Submitted by Hannah Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
1 Corinthians 3:1-10
· What characterizes spiritual infancy?
From this passage, spiritual infancy is characterized as those who are “still of the flesh.” Right before this chapter, Apostle Paul talks about what it means to be spiritual versus a “natural” person or person of the flesh. A spiritual person is someone who allows the Spirit of God to be in charge of his life, the Spirit that he says “searches everything, even the depths of God.” Apostle Paul is saying that someone who is a spiritual infant still allows the flesh to be in charge, not the Spirit. They are dominated by their fleshly, human, and carnal desires. He also mentions that they are still fed with milk, implying that there hasn’t been growth. Spiritual infancy is characterized by just being in the same position as they were when they had received the Gospel. We know that Apostle Paul spent a year and half with the Corinthians and perhaps he expected to see change in these young Christians in the way that they viewed each other and viewed themselves. However, even after three years when he is writing to them in this letter, he hears that there is still quarreling and worldliness among them. They are still interested in the same worldly things, still operating in the same ways they were before they accepted the Gospel and became Christian. As a consequence, spiritual infancy leads to jealousy and strife among them, and they behave only in a human way. There is no difference between them and the people who have not received the Spirit. They value the same things as those in the world, they follow human factions, they are impressed by the same things the world says is impressive and world achieving.
· Having patrons—i.e., wealthy or powerful people with whom one aligned oneself, who provided protection and benefits—was an important part of Corinthian society. Since the vast majority of people were not wealthy or powerful, it was crucial to have the right patron. For the Corinthians, this way of viewing people, power, and their own position did not change after they became Christian. Apostle Paul says this reveals their immaturity and fleshliness. Reflect on the degree to which the gospel addresses issues so fundamental that such values should have been overturned and abandoned.
I thought about what the Corinthians might have been thinking as new Christians and being in this society that was so steeped in way of view others by their wealth, power and position. They might have been outnumbered and felt that everyone around them was aligning themselves with a patron that could benefit them and protect them. They didn’t want to end up missing out and were tempted to just follow the ways of society. They might have bought into the lie that they need to fend for themselves, that there is no one else that will be able to look out for them and they need to make sure that they think about themselves first. Perhaps they thought that since they weren’t wealthy and powerful, there is nothing they could possibly do in this society where people cared so much about that. So they went along with their common sense and practical thinking without much regard to the Gospel that they had received. In some ways it seems like they compartmentalized their Christian beliefs to just a section of their life, but when it came to societal standing and they just lived as those who never heard the Gospel, as practical atheists. They just didn’t make the connection that the Gospel actually addresses every area of their life, and the issues that they were facing. They should have seen this whole system for what it was; that it went against all that the Gospel proclaims. It says that money, wealth and power will protect and benefit them, the Gospel says God is the one who will provide and protect them. Having a patron says they will be valued based on who they are aligned with, the Gospel says they are valued based on the fact that they are made in God’s image and that God is ultimately the one that gives growth. They should have been convinced that God is not impressed with money, wealth, and power. In the end, He is the one that gives growth and He is the one who they should align themselves with. The reality of God and the gospel truths needed to become a greater part of their lives.
As I grow older, I see how the basic truths of the Gospel has everything to say about how I should view myself, how I should view people, who God is in my life and what my life is for. I remember before I became a Christian, people were just a way for me to get what I wanted and advance myself in some way. I was just like the Corinthians, wanting to associate myself with people who can make me look better, whether it be the popular friends, the smart people who can help me with my grades, people with power and influence over others. When others would demand anything from me, I would calculate what’s in it for me. Even to the people like my parents, sister, best friends, I would only think about what I could extract from them to get what I needed or wanted. In college, I remember being so impressed by people of status and power. Being a business major and seeing titles like Manager, Director, President, Vice President, MBA, CPA, CFA, etc. at the end of peoples’ business cards, made my heart beat a little faster, wanting to make a good impression and thinking that being in their position would be success and happiness. Even after becoming a Christian, I struggled with this because I knew that this was the way the whole world operated and I would find myself getting sucked into that mentality again.
