3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
Some say it is hard to be a Christian and in one sense they are correct. It is hard to grow. Growth is change. Even physical growth can be painful. How much more difficult is emotional growth?
However do not miss the good news.
Paul says "I can't speak to you as spiritual people but as carnal, babes in Christ."
Did you catch that? In spite of their very immature state they are still "in Christ". Still saints. Still sanctified... in Christ but not in their present reality. In the eyes of God they are perfect. Were they to stand before the universe in judgment to assess their fitness for heaven they would pass, but that doesn't change the present reality that they are babes in Christ.
A mature child of God loves their enemies and chooses mercy over justice. A carnal person hates their enemies and chooses revenge over forgiveness. In fact a truly carnal person may not even consider the possibility of forgiveness. A mature child of God practices restraint. They guard their impulses and make decisions based on what is best. A carnal person lives more by instinct and follows their desires. The mantra of a carnal person is "If it feels good, do it."
Corinth is a carnal city even by the standards of the world much like Las Vegas is considered Sin City by those who aren't much concerned with sin or righteousness. The believers who heard Paul preach and embraced Jesus as their Saviour (healer) were carnal. They came into the church as they were. How else can we come?
The moment they chose Jesus they were declared saints. That is not to say they couldn't change their minds and walk away from Jesus. History and the Bible are full of examples of people who came to Christ and then later turned back. However the fact they chose Christ and joined the church did not alter their carnal condition at all. We must grow up into our true identity as children of God. This growth is a process and is often painful.
The point I want us to see today is how Paul approached them. He flat out said "I could not speak to you as spiritual people but as carnal." Paul altered his approach. He spoke to them as they were not as he was or as he wished they were. He spoke their language. He came down to their level.
Recently I received a letter from a stranger. They heard me speak to two different audiences at two different times and questioned why my message seemed different. It didn't seem different. It was different. I don't even speak to my two churches here the same way. They have different personalities. They are at different places in their faith development.
Do not miss this point. The amazing news is that having chosen Jesus we are saints regardless of our present condition. Having said that our present condition is still what it is and we must work with people where they are, as they are. That's what Jesus did. That's what Paul was doing in Corinth and we must follow. Don't treat people as you think they should be. Work with them as they are.
"A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench..."
What a considerate, gentle, merciful God!