one another trying to outdo one another in spirituality, in maturity, in wisdom and godliness. Paul demolishes their categories and their competition. He divides all people into only two categories; those who are perishing and us who are being saved. Those who are spiritual, who have received the gift of the Spirit and those who are natural, who do not have the Spirit and do not accept the things of the Spirit. He says that we, we who are spiritual, we who have received the Spirit of God, we have the mind of Christ.
The Corinthians prided themselves on their wisdom, their spirituality, their strength and maturity in Christ. They desperately wanted to be thought well of, to be thought wise. To think that they were all on the same plane with their fellow church-members, that they had not surpassed those in another group, that they were simply all fellow believers at the foot of the cross, would have come as a crushing blow to their inflated egos. But what Paul says next must have really knocked the wind out of them.
The church in Corinth had become enamored with human wisdom, with popularity and prestige, and they had allowed divisiveness, quarreling, strife, and an undue passion for their favorite teacher to begin to erode their gospel foundation. So Paul says, although there are only two categories of people; those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and those who are not, based on the attitudes and actions of the Corinthians, he is forced to address them as if they did not have God's Spirit living within them.
It is clear from everything Paul has said so far in this letter that he believes that they are genuine believers and do indeed have God's Spirit dwelling in them. In the beginning of this letter he addressed them as the church of God, called to be saints, recipients of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and he is confident that God will sustain them to the end guiltless. He includes them in the 'us who are being saved' and the 'we' who have the mind of Christ. Here he calls them 'brothers' and refers to them as 'infants in Christ', which means that they had been born again. In chapter 6 he reminds those involved in sexual immorality:
Babes and Milk
So Paul clearly assumes those to whom he is writing are indeed genuine believers, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and therefore spiritual by his definition. But, he says 'I could not address you as spiritual but as fleshly or carnal'. Because their attitudes and actions did not differ substantially from those who were entirely dominated by the flesh and devoid of the Spirit of God, he was forced to speak to them in baby talk. Because the basic truth of the gospel had not produced fruit in their lives, he had to keep them on the bottle. There is no shame in starting out on milk. That is what we expect of babies. But if someone is still breast fed or bottle fed at five, we may begin to wonder if something is wrong, and we know there are some serious developmental issues if at twelve or at twenty-five they are still carrying around their ba-ba. The problem was not that they were not able to eat solid food as infants. The problem was that some five years after God had birthed the church in Corinth through Paul's ministry, they are still not able to take solid food.
Milk and Meat
Now we need to think carefully about what Paul is saying. Is he saying that there are milk doctrines and there are meat doctrines? Is he saying that we will graduate from the bottle of the gospel and move on to the deeper things of God? I don't believe this is what Paul is saying at all.
First, if this is what he is teaching, that there are milk doctrines and meat doctrines, we should be able to go through our New Testaments and figure out which are which. If we were to ask, what are the advanced doctrines, the meat doctrines, the deep things of God that baby Christians might choke on, it would be impossible for us to come to any biblically based agreement on what they are. Paul says here in 1 Corinthians that he cannot address them as spiritual but as babes and that they are still not ready for solid food, so anything we find in 1 Corinthians must be milk and not meat. If we think of the triune nature of God as a meaty doctrine, we see this coming right out in chapters 1 and 2, where he repeatedly refers to God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God as three distinct persons who are each fully God. If we suggest the biblical doctrines of election and predestination as solid food, he refers to that in the second verse of this letter to these immature believers, and again in verse 9, and then goes in to more detail in verses 24-30, and in 2:7. If we think of spiritual gifts, we have his instructions in chapters 12-14. If we suggest the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection, he deals with that at length in chapter 15. There does not seem to be any clear biblical way to differentiate between milk doctrines and meat doctrines.
Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20
I don't think that this was unique to Ephesus. I don't think Paul would have to say to the leaders in Corinth 'I am guilty of your blood, because I withheld the deep things of God from you'.
Milk and Meat in Hebrews 5
This is not the only place in scripture that this idea of milk and solid food is put forward. The author of Hebrews in chapter 5 says:
The author here is saying something very similar to what we see Paul saying in 1 Corinthians. They ought to have become teachers by now, but instead they need someone to teach them the basic principles. They need milk, not solid food. They are children, not mature.
He contrasts for us what it means to be a child and what it means to be mature. Children are 'unskilled in the word of righteousness.' The mature are 'those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.' So the issue of maturity seems to be the ability to apply the word of righteousness to specific situations and the discernment to distinguish good from evil. This is something that comes with time, training and constant practice. So the mature are those who can take the basic principles of the oracles of God, the milk, and skillfully use the word of righteousness to distinguish good from evil.