But after a couple of years of doing ministry, really deepening in my understanding of the Gospel, I began to see that what was on the outside and all that their status and wealth symbolized was not all there was to a person. As I ministered to people, talked to co-workers from various walks of life, interacted with old friends, I confirmed the truth that everyone needs God. People are so broken and the ups and downs of life hit you at times with no warning. We bump up against our sins, our regrets, our past pains and traumas, feelings of purposelessness, and I realized that the truth of the Gospel that we are all broken sinners in need of restoration. I became so convinced of this truth in myself and others and it pushed me to take greater steps of faith to share the gospel and God’s love with others instead of just being impressed by their human achievement. Steps like spending 3 months in Central Asia to share God’s love to people rather than spending my summer working and making money, deciding to take a lower paying job to have more time for ministry, not wanting a promotion because it would mean longer hours at work and less time for others, moving down to Riverside as a new mom to minister and reach out to students who don’t know the Gospel, ministering to and loving college students for the past 10 years with faithfulness and with fear and trembling. I have come to really believe that more than anything this world can offer, people and I need the gospel. Instead of seeing people as people who I can use for my own gain, I want to give myself in whatever way so that they might know and understand the richness and joy of the Gospel message. I don’t view myself as a loser or someone who missed out on my potential. Instead, I see myself as one who has been entrusted and given the greatest privilege of bearing this Gospel. It never ceases to amaze me that I am here and that God wants to use me for His kingdom work, considering my track record and the sins that are so deeply ingrained in me. But I am confident that the Gospel does have the power to completely transform a person and change their fundamental values.
· Reflect on the words, “God’s fellow workers” and “skilled master builder.” Have I embraced such identities for myself? How does this sense of identity as a kingdom worker relate to the topic of spiritual infancy?
To be called God’s fellow worker and a skilled master builder is something that is definitely not words that describe me on my own. To be a fellow worker of God is an astounding statement. The God who made the entire universe, God who created all things and is outside of time and space, the God of all history and all that has happened from the beginning of time to now, this God calls me a fellow worker. And on my own I am not skilled, and I am not a master builder, or a master of anything. God knows that I am an undisciplined, unmotivated, and unskilled person. BUT, the difference is in v10, that Apostle Paul says it is according to the grace of God given to me. And to this I can say, “yes,” with the grace and mercy that I have received from God, I can see how being called God’s fellow worker and a skilled master builder is possible and can be said of me. Without the grace of God, I am nothing, but because of God’s great love for me, He calls those who are not as though they are, and through that process, I can see how I have grown to embrace this identity that God has given to me. I think the more I can embrace this sense of identity as a kingdom worker the more it pushes out that inertia to remain spiritually infantile and follow my flesh. When I accept and embrace this calling that God has given me, then it causes me to see my role in this world in a different way, it causes me to see others in a different way and there becomes no room for me to be a spiritual infant still wanting things of this world.
Submitted by Steve K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
1 Corinthians 3:1-10
- What characterizes spiritual infancy?
From vv1-2 we’re told that spiritual infancy comes from being “people of the flesh.” Paul elaborates on what it means to still be of the “flesh” by citing how there was jealousy and strife among them, and it seemed to be based on who they boasted and claimed to be following. There was the camp of people who boasted that they were following Apollos versus Paul. So I could imagine there being a fierce argument about who is considered greater–Apollos or Paul. This sort of comparing and competing against one another to be able to boast of being better than others was ultimately of the flesh, or of the things that would characterize “unredeemed human nature.”
To be spiritually infantile meant that they were continuing to live in godless ways. To still live by the “flesh” is to have a worldview that doesn’t have God in the picture. The focus is on what people see and feel, which is largely based on comparing with one another in the church. The same values and perspective they operated under outside of the church were things they brought into the church, and so in this way they were continuing to be people of the “flesh” rather than of God’s Spirit.
- Having patrons—i.e., wealthy or powerful people with whom one aligned oneself, who provided protection and benefits—was an important part of Corinthian society. Since the vast majority of people were not wealthy or powerful, it was crucial to have the right patron. For the Corinthians, this way of viewing people, power, and their own position did not change after they became Christian. Apostle Paul says this reveals their immaturity and fleshliness. Reflect on the degree to which the gospel addresses issues so fundamental that such values should have been overturned and abandoned.
The gospel tells us that we have been created by God in “His image.” We were created with dignity and significance, because God stamped us with the essence of who He is, and consequently enabling us to have a relationship with Him. It’s like the close bond between a mother and father with their child, who bears their image. We’re so loved and valued by God, and this was by no merit of our own.
