Pastor Sherry’s message for February 12, 2023
Scriptures: Deut 30:15-20; Ps 119:1-8; 1 Cor 3:1-9; Matt 5:21-37
About 10 years ago, I was teaching Introductory Psychology at Santa Fe College, in Gainesville, Florida, when I had in my class a young man on the autism spectrum, likely diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. He was 18 years old, earnest, and smart, but also very concrete in his thinking. He seemed not to be able to comprehend abstract ideas. He told me he had an older brother who was a pharmacist, and his perception was that his brother was their parent’s favorite. He told me how hard he worked to be just as good as his brother, academically, and how important it was to him to make A’s to impress his parents. I noticed in the parking lot that he drove a brand new Ford Mustang GT with racing stripes, so his parents must have favored him more than he acknowledged.
Now the study of Psychology involves a great number of abstract ideas, so I was worried that he would not score well on my tests. Sure enough, he failed the first one. Given the amount of pressure he put on himself, I suspected his reaction to his score would be one of intense disappointment. What I was not prepared for was his startling behavior.
When the other students filed out of the classroom, he threw himself on the floor and had a temper tantrum like that of a 2 or 3 year old. He flailed his arms and legs. He screamed and cried. Believe me, I felt compassion for him in his distress; however, his behavior was thoroughly inappropriate for a college student.
I stood near him and told him, calmly, to stop that. I said his tantrum was not age appropriate. I asked him to get up off the ground and to seek the free counseling that the college offered (which he later did). He needed to learn to control his anger and to manage his distress, and he needed to learn to express negative emotions in an age-appropriate manner. Such a response was immature and would only earn him his peers’ and his professors’ contempt.
Immaturity is the issue that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Let’s back up for just a minute and put Paul’s concern into context. In chapter #2, he had divided humankind into two classes of people: the unsaved and the saved. The unsaved he also called the natural man, or the fleshly man. Such persons either reject the idea that God exists– they are atheists–or, they worship gods they create in their own image, and we call them idolaters. Or they cling to their own wills, believing spiritual things are foolish. They are so fascinated by their own intellects that they believe they can save themselves (I have met many like this in academia).
Paul contrasted the unsaved with the saved or spiritual man. This man or woman has accepted Christ. They are spiritual enough, or practical enough, or wise enough to realize (1) they can receive the wisdom of God; but, (2) they cannot attain righteousness on their own. On other words, they know cannot save themselves—they need Jesus.
Now, in chapter 3, he further divides Christians (the saved; spiritual persons) into two classes: Paul asserts there are Mature Christians, who are cooperating with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. You can see evidence that their life has changed since they came to know Jesus. They are not perfect, but they do most everything they do with the awareness that God is watching. A church in Live Oak has on their sign, “God saw that.” I think that’s funny. It’s also true since God is omniscient and omnipresent. He does see everything. Furthermore, mature Christians do most everything they do with a desire to please the Lord. They are also future thinking, often considering what might be the eternal consequences of their current actions and words. They are constantly learning from Jesus and/or Scripture and desire to share what they learn with others.
Then there are also what Paul calls Carnal or Immature Christians. They are Christians who look like and live like everyone else in the culture. Coming to know Jesus has not changed them at all. The Greek word for carnal is sarkikos, which means fleshly. In Latin and in French, carna means sensual. Thus, the word carnival comes from carna vale—or farewell to the flesh. This is why many cultures celebrate the Tuesday before Lent starts—Fat Tuesday—as the last opportunity for gluttony allowed before the traditional deprivations of Lent set in. This is who Paul meant when he wrote in Philippians 3:19 [they are the ones]…whose god is their belly. Paul thinks of them as “spiritual infants;” they are as immature acting as my former student.
Paul tells them he fed them milk, the basics, because they were too immature to digest meat. They may have come to know Biblical stories, but were probably not familiar with Biblical doctrine. When I arrived at a church in New Orleans to assist my friend, the lead pastor, we discovered the staff were all reading The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. They did not understand why Jesus would not have impregnated Mary Magdalene and left behind a child the Catholic Church worked hard to deny. We shared with them the doctrine that Jesus was sinless as he walked the earth. He needed to be in order to save us. Also, He would not have committed fornication, nor would He marry only to have shirked His responsibility as a husband or father. The staff were “baby Christians.” They hadn’t really studied Scripture (which is both milk, bread, meat, honey), like the Corinthians. Or perhaps they had studied God’s Word, but they had not digested the hard truths they found there (like in today’s Gospel lesson). They weren’t cooperating with the Holy Spirit, so there was no spiritual fruit in their lives, little grace for others, and no true desire to live a life pleasing to Christ.
In verses 1-3, Paul says that the Corinthians are immature, worldly, and carnal Christians. He is convinced his assessment is accurate due to their (a) quarreling (strife)—they are too fascinated with fallen humans; (b) jealousy of (and gossip about) one another; (c) factions; and (d) the fact that they allow gross immorality to go on in their fellowship in the name of toleration. He then reverts back to his arguments of chapter #1they are being carnal, immature Christians when they try to elevate Paul over Apollos, or vice versa. There is not to be any competition, as both are servants of God who do different aspects of God’s work: Paul planted the church and the “seed” of God’s Word in their hearts. Apollos then “watered” that seed as the great preacher and teacher who God used to deepen their faith. They were a kind of one-two punch for Jesus!
Paul wants them and us to be sure that God alone gets the glory. It’s not who the preacher or teacher is–not their personality or their skill set; not even whether we like them or not. It is, instead, whether God is using that person! He rarely ever uses only one person. I have heard other pastors criticize an Ed Young, Jr. and a Joel O’Steen because they preach “Gospel light.” They are both invested in attracting nonbelievers to Jesus. Once people have accepted Christ, they probably then move on to someone like Ed Young, Sr., Charles Stanley, or Dr. David Jeremiah to dig down deep to experience being discipled in the faith. I believe God uses many persons of differing skill sets to bring us to a full, mature faith. Again, Paul, Peter, and Apollos did not compete with one another. All three were doing the work assigned to him, under Christ’s Lordship.
Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 is that he wants both the Corinthian Church, and us, to grow up in our faith! (Remember, I told you last week that God told me to “Grow up!” because I am usually reluctant to preach from Paul’s letters?)
We become mature Christians when we marinate ourselves in God’s Word, the Bible. Make it a practice to read a passage daily. If you don’t understand it, get a study Bible and/or a good commentary to help you. Ponder what you have read and notice how opportunities to apply it come up in your daily life. When I was doing fulltime therapy with folks, I often found the Scripture I had read that morning was immediately relevant to what they were going through, and because it was fresh on my mind, I could share it with them. The Bible consists of God’s thoughts–God’s wisdom–written down for our benefit, ”The Word of God for the people of God.” Let what it says begin to guide your behavior. Let what it says begin to corral and transform your thoughts. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you change the way you live and think so that you line up with how Jesus lived and how He thinks.
We become mature Christians as we notice things like gross immorality in our culture—like drag shows for toddlers and sex change operations for children—and refuse to participate in it ourselves. Pray that those who practice these things come to a saving faith in Jesus, rather than summarily condemning them. Instead of condemning corrupt politicians, pray they discover Christ. Instead of seeking revenge, pray the evil-doer has a life transforming experience with the God you know and love. Finally, look for opportunities to offer nonbelievers knowledge about Jesus. This could include your personal testimony about how faith in Him has changed your life. It might also involve sharing the truth that all of the addictions or immoral practices people are using to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives will never satisfy them as Jesus can and will.
Thanks be to God who desires to grow us up into Mature Christians through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams