Today’s selected reading continues in the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the congregation of the Corinthians, and more specifically, is found in verses eleven through twenty-three of the the third chapter. Contained within this particular set of verses are some of the apostle’s most famous words, for within this passage we find the apostle presenting a very powerful question unto this congregation. It is within this particular chapter and within these particular verses the apostle Paul asks the Corinthian congregation if they know and understand that they are the temple of the very Spirit of God. Before the apostle presents this question unto the Corinthian congregation, however, he first builds upon the divisions, the strife and the contentions which were present among them. The apostle Paul begins this particular chapter by declaring unto the Corinthians that he could not speak to nor address them as spiritual, but as carnal because of the strife and contentions and divisions that were present among them. The apostle Paul writes unto this congregation that he could not feed them with the solid meat of the word of God, but only with the milk of the word of God, as they were still babes in Christ. What a tragic indictment the words of the apostle Paul truly are for this congregation that came behind and was not lacking in any spiritual gift. It was indeed true that this congregation excelled in all spiritual gifts, yet as I have already mentioned, this congregation was spiritually destitute and spiritually immature. In all reality I would dare say that the Corinthian congregation was that congregation that was spiritually gifted, yet was spiritually void of the fruit of the Spirit. It is true the gifts of the Spirit were in operation within and among the Corinthian congregation, yet it is also true that the fruit of the Spirit was in short supply and was in high demand. I continue to hold to the tremendous reality that it is not gifts which men shall truly know and understand that we are the disciples of Christ, but it is the fruit which we cultivate and the fruit we bear that distinguishes us as the disciples of Christ. The Corinthian congregation was a congregation of gifts, yet it was also a congregation void of fruit.
When you read the words of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth which are found within this chapter you will find the apostle speaking unto them of strife, of contentions and of divisions which were present among them. Why? What was the cause of all the strife, all the contention, all the division that was present among them? The answer is actually found in two separate and distinct places within this epistle. If you turn and direct your attention back to the first chapter of the epistle you will find the apostle first addressing the divisions and contention which was present among this congregation. In all reality, I find it incredibly telling that this congregation can be spiritually gifted and yet so decisive and contentious within and among themselves. It was true that the gifts were in full operation within and among them, yet also present among those gifts were divisions, strife and contention. Consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto this congregation beginning with the tenth verse of the first chapter, and you will quickly encounter this massive and incredible source of division and contention among this congregation: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (1 Corinthians 1:10-16).
It is with these words the apostle Paul first sets forth and lays the groundwork for the indictment toward and against the divisions and contention which were present among the members of this congregation. What is even more telling and revealing, however, is that this isn’t the only indictment against the divisions and contentions which were found among this congregation. If you begin reading from the first verse of the third chapter you will find a second indictment against this source of division and contention among this congregation. Consider you will the following words which are found in the third chapter beginning with the first verse: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for where’s there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?: For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; butGod that giveth the increase. Now he that planters and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9).
It is quite clear and quite obvious from the words which the apostle Paul wrote in these two places within the epistle that it had been reported unto him concerning the divisions and contentions which were found among the members of the Corinthian congregation. One of the things I find to be absolutely intriguing is that this congregation that was so spiritually gifted allowed themselves to become so caught up and consumed in the game of personalities. THE GAME OF PERSONALITIES! There is a popular show on the famous television network HBO called “Game of Thrones,” and while I am not going to speak concerning this show, I will adapt the concept of “game of thrones,” and change it to the “game of personalities.” I am utterly and completely convinced the division and contention that was found present among the Corinthian congregation was not exclusive to that congregation, but is something that plagues and haunts congregations and churches within and throughout this nation. I am completely convinced there are countless men and women within our churches who allow themselves to get caught up in this game of personalities, as they seek out specific personalities based on charisma, based on gifts, based on style, based on appearance, and various other factors, and then align themselves with those personalities. The members of the Corinthian congregation were divided between themselves, as there were certain among them who said they were of Apollos, while there were others who said they were of Paul. Still, there were others who said they were of Cephas (or Peter), and others who said they were of Christ. I continue to be firmly convinced that one of the greatest sources of division within the church and body of Jesus Christ today is this game of personalities we as the people of God play, as we choose to align ourselves with various personalities which are present in Christendom today. When seeking to understand this concept of the “game of personalities,” it’s important to recognize and understand that when we allow ourselves to get caught up within this game, we completely neglect and ignore the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ which is Christ Himself.