The gospel also tells us that we have all turned away from God and rejected His love and His claim over us. We have all chosen to sin against Him by trying to define ourselves and live apart from Him, which is utter folly because to cut ourselves away from God is to cut ourselves from the very source of life and all that is good. Consequently, we end up ruining ourselves by twisting and perverting all that was meant to be good in us and in the world we live in. We end up hurting ourselves and others around us. And the final end of our sinful ways is death–not only physical death which cuts us off from relationships here on earth, but a spiritual death which is to be cut off from God eternally.
The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus Christ we have all been given forgiveness and the offer of a new reconciled life with God, which should change everything. The gospel ought to free us from feeling the need to define our significance from comparing with one another. In fact, it should cause us to see one another with pity and compassion knowing we are all broken sinners. None of us can boast in ourselves, because left to ourselves we were just cursed by sin. Deep down there is just darkness, shame and guilt, which causes us to be deeply insecure and love starved. Our sins cause us to be devoid of love and anything noble and good.
On the other hand, the gospel should cause us to care very little for what separates us, because what binds us is the gigantic truth that we are all created by God, but marred and plagued by sin. We’re all like patients in a cancer ward dying of terminal cancer. Any other detail that we could possibly claim to distinguish ourselves seem really so petty and absurd. We were all dying of spiritual cancer due to our sins, but we’ve been given amazing grace through faith in Christ, who died for us so that we may be cured and given a second chance at life.
The gospel should really overturn the worldly ways we see ourselves and others.
- To what extent has the gospel penetrated deep into the infrastructure of my fundamental values and how I see myself, and others? What evidence can I point to that shows how because of the gospel I no longer regard myself and others “in a human way”?
I testify to how the gospel has been impacting me and changing me from the inside out. Where once I was so anxious and insecure based on things like how little money my family had and the lack of a prestigious career my parents had and the lackluster career I thought I might’ve end up with, but now I care much less about such things. I see money and all the resources I have as not something that defines my self-worth, but something that God provided for me to use for His kingdom work of blessing others and bringing Him glory. This is why it wasn’t such a huge drama to quit my job as a release engineer to go into full-time ministry.
Where once I was so conscious about degrees, awards and the prestige of the school I got into, I now wish to “be all things to all men” to save souls. I now wish that I could’ve been a student at Riverside so that I may have a better connection with the students here. Why? It’s because of the gospel. It’s because I want to be as effective and useful as I can be to God to reach as many lost souls as possible on the Riverside campus. I recognize that “heaven and earth” will all pass away, and the only thing that really lasts are people’s eternal souls, which I’m zealous for the sake of Christ to save with the gospel message.
This is why I was far more excited and overjoyed and brought to tears by my 9 year old son responding to the gospel and becoming a fellow brother in Christ than him bringing home straight “As” from school. Because I am convinced that the greatest gift I can over hope for my son to receive is salvation through Jesus Christ, and this is a gift that no amount of money or accomplishments could earn for him.
- Reflect on the words, “God’s fellow workers” and “skilled master builder.” Have I embraced such identities for myself? How does this sense of identity as a kingdom worker relate to the topic of spiritual infancy?
By the grace of God and through the help of His church, I testify to how being “God’s fellow workers” and a “skilled master builder” has become more a central identity and passion of my life.
I think spiritual infancy comes from not being grounded in our new identity as “God’s fellow workers.” When this new identity given to us from God is not something that we identify ourselves with, then we will still feel the need to build our identity and self-worth based on worldly criteria (e.g. comparing with others; having noticeable abilities that many others don’t have like possessing oratory skills, musical abilities, and overall competence).
But to be solidly grounded in seeing ourselves as “God’s fellow workers” brings tremendous amount of dignity, honor and self-worth. First of all it’s an identity that recognizes that we belong to someone, and that someone is none less than God, who is the Creator God, the Master of the Universe, the one who showed us love through the cross of Jesus. Like the Corinthians who out of their insecurity wanted to align themselves to a noteworthy “patron,” we too desire to find significance. There is nothing more significant and ennobling than to be identified as people who belong to God as His fellow workers. What privilege and honor to be employed by God!
