Summary: Are you a Carnal or a Spiritual Christian? A brief look at 2 Corinthians 3:1-4
CARNAL AND SPIRITUAL
INTRO: Paul begins this chapter by telling the Corinthians that there are two levels of Christian living. Some believers are carnal, some are spiritual. By the discernment of the Holy Spirit, Paul saw that the Corinthians were carnal, and he wanted to tell them so. You will find the word carnal four times in these four verses.
Paul felt that all his preaching would be useless if he talked about spiritual things to men who were unspiritual. They were believers, real Christians, babes in Christ; but there was one deadly fault—they were carnal. He seems to say: I cannot teach you spiritual truth about the spiritual life; you cannot receive it. It was not because they were stupid. They were very clever and full of knowledge, but unable to understand spiritual teaching. We must choose which level of Christian life we desire—the carnal or the spiritual. To understand this teaching we must begin by trying to thoroughly explain what the carnal state is.
I. A STATE OF PROLONGED INFANCY.
Paul had started his ministry in Corinth and begun the church there in A.D. 50. He wrote this letter from Ephesus in A.D. 56. Paul says by this time you should be a young man, but you are still a babe in Christ. Is there anything more delightful than a six-month-old child? But suppose I saw the same child six months later and he was not a bit bigger. The parents would say, “We are afraid there is something the matter; the child isn’t growing.” If after three years I saw that the baby was still no bigger the parents would tell me, “The doctor says he has a terrible disease and cannot grow. He says it’s a wonder he’s alive.” Ten years later there is still no growth.
Babyhood at the proper time is the most beautiful thing in the world, but babyhood continued too long is a burden and a sorrow, a sign of disease or disorder. And that was the state of many of the Corinthian believers. Now, what are the marks of a baby? A baby cannot help itself, and cannot help others.
That is the life of many believers. They make their pastors into spiritual nursemaids. It is a serious matter when spiritual babies keep their pastor continuously occupied in nursing and feeding them, and never help themselves.
1. They do not know how to feed on Christ’s Word; the pastor must feed them.
2. They do not know what contact with God is; the pastor must pray for them.
3. They do not know what it is to live as those who have God to help them; they always want to be nursed.
Is that the reason you go to church—to get your nurses to give you spiritual milk? You know what a baby does. He always occupies somebody. You cannot leave him alone.
Likewise, there are many spiritual infants that the pastor must always help. Instead of allowing themselves to be trained up to know their God and be strong, they need to be helped in everything. They cannot help themselves, and therefore they cannot help others. Isn’t that exactly what we read in Hebrews 5:11-6:3? There we find the same condition: those who had been so long converted and should have been teachers needed themselves to be taught the first principles of Christianity. These are people who are always wanting to be helped instead of being a help to others.
For a little child, a spiritual baby of three months old, to be carnal and not to know how to have victory over sin is natural. But when a man continues year after year in the same state of always being defeated by sin, there is something radically wrong. Nothing can keep a child in prolonged infancy except disease or disorder. And if we have to say continually, “I am not spiritual,” then let us truthfully say, “O God, I am carnal.”
II. SIN AND FAILURE PROVE MASTER.
Sin has the upper hand. What proof does Paul give that those people were carnal? He first charges them and then he asks a question (vv. 3-4). Paul in effect asks, “Isn’t it obvious? You act like other men; you are not acting like heavenly renewed men who live in the power and love of the Holy Spirit.” The whole of John’s Gospel means love. 1. But when men give way to their tempers and pride and envying and divisions, 2. when they listen to people saying unkind things about others, 3. when a man cannot open his heart to a brother who has done him wrong and forgive him, 4. when a woman can speak about her neighbor with contempt or have strong feelings of dislike for someone—all these are the works of the carnal spirit.