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1 Corinthians 3:1–4

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (v. 1).

Today we return to our study of 1 Corinthians. Paul has just concluded his long exposition of the wisdom of God in the cross, which is contrary to the worldly wisdom that led to divisions among the Corinthian believers. God’s wisdom, manifested in the apparent weakness of the cross, leads to service and self-denial. It is at odds with the Corinthian factionalism, where people used the worldly method of appealing to personal associations and to their giftings to exalt themselves. Because such wisdom is counterintuitive to unregenerate people, it must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. Such wisdom formed the heart of Paul’s teaching, and it is received only by the spiritual, the regenerate (1 Cor. 1:10–2:16).

Paul was frustrated with the Corinthians over their factionalism because in reality they were spiritual people who had trusted Christ and should have known all this (see Acts 18:1–11). Yet, as Paul says in today’s passage, he could not address them as spiritual people “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1). He should not have had to review with them the truth of God’s wisdom in the cross, for that was the spiritual milk that he gave to them in planting the church. The Apostle gave them that milk—that basic teaching—when he ministered to them in person because they were not ready for solid food, the deeper things of the gospel. Tragically, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, they remained unable to receive solid food even though they should have been prepared for it (v. 2). This was not an inherent inability; otherwise Paul could not have expressed frustration with the Corinthians throughout the Corinthian letters. The Corinthians were unable because they were choosing to be worldly and unprepared for further gospel teaching beyond what they had received (vv. 3–4). John Chrysostom comments, “The Corinthians’ inability to receive solid food was not by nature but by choice, so they were without excuse.”

Finally, the difference between spiritual milk and spiritual solid food is one of degree, not kind. Otherwise, Peter could not commend Christians of all maturity levels to long for the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). Spiritual milk (the basics of the faith) and spiritual solid food (the deeper points and application of the gospel) both concern Christ, as John Calvin comments. We do not grow beyond the gospel, but we do go deeper into it. The Corinthians had chosen to not go deeper. Let us not repeat their mistake.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Charles Hodge comments on today’s passage, “Every thing which God has revealed is to be taught to every one just so fast and so far as he has the capacity to receive it.” Spiritual solid food is not secret, esoteric knowledge of the faith. It is simply what has been publicly revealed but which first requires an understanding of other doctrines. Let us pursue knowledge of the basics so that we can know the fuller truths of the gospel.

For Further Study
  • Nehemiah 8:13
  • Mark 4:34
  • 2 Timothy 2:15
  • 2 Peter 3:18

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