Also, there’s a sense of belonging and oneness we can experience knowing we are “fellow workers” striving together to build up God’s church and planting more churches. We are not competitors, but “fellow workers.” Not only fellow workers, but we have the goal of becoming “skilled master builders.” We are called to be equipped and be more useful in God’s hands rather than wanting to be lazy and self- indulgent or to anxiously trying to do better than others. As fellow workers we can desire that each of us become more skilled and be the best we can be for God’s purposes, so we can build together the ministry God entrusted us to build up.
Submitted by David T. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
What characterizes spiritual infancy?
There are two phrases that Apostle Paul uses that characterize the spiritual infancy: he calls the Corinthians “people of the flesh,” and he describes them as only ready for spiritual milk and not solid food. And in each of these two descriptions we can glean insight into what it means to be a spiritual infant.
What does it mean to be people of the flesh? In these verses, Apostle Paul gives descriptions of the Corinthians that show that they are people of the flesh: he could not address them as spiritual people, jealousy and strife were among them, they were behaving in a merely human way, and they were organizing themselves in camps behind different leaders and causing divisions in the church. In other words, there was nothing about the Corinthian Christians that made them any different from any other Corinthian. They were still pursuing the same things and jockeying for those positions of prominence and importance, and jealousy and strife resulted from their struggle with one another. So, more generally, when someone is a person of the flesh it means that he is no different from anybody else who is living in the world. There is nothing different about him and there is nothing distinct about him – the Gospel has not come and transformed him. How might that look?
- With regards to money, it is still something that he sees as belonging only to himself, instead of something that belongs to God and a tool to further God’s work. He would still put his confidence and security in money, as so many people do. He would feel no qualms about using his money to upgrade his lifestyle or purchase the latest gadget.
- With regards to time and personal comfort, it would be something that he would guard jealously, instead of embracing using it to serve others and save souls.
- With regards to career, it would be his source of confidence and significance, instead of being a secondary identity behind his identity as a child of God and a minister of the Gospel.
- With regards to people, he would still judge and value people base on criteria such as appearance or wealth or education or competence, instead of recognizing that we are all made in God’s image and that we are all sinners in need of salvation.
What does it mean to not be ready for solid spiritual food? It meant that the Corinthians were only ready for the very basics, and they were not ready to receive any teaching that was any more complicated or challenging. There is so much truth that they wouldn’t be able to receive or hear. One specific thing that spiritual infants would have a hard time receiving is correction because receiving correcting is something that can be potentially hard or ego devastating. There is much truth that has to be internalized to receive correction well: our very nature is sinful and we will continue to struggle with sin for our entire lives, correction and discipline is something loving that we receive from God and our spiritual leaders (much as our parents discipline us out of love), and we are still loved and accepted despite our sinfulness.
This describes spiritual infancy – so we would expect someone who is a brand new Christian to be in this state. There is a lot of a lot of baggage and habits and values from the world that he is still carrying that will take time to struggle against and unlearn and replace. There is still a lot of truth about God, himself, our sinful natures, salvation, forgiveness, and repentance that he needs to learn and practice and internalize. And so he would need spiritual milk to grow. But it would be tragic if he never grew and remained in this state for years and years and years.
What are the ways that my life is still characterized by spiritual infancy? There are still so many of my values which are worldly and that need to be transformed and changed – the grip of money on my life and my desire to control my time and to live a comfortable life are two areas where I have felt challenged lately. And to grow, I know that there needs to be honest confession before God and to engage with the Word of God and allow it to judge the thoughts and attitudes of my heart, and I need to take concrete actions to align myself with the values of God.
Having patrons—i.e., wealthy or powerful people with whom one aligned oneself, who provided protection and benefits—was an important part of Corinthian society. Since the vast majority of people were not wealthy or powerful, it was crucial to have the right patron. For the Corinthians, this way of viewing people, power, and their own position did not change after they became Christian. Apostle Paul says this reveals their immaturity and fleshliness. Reflect on the degree to which the gospel addresses issues so fundamental that such values should have been overturned and abandoned.
