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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am Service, 2005-02-13

Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Many years ago, when I visited a children's ward I saw a 7-year-old boy who was doing nothing but lying in a cot wearing diapers and behaving exactly like a little baby. He was like that because of some strange disorder that had caused him not to grow normally. And although the parents were not there, I could just imagine the anguish they must feel whenever they watch other 7 year old children playing and learning, while their child still lay in a cot, unable to walk or talk, needing them to do everything for him.

This was perhaps the way that the apostle Paul felt when he wrote the passage we just read to the Christians in Corinth. Like a loving parent, he had nursed them painstakingly from the time that they were born again. He had delighted in seeing them taking their very first steps as spiritual infants, and learning to drink the nourishing milk of God's Word. He had such high hopes in them - that they would soon grow up into full Christian maturity. And Paul had every reason to expect that they would grow, because he had many other spiritual children who had grown up quite well - like those at Philippi and Thessalonica. It is the normal for every Christian to grow.

I. The Characteristics of Carnality

Unfortunately this was not the case for the believers at Corinth. Many of the Corinthian Christians did not seem to grow spiritually as they should. There are three terms that Paul used to describe them. 

A. Ruled by the Flesh

The first and most prominent of all is the word 'carnal,' which means 'fleshly'. This means that the Christians in Corinth were ruled or controlled by their flesh. The 'flesh' here refers to the lusts and appetites of the sinful nature. It describes one who is gives unrestrained expression to every base desire and impulse inside him. In this, a person who is carnal or fleshly very much resembles an animal - that follows only its basic instincts in order to survive. In order to survive, animals often have to fight and struggle with other animals, and establish their dominance over their territory and their harem. And the hapless creature that accidentally intrudes into its territory would have to face their angry snarls and their most unpleasant aggression. 

Recently I heard an advertisement broadcast over the radio about a book describing the corporate world as a jungle. The author had studied how different kinds of businessmen survived and succeeded in the corporate world and classified them as different creatures. Some of them are like the fox, able to anticipate the unexpected, slip out of danger and outwit its predators. A book like that shows that the commercial world is a place where people are much ruled by the flesh. 

This can be expected within the commercial world because it is after all dominated by those who are unsaved, but here in this passage, it is found within the church! The Corinthian church resembled a jungle! The Christians there who were carnal displayed an awfully degenerated conduct that was like that of animals. Verse 3 tells us that they envied one another, were striving with one another and were divided from one another. This was evidently not just a one-time event, but a consistent carnal behaviour that had been going on for some time. 

Another church which suffered from the same kind behaviour was the Galatian Church. In Galatians 5:15, Paul wrote: 'But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.' Evidently the law of the jungle reigned here as well. And Paul also described this behaviour as that which comes from the flesh. He even provides a list of the works of the flesh in vv.19-21 'Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.'

And the remedy that is given to the Galatians to counteract the works of the flesh is to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). The Holy Spirit dwells within every true believer, and our responsibility is to keep in step with Him. By walking in the Spirit we are able to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24). And not only that, walking in the Spirit also enables us to produce the fruit of the Spirit which is given in vv. 22-23 as 'love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance.'

Every born again Christian must therefore become more and more consistent in walking in the Spirit, if he is to grow out of his former carnality and grow into spiritual maturity. This process of growing into spiritual maturity known as sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This is clearly God's will for you. Dearly beloved, how far have you grown out of carnality? Has there been a decrease of the works of the flesh in your life, and a corresponding increase of the fruit of the Spirit? If this has not been the case for you, then you may be like the Corinthian believers, who had remained carnal. And this means that, like them, you are still

B. Abnormally Immature

This truth is brought out by the second term that Paul used to describe the Corinthians 'babes in Christ.' Many years had already passed, but they were still spiritual babes! They still needed to drink spiritual milk and could not digest any solid meaty food yet. Now, someone may ask 'What is so bad about not growing up, and being a babe in Christ? A babe does not have any cares in the world. I would not have to be responsible for anything or anyone.' In the world of fantasy there is a famous character by the name of Peter Pan. Peter Pan was a boy who refused to grow up, and enjoyed his perpetual childhood with many fantastic adventures. And perhaps some of us may also wish that we can remain young like Peter Pan all the time and not have to grow up to shoulder all the responsibilities that maturity brings.

