I Corinthians 3:1-8

Dr. Steve Viars July 23, 1991 1 Corinthians 3:1-8

- we've been studying the book of I Cor. and I'd like to ask
  you to turn to chap. 3 tonight
- Paul is going to address a very important subject that
  every believer has to master if he/she is going to be a
  productive member of the church

- we're talking about "How To Avoid Carnality"
- let me ask you a series of questions that I'm not asking
  you to answer out loud, but I'd like you to think about how
  you'd answer them as a way of introducing this subject

- What is a carnal person? How would you define that word?
- What is the opposite of a carnal person and how are they
- What are some of the characteristics of a carnal person?
- Are you a carnal person? What evidence would you give to
  support your answer?
- How does a person avoid or grow out of carnality?

- with those questions in mind, let's read the first 7 verses
  of I Cor. 3 (READ)

- I'd like to present to you tonight that the first step in
  avoiding carnality is:

I. Understand What It Is

  - Paul said in the first verses that: "I wanted to speak to
    you in a certain way but I couldn't because you weren't
    the right kind of person
  - INPUT - what kind of people weren't they?

    A. What they weren't

        - spiritual men/women

        - now that ought to immediately throw up some flags
          in our minds
        - the reason for that is that Paul has just been
          talking to them about spiritual people in the
          previous chapter
        - you remember on the Sunday night before last we
          were talking about Paul's approach to evangelism
          where he divided people into two distinct

        - INPUT - according to 2:14-15 - what were the two
             categories?  (natural and spiritual)

        - INPUT - in chapter 2, was Paul addressing the
             Corinthians as saved individuals or unsaved
             individuals?  (saved)

        - INPUT - how do we know that from chapter 2?
             (v. 16 - we have the mind of Christ)
        - INPUT - what evidence is there in chapter 3 that
              Paul is addressing them as saved men and women?
              (v. 1 - "Brethren", "babes in Christ")
        - now, do you see the problem (or at least what
          appears to be a problem) in these verses?

        - INPUT - what is it? (in chapter 2, Paul says they
          are spiritual, yet in chapter 3 Paul says they are

        - I would present to you that we are going to have
          great difficulty understanding these verses unless
          we understand why Paul says they are spiritual in
          chapter 2 and not spiritual in chapter 3

        - the answer comes from understanding the difference
          between positional truth and practical truth
        - we've talked about this recently on a Wednesday

        - positional truth is what happens to me the moment
          I'm saved
        - it's instantaneous, unchanging, a direct result of
          trusting Christ as Lord and savior, requires no
          effort on my part
        - When Peter says - you are holy (you're a holy
          nation - I Peter 2:9), he's saying that on the
          account books of heaven, you are viewed in the
          robes of Christ's righteousness

        - you're holy - that's positional truth
             - instantaneous, unchanging, a direct result of
               trusting Christ as Lord and savior, requires
               no effort on your part

        - but over and over the Bible says, because this is
          true positionally, here's what needs to be
          happening practically
        - Peter says - "be ye holy"
           - because of your position in Christ, now begin to
             work that out practically here and now
           - that's practical truth
              - instead of being instantaneous, its
                progressive or ongoing
              - instead of being unchanging - the degree to
                which it's true in your life or mine is
                always changing
              - instead of requiring no effort, it requires
                great effort

- let's draw this together
   - INPUT - when Paul said in chapter 2 - "You are spiritual
             people", was he speaking positionally or
             practically?  (positionally)

   - Rom. 8:9 - "...now if any man have not the Spirit of
             Christ, he is none of his."

   - as soon as you trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the
     Bible says that:
       - the Holy Spirit took up residence inside of you
       - you were sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of
       - you now have a new ability to understand the
         Spirit's sword, His Word
- Paul's point is - because that's true positionally, it
       ought to be true practically as well

- "People who are spiritual ought to be spiritual"
    - that is - people who have the Holy Spirit of God
      resident inside and all the spirit's resources at their
      disposal ought to be spiritual men and women

- Paul says - the terrible truth is - "You're not"

- INPUT - instead Paul says - "you're what?"  (carnal)

    B. What they were

        - carnal

        - the word "carnal" literally means "of the flesh"
        - if you have a NASB, it translates that word

        - its the same idea that Paul presented to the
          Galatians when he told them not to walk in the
          flesh but to walk in the Spirit
        - the Corinthians weren't doing that

        - spiritual people have a vibrant growing
          relationship with the Lord that affects them daily
        - spiritual people care about obeying the Spirit's
        - spiritual people pray and ask for God's help

