Last week, I discussed how we are not meant to “know” God through any capability on our part, that is through any ability in relation to what we humans refer to as wisdom. Human wisdom is generally limited to what we can see, hear, touch, or “prove” in one of our scientific experiments.
Paul discusses this truth in his first letter to the Corinthians, a church founded in a city with one of the worst reputations of its era. In his first letter to these challenged believers, Paul also has to address the level of growth these Christians were experiencing, or lack thereof.
The admonitions Paul gives the Corinthians are quite understandable. What an easy trap lay before these believers to fall into: if you lived in the most carnal city of your time, wouldn’t it be hard to release yourself from the carnal nature of everyday life that surrounded you, even once you had accepted Jesus into your heart? Wouldn’t it also be just as tempting to think you were doing just fine because when you looked around you, it wouldn’t take much to do better than just about anybody else you chose to compare yourself to?
Paul’s words to the Corinthians apply to any Christian at any point and time in their Christian walk, for we are all meant to grow in Christ, not just rest on the laurels of belief. Growth takes practice, work, prayer, study, fellowship and faith–all of which can be encroached upon by the demands and temptations of the world in which we live. That is one reason why we are so often encouraged to be in the world but not of the world.
Here, then, is how Paul lays out his arguments against giving in to the flesh for his Corinthian audience. First, he gives the foundation of “proof” for the difference between worldly wisdom and the Spiritual knowing that is our gift when we accept Jesus as our Lord.
“For to us God revealed them [the things eye has not seen nor ear heard of verse 2:9] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God,” Paul writes (2:10). He goes on to explain that, just as only the spirit of a person can truly know the person, so too the Spirit of God is all-knowing of God. Paul concludes, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God (2:12).
To the non-believer, the person who has not received this Spirit, what Christians like Paul talk about seems like “foolishness” (2:14). However, for those who believe, the Spirit’s wisdom is the basis for potentially wonderful growth, helping the believer live more of the Spirit than of the world.
Alas, the Corinthians, in a world filled with corruption and temptation (sound familiar?), were really struggling not to be of that world. Their spiritual growth was so stunted, in fact, that Paul was writing to them to encourage them to get back on the road to growing spiritually. He explains how he had begun them on “spiritual milk,” knowing that they were not ready for the “solid food” gospel (3:2). And despite the time they had had in the Spirit, the Corinthians were still not ready for solid food: “for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (3:3).
Because the Corinthians lived in a reality much like our own, the challenges they faced and the ways that Paul addresses those challenges give modern-day Christians many valuable lessons to learn from studying the two letters Paul wrote to this troubled church. Perhaps this first lesson is one of the most important of all. If we fail to mature to solid food, how can we hope to achieve good fruit for the work of Christ, work to which we were called the moment we accepted the gift of grace?
We only know God through the Spirit that enters us when we step out in faith. But once we take that step of faith, we still have an obligation to ourselves and to God to work to be good shepherds of the present of grace Christ so freely gave to us. Being in the world but not of it is a daily struggle, one we may never master. It is also a skill we will only master with the help of the One who sacrificed all and who deserves the submission of our complete will. When we are in the world but not of the world, surely fruitful things will happen for the heavenly kingdom.