1Cor. 3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for 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? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
The condition of the Corinthians was determined by their spiritual diet. Instead of continually growing spiritually and moving on to a more adult diet, they had remained infants. Intentionally so! The result was a worldliness that came from thinking about ministry and the Christian life from a secular perspective. The people were following after preachers as if they were a popular cult. They were dividing up into different factions and arguing with one another and the result was that there was jealousy and quarreling. One can imagine that each side was arguing their points and why their person was better than the other. It was creating division within the church community that was not spiritual.
The factionalism that was developing was simply secular behavior. Because the Corinthians were not growing spiritually they were behaving as mere humans. Writing in the 4th century John Chrysostom recognized this factionalism and noted, “ It was the factionalism of the Corinthians that produced jealousy, and that in turn made them carnal. Once they were carnal, they were no longer free to hear truths of a more spiritual kind." (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 8.5.) They could not go on to eat more meaty spiritual food once they had settled into their carnality, or into their factions. They grabbed onto the perceived truths of Paul, or the perceived truths of Apollos and didn’t want to let go. This created factionalism, which in reality came from the world, and their lack of spiritual growth wouldn’t allow them to consider any other options.
This passage is painful to hear because it’s far too easy to find ourselves in the Scripture. Jealousy and quarreling rear their ugly head when we are not where we should be spiritually. John Chrysostom writes,” If jealousy makes people carnal, every one of us ought to be crying out because of our sin and covering ourselves in sackcloth and ashes. Who is not tainted with this? I say this of others only because I know how true it is of me.” (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 8.3.) I must join the cry of Chrysostom because I know how true it is of me as well. It’s when we get our eyes off of Jesus Christ and we begin to scan the view before us that we get our eyes on other people and little by little jealousy arises in our hearts. We compare ourselves to others instead of seeing ourselves through the eyes of our Lord.
The problem with the jealousy and quarreling that Paul mentioned is that it was creating a huge rift in the church. They were dividing into two camps; those who supported Paul and those who supported Apollos. One can only imagine that people were creating a list of things they liked about each of them. Then they dug in their heels and probably made the issues about each side much larger than they really were. Somewhere in the middle was the good news of Jesus Christ and as they clung to their favorite preachers, they missed out on Jesus. As Chrysostom said, “Once they were carnal, they were no longer free to hear truths of a more spiritual kind.” Or, once they had become so firmly ensconced in their faction, they couldn’t hear the spiritual truth that would lead them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This broke Paul’s heart because he didn’t want people arguing over him. Paul wanted people to know Christ and to passionately follow Jesus into a broken world. Following Jesus didn’t mean that you fell into either camp, but found yourself on a counter-cultural pathway, being fed spiritual meat by the God of all creation. It’s time to move on from just drinking milk — or knowing just enough to feed us but to keep us as infants. We must all embrace what God has for us, be willing to grow up and move into deeper spiritual depths and live as kingdom citizens above the factions in this world.
Lord, I want to grow up in you. Please help me to keep my eyes on you and lead me to deeper truths. Amen.