Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 3:1-9

Paul’s underlying thought in chapters one and two is that Christ is God’s unique center and also the portion of the saints. Beginning with chapter three, Paul speaks regarding the church. When he comes to the church, he writes in a very meaningful, profitable, and life-giving way, in the way of feeding, planting, and watering for growth. In 3:9 he says that the church is God’s farm and God’s building. Even though Paul does not use the word church in this chapter, he speaks about the church in a wonderful way. Paul writes of the church not in the way of doctrine, not even the doctrine of life, but in the way of the experience of life.


In 3:1 Paul says, “And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshy, as to infants in Christ.” Here Paul is very frank in telling the Corinthians that he could not speak unto them as to spiritual, but as to fleshy. A spiritual man is one who does not behave according to the flesh or act according to the soulish life, but lives according to the spirit, that is, his spirit mingled with the Spirit of God. Such a one is dominated, governed, directed, moved, and led by such a mingled spirit.

The term fleshy is a stronger expression than fleshly in verse 3, and it refers to aspects of the flesh that are more gross. Fleshy denotes made of flesh; fleshly denotes being influenced by the nature of the flesh, partaking of the character of the flesh. In verse 1 the apostle considers the Corinthian believers to be totally of the flesh, made of the flesh, and just the flesh. What a strong word! Then in verse 3 the apostle condemns their behaving in jealousy and strife as fleshly, being under the influence of their fleshly nature and partaking of the character of the flesh.

This book reveals clearly that a believer may be one of three kinds of men: a spiritual man, living in his spirit under the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:25); a soulish man, living in his soul under the direction of the soul, the natural life (2:14); or a fleshy and fleshly man, of the flesh and living in the flesh under the influence of the nature of the flesh. The Lord desires that all His believers may take His grace to be the first kind of man—a spiritual man. This is the goal of this book—to motivate the Corinthian believers who are soulish, fleshy, and fleshly to aspire to the growth in life that they may become spiritual (2:15; 3:1; 14:37). As we have been called by God into the fellowship of Christ (1:9), who is now the life-giving Spirit (15:45), and as we are one spirit with Him (6:17), we can experience and enjoy Him only when we live in our spirit under the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we live in the soul or in the flesh, we are missing the mark of participating in Him.


In 3:1 Paul refers to the believers at Corinth as infants in Christ. Although they had received all the initial gifts in life and were lacking in none of them (1:7), they had not grown in life after receiving them, but rather remained as infants in Christ, not spiritual but fleshy. The apostle here points out their deficiency and indicates their need, that is, to grow in life to maturity, to be full grown (2:6; Col. 1:28).

In verse 2 Paul goes on to say, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not then able to receive it. But neither yet now are you able.” To give milk to drink or food to eat is to feed others. Feeding refers to the matter of life. This differs from teaching, which refers to knowledge. What the apostle ministered to the Corinthian believers seemed to be knowledge. Actually it was milk (not yet solid food), and it should have nourished them. Milk is mainly for infants, whereas solid food is for the mature (Heb. 5:12). The fact that the Corinthian believers could not receive solid food indicates that they were not growing in life.

In verse 3 Paul continues, “For you are still fleshly. For whereas there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and walking according to man?” Jealousy and strife are expressions, characteristics, of the nature of the flesh. Hence, they characterize those who are in the flesh, those who are fleshly. Every fallen human being is the flesh (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). Therefore, to walk according to man is to walk according to the flesh.

Verse 4 says, “For whenever one says, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are you not men?” The word men here refers to men of the flesh, to fallen natural men, to men in the world. Instead of walking according to the natural man, we should walk according to the mingled spirit. However, in saying that they were of Paul or of Apollos, the Corinthians were walking according to the fallen natural man. They were not living and behaving according to the Spirit in their regenerated human spirit.

In verse 8 Paul declares, “Now he who plants and he who waters are one.” Here Paul seems to be saying, “I and Apollos are one. I am one with Apollos, and Apollos is one with me. Why do you try to divide us? Why do some of you say that you are of him and others say that you are of me? To speak in this way is to be divisive. Apollos and I are one in the God-given ministry. I planted and he watered, but we both share in the one ministry. Furthermore, each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. We are God’s fellow-workers, and you are God’s farm, God’s building.”