1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9
To understand what is happening in today’s passage, we need to spend just a moment looking at the entirety of the letter to the Corinthians. That’s what this is a part of – a letter to a church. Can you imagine our church receiving such a letter? “Hey you babies, you’re so juvenile you can only drink milk. I’ve had it with your quarreling! Grow up!” We don’t know exactly how that church reacted as they heard this letter read out loud. Perhaps with some indignation – “How dare he call us babies!” Paul was not always the most tactful and his frustration comes through in many places in this letter to the Corinthians. He is dismayed at some of the things he is hearing about this particular crowd there. He cares about them because he is the one who originally brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.
Some seventeen years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul, a convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ, visits the city of Corinth bringing the gospel and there a church is formed. Corinth at the time of Paul is an important city because of its location and other factors. It is a hub of commerce and religion at that time. There is a lot going on, as is the case in many major cities – it is busy and it is quite diverse. Corinth is said to have at that time a “generally superficial cultural life,” and was sometimes known as “Sin City.” Corinth also has a reputation for wealth without culture and for its mistreatment of the poor. Maybe you can picture this in your mind, what Corinth may have been like. A busy and prosperous place with a dark side. Not unlike a big city today may be.
So, Paul arrives in Corinth around 50 CE and reaches out to the citizens of that bustling city. His message is urgent – to tell them about Jesus, the Messiah and to bring the good news to all people – he reaches those in the Jewish community, as well as those outside of the Jewish community – it’s a diverse group. In chapter one, he declares, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God!” (1 Cor 1:18) During his previous visit to Corinth he has brought together a community of believers that include the richest in the city and the poorest. Herein lies some of the struggles between Corinthian believers, since only wealthy persons would have homes and staff large enough to host the church and to provide for its celebration of the Lord’s supper; only the wealthy could arrive at the dinners early enough to eat the best food and get drunk before the other less fortunate ones could arrive. This is one of the things he addresses in this letter. Another thing that is happening is that there are a lot of immature fights and animosities among the believers there. Of course, we would never do this here – but apparently, these early Christians were playing favorites with the leaders. Apollos, another preacher appealed to some of the believers and they proclaim “Apollos, Apollos, he’s our man.” While still others are faithful to Paul and so they have latched onto Paul. Still others are followers of Peter also known as Cephas. It’s a great distraction and it is threatening the unity of the church there. So much so, that Paul jumps right in in chapter 3 by labeling them as babies. You’re acting like infants. Your maturity is so lacking that you can’t even move past the very basics. You’re not even up to Cheerios yet! Pastor and Professor Scott Hoezee says, “They are quarreling over such silly things, yet it is their inability to recognize that only God and his work matters – that is hindering them from growing up.”
The good news for the church in Corinth (and maybe for us too) is that even though Paul labels them as infants, he identifies them as “infants in Christ.” Now, that makes a big difference doesn’t it. For if we are in Christ, we have “become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor 5:17 NLT). Doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of growing up still to do. There is – for all of us – whether you are almost 10 or almost 90. There is always something more for us to learn, and ways to grow. But there is something beautiful and important and valuable in knowing that it all begins with the assurance of grace found in those two simple words, “in Christ.” In Galatians, Paul writes to another church about this very thing: “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you are baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26-28) This becomes our new identity, then when we are “baptized into Christ.” Just as Kenny will take on this newness in just a few minutes when we have the joy of participating in his baptism as he responds to the Holy Spirit’s calling on his life.
Sometimes, we hear these kind of “churchy” expressions such as “in Christ” and “new creation” and such and we dismiss them as something not entirely real, not entirely active, not entirely full of power or meaning for us today. We sometimes hear words of scripture such as we read earlier and think that’s nice. That Paul was a good man. Too bad those people didn’t listen. But these words are for us, too. And this caution against remaining as babies in faith, is real. This understanding that we are something far more than what we imagine is important for us to try to grasp. Our efforts to put aside disunity among believers is critical.
So, two things I would like for us to take away today that I hope will encourage us as we look at the early church and consider how it can help us:
- Even way back then, it was a constant struggle to maintain unity among believers. I think it is important for us to hear that unity is our goal, but I think we can be encouraged when we make mistakes. And I think we can help each other improve in this area by shining a light on it. By consciously making an effort to include all who come. For we are all “in Christ” as believers even though we may be diverse in many other ways.
- And second, I think we can understand that it is important for us to grow in our faith and to daringly allow God to help us grow. To listen to those times we feel strongly pulled by God’s spirit. And to seek to nurture that faith within ourselves and others.
Paul closes out this chapter of 1 Corinthians in a much more heartening way than it begins by reminding the Corinthians that because of Christ, everything is different – the world, life, death, the present, the future – because of Christ, you belong – you belong to Christ and you belong to God and that is indeed, very, very good news.
 J. Paul Sampley. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, VOL X. Page 773.
 IBID. 775.
 IBID. 775.
 IBID. 777.
 Scott Hoezee, https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2017-02-06/1-corinthians-31-9/