But let me tell you that this is true only in fantasy. In reality, when a child refuses to grow up, he suffers in life tremendously because he becomes a social misfit, and causes others to suffer as well. Do you know the heartaches of parents who are told by the doctor, 'I am sorry but your 12 year old son has the mind of a 4 year old.' It means that they have to accept the burden of looking after him for his whole life! In the same way, a Christian who remains as a babe in Christ will always be a burden to other Christians, who have to constantly worry about him, nurture him, pray for him, watch out for him, and wonder when he will ever grow up! 

Have you ever had the onerous task of taking care of a big group of toddlers, all by yourself? If you have, tell me this: Was it easy to look after them? One child pushes another down and the other child starts bawling away. And while you are trying to pacify the crying one, the naughty one goes after another child to push him down. Then another child trips and falls, and another child vomits or spills his food all over the floor and makes a big mess! It can be quite a great headache to look after little children. It is an even greater headache to be the only spiritually mature Christian in a church where all the rest of the members are still babes in Christ!

This was the situation with the church in Corinth, because the members there were mostly babes in Christ, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:1. This church gave him the most problems of all the churches that he ministered to. Paul had to write about five letters to this church (only two of them are preserved in the Bible). He also had to make 2- 3 visits to them. He sent Timothy to sort out the problems in the church but he had no success. It was only after Titus went there that things got better. Thus we see what tremendous difficulties arise from the failure of Christians to grow normally as they should. They become a great burden to others. Dear friends, let us not be burdens, but rather blessings.

One of the constant fears that immaturity brings is the fear that they will be easily deceived and taken advantage of by evil people. Sometimes we hear of cases of children who are robbed, abused or kidnapped because they put their trust too easily in a stranger who deceived them (e.g. Huang Na). This is a fact of life that we have to live with because of the dangerous world that we live in. The spiritual world also has its dangers. It is filled with all kinds of false teachers and cults that are very deceiving! And who are the ones most susceptible to be victimized by them? Those who are spiritual babes!

Ephesians 4:14 tells us: 'That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive' This is one of the strongest reasons why we should seek to grow into spiritual maturity, because the times that we live in necessitates it. There are so many subtle deceptions around us today - more than in any time in the history of the Church! This is an age that calls for spiritual discernment - one of the most needed qualities for living in the last days. Christians today simply cannot afford to remain as babes in Christ, because the consequences of doing so can be quite devastating! 

C. Humanly Self-Centred

Thus far we have seen two terms used in our passage of Scripture to warn the Corinthians: the term 'carnal' and the term 'babes in Christ'. If you look in v.3, he mentioned that they were 'walking as men.' This phrase is literally translated 'walking according to man.' It means that the immature Corinthian Christians were thinking and acting in a very human manner - and human here is not in a good sense at all. It refers to man in his fallen state or rebellion against God, man who is self-centred, self-promoting, self-asserting, self-willed and self-reliant. Humanism is a system of thought that is based on the values, characteristics, and behaviour that are believed to be best in human beings, rather than on God's authority. It became a very dominant thinking during the Renaissance, and it reigns in the world today. 

Now we as Christians must grow out of this humanistic thinking, because it stands in opposition to the God-centred life that Christians ought to have. We cannot fulfill our purpose of glorifying God with such thinking that glorifies man. Our present series of messages are on the theme of declaring the glory of God. And his point is where this morning's message relates to the theme. In order to declare the glory of God effectively, we must grow into maturity. Remaining in carnality and immaturity makes it difficult and even impossible for us to glorify God, because we would be seeking instead to glorify self all the time, as we dwell in our self-centred humanity!

How can God be glorified when believers keep on asserting themselves, insisting on their rightful privileges, and priding themselves in their achievements or associations? In v.4 of our text, the humanistic spirit of the Corinthians is quite evident - some of them said, 'I am of Paul.' Another faction in the church said, 'I am of Apollos.' And the underlying motive here was to claim to be better than the other 'I am better than you because I am of Apollos, who is a better preacher than Paul.' The other might reply, 'Who says Apollos is better than Paul? Paul is an apostle and Apollos is not.' This competitive attitude or one-upmanship is typical of everything that man does. Even in the wake of the recent Tsunami disaster, various relief organizations competed with one another to see who can give the most help to the victims!