I am convinced that what we read within the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth can further be explained by carefully examining and considering the words which he wrote unto the Roman congregation. If you turn and direct your attention to the seventh chapter of the epistle written unto the Romans you will find and discover words which the apostle Paul which help further explain and reveal that which we find written unto the Corinthian congregation. Beginning with the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter we find the following words written by the apostle Paul: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present within me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find them a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present within me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall delivered me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25).
It’s absolutely incredible how the third chapter begins with a tragic indictment of the Corinthian congregation, and how the apostle Paul could not speak unto them as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as babes in Christ. I cannot seem to escape the fact that while it is true this congregation might very well have excelled in all manner of spiritual gifts, they could not be spoken unto as spiritual, but merely as carnal, and as babes in Christ. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the author of the epistle of Hebrews wrote concerning this concept of maturity. If you begin reading within the sixth chapter of this particular epistle you will find a tragic indictment concerning the tremendous need for spiritual maturity, and how the audience unto whom this author was writing had not progressed to that place of maturity in the Lord. Consider if you will the words which are found in this epistle beginning with the first verse of the sixth chapter: ‘Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us to on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:1-8). This reality is further built upon that which is found in the preceding chapter beginning with the eleventh verse—“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that Seth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
Within the final four verses of the fifth chapter of the epistle written unto the Hebrews we find a terrifying and tragic indictment written to the intended recipients of this epistle. There is still another reference within Scripture that helps illustrate this even further, which is found in the thirteenth chapter of this same epistle which was written unto the Corinthian congregation. IF you begin reading from and with the eighth verse of the thirteenth chapter you will find the following words: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall ceased; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). One of the realities I wrestle and struggle with is how the Corinthian congregation could come behind and lack in no spiritual gift among them, and yet they could not be addressed as spiritual, but as carnal, and even that as mere babes in Christ. The thought that keeps running through my mind is that of imparting gifts unto babes. I struggle with the concept of those who are spiritually immature in Christ excelling in spiritual gifts and having those gifts in operation among them. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Corinthian congregation excelled in all manner of spiritual gifts among themselves, and yet despite the fact that they excelled in spiritual gifts, they could not handle the solid meat of the word of God. It is becoming increasingly obvious to me when reading the first epistle written unto the saints which were at Corinth that it is possible to be spiritually gifted and yet be spiritually immature before the Lord. The more I read this particular epistle, the more I am gripped with the reality that this congregation was spiritually gifted, and yet they could not be spoken unto as spiritual, and could not be fed with the solid meat of the word of God.
I am convinced the words which the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews directly applies to the Corinthian congregation, for when the time came for them to be teachers, they themselves had need that one teach them again which were the first principles of the oracles of God. The members of the Corinthian congregation became such which had need of milk, and not of strong meat, for everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness, for they are a babe. It’s worth noting that the author of the epistle unto the Hebrews emphatically declared that strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. We would be incredibly wise to consider, recognize and understand the words which the author of the epistle unto the Hebrews wrote, for it is with these words we gain a clearer understanding of the Corinthian congregation that was not only spiritually immature in the Lord, but was also spiritually destitute and void of the fruit of the Spirit. I would dare say that it might be incredibly easy to be spiritually gifted and to move and operate in the gifts of the Spirit, and yet be completely void of the fruit of the Spirit. The Corinthian congregation was a congregation of gifts, yet with that being said, it could also be said that they were a congregation void of fruit. I do not believe that a church or congregation can and will be judged based on the operations of the gifts which are found among them, but rather the display and bearing of fruit that is present among them. Similarly, we as individual members of the body of Christ will not be judged based on our exercising of the gifts of the Spirit, but rather by the display and bringing forth of fruit. Just as men and women shall know we are disciples of Jesus Christ based on the fruit we bring forth and bear, I would dare say that the manifestation and operation of the gifts of the Spirit doesn’t automatically confirm a congregation of men and women as disciples of Jesus Christ. I would dare say that we have it completely backwards within and among ourselves for we think that the display and manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit confirm us as disciples of Jesus Christ and as the true church of.the risen Christ, and yet the truth of the matter is that that simply isn’t the case. We dare not become so naïve to think that excelling in spiritual gifts confirms us as disciples, for while we may indeed be followers of Jesus Christ, it is not gifts that confirm us as disciples, but fruit.