The 'this' in 5:11 that he has much to say about, that is hard to explain because of their dullness of hearing and spiritual immaturity, would be the solid food. What does the 'this' refer back to? The immediate context in chapter 5 is the teaching that Jesus is our great High Priest, who is 'the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him' (5:9). If we look back through the first 4 chapters, we see this hard to explain solid food as Jesus who is greater than the prophets, Jesus who is greater than the angels, Jesus who is greater than Moses, Jesus who is the greater Joshua who brings his people into a greater rest. In chapter 5 the author tells us we need to be taught again the basic principles, milk not solid food, but then he says in the very next verses in the beginning of chapter 6:
Here he says that he is going to take them on to maturity. The elementary milk doctrine is the doctrine of Christ. Although they do need milk and not solid food, he is not going all the way back to re-lay the Old Testament Jewish foundational truths of turning away from their own works and believing in God, washings and laying on of hands, resurrection and eternal judgment. That is not the milk of Christ, that is Old Testament foundation that points forward to the milk of Christ. He is now going to move on with them into maturity. So where does he take them? What is going on to maturity? He takes them to Jesus the greater High Priest who administers a greater covenant in a greater temple through a greater sacrifice, his own blood. We receive the gifts that God promised through faith,and he warns us throughout not to turn back to the law but to press in to God's grace by faith. And he points us to the fruit of this blood-bought relationship, laying aside sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus, loving our brothers, extending hospitality to strangers, standing with prisoners, honoring marriage, being content with our relationship with Jesus, imitating the faith of your leaders, strengthening your hearts by grace, following Jesus wherever he leads, and continually offering up praise to God. This sounds to me like the simple good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified, skillfully applied to our situation. This is the maturity the author of Hebrews points us to.
Pure Milk in 1 Peter
Peter also talks about milk and growth. He says
So Peter is encouraging us that milk is good and to imitate infants and long for milk, but the goal is to grow up into salvation. So what, according to Peter does it look like to grow up into salvation? If we back up in this passage, I think it becomes clear both what the milk is and what maturity looks like. He points us to our having been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, and believing in God and having faith and hope in God.
So the pure spiritual milk is the truth, the imperishable living and abiding word of God that gave us new birth, the word of the Lord that remains forever, the good news that was preached to you. The growing up into salvation, he says, is loving one another earnestly from the heart and putting away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. This seems to fit with what Hebrews says that maturity is skillfully applying the gospel to each situation and discerning good from evil.
Jude writes something similar when he says
This sounds like he too, as in Hebrews and 1 Corinthians was eager to go deeper into the solid food of our common salvation, but found it necessary to go back to the basics of the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. In this short letter he warns against false teachers who are:
The fruit of the worldly false teachers who did not have God's Spirit was boasting, favoritism, divisions. This sounds a lot like what was going on in Corinth that caused Paul to say that he could not speak to them as spiritual but as worldly.
James also deals with worldly wisdom in contrast to God's wisdom. He says:
James draws the contrast between worldly wisdom which is characterized by jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting, disorder, and results in every vile practice. This again reminds us of Corinth. God's wisdom, in contrast, is characterized by meekness, and is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, sincere.
Applying the Cross
So putting this all together, I don't think Paul or Peter or Hebrews or James or Jude is saying that we need to put aside the bottle of the gospel and move on to the deeper things of God. Paul points to their jealousy and strife as evidence that they are failing to skillfully apply the simple truth of the gospel that they already know to their relationships with other believers in the church. Therefore he cannot consider them spiritual or mature, but rather fleshly; although they have the Holy Spirit, they are allowing their flesh to dominate their desires. Throughout this letter, Paul is training them to skillfully apply the good news of the cross to various situations and circumstances.
The Corinthians thought they were spiritual, ready for advanced meat doctrines, the deep things of God. They thought Paul was insulting their intelligence to only sound one note over and over again. He had resolved to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and him crucified. What they failed to realize was that this simple truth, the truth of the cross, is the power and hidden wisdom of God, the deep things of God, strong meat and nourishing milk. The gospel is the full meal deal – everything we need. We will never outgrow or move beyond the message of Christ crucified. The cross is wisdom, God's wisdom, the pure milk that brings us to salvation, and the cross is power, the solid food that strengthens us to crucify our pride and love one another with self-sacrificial cross shaped love. The gospel, the message of the cross, of Christ crucified for sinners, is both the hidden wisdom of God to pardon sinners, and the power of God to transform sinners into saints.