|Posted on August 6, 2019 at 10:50 AM|
John assures us that those who fail to love don’t know God on this intimate and personal level. While they may be born of God, they are still “babes” in Christ and have not yet matured enough to care about much less love others. Such was the condition of the believers in Corinth when Paul wrote his first letter of rebuke and correction. In 1 Corinthians 3: 1-3 Paul writes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able, For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Although the Corinthian believers were born of God, they did not know God experientially. They were babes who failed to mature to the point where they were able to love each other. Instead, they were fighting with each other and developed “divisions” or what we may recognize today as denominations.
Paul’s main complaint about their immaturity was simply that he could not speak to them as “spiritual” but had to relate to them as “carnal”. The difference between those who are spiritual and those who are “carnal” is not whether or not they are born again, but how they walk. Those who are carnal he says, “walk as men”, or live the natural self-centered lifestyle. Those who are spiritual are living the supernatural lifestyle of grace, “walking backwards”. The proof of their carnal condition is the envying and strife and divisions characterizing their interpersonal relationships. If you have ever been embroiled in a “church fight” you know firsthand what that condition looks and feels like. Believers still using the natural coping strategies of the flesh to jockey for power and position in religious politics are carnal and walk as men.
Staying with Paul’s metaphor here, the “milk” he refers to is all that God has done for us in Christ. The “meat” describes what the Bible tells us God does through us to love others. The milk is God’s love for us, while the meat is us loving others. Paul’s problem was not in giving the Corinthians the milk, but rather in teaching them how to love others. Babes in Christ need to be continually fed the milk of God’s love in order to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord. As they mature, they should begin to eat a little meat by considering how they have been chosen and called of God to love others. Refusing to take in the meat produces spiritual brats. Oh, they’re still God’s kids, but they are selfish and obnoxious. The Corinthian believers were babes acting like brats (walking as men) because they had not yet matured to the point where they were able to love others like Christ.
Being born of God’ but failing to know him experientially will always manifest in the inability to love others. John summarizes his discussion on love with a description of how it works out in those who are spiritual and are walking backwards. “We love him, because he first loved us. If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath see, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he that loveth God loveth his brother also.” (1John 4:19-21) The lifestyle of grace and truth will always end in loving others. Those who are born of God but fail to love others like Christ are still trapped in a self-centered lifestyle of law and lies. Such “brats” often appear to be highly religious and emphasize their own morality in comparison to others, but deep down inside they are struggling with intense insecurity. Trusting in their own performance rather than receiving the unconditional love of the Father, they live in constant fear of failure. No matter how good they have been it’s never quite enough to give them the confidence they need to think about or genuinely love others. The key to ministering to these spiritual “brats” is to continue sharing the milk of the word until “Christ is formed in them” meaning they realize and experience their new identity in Christ. Then and only then will they be able to love others.