In the third chapter of the first epistle of Paul written unto the Congregation we find the apostle Paul speaking of this congregation as being carnal, and as being babes in Christ. Within this third chapter we find the apostle Paul writing of them that he could not feed them with the solid meat of the word of God, but with the milk off the word, for they weren’t able to bear it. It is imperative that we understand that division, that strife, that contentions suggest that we are carnal in nature, and that we might very well be spiritually immature in the Lord. Could it very well be said that it is those who are spiritually immature and those who have not grown up in the faith who not only allow themselves to get caught up in divisions, in strife, and in contentions, but also initiate and instigate them? The apostle Paul would go on to write that the divisions, the strife, the envying, and the contentions found among them revealed them as carnal, and walking as mere men. The more I read the words of the apostle Paul within this passage of Scripture the more I am convinced that there is a tremendous need for spiritual maturity and spiritual growth among us within the body of Christ. With that being said, there are certain signs which reveal a certain spiritual immaturity present within our hearts and lives, as well as a certain need to grow up in the Lord. There were those in Corinth who allowed themselves to be divided over the various personalities of that generation, and I might even say that the division was so deep and embedded in the congregation that unity within this body was not even a factor among them. Imagine a congregation that is so spiritually gifted with the gifts of the Spirit, and yet that same congregation is so divisive among themselves because they have allowed themselves to be given unto factions within and among themselves. I can’t help but wonder how many among us within our churches and congregations have separated ourselves in factions and have allowed ourselves to become divided among ourselves because we allow ourselves to get caught up in the game of personalities which countless men and women have played throughout the years. The danger is incredibly evident and must be carefully examined and understood among ourselves, for if we allow ourselves to become divided over personalities we isolate ourselves from other members of the body.
What’s more, is that I would dare say that it possible that we can even be divided among ourselves based on the gifts which we operate in, for we might actually find ourselves in the place where we either feel the gift(s) we operate in are superior than the gifts others operate in, or perhaps even that we have no need for the various other gifts of the Spirit. I do not find it to be any coincidence that directly connected with the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit within the body of Christ are words which speak to the unity of the body and the working together of all members, as well as the greatest demonstration among us being love. If you direct your attention to the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of this very same epistle, you will find the apostle Paul first speaking concerning spiritual gifts, then transitioning to the reality of the unity of the body as its members work alongside each other, and finally in the display and manifestation of love. Consider if you will the various sections of these two chapters and how they are directly connected and linked with each other.
In the first eleven verses of the twelfth chapter, the apostle Paul writes the following words: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dum idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
Beginning with verse twelve and continuing through to the end of the twelfth chapter we find the following words concerning the operation and unity of the body and its members: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be gond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now they are many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
In the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle unto the Corinthian congregation we find the following words concerning the more excellent way—the way of charity and love. Beginning to read with and from the first verse of the thirteenth chapter you find the following words: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth l one, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinkers no evil; rejoiceth not in in inquiry, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hope that all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
When reading the first epistle written unto the saints which were at Corinth, it’s worth noting the powerful descriptions Paul used to describe the church of Jesus Christ. Within this third chapter alone we find the apostle Paul speaking of the church as God’s husbandry, as God’s building, and later on as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Further along within the epistle the apostle Paul goes on to reference the church of Jesus Christ as the body of Christ. IT is necessary and imperative that we recognize these various descriptions and references for they powerfully and wonderfully reveal the tremendous unity that must be present among us within our churches and congregations. Within the third chapter the apostle Paul would go on to write and speak about his laying the foundation, but another coming along and building upon that foundation. The apostle Paul goes on to provide a powerful piece of caution and instruction, for he would go on to caution those who would seek to build upon that foundation to take heed how they build upon that foundation. The apostle Paul would go on to write that there can be no other foundation laid than that which is Jesus Christ. Perhaps the single greatest question that must be asked when reading this passage of Scripture is centered upon the concept of what we are building upon the foundation which is Jesus the Christ. The apostle Paul speaks of men and women building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble, and goes on to write how every man’s work shall be made manifest in the day when the Lord shall reveal and try every man’s work. It is necessary and imperative that we recognize that ever man’s work shall be manifest within the light, and it shall be revealed by fire in the day of the Lord. The more I read the words of this epistle, the more I am gripped with the tremendous reality that we must be careful when it comes to that which we build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, and that we not only be careful that we not seek to lay another foundation, but also that we are careful what we use to build upon that very foundation. Oh that we would read the words found in the third chapter of this epistle and that we would allow ourselves to be challenged and convicted within ourselves concerning spiritual gifts, concerning spiritual fruit, concerning spiritual maturity, concerning unity of the body, and concerning an equal display and manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit among us within our midst.