A Misconception of the Ministry
Tim Temple


Trying to describe Christians reminds me of the famous, old story that I am sure all of you have heard of the blind men who were trying to describe an elephant by feeling of various parts of the elephant. One, feeling of the tail of the elephant, said, “The elephant is like a snake.” Another, feeling of the ears of the elephant, said, “The elephant is much like a plant with very large leaves.” Another, feeling of the legs of the elephant, said, “No, the elephant is like a tree.” By concentrating on the various parts of the elephant, they came up with a very different concept of what an elephant is like. I think the world–the unsaved–or even the untaught Christian can get that kind of impression about Christians because if we look at one particular Christian or one particular group of Christians, we might get the idea that all Christians are the same way. We look at another group of Christians or another individual Christian and get the idea that all Christians are very different from that.

One of the problems that comes up in the Body of Christ is this matter of division and disagreement. To the unsaved, that can be very confusing. In fact, in chapter 2 of I Corinthians, verse 15, Paul says that the unsaved cannot really understand the Christian. Glance back at chapter 2 for just a moment:

I Corinthians 2

15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

We talked about this verse in our last lesson. One aspect that we did not point out is that a person who knows the Lord is really not understood by the world. As we have Christ's wisdom, and as we have Christ's strength, and as we live a life that is pleasing to Christ, the unsaved really can't understand our motivation and the reason that we do things and the way that we do things. Actually those differences between Christians don't need to be so confusing because as we come into chapter 3 of I Corinthians, Paul divides the whole spectrum of Christianity into categories. In fact, this division of Christians into four categories begins in chapter 2, verse 14. We began looking at it in our last lesson.

Categories of Christians

The whole spectrum of humanity can be divided into four classes, but he is dealing with Christianity. We looked at the first two categories in our study. We saw, in verse 14, the category of the natural man–the unsaved man, the person who has not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. We talked about the limitations as well as the problems that the natural man has. We are not going to go into those details today. Then in verses 15 and 16, we talked about the new man, who is the believer in Jesus Christ. Again, we are not going to take the time to go back over those details. Here are two very basic differences between human beings, those who operate just on the level of the physchological–the soul–and those who have the ability to have the very Spirit of God within them and understand the things of God.

As we come to chapter 3, Paul continues that same theme. The chapter division probably comes at an unfortunate place in Paul's thought processes, and he really just continues the same subject that he was dealing with in the last part of chapter 2. In this part that is in chapter 3, we have a little different emphasis. While the first part of the chapter will look at the final two classes of human beings, it will also deal with something that results from immaturity in Christians. He is setting the stage for something that results from immaturity among Christians.

As we begin our study of chapter 3, notice a misconception of the ministry in verses 1-8. The Corinthians were making a mistake about what the ministry was really like. Then in verses 9-17, there is a message to ministers, which is really addressed to pastors and others who are in places of ministry. But it is important for you who are ministered to to understand this message to ministers. Then in verses 18-23, there is a motivation for the ministry. What is it that really should encourage us to be in the ministry, and what should encourage us to support those who are in the ministry? During the course of the next several weeks, this is what we will be looking at.

Limited Understanding of New Christians

We begin our study of chapter 3 with the misconception of the ministry, which is described in verses 1-8. Among the many problems with the church at Corinth was a misconception of leadership. What is the minister supposed to do? What are the leaders of the church supposed to do? Farther down in the chapter, Paul is going to elaborate on those details, but in the first few verses, he continues with the theme from chapter 2 by talking about the participants in this misconception, the kind of people who get a misconception of the ministry. He says there are two kinds. First of all, in verses 1 and 2, they are the unable. Some are simply unable to understand the correct concept of the ministry. Notice in verse 1:

I Corinthians 3

1And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

He says, “You are not able to understand what I am going to be talking about in this chapter.” There is a group of Christians who are unable to understand the concept of leadership and other concepts in the Word of God. The key word in verse 1 is the word “babes”. We have to be careful as we look at that word because that term can be used in a couple of different ways. Sometimes when we find the word “babes” in the Scripture, it can refer to baby Christians, new Christians. Sometimes it can also refer to a person who is so immature that he acts like a baby Christian even though he may have been a Christian for a long time. Even though by this time he should have been a mature Chistian, he is still acting like a baby Christian. Sometimes it is used in that way.

