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Scripture reading – 1 Corinthians 3; 1 Corinthians 4

Our study of Paul’s first epistle to Corinth continues with today’s Scripture reading, 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. Our devotional will be taken from 1 Corinthians 3.

We noticed in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 1, how Paul lovingly affirmed the congregation of believers in Corinth (1:1-10). Sadly, it was divisions and conflicts in the early church that prompted the letter, and became the primary focus of 1 Corinthians.

Remember, the first point of conflict Paul addressed was the factions that occurred as believers aligned themselves with dominant personalities of the early church. There were some who said, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1:11-12). To that point, Paul asked, “13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1:13) Paul picks up that same issue in 1 Corinthians 3.

1 Corinthians 3 – The Carnal Church

The opening verses of 1 Corinthians 3 are a wonderful reminder the Scriptures are timeless, and a sad reminder the sinfulness of man is the same from generation to generation. It may surprise you, but the sin that plagued the 1stcentury church is the sin that is the bane of the 21st century church—man-centered, rather than Christ-centered.

Passionate and honest, Paul was led by the Spirit to boldly identify the root cause of division and strife in the congregation –carnality (3:1-3).

What is carnality? It is an affection for the world rooted in the sinful flesh of man, and is constrained by sinful lust and passions. In other words, it is natural, and contrary to the Spirit of God and the likeness of Christ. Look at today’s church and you will observe a membership that professes to be followers of Christ, yet in reality evidences little desire for spiritual truth. Why? Paul diagnosed the problem in these words: I “could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk [Spiritual ABC’s], and not with meat [the appetite of mature believers]: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal” (3:1-3a).

The Manifestation of Carnality (3:3b-9)

How is carnality manifested in a congregation? Once again, Paul diagnosed the problem, writing, “there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions” (3:3). Before we rush on in our study, take a moment and reflect not only on your church, but on yourself, your family, and fellow-believers. Paul asked his readers, “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (3:3b). Might that be said of you?

Notice also how carnality was not only evidenced in the presence of conflict, but was manifested in polarizing around personalities. Paul continued, “4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (3:4)

A Spiritual Perspective for the Carnally-minded (3:5-9)

After addressing the root sin of believers (carnality), and the evidence of that sin in the congregation (turmoil that was provoked by following men, rather than Christ), Paul challenged the congregation to a spiritual perspective. The apostle asked, “5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” (3:5).

The spiritual perspective of those who are pastors is to remember they are ministers, servants whom the LORD appointed to their task. Though they are loved by their congregation, they are nevertheless servants, and each is gifted and called by the Lord to their task (1:5). Paul asserted, he had planted (the seed of the Gospel), and Apollos had followed him in Corinth and watered, “but God gave the increase” (3:6). Paul and Apollos had their callings (the former was an apostle, the latter a minister), but it is God that blesses and is the cause for spiritual growth.

A godly pastor will deflect praise to the Lord, for he will know he is nothing apart from God’s blessings (3:7). Indeed, the ministry of the church and growth of believers should be to the glory of the Lord. Those who minister ought to labor understanding that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (3:8). All who serve the Lord have their gifts, and place, and we would do well to remember “we are labourers together [fellow servants] with God: ye are God’s husbandry [garden; field], ye are God’s building” (3:9).

Closing thoughts – Let’s not make celebrities out of those who are nothing more than the servants of God. Pastors, evangelists, teachers, and missionaries have their place, and should be honored for their faithfulness. However, following a popular personality is detrimental to the spirit and unity of a congregation. To do so is carnal.

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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