At the end of chapter two, Paul explains how Christians have become spiritually alive through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and how salvation brings a new birth of mind and heart. He closes those thoughts with the truth that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). However, the Corinthians weren’t living out this truth. They were not walking as spiritual people with the mind of Christ, but rather, were living in the futility and carnality of the flesh.
At the beginning of chapter three, Paul makes some bold and pointed remarks about the Corinthians’ lack of spiritual maturity and petty divisions.
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
~1 Corinthians 3:1-3
This is a strong word of reproof from the Apostle Paul! It was definitely not a compliment or word of encouragement, but rather, a reality that the Corinthian Christians should be somewhat ashamed of. After eighteen months of teaching under Paul and then continued growth as a church, their spiritual maturity should be above that of baby believers. As Paul mentioned, they should be ready for solid spiritual food and not still on spiritual milk. But that wasn’t reality.
In reality, the Corinthians were still immature in the faith. Paul says that he could not address them as the spiritual people they should be because they were still living in the flesh. While our sinful nature is always something we have to battle and put to death, the Corinthians were not actively waging war against it. They were allowing the nature of their old selves to grow and control their lives.
In his confrontation with the Corinthians about this issue, Paul notes two markers of spiritual immaturity present among them: jealousy and strife. Jealousy is a passionate desire and envy for what someone else has. The Greek word used here actually means “zeal, ardor, or jealousy as a husband has for his wife.” It is a very strong word that holds many layers of emotions and meanings, and depending on the context and on who or what this jealousy is towards, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, jealousy, zeal, and ardor for the Lord is a good thing and a feeling we are called to actively pursue. However, the way Paul uses it here in 1 Corinthians is definitely in the negative sense.
The Corinthians were passionately jealous of one another in an unhealthy way. And this inward attitude and mentality of envy spilled over into external action and behavior which created strife, the second marker of spiritual immaturity. Strife is the enacting of jealousy. Jealousy can be held inward but eventually it will build up and spill out into outward action which is strife. Strife causes division, breaking of relationships, and unnecessary tension. Strife can be overt in the form of arguments and debates or it can be more covert and underhanded through lack of communication, nonverbal body language, and a refusal to discuss what the issue may be.
Both jealousy and strife wreak havoc in a group of people and have no place in the believer’s life or in God’s Church. They are a part of the old sinful nature and not part of the reborn, new spiritual life we have in Jesus Christ. Jesus died to bring unity and reconciliation, first between us and God and then between us and others. Therefore, jealousy and strife undermines all that Jesus gave His blood to redeem.
So we must watch out for jealousy and strife and not allow these sister sins take hold in our lives individually or corporately as a local church body. They are marks of a lack of spiritual maturity and have no place in the family of God. Therefore, let us learn from the Corinthians and resolve to die to ourselves, walking in the fruits of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh. And let us nip jealousy in the bud before it can grow and mature into strife and division.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
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