Notice that verse 1 is written in the past tense. He says, “When I came to you, I fed you”–past tense. What he is talking about is the condition of the Corinthians when Paul had first come to Corinth, so he is describing the new Christian, the baby Christian. He gives some characteristics of the new Christian. We need to understand these because we have some new Christians in our church. Sometimes you may have a new Christian, a baby Christian, in some other circle of acquaintance, maybe a neighbor or a fellow-worker. All of us as Christians, from time to time, run into and have relationships with baby Christians, so we need to understand some very important characteristics of these babes in Christ.

The primary characteristic of a new Christian is in verse 2. That is that he is limited in his capacities. Notice what he said: “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. When I first brought you to Christ, led you to the Lord and you became Christians, when I first came to you,” he says, “I had to feed you with milk. I could not feed you meat.” So, a very important point about new Christians is that they are limited in their ability to understand the things of God. The Corinthians could take in milk; but they could not take in meat, figuratively speaking. Therefore, the Corinthians, when they were new Christians, and any new Christians that we run across, are somewhere between the two types that we talked about last week.

We talked about the unsaved man; then we talked about the mature Christian, the two ends of the spectrum. Now somewhere in betweem the unsaved man over here at this end of the spectrum and the mature Christian over at this end of the spectrum is the new Christian, the baby Christian. He is a believer; he has the ability, therefore, to understand the things of God. He has the Holy Spirit living within him, but he doesn't have all the capacities developed that the mature Christian has.

Levels of Doctrinal Truth

There is something that I want to point out, as we look at this characteristic, that is a very frequent misunderstanding about these concepts of milk and meat. We tend to think of the heavy doctrines of the Scripture as meat doctrines. We tend to think of prophecy as a meat doctrine, but we may think of salvation as a milk doctrine; or we think of confession of sin as a milk doctrine, but election and predestination as meat doctrines. Really, if you search through the Scriptures and look at the way these terms are used, what we find is that there is a milk and meat aspect to any doctrine that we are going to talk about. The most difficult doctrines in the Scriptures have aspects that even a new Christian can understand. All of the simple doctrines have depths of meaning that we probably will not understand until we get to Heaven. The doctrine of salvation we probably think of as the simplest doctrine. Certainly the plan of salvation is very simple. It is a very simple truth that Jesus Christ paid for our sins, that Jesus Christ died in our place. Nothing could be more simple than that, could it?

On the other hand, when you think of the aspect of the plan of God in eternity past that made that salvation possible, and you think about the kinds of things that must have gone on in the heart of God as He watched His Son nailed on the Tree, various ramifications of the doctrine of salvation can become very, very heavy thinking. So there is the milk aspect and the meat aspect of any doctrine that you want to name. These terms don't refer to separate areas of truth but to the various levels of truth of any doctrine.

I am taking the time to mention that again because there is some application of that. John Calvin, of all people, said, “Christ is milk for the babes and meat for the men.” Every doctrine that a theologian studies can be taught to our children and to other new Christians. That is a very important thing for us to understand. New and/or growing Christians don't need to be constantly looking for new truths. I think a big mistake that new Christians make–maybe all of us make–is that we are always looking for something new; we always want to learn something more. Lisen: We don't need to always be looking for some new truth; what we need to do is to seek to understand the truth that we already know. As we seek to understand the truth that we already know and to get all that we can out of the truths that we already know, God will reveal other truths to us along the way. In fact one thing that ironically contributes to staying in an immature situation as a Christian is to be constantly looking for something new. If we will devote ourselves to understanding all that we can about what we already know, not only will God give us a better understanding of what we already know, but in the course of doing that, He will lead us into new truth as well.

