As I hover over my reading this morning, honestly, I don’t know how much patience I might have had with them. For all they knew, it seemed to make relatively little difference. For all the time Paul had spent with them teaching the word of God to them (18 months according to Acts 18:11), they didn’t seem to get it. So why bother? I might have been prone to think, “Enough effort spent here . . . let’s move on!”
Paul wasn’t blind to the spiritual condition of the believers at Corinth. Three times in my reading this morning he refers to them as people “of the flesh” (1Cor. 3:1-3). Under the control of their instinctive appetites. Dominated by their surrender to the desires of their sensual nature, as what they could see, hear, touch, taste, or smell acted as the predominant influencers in their lives. People of the temporal, seemingly disengaged from the eternal–almost solely motivated by trying to maximize their here and now with almost no thought of their there and then. Driven more by what would make them feel good than what they knew to be true.
As such, Paul says, though they were his brothers and sisters, he could not address them as “spiritual people.” As people of the flesh, they were infants in Christ. Able only, at best, to digest milk and pabulum. Unable to process solid food. Marked by jealousy and strife, and that being perhaps the least of the issues of this highly dysfunctional family of believers, Paul has no problem discerning, nor any hesitation asserting, that they were “behaving only in a human way.”
If I had been Paul, with all that I had poured into them, and with all they knew of the foundations of the faith, I’d have been frustrated. In fact–true confession time–I found myself frustrated as I noodled on these Corinthian ninnies.
And maybe Paul was a bit exasperated. However, as is evidenced by the fact a 1Corinthians exists, Paul did not give up contending for them. Though they were infants, he would encourage them to grow up. Though they were slaves to their sensual nature, he would remind them of how to be free in the Spirit. Though they lived as people of the flesh, they were still his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Honestly again, my first inclination was to post something decrying people of the flesh and the need to get our act together. But something . . . or perhaps Someone . . . brought to mind what Paul had penned earlier concerning these people of the flesh.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge–even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(1Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV)
And I guess what grabs me is that, while these believers had a long way to go and should have been further down the path already, it didn’t change the fact that they were in Christ Jesus. That they were recipients of grace. That even though they abused and misused the riches and gifting they possessed in Him, He would still sustain them to the end, guiltless in that day. That while they may have been flakey, their God is faithful. That though they lived for themselves, He had still called them into fellowship with His Son. That while they may have lived as people of the flesh, they never ceased being forever loved in Christ.
Not to excuse their behavior. Not to neglect addressing the many issues they were dealing with as a congregation. Not even to, perhaps, apologize for being a little frustrated. But always remembering that though they acted like babies, they were still infants in Christ.
And as such, they were to be contended for. To be patiently taught and encouraged so that God, in His kindness and commitment to them, might lead them to repentance. To be rebuked–not in order to judge or condemn, but that they would be restored and mature.
Though they were people of the flesh they were still God’s field and God’s building (1Cor 3:9). Though they were babies, they were still God’s temple, holy, and indwelt by God’s Spirit (1Cor. 3:16).
Paul knew that. He wanted them to know it to.
Because of God’s grace. For God’s glory.