Unveiling the Spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

A picture of blue smoke

When someone is said to be spiritual, what does that mean? What makes that person spiritual? The Bible speaks of spiritual people. What does it mean?

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 pulls back the covers and gives a glimpse of the spiritual.

Welcome to the Spiritual

"And I, brothers, wasn't able to speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to physical, as to infants in the Anointed King" (1 Corinthians 3:1 BV).

The meaning of spiritual is obvious when the next adjective in this verse is correctly understood. The KJV says carnal which is another way of saying fleshly. Other Bibles say fleshly and worldly.

The word, flesh, is often used with the word, spirit, in the Bible. They obviously are opposites.

Flesh is often defined as the sin nature. But there is one big problem with this. Jesus is said many times to have a flesh. For example, John 1:14 says the Word (Jesus) became flesh" (see also Luke 24:39; John 6:51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Romans 1:3; 1 John 4:2, 3; 2 John 1:7). Did Jesus become a sinful nature? No.

If fleshly means worldly then spiritual is the opposite of that. It is someone who is not worldly, someone who is godly. This is what most Christians today think a spiritual person is. But with that definition, this passage loses its meaning and does not make sense.

As I have studied the words of the Bible, one thing that I have done is look up everywhere each word appears in the Bible and see if the common meaning given to it fits everytime. I did this with flesh and found that "sin nature" does not always fit. So I looked for a meaning that would fit.

One of the definitions of fleshly in the dictionary is physical. This fits everywhere fleshly appears in the Bible. That is what fleshly means in the Bible. A flesh is a physical being, not a sinful nature.

There is a physical world and there is a spiritual world. They exist in the same place, but they are different worlds. As you look around, what you see and what you touch is the physical world. The spiritual world is also there. In the spiritual world there could be a train (if such things exist in the spiritual world) running right over you, but you wouldn't know it. You cannot see the spiritual world, but it is still there.

Let's stick our heads into the spiritual world and look around. What do we see? The first thing is God the Father sitting on a throne and over all. We immediately bow with our faces to the floor. He is great and wonderful. He controls everything. What He says goes. Jesus is seated to the right of Him. There are also angels and souls of those who have gone before us. If we were to watch for a while, it would become obvious that this spiritual world is much more connected to and influential in our physical world than we ever imagined.

With these things in mind, a physical person is someone who focuses on the physical world and is oblivious to the spiritual, and a spiritual person is someone who focuses on the spiritual world and is oblivious to the physical.

Jesus is in the spiritual world and so anyone who gets close to Him must also enter the spiritual world. A physical person (someone who is oblivious to the spiritual world) will never get past the baby stage with Him.

Physical People Need a Bottle

"I gave you milk to drink, not food. You see, you weren't yet able, but neither are you still able now" (1 Corinthians 3:2 BV).

There are people who go to church every Sunday because that is where their bottle is.

The pastor spends all week preparing the milk. On Sunday morning, he gets the bottle out, puts milk in it, warms it up, and feeds it to the people in his congregation. For many Christians, church is the only place where they get any type of spiritual nourishment. Church is a physical structure and the activities occurring in it are physical. These physical Christians never step over into the spiritual world.

Is church the only place that you get spiritual nutrition? Then you are on the bottle.

Food is different than milk. Milk has to be fed by the pastor. He has to hold the bottle. Food is not like that. It can come from the pastor, but it can also come from other places. A person eating food can do so on his own. He can even put the food in his pocket and eat it later. A spiritual person gleans morsels from the pastor's sermon, takes them home, and chews on them during the week. He often steps over into the spiritual world and eats directly from the spiritual God.

When I was a missionary in Russia, I met two families that had come to Saint Petersburg to be missionaries. The first thing they had done was start a church in their apartment for themselves. They felt that they needed the songs, prayers, and preaching to keep them spiritual. They would not invite their Russian neighbors because that would ruin it; their church service would have to be in Russian and they would not get anything out of it. They needed physical milk. They needed that bottle that they were so used to getting in their home church. But these were missionaries. They were supposed to be spiritual people. They were supposed to be able to feed themselves. They couldn't.

Physical People do Human Things

"for you are still physical. You see, where there is jealousy and fighting among you, are you not physical and traipse around in line with a human being? You see, when someone says, "I certainly am of Paul," but a different person, "I am of Apollos," aren't you human beings?" (1 Corinthians 3:3-4 BV).

Why is sin in the church? Isn't it because church people live, breathe, and focus on the physical?

Why is there gossip? Why is there worry and despair? Why are there fights and hatred? Why is there envy, jealousy, and greed?

Is it because these people are spiritual? I think not. They are obsessed with the physical world. That is not spiritual.

When I was the pastor of a certain church, there was a split at the church down the street from us. A certain prison chaplain had taken half of the people in that church and started his own church with them.

One day at a local pastor's meeting he was bragging about the church he had started. I called him out and told him that he was wrong.

Do you know why? Because that is not spiritual. Those type of things do not happen in the spiritual world. God does not advocate strife and division. He advocates unity.

No, the chaplain who acted spiritual was really physical.

Mark my words. Problems in the church are caused, not by spiritual people, but by physical people, people who cannot see a spiritual God, people who do not know a spiritual Savior, people not listening to the spiritual prodding of the Holy Spirit, people who refuse to focus on the spiritual.

Paul first went to Corinth and shared the good news of Jesus with them. Before Paul arrived, there were no Christians in Corinth. Through Paul many were saved and started meeting together. He stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. Even though Paul was their spiritual father, he had his problems: he had a gross eye problem and he was not a good speaker. After he left other preachers can and preached in the Corinth church. One of those preachers was Apollos. He was a good speaker. He was impressive. Some of the people liked him and bragged about how much better he was than Paul. Others stayed faithful to Paul. They took sides. They often had fights and arguments about who was better. They were physical people doing human things. They were not spiritual. This passage is written to them. Read on. Paul gives them a glimpse into the spiritual world.

Another Look at the Spiritual World

"So what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you trusted and to each as the Master gave. I planted. Apollos watered. But God was growing it. In such a way, neither is the one planting anything, nor the one watering, but the one who is something is the One growing it, God. The person who plants and the person who waters are one. Each will receive his own pay in line with his own labor. You see, we are God's co-workers. You are God's farmland, God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 BV)

We stuck our heads into the spiritual world earlier and saw what is there. This verse sticks our heads back into the spiritual world. In the physical world, Paul and Apollos are leaders. In the spiritual world, they are servants. In the spiritual world, they planted and watered, but God grew it. In the physical world, God does not seem to be doing anything. He doesn't even seem to be there. It seems like the religious leaders are doing all of the work. But in the spiritual world, God is growing everything, even things in the physical world. God is much more involved in everything than we can even fathom. Paul and Apollos are co-workers, workers for God, but they are nothing compared to God.

Do you see how the spiritual world is different from the physical world?

The Bible was given to us to show us what the spiritual world is like. We must learn from it. We must be honest with it and rely on it. We must model our lives after it.

Prayer is a time when we can stick our heads into the spiritual world and become accustomed to what is there.

What does it mean to be spiritual?

In the Bible a spiritual person is someone who recognizes the spiritual world, spends time thinking about it, and relies on it.

The more a person immerses himself into the spiritual world, the more spiritual he becomes.

So what will you do? Will you make yourself comfortable in this physical world and remain a baby? Or will you spend time each day in a spiritual world that you cannot see or feel and grow spiritually?