The Corinthians thought if they aligned themselves with a strong leader like Paul or Apollos or Peter that they would be set. Paul or Apollos or Peter would be like the patrons of Corinthian society, and they would just be able to get by on being associated with one of these teachers – and this kind of attitude led to division as different people would want to tout why their particular teacher was the best and why they were in a better position by being behind their particular teacher. But the Gospel does overturn the values behind this kind of way of looking at life and people. For once, the Gospel message is very clear – we are all sinners, we are all in need of salvation, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and the same goes for great Christian leaders like Apostle Paul, Apostle Peter, and Apollos. As Apostle Paul said, he and Apollos and all of these other leaders that the Corinthians were organizing themselves into camps behind were all just servants of God. They were all appointed different tasks by God, they would come in at different times and use their different gifts to build up God’s church, but in the end it is only God who gives the growth and it is God who transforms people’s lives. So in this way, these basic truths of the Gospel should have really overturned the worldly ways in which the Corinthians saw their spiritual leaders.
To what extent has the gospel penetrated deepinto the infrastructure of my fundamental values and how I see myself, and others? What evidence can I point to that shows how because of the gospel I no longer regard myself and others “in a human way”?
The basic truths of the Gospel have also overturned the worldly ways of viewing people that I grew up with. One specific worldly way of viewing people that I had before was that I thought that people who were intelligent and competent and educated, with good careers and advanced degrees, were the ones who should be admired and honored; I thought that such people were better, and I really desired to be successful in the area of academics and have the letters “Ph.D.” after my name. But these values changed in my life because of the Gospel – because the reality of the Gospel tells me that every single person, even the most successful or educated person, is a sinner who is in need of salvation, salvation that can only come from the Gospel. Their degrees or their salaries or their titles will not be able to save them; the only thing that matters is the Gospel. And if they achieve all success but never receive the Gospel, then in the end that is a tragedy.
Reflect on the words, “God’s fellow workers” and “skilled master builder.” Have I embraced such identities for myself? How does this sense of identity as a kingdom worker relate to the topic of spiritual infancy?
As a minister, these are two identities that are given to me. “God’s fellow worker”–what stands out to me about this title is the word “God.” We are working alongside God–how lofty that is and what an honor it is to think about, that we work alongside God and we contend alongside God for the same goal–to see the Gospel grow in people’s lives and to see people come to salvation. The fact that God would include us and that he would want to work alongside us really elevates our lives– he does not need us to do this work nor are we qualified for this work, but he wants to include us anyways and let us experience the thrill and honor of being a part of the very important work that he is doing in the lives of people and in our world.
“Skilled master builder”–what stands out to me about this title is what follows–our responsibility is to lay a spiritual foundation in people’s lives. As a minister, the work that we are doing is going to have lasting and far-reaching consequences. If the foundation is secure, the house is going to have power to stand against the winds and storms that will blow against it. But, if the foundation is shaky, then no matter how secure or solid the house looks, it will fall when a severe enough storm comes along. And the same is true of spiritual life. As a minister, we help to lay this foundation in people – to make sure that they are solid in the fundamental truths about themselves and God and the Gospel. And it is something that requires a great amount of skill to do, because it is so important, and it is a task that I cannot take lightly.
These are two identities that God has called me to – and I know that I am woefully inadequate to meet the demands of these two identities. But, I really do desire to take on and live out those identities, to work alongside God to do work of eternal consequence. But, I am hindered by these feelings of inadequacy and thinking that I don’t have what it takes. However, our God is the God who calls things that are not as though they were–he is the God who is able to work through and do amazing thing through sinners. And although I am not adequate, he is more than enough.
The way that this calling of a kingdom worker is related to the topic of spiritual infancy is that the work that we are doing is to raise people out of their spiritual infancy, and thus we cannot persist in our own spiritual infancy if we are going to take on the work of this calling. For myself, I cannot continue to be immature and seek comfort and allow money to have a hold on me, among other things. If I continue to tolerate these things, how will I be available for the important work of God’s work in others? And how will I be able to help them grow out of their spiritual infancy if I am still stuck in spiritual infancy myself? So then, the work of ministry and the people that God places in my life gives additional urgency to the need to mature spiritually.
Father God, I pray that you would help me to submit to and embrace the work that you are doing and desire to do in my life–the ways that I am still spiritual infantile that I need to struggle with, the tough truths that I need to see and hear and confess, the wrong values that need to be brought in line with what you say in your Word, and the fears that I need to face. Lord, I pray that you would come in and have that transforming power over my life. Please do your work so that I may be able to live out that lofty vision that you have for my life–to work alongside you, building a spiritual foundation in the lives of others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.