        - but the Corinthians weren't spiritual - they were
          carnal, fleshly
        - they were still bound up in those same habits they
          had as unbelievers
        - they weren't changing - verse 3 they were walking
          like "mere men"

        - Paul says - I wanted to address you as spiritual
          men and women - but I couldn't -- because you're
- now that’s always bad - but there's a reason why its
  especially bad in this case
- INPUT - what is it? (there may be more than one correct
    answer to this question, but why do you think Paul is
    especially upset with the Corinthian's carnal condition?)
    (because it had gone on for such a long time)

    - Paul says at the end of verse 2 - "for to this time you
         were not able to bear it, and you're still not able"
       - vs. 3 - for you are yet carnal

    - and he uses the perfect illustration to show how bad it
      is for something that should be growing not to grow
    - INPUT - what is it? (baby)

    - I don't think you could come up with a better illus. of
      what Paul is saying
    - you expect baby to do "baby-type" things

        - they slobber - everyone says - "Isn't that cute"
        - they burp - everyone treats that as a major
        - there are all sorts that would never be acceptable
          in any other context that are perfectly acceptable
          for babies because they're babies

        - you expect babies to do baby-type things

         - but listen - babies can and should only get away
             with that for so long
        - "a baby who acts like a baby is a joy - but an
           adult who acts like a baby is a tragedy"

    - Paul says - spiritually speaking - you're like babies
        - you haven't grown nearly at the rate God desires
        - you're carnal - fleshly

- now we need to make a very important distinction here
- INPUT - we said that while positional truth is
          instantaneous, practical truth is what?
          (progressive, ongoing)

- therefore, it would be wrong for us to say - a person is
     either all carnal or all spiritual
- practical truth does not work that way
- its not instantaneous, its not black or white

- therefore, the question tonight that we need to ask is not
    - "Are we carnal"
    - INPUT - instead it's what? (to what degree are we
            - what is the balance between our spirituality
              and our carnality and is that balance changing
              at the rate God desires?

- I think you would agree with me that there are very few
  things that are more important for believers in Christ to
  talk about than this
- "how to avoid carnality" is a subject that ought to be of
   great concern to every one of us

- we've said the first step in avoiding it is knowing what it is
- a carnal person is not a spiritual person
  - they've not allowed the Holy Spirit of God to have the
    kind of daily, regular, personal impact that God would desire

- instead, they're fleshly
    - wrapped up in the desires of the flesh, deeds of the
    - not much measurable difference between them and

- The Lord is very gracious to us here not only in telling us
  what Carnality is - but also some of the ways carnality
  effects Christians and churches

II. Understand And Avoid Its Effects

- INPUT - what is the first effect that Paul mentions with
      reference to the Corinthian's carnality?

    A. Can't (won't) digest the meat of God's Word

        - now I think its very important that we understand
          what Paul means when he talks about the "meat of
          the Word of God"

        - I'd like you turn over to Hebrews 5 and see a
          passage that developed this idea in more detail than
          Paul does here

        - the "meat" of the word of God is not prophecy
          (teaching about the end times)
        - Paul's not talking about the person who can draw
          out a scheme of the end-time events as the one
          who's digested the meatiest aspects of God's Word

        - nor is he talking about some thorny theological
        - Paul's not saying - if you're really spiritual,
            - if you've really  digested the meat of God's
                - then you can answer questions like "Can God
                  make a rock bigger than he can pick up" and
                  "how many angels can dance on the head of a

        - the meat of the word of God is not prophecy or
          thorny theological questions
- instead - look at what Hebrews 5 tells us (READ 5:11-14)

- the meat of God's Word is that aspect of His Word that
  causes us to grow in righteousness
- it forces us to discern good from evil
- the meat of God's Word causes us to change

- to say that Christ died on the cross - that's milk
    - now its essential - a person can't be saved without it
        (can't become a babe in Christ without it)

    - but there are meaty aspects to that truth as well

    - its milk to say that Christ died on the cross
    - but its meat to say that because Christ died on the
       cross, "I must crucify the sinful habit of selfishness

- Hebrews says - the meat of God's Word leads to
     - its causes one to discern good from evil
     - it causes one to change and grow

- Paul says - a carnal person won't digest that
   - a carnal person will choke on that
   - a carnal person will argue with that
   - a carnal person wants no part of that kind of diet
- see, you can tell how spiritual a person is by examining
  his/her diet
- I think a good question for each of us to ask tonight would
    - What does my spiritual diet reveal about the degree of
       my spirituality?

