And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 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? 1Co 3:1-3 NASB
Paul accuses the Corinthians of being fleshly men who act like children. What was their jealousy and strife? They were breaking up into denominational sects. Some were of Paul, others were of Apollos or Cephas. Some were simply of Christ. They were walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit. They were without Agape love.
When we are believers we become new creatures in Christ. We receive the mind of Christ and a new heart. His law of liberty becomes inscribed on our hearts.[i]
When we become believers a change must take place. The fleshly part must give way to the spiritual. We become fruit growers instead of spreaders of fertilizer. After describing various traits of fleshly men in Galatians chapter 5, Paul describes the man with the fruit producing spirit in his life:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” [Gal 5:22-26 NASB]
The Corinthian letters describe a messed up church. They had Spiritual blessings and Spiritual manifestations. Yet they are immature children, impatient, unkind, jealous, boastful, arrogant, acting unbecomingly, seeking their own, easily provoked, keeping accounts of wrongs done against them and rejoicing in unrighteousness.
After spending the first twelve chapters describing these issues, identifying their problems and offering correction, Paul summarizes their lack and provides them with a test they can use for self-assessment. This test reveals their fleshly attitudes and shows them a better way. The way of the Spiritual. It is called Agape Love.
Paul ends 1 Corinthians 12 by saying this:
"...But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." [1Co 12:24-31 NASB]
We are members of one body. We are distinct individuals. We have our own unique calling. But everything the Spirit does through us is not merely meant to benefit us, but is given for the common good.[ii]
This is the perfect lead in to one of the most misunderstood chapters of the New Testament. I Corinthians 13. This chapter has been used in more weddings than I can count. It is recited in weddings because it deals with the topic of Agape Love. But the chapter does not deal directly with a marriage as much as it deals directly with you…and with me.
I want to take a few minutes of your time to take you through the self-assessment of 1 Corinthians 13 and decide whether we walk as Spiritual men or as the fleshly and immature. Don’t worry. There is enough here to offend us all.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [1Co 13:1 NASB]
Entire denominations have sprung up over the validity or invalidity of Speaking in Tongues. We have Christians who focus on Paul’s mention of this gift in Chapters 12 and thirteen, but ignore this opening paragraph.
Speaking in Tongues without Agape is nothing more than noise. If, as Paul says, the gifting given within the body is for the common good, then the words spoken to the congregation should be for the common good and therefore understandable. Otherwise, it is nothing more than a failed appearance on the gong show. Noise without edifying the body.
Let me give you an example. Get together in a room of 10 or 20 people and have each of them recite their favorite verse all at the same time. You will likely hear everyone speak in a language you can understand, but because there is no order there is no understanding by anyone.
When you have Agape Love you seek for the good of others not the focus on yourself. However, before those who ridicule the tongue-speakers start pointing fingers, remember that Paul says, and “…do not forbid to speak in tongues.[iii]
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. [1Co 13:2 NASB]
Paul addressed prophecy, words of knowledge and gifts of faith in chapter twelve. He talks about these as being legitimate pneumatikos (in the Greek) or Spiritual manifestations.[iv] He talked about knowing mysteries in 1 Corinthians 2:7 and 4:1.[v]
If you have all knowledge and do not have Agape Love for others, what good has your knowledge done for your brother or sister? Without love we are nothing. The same can be said about prophecy and understanding the mysteries of God’s Word. If the Fruit of The Spirit is not evident then we are nothing. If we claim to have faith without the accompanying action then that faith is worthless.
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. [1Co 13:3 NASB]
We may feed the poor and surrender our bodies to die, but without the true motivation there is no profit added to our account. Our benevolent actions are reduced in value because they are done without Agape Love. In the Spiritual realm our motivations matter as they reveal our hearts and minds. While mankind may admire our actions, God looks at our heart. We may give to the poor for a tax write off or to get our name in the paper or on a plaque. You get your reward here, but gain nothing in the Kingdom of Heaven.
[i] 1 Cor 2:12-16; Jeremiah 31:33
[ii] 1 Cor 12:7
[iii] 1 Cor 14:36
[iv] Now concerning spirituals, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. [1Co 12:1 NASB]
For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; [1Co 12:8 NASB]
and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. [1Co 12:10 NASB]
[v] ...but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; [1Co 2:7 NASB]
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. [1Co 4:1 NASB]