Growth In Understanding

I think preachers make the mistake very often of trying always to come up with something new and different in their preaching when if we would just study and teach the Word of God, God will take care of getting us into those new areas of truth. By the same token, we shouldn't feel discouraged or inferior if we don't understand the things that we hear others talking about. Maybe some other believer seems to understand more than you do. If you will simply continue to study the Word of God, the day will come when you will understand more of the doctrines. You don't need to be constantly seeking to keep up with everyone else.

A note here to teachers and to parents: There are not some truths that you need to hold back until a later time that your children can understand. Go ahead and seek to introduce your children to any kind of Bible truth. Don't worry about whether they can understand it or not. You will be amazed. I am sure some of you have had this experience already of being amazed at what your children can understand. Go ahead and introduce them to whatever you want to in the Scripture. Don't worry that they may not be able to understand it. Obviously they won't be able to understand all the ramifications of it, but they can at least begin to grasp the concept. Feed them the milk aspect of any doctrine that you want to present to them. The Lord will direct you in how deep to go in those doctrines and when to move into a deeper level of understanding of those doctrines.

A little child can understand to some extent the concept of prophecy. In fact, I think that little children are very often interested in prophecy. Certainly they are not going to be able to understand all the ramifications of the dispensations, and they may not be able to understand the difference between the Antichrist and the man of sin and the beast and the false prophet and all those things, but they can understand the concept that Jesus is coming back to get us. They can understand the concept that God has already revealed some things that are going to happen in the future.

Any of us who are working with new believers whether as parents or as teachers or as disciplers or pastors, etc., need to keep in mind that although they cannot understand meat, they can understand the milk aspect of any doctrine in the Scriptures. We ought to seek to introduce a well-rounded diet of truth from the Scriptures and just remember that we deal with the milk first and don't worry about the meat until later. As our disciple grows–certainly this applies to us, too–he will be able to understand these things. So, applying this to yourself, don't be discouraged if you don't understand all the ramifications of some doctrines. Keep feeding on it, and as you develop your spiritual teeth, the day will come when you can take in the meet of those doctrines.

Failure to Grow

There is something else to notice about verse 2. Notice that there is no reprimand in verse 2 for being immature. Notice how he says it:

I Corinthians 3

2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it,…

There is no criticism there. We don't criticize a human baby because it can't eat steak, do we? There is nothing wrong with that; that is very normal. Paul says that to these new Christians. It is just a statement of fact–“I have fed you with milk…” But notice the last phrase of verse 2, which does contain a reprimand:

I Corinthians 3

2…neither yet now are ye able.

That is a note of criticism. “When I first came to you,” Paul says, “I fed you with milk because you couldn't take meat. The problem is that now, years later, you are still not able to take in meat. That is a problem. When you have been a Christian for a few years, and you are still taking in milk, then that is a situation that is not good.” The problem was that these particular Corinthians had had time enough to become mature, but they were still like babies. That leads us to the next point.

Remember that Paul is talking about the participants in a misconception of the ministry. The overall thing that we are working on in this chapter is a misconception of the ministry. He is telling us who the participants in that misconception are. He said that one group that often participates in that misconception is the unable–the new or the baby Christian. The baby Christian can very easily get a misconception of the ministry because he is only able to take in milk.

Carnal Christians Lack Understanding

The second group that is taking part in this misconception is the unstable according to verses 3 and 4. Notice in verse 3:

I Corinthians 3

3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

In these verses, there is another key word–carnal. The word “carnal” is a translation of a Greek word sarkikos , which means “fleshly”. The way it is structured in the Greek and in the English indicates being under the control of the flesh. Remember we talked in our last lesson about the natural man in chapter 2, verse 14. We talked about the fact that he is under the domination of the soul. He, the unsaved man, can only understand spiritual things on the level of the psychological. He can understand the concept of God because that is an immaterial concept. The unsaved man–the natural man–is only able to understand things on the psychological level. We said that he is under the domination of the soul.