It is quite understandable that such things should happen in the world, because man in his unsaved, fallen state is a naturally self-centred being. But such things should not be found among God's people. Our lives ought to be God-centred and not man-centred. His glory should be the ultimate aim of everything that we do. 

If the Corinthian Christians were really God-centred, they would no longer be saying 'I am of Paul' or 'I am of Apollos.' They would be focusing instead on the God whom Paul and Apollos served, and they would see themselves as being nothing more than His unworthy servants. Paul brings this God-centred thinking out in vv. 5-7 'Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.'

Dearly beloved, this then is the right kind of thinking or attitude that should dominate our life. We ought to live every moment of our life to glorify God and not to glorify ourselves at all. And if we are not doing that, then we are still carnal and immature; we have not grown into spiritual maturity, and we must do all that we can to rectify this situation. We cannot remain as we are. Now, in order to rectify the situation we first need to examine the cause of our carnality. Why have we not grown?

II. The Causes of Carnality

A. Spiritual Stagnation

One possible cause is that we have been neglecting our responsibility to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ which we are commanded to do in 2 Peter 3:18. Sometimes a Christian stops growing because he feels tired of keeping up with his spiritual efforts, and he and wants to take a rest from spiritual things for a while. But Proverbs 6:10,11 says, 'Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.'

It can actually be quite disastrous for anyone to be in a state of spiritual stagnation. It is well known to us that stagnant water breeds mosquitoes, which can spread dengue fever. What do you think a stagnant spiritual life will breed? It will breed a backslidden state! The Christian who does not grow will become spiritually weak and be overcome by the world and by his old sins!

To keep yourself from stagnating, you must resolve to keep on growing. You should be like the apostle Paul who said in Philippians 3:13,14 - 'Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.'

Now besides, spiritual stagnation, there is another cause for any lack of spiritual growth that must be considered:

B. Spiritual Deadness

In science, we all learn that one of the signs of life (whether animal or plant life) is growth. When there is life there is sure to be growth. Hence, when there is no growth, one very possible reason is that there is no life at all. And it is possible for a person who professes to be a Christian, to be sadly mistaken about his salvation. He thinks that he is a Christian, but he is really not born again.

The Bible tells us that it is possible to 'have a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.' (2 Timothy 3:5). Jesus said that even those who call Jesus 'Lord' and who have done many great works in His name may not be allowed into His kingdom 'Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord have we not prophesied in Thy name? And in Thy name cast out devils? And in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.' (Matthew 7:21-23) How terrible it would be for you to hear these words from Jesus, when it is too late to do anything about it.

James describes the same situation in vv.26 'If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.' James is referring to people who profess to know Christ, who may go to church every Sunday, but their lives are basically the same as before - the same self-centred, self-promoting, sins and habits. Such a person's religion is vain or empty. 

And friends, I want you to take a careful look at yourselves today whether this is true of you. Is your religion vain? Is it just an an empty shell - only outward form with no inward substance? 

Jesus Himself said to a Jew who had all the outward forms of piety, 'Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' (John 3:3) What makes a person a true Christian is not outward form but inward change. God must do a work of regeneration in your heart, so that inwardly you become a new creation, recreated in His image: 'Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new.' (2 Corinthians 5:17). Unless you have been made a new creature by God's work in your life, you must not assume that you have become a true Christian.

But how can we know if we have been really born again? The only answer I can give is that if you are born again, you will know. God will give you the inward witness of the Spirit to bear witness that you are a child of God. Your attitude to God will be different.You will love God and you will have the desire to please Him, obey Him and keep all His commandments. You will find delight in spending time with God in prayer, and most of all, you will grow into spiritual maturity.

II. The Call to Examine Yourself

In the light of all this, please do not be fooled by mere outward form. Do not assume that all is well. It is not worthwhile for you to go on living in self-deception. Search your heart now and make sure that you are a true born-again Christian inwardly as well as outwardly. Make an honest assessment of the state of your heart. The apostle Paul himself said in 2 Corinthians 13:5 'Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates?' And if after searching you realise that your heart is not right with God, please do not be afraid to put things right immediately.

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10