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!”
2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh.
We need to be careful with this statement. It has led to unfortunate interpretations. Some think that Paul means the following: “It is true that I have taught you merely simple principles of the gospel and have not fed you deeper truths that are reserved for the mature. That is because you have entered into a greater spiritual class of being. When you reach that, then the great mysteries of spiritual knowledge can be fed to you.”
Thus, some have taught that there are classes of Christians differentiated by a second blessing of the Holy Spirit. Some call it the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Depending upon the particular school of thought, some think this baptism leads to a new plane of holiness. The believer is now able to reach a level of holiness in which he or she virtually does not sin. Others think that the spiritual person is marked by his ability to speak in tongues and exercise the spectacular gifts of the Spirit such as prophesying and healing. Still others teach that there are two classes of Christians: the Carnal Man who has received Christ into his life but has not made Christ Lord of his life, and the Spiritual Man who has Christ on the throne of his life. The first tries to live by his own power, while the latter is controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. All these schools of thought point to this passage as one of their main texts.