1 Corinthians 3:1-9
And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, even as to babes in Christ.…
The apostle has still in view the dissensions prevailing in the Corinthian Church. Throughout the first four chapters this subject is never absent from his mind, even when it is most in the background. The spirit of party, with the various phases of thought and life that found expression therein, suggests the several topics on which he enlarges.
I. THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER ADAPTS HIS TEACHING TO THE CAPACITIES OF HIS HEARERS. (Vers. 1-4.) Paul has already said (ch. 2:6) that he " spake wisdom among the perfect," and here he presents the other side.
1. At Corinth he had to deal with carnal Christians. In the last verses of the previous chapter he has contrasted the natural man and the spiritual man, the latter alone being able to discern the things of the Spirit. Here the comparison is not between Christians and non Christians, but between different classes of Christians, distinguished according to spiritual attainment. Every believer in Christ is a spiritual man as compared with those who do not believe; but one believer may be carnal in comparison with another believer. The new nature may be weak and sickly and all but overlaid by the old. This was the case with the Corinthians, whose fleshliness of mind appeared in the prevalence of "jealousy and strife" and of party spirit. These things spring from the flesh (Galatians 5:20), wherever they are found. When the Church is rent by faction, and men think mainly of the aggrandizement of their favourite party, no further proof is needed of the reign of carnality. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, peace." A fleshly Christian! What opposites must we unite in describing real character!
2. They were as yet "babes in Christ." Conversion is a new birth: young converts are newborn babes (1 Peter 2:2). They have in germ all that is to be found in the full grown man; but they are weak, dependent, immature. Young Christians have the rudiments of the Christian character in more or less clear outline, but only the rudiments. Infancy is beautiful in its season, and so is the young life of the new convert; but out of season, its beauty is gone. A child with the years of a man is a monstrosity in nature; an old Christian with the crudeness of a young convert should appear to us as great a monstrosity in grace. The "babe in Christ" is meant to develop into "a full grown man, into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
3. As babes, they must be fed "with milk, not with meat." Infants and men must each have food suitable to their capacity. The doctrines of the faith may be presented in the form of milk or of solid food. Milk has in it all the nourishing elements to be found in strong meat, though in more diluted form. The facts of the gospel history contain all the truths of the most elaborate theological system; a child can digest them in the one form, but not in the other. Every wise teacher will adapt his teaching to the capacity of his hearers. He will give to each only such food as he can receive and assimilate. He will not give solid food to infants, nor will he feed full grown men merely with milk. The preacher should consider the wants of women and children, as well as of men, and adapt some part of the public service to them (comp. Hebrews 5:12-14).
II. MINISTERS ARE GOD'S SERVANTS, NOT PARTY LEADERS. The childish condition of the Corinthians was shown in their party divisions. They gloried more in the leader after whom their faction was called than in Jesus Christ. To correct this the apostle presents the right view of spiritual teachers and their work.
1. Ministers are but servants. They are not heads of sects or schools, whose object is to gather disciples for themselves. They are servants of God, doing his work. Therefore they are not to be lifted above their position, as they are when they are regarded as masters in the Church; nor are they to sink below it, as they do when they take the law from any other but God.
2. Each minister has his own peculiar work. "I planted, Apollos watered." Paul began the work at Corinth; Apollos continued it. One minister is sent to preach the gospel to sinners, another to edify believers, another to teach the ignorant, another to comfort the sorrowful; but all are contributors to the same great interest. The servant's work, however, is but a subordinate instrumentality. Planting and watering are the ordinary conditions of growth, but they do not of themselves cause growth. It is "God that giveth the increase." In the spiritual sphere, as in the natural, the life giving power is Divine; but in both cases this power usually works through human ministries. It is only in connection with diligent planting and watering that we can expect the increase.
3. Each minister has his own peculiar reward. All are one, inasmuch As all are servants of one Lord and engaged about the same work. Hence they are not to be set against each other as rivals. Their work is one, yet diverse; and so is their reward. No faithful servant shall go without a recompense at his Master's hand; but each shall receive his own, alike in kind and in degree. The principle that determines this is - "according to his own labour." It is not according to the fruit or result of our labour, but simply according to the measure of our labour. What reversals of human opinion are in store for us! Men applaud success; God praises fidelity. Many an obscure but faithful worker shall receive a greater reward than he who has been less faithful but more prominent and successful.
4. Ministers are God's fellow workers. All God's servants are fellow servants as workers for him; but here the fellowship is carried still higher. We are workers along with God, who is pleased to associate us with himself in the great work of his kingdom. What a thought is this!
(1) What dignity it gives to the Christian ministry! It is to work with God.
(2) How inspiring to the Christian worker! Who would not labour when God is with him?
(3) How sure the reward! Will God leave his fellow workers without a due recompense?
III. BELIEVERS ARE GOD'S FIELD. The same idea is elsewhere expressed under the figure of a garden (Isaiah 58:11) and a vineyard (Isaiah 5.). Consider:
1. The Proprietor of the field. The Church is God's field. It is not the Church of Paul, or Apollos or any other; but "the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). It belongs to him; it exists for him; it is called by his Name. Hence the spirit of faction, which ranges parties and sects under the names of rival leaders, robs God of his glory as the Church's Lord.
2. The labourers in the field. These are apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. (see above).
3. The field itself.
(1) Its original condition. Wild, untilled, full of merely natural growths. Believers are originally a part of the world, living in a state of sin, under no gracious culture.
(2) The work bestowed upon it. Preparatory work: trenching, ploughing, gathering out stones, fencing; and then the sowing of seed, planting, weeding, etc. Corresponding to this there is a preparation of heart for receiving the truth, an awakening to a sense of sin and need, a quickening into spiritual life, a culture of the new life into fulness and strength, etc. For these ends every true labourer works, but always in dependence on the rower of the Holy Spirit, who alone can make our labour fruitful.
(3) Its produce. The farmer looks for a return from his field in the form of fruit in harvest; God expects his Church to yield fruit to his glory. Christian character, life, usefulness, productiveness, - these are some of the returns for which the Lord of the field looks (comp. Luke 13:6-9; John 15:1, etc.). - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.