- A spiritual person hungers and thirsts after righteousness
- a spiritual person wants to hear the Word of God expounded
  and explained in depth
- A spiritual person wants to hear about how the truth of
  God's word must be affecting them today
- a spiritual person wants meat

- if we want to avoid carnality, we have to be willing to
  adjust our diets
     - we have to be willing to say - "Lord, I want to have
         my understanding of this topic stretched"
     - I want to hear about how the implications of this
         topic will cause me to change"
     - I want to know how the way I'm thinking or behaving
         might be out of sync with this passage"

- this passage has a lot to say about how the Bible is taught
  and preached in a church

- I think of one church that determined the format and
  purpose of their services by going out to unchurched
  persons on the street and asking them why they didn't come
  to church
- they tabulated the responses from that survey and have
  designed church services to meet those desires

- INPUT - What's wrong with approaching the subject of how
      the Word of God is taught in that way?
      (you're letting an unsaved person or a carnal person's
        appetite determine the menu)

    - that would be like going to the second or third grade
      class and let them select the school menu
    - it would be hamburgers, french fries, and ice cream
      every meal
    - the big treat on Fridays would be to order out to

- Paul says - I want you to be spiritual individuals, and a
  mark of spiritual individuals is their relationship to the
  Word of God

- he gives some other effects of carnality in verse 3

- INPUT - what are they?

    B. Jealousy

        - because they're not interested in the meat of
          God's Word that produces righteousness, there's all
          sorts of associated sins

        - one is jealousy--an inner attitude that begrudges
          someone else of what we wish we had

    C. Strife and division

        - all kinds of petty squabbles and arguments because
          they're not growing
        - its like putting a bunch a children in a room, and
          if they are behaving childishly, they'll end up in
          all sorts of conflicts
        - the Corinthians carnality is producing the same
          kind of effect

- Paul's summary comment is -

    D. No visible testimony of God's work in your life

        - you're walking as "mere men"

        - you get this sense of profound sadness as Paul
          looks over at the Corinthian church and says -
          you're carnal, you're fleshly, you're not growing -
          and look at terrible effects

        - one of the saddest things in all the world is to
          see individuals and churches where folks aren't
          growing and becoming more spiritual
        - you may know o individuals like that where you have
          opportunity to visit from time to time, but each
          time you go back it's the same fleshly habits

        - even though the person claims to be a Christian, he
          doesn't treat his wife any better
        - she's now using her tongue any differently
        - they're not handling life any differently than ever

        - that's a sad thing

        - the other side is true as well
        - one of the most exciting and invigorating aspects
          of church life is individuals who are becoming less
          and less carnal and more and more spiritual
           - folks whose love for God's word is increasing
           - folks who are leaving their unbelieving habits
           -folks who have a unifying effect on the church

           - folks who are growing in spirituality bring
             life and vigor to a church

           - cf. Danny (Vicki - cancer - let's pray now)
                - had a great effect even on our car ride

- Paul finishes up this section by saying:

  (Understand what carnality is, understand and avoid its

III. Progress Out Of It

    - he's still speaking in the context of unity in the
      church, but the principle he gives can be applied
      "across the board" to carnality

    - read 5-8
- INPUT - how would you summarize what Paul has said in these

- one way of saying it would be - "Don't fall in love with
       the postman!"
- here's the Corinthians, in their carnality, getting all
    excited about the messenger and forgetting:
       - the designer of the message
       - the author of the message
       - the One who made believing the message possible

- instead of falling in love with the one who designed the
    message, secured the message, blessed the work of those
    who shared the message -- they are falling in love with
    the messenger

- it would be like you dating your sweetheart long-distance
    - every day you write beautiful love letters about how
      much you care about this person
    - each week you send gifts in the mail to demonstrate
      your love
    - finally, on the appointed day you go to your
      sweetheart's house to ask her to marry you
    - and she says - "I'm sorry--I'm marrying the postman"
    - you say, "what do you mean, you're marrying the
    - Well, he brought me such nice letters and gifts, I just
      decided to marry him!

- you say - well, that’s foolish!
- that’s the point

- the Corinthians were fleshly, carnal, and not growing at
  the rate that God desires because they weren't factoring
  their relationship with Him into the equation at all

- you and I will grow out of carnality as we do the opposite
  of what the Corinthians were doing
- instead of ignoring or downplaying God and his role in our
  everyday lives
     - we're talking about emphasizing and focusing on that
       all important area

- let's go back through those evidences of carnality and talk
  about how they would be affected if a person did what Paul
  is saying in these verses

- we said that "falling in love with the postman" resulted in
  them being unwilling to digest the meat of God's Word

- INPUT - why would that be different and how would it be
  different if a person focused on and emphasized his
  relationship with God instead?

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video