Summary: Paul tells the Corinth believers that they are not ready for solid food, not because their digestion system has not developed but because of attitude.
It would be good to review for a moment the discussion of the book so far. Paul is concerned about divisions in the church. The Corinth saints have begun to form parties, or at least identify themselves, under the names of church leaders. Chapter 1, verse 17, reveals what is at the heart of these divisions: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Note that phrase “eloquent wisdom.” This is what the Corinth saints prided themselves in possessing. As Paul described them in 1:5, they were “enriched in [Christ] in all speech and all knowledge. From verse 17 on, Paul discusses this matter of what is true wisdom as opposed to worldly wisdom. The cross of Christ is foolishness to the world, but real power to those being saved. The Corinth believers themselves exemplify God’s wisdom in calling those who seem weak and foolish into his kingdom. In chapter two, Paul notes that his style of ministry seems foolish, and, yet, those with spiritual maturity understand that the gospel of the cross is profound wisdom.
Again, then, there are divisions in the church. Furthermore, there is tension between the church and Paul. The problem is not simply a matter of sibling rivalry. Otherwise, the Corinth believers would appeal to Paul to settle their differences, and he would write back explaining who is right and who wrong on their various issues. Perhaps some are appealing to Paul as the spiritual father of the church to settle their differences, but many are questioning Paul’s right to exercise authority.
Paul was an okay father for awhile – and everyone acknowledges his role in starting the church – but it is becoming more and more evident that the Corinth Church has out-matured Paul. He is a good evangelist, no doubt, but he obviously has his intellectual and spiritual limits. After all these years, he still preaches the simple gospel of the cross. The Corinth believers, meanwhile, have become rich in spiritual knowledge and gifts. They completed “Gospel 101” way back and have moved on to greater things.
This is what Paul is up against. He is not merely trying to resolve disputes; he is having to defend his own credentials.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
Paul had made the distinction between the natural person and the spiritual person. The natural person is one who has not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and thus does not understand the things of the Spirit of God. The spiritual person has been regenerated by the Spirit and thus does understand such things. This was the conclusion to his explanation as to why the gospel, and his preaching of it, seemed foolish to many and yet was power to others.
Now he returns to his concern about the believers. “My problem with you is that I am having to treat you as though you had remained in the flesh, i.e. as though you did not possess the Holy Spirit. Do you think you are mature? You are acting like babies!”