Then in verses 15 and 16, we talked about the spiritual man. We said that the spiritual man is the man who is under the domination of the Spirit. The human spirit is that part of man that the Holy Spirit communicates with, so a spiritual person is not just someone who goes to many Bible studies and never misses church, but a person who is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

In that same way, the carnal man is the person who is under the domination of the flesh. The carnal man is a Christian. We see that in the context. These people are believers. The carnal man is a believer, but he is a believer who is under the control of the flesh. The body is all important. He is the kind of guy who practices “if it feels good, do it”. To the carnal Christian, the important thing is the body, the flesh. Whatever is satisfying to the body is what is important. The satisfaction of the senses even permeates whatever spiritual activities he may be involved in. In fact, there is an example here in verse 4:

I Corinthians 3

4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

We have talked before about how the Corinthians were gathering around men. That is satisfying to the ego; that is satisfying to the fleshly appetites–the intellect rather than the spirit. What is satisfied when a person says, “I studied under so-and-so?” There are certain fields of education in which we say that someone is the student of so-and-so, maybe a famous piano teacher or a famous musician or some other kind. Sometimes a writer will say, as his biggest credential, “I studied under so-and-so.” That is what the Corinthians were doing. What is satisfied in that kind of a statement? The ego, pride; the flesh is satisfied in that kind of thing. An example for our own experience might be like this: As a Christian, we talked in our last lesson about how the Holy Spirit can directly communicate with us. We have the mind of Christ. I can't give my spirit to you, but God can give His Spirit to you. Because of that, it is possible for you and me as human beings to know God even better than we know our spouse or children, because we don't have the spirit of our spouse or children, but we do have the Spirit of God.

Symptoms of Carnality

As a Christian, maybe the Spirit of God convicts me that I ought to witness to the person sitting next to me on the airplane or on the bus or wherever I may be. If I am under the domination of the flesh, my response is going to be, “Oh, but that is too embarrassing. They might think I am some kind of a nut; they might laugh at me. That is embarrassing.” Listen, when the Holy Spirit directs you to do something and you don't respond because of some physical fear, some impact that it may have on you as a person, you are a carnal Christian. You are a fleshly Christian under the domination of the flesh. You are a Christian. The Spirit of God can still prompt you, but if you respond in some way that is dominated by the body, then you are a carnal Christian.

Maybe the Holy Spirit prompts you to get up early in the morning and spend some time in personal devotion, but that is just too hard to do. That is too hard on your old body, and you don't want to get up and tax your body like that. That is a carnal response; that is a fleshly response.

Carnality Stunts Spiritual Growth

Maybe the Holy Spirit prompts you that you need to be more honest in your business dealings, but if you do that, you may not make as much money. We could go on and on with illustrations, but there is a segment of Christians who are dominated by their bodily responses, dominated by what it feels like to me, what it is going to do to me, what they are going to think of me. Paul says those are carnal Christians. What is the result of being a carnal Christian? You don't grow. It stunts your growth spiritually. Every minute that you spend in a carnal situation keeps you from growing as a Christian. The result of this domination is in verse 3:

I Corinthians 3

3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions,…

There are many symptoms of carnality. How do we know that a person is living in a fleshly condition, a carnal condition? There are probably a lot of symptoms, but here are some that the Scripture itself gives us. These are probably the most obvious. It is very natural. Think about this: Paul says, “You Corinthians are carnal; you are fleshly. How do I know that? Because there is envying, strife and division among you.” Why would that be a symptom of carnality? Because if a believer who has the ability to be in step with God can't even be in step with God, then how can he be in step with the other people around him? The result is that we don't get along with other people. When we are not in fellowship with the Lord, there is a real tendency to not get along with the people around us because if we have the very Spirit of God and are not in fellowship with Him, how can we be in fellowship with the people around us?

