Still not ready for solid food.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 March 2023

1 Corinthians 3.1-4.

The apostle Apollos was a first-century Egyptian Jew who was eloquent and knew the scriptures, who’d become Christian and showed up in Ephesus to proclaim Jesus in their synagogues. Since he was only familiar with John’s baptism, the apostles Priscilla and Aquila had to correct him a little. But that done, Apollos proved extremely valuable to the ancient Christians. He knew how to show the Jews from their own bible how Jesus is their Messiah. Ac 18.24-28 Paul definitely considered him a brother Christian. 1Co 16.12

Apollos comes up in Paul and Sosthenes’ first letter to the Corinthians. In that letter they bring up how the Christians of Corinth had obviously divided themselves into factions which followed one apostle or another. 1Co 1.10-13 These apostles weren’t in competition with one another, and didn’t imagine anything of the kind; yet now they had followers who did imagine themselves in competition. The Corinthians were all supposed to belong to God, not these apostles; they were all supposed to recognize Jesus as Lord, and therefore be one people. But that’s not how they behaved.

Same as Christians nowadays. We still divide ourselves into factions and fight one another. The Baptists fight the Catholics. The Arminians fight the Calvinists. The complementarians fight the egalitarians. The cessationists fight the continuationists. The Christian Right fights the Christian Right. (What, you thought I was gonna say they fight the Christian Left? Oh, they don’t even believe in the Christian Left; they think those guys aren’t Christian. They fight ’em… but far more often they fight each other. Over who’s more Right.)

All this fighting means, as the apostles make it clear in the letter, those who are fighting are not mature Christians. The Corinthians should be ready to receive deeper instructions about God’s kingdom and God’s ways. But they haven’t even traveled past the first mile marker on God’s road. They’re too busy brawling on the onramp.

1 Corinthians 3.1-4 KWL
1 Fellow Christians, I also can’t speak to you like spiritual people,
but like fleshly people, like infants in Christ.
2 I give you milk to drink, not solid food:
You weren’t yet capable.
But neither are you capable now:
3 You’re still fleshly!
For why is there overzealousness and fighting among you?—
Aren’t you fleshly, and walk like fleshly people?
4 Whenever one of you might say, “I’m of Paul,”
and another “I’m of Apollos,”
aren’t you fleshly people?

Historians figure Paul first visited Corinth in the 50s, and cowrote 1 Corinthians in the 60s. Figure a five-year separation at the least, a 15-year separation at the most. But either way, Paul expected to see growth in the Corinthians… but here they were, still acting like spiritual children. Not even children; νηπίοις/nipíhis, “infants.” Babies. Couldn’t talk, couldn’t raise their heads, couldn’t control their bowels. Paul felt he should realistically expect better of them, and they weren’t remotely mature. They were fleshly Christians.

And when you look at all the problems Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians, you’ll easily recognize we Christians in the present day suffer all the very same problems in our churches. We still have partisanship. Still have people who can’t keep it in their pants. Still have Christians who trip one another up over our “freedoms in Christ,” or demand special ranks and privileges because we’re gifted in different ways, or exercise our gifts without love, or emphasize showy gifts over those which minister to more people. Still describe the End as weird cosmic revenge fantasies rather than Jesus defeating death once and for all.

We got a lot of work to do! But it starts by following Jesus, not following our stupid manmade sects and parties. By doing as the Spirit directs, not doing as our zeal dictates. By growing good spiritual fruit, instead of imagining that bible trivia and good theology are what really turn us into mature Christians. The devil knows bible better than you do, for all the good that’s done it—but it doesn’t follow Jesus. So we gotta follow Jesus.

The deeper stuff has to wait.

No doubt Paul was frustrated because he didn’t wanna write a big ol’ letter of correction to Corinth; he wanted to encourage them! He wanted to share profound things. Deeper revelations. Solid thinking. Stuff which now had to wait, because now he had to change some messy diapers.

No, the deep stuff Paul likely wanted to write about instead, isn’t lost to history. It’s in Ephesians. It’s in the letter where he doesn’t have to spend several chapters rebuking the church for its misbehavior; where he can instead dive right into the glorious plan God has for humanity. It’s a good book; go read it.

But don’t presume we shouldn’t still read 1 Corinthians, because you know we’re still slogging through the very same problems that church had. We’ve still got factions, and sin, and pride, and exceptionalism, and majoring in the minors, and End Times mania. We’ve still got immature Christians and fleshly Christians run amok. Heck, we’ve even got ’em in positions of power: We elect them to Congress, give them TV and radio shows where they can preach to millions of like-minded, self-centered, carnal people who know Jesus so little, they may as well be pagans, and many of ’em probably are. We’ve even made some of them pastors and bishops, and put ’em in charge of the spiritual wellbeing of newbies and children. Is it any wonder there are so many child molestation cases in our churches?

The United States likes to imagine itself a Christian nation, but these self-described “Christians” are biblically illiterate and spiritually dead, so of course we don’t look Christian at all. Which is why these fleshly Christians think the solution to the problem is to elect Christians to office instead of loving their neighbors. Pass laws instead of loving their neighbors. Ban books instead of loving their neighbors. Deport foreigners instead of loving their neighbors. Do anything—heck, they’ll even give fascism another try!—but actually follow Jesus, and love their neighbors.

There have been Christians in North America for centuries, and you’d think by now if we’d’ve kept it up, we’d see some really profound growth in Christ. But we don’t. We suffer the same problems of every free society… and suffer the same temptations to make it less free and force people to behave. We see selfish people, as usual, ruin and undermine society and Christianity, and even try to convince others selfishness is a virtue. We see just as much backsliding as we do growth. Feels like more backsliding sometimes, ’cause backsliders are so much louder about it.

So is anybody out there ready for spiritual food? Well sure. Like I said, Ephesians is still in the bible. Some Christians are ready for it. But let’s not arrogantly presume we’re those Christians; that we’ve “arrived” while we’re still really slashing away at one another. Let’s work on loving our neighbors. For once.