If you see in yourself a spirit of envy, a spirit of division, if you are just constantly disagreeing with other people, if you find yourself constantly on the outs with others, or if your fellow Christian gets some kind of a blessing and you become envious because you haven't had that same kind of blessing, mark it down that that is a symptom of being controlled by the flesh instead of by the Spirit, and technically speaking, you are in carnality. We don't go around using that term very much, but Biblicaly speaking, you are a carnal Christian. A guideline of that is these things that are mentioned here–envying, strife, divisions.

Consequences of Disobedience

There is one final thing to notice about the carnal man in verse 2:

I Corinthians 3

2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able…

Why were they not able to receive that food that he wanted to give them? It is because they chose to satisfy the demands of the flesh rather than the demands of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit would prompt them to witness to someone, and they would choose to disobey that because of what it might mean to their body. It might bring a feeling of embarrassment; it might bring a feeling of lower intellect or something. They chose to obey the flesh rather than the Spirit.

When we see a human baby that is underdeveloped mentally or physically, we think of that as a very sad thing. It is no one's fault. We don't blame the parents or blame the child, but we do think of it as a sad situation. Little babies like that often bring great joy to their families, but still when we see a little child like that, we think that that is sad. He is not all that he could be. We don't mean that critically at all. Listen: Think how much sadder it is in God's sight when a spiritual baby chooses to remain in that condition. It is sad when human babies are in that condition through no fault of their own, but when a spiritual baby chooses to not grow, think how that must break the heart of God.

I don't have any single one of you in mind any more than I have myself in mind, but I can think of instances in my own life where I have chosen not to grow, where I have chosen to obey the impulses of the flesh rather than the Spirit. I do not say that proudly. I have confessed those things as sin, and God has forgiven it. I am just saying that since I know that that is true of me, and I don't think I am much different from anyone else, I know that it must be true of many of you, too, that we choose to disobey the instructions of the Holy Spirit. When we do that, we remain as baby Christians. We cannot grow if we continue to live in the flesh. That produces all kinds or problems: envyings, strife, divisions.

The big problem is that it contributes to a misunderstanding of God's whole plan of the ministry. If you are a carnal Christian, if you are living at the impulses of the flesh rather than the direction of the Holy Spirit, you cannot really understand what the ministry is all about. We will save that and come to it in our next study.

Obedience Results In Maturity

The secret of the spiritual life, then, is not some great, mysterious experience. There are many Christian who think, “If I could just go to the right seminar, or if I could just find the right discipler, or if I could just read the right book, then I would suddenly be spiritually mature.” Baloney! That is not the way it happens. Spiritual maturity comes by walking in obedience to the Word of God, by taking in the truth that God allows you to have, and by making that a part of your life, and then responding step by step in that same way again and again.

It is an old illustration and one that you probably have heard before, but I want to remind you of the old story of the little girl who went to see her grandmother who lived on the next farm over. As grandmothers and granddaughters will sometimes do, time got away from them, and they were visiting, and before either of them realized it, it had gotten dark outside. The grandmother got a lantern and lit it and gave it to the little girl and said, “Here is light for you to go back home.” Apparently the little girl had never been by herself in the dark before. She was standing outside, holding the lantern in front of her and she said, “But Grandmother, this only gives a little bit of light, and my house is way across the field.” The grandmother said, “Honey, you just walk to the edge of that light, and you will get home all right.” That is a beautiful illustration of the Word of God. Many of us desire to be spiritually mature, and we look at all the vast information in the Word of God and we say, “How could I ever master all of that?” We look at the things that God wants to do in our lives and we think, “How can I be all that God wants me to be?” I would say to you what that grandmother said to her granddaughter: “Walk to the edge of the light.” If you will faithfully and consistently walk to the edge of the light of the Word of God that He enables you to have, you will have nothing to worry about. Our problem is that we stop before we get to the edge of the light. That is what a carnal Christian is. But if you will consistently walk to the edge of the light, never fear, God will continue to move that light out ahead of you and to steady you in your quest for spiritual maturity and to bring you to that place of spiritual maturity that all of us ought to desire.

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