1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, NKJV)
One culprit of a weak faith is remaining spiritually undeveloped. Every Christian begins in this immature state as “babes in Christ” (v. 1). The problem of spiritual weakness is staying in that condition. Christ calls us to grow in Him by using God’s word in our lives (1 Pet. 2:2; Heb. 5:12-14). Those who do are the “spiritual” ones; They use God’s revelation to decide their course of conduct (1 Cor. 2:14-16). However, the Corinthians had not grown; they were still carnal (“fleshy”) in thought and practice (v. 1). Such spiritual weakness quickly becomes anti-spiritual (as noted in verse 3). Now, the flesh controlled their minds and choices (see the contrast in 1 Cor. 2:15). We retain the traits and characteristics of the flesh (carnally minded) when we do not grow in our faith (Rom. 8:1, 5-8). Like the Corinthians (engulfed in “envy, strife, and divisions”), spiritual weakness devolves into sin unless arrested by renewing our minds and lives (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:20-24). Let us not yield to the weakness of the flesh (Matt. 26:41). Instead, be strong in the Lord, using each day to strengthen your faith, cleanse your actions and purify your heart from all defilement of flesh and spirit to grow up in Christ (Matt. 26:41; James 4:8; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 4:15).
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:2–5, NKJV).
The mature Christian is encouraged to restore a fellow Christian ensnared by sin (Gal. 6:1). A spirit of gentleness directs this act of love and fulfills the will of Christ (Eph. 4:2). The apostle elaborates by immediately turning our attention to ourselves, not the sinning Christian (verses 3-5). (1) Prideful conceit prevents bearing another’s problems (Gal. 6:3). When a Christian sins, it is a time for us to rally to help that soul, not point a finger in shame. Remembering our frailties and failures helps us remain humble and avoid deceiving ourselves. (2) Personal examination equips us to humbly help bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:4). There should not rejoice when sin overtakes a soul. Comforting ourselves in someone else’s sin by self-righteously assuring ourselves we are not like them ensures our spiritual demise (Luke 18:9-12). We should examine ourselves and not try to justify ourselves on the back of another’s sin (2 Cor. 13:5). (3) Each Christian has their load to bear (Gal. 6:5). Each person is responsible for himself before God (2 Cor. 5:10). When someone falters, it does not mean we have met our obligation to the Lord. When we address our spiritual condition, we can help others with the impediments and sin that so easily ensnares us (Matt. 7:3-5; Heb. 12:1).
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God (Hebrews 6:1, NKJV).
Just as there are “basic principles of the world,” there are “elementary principles of Christ.” The writer introduced “first principles of the oracles of God” in Hebrews 5:12 and explained that Christians who “partakes only of milk” are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness – spiritual infants ill-equipped to use God’s word to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:13-14). Please meditate with me on the place of the first principles of Christ in your life. (1) First principles are foundational (Heb. 6:1). They are a starting point for faith, not the end. Just as infants are fed milk first and progress to solid food, we begin with first principles and progress to the solid food of God’s truth (Heb. 5:12). (2) First principles help Christians become skilled in using God’s word (Heb. 5:13-14). First principles like repentance, faith, baptisms, miraculous gifts, resurrection, and judgment provide a framework to use God’s word as we mature (advance spiritually, Heb. 6:1-2). (3) First principles must be remembered and built upon (Heb. 6:1). We are exhorted not to linger only on the elementary principles, lest through neglect our faith recedes, and we fall away (Heb. 6:3-6, 11-12). The first principles of Christ lay a foundation of faith upon which we can continue to build and mature as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11, NKJV)
Paul’s patient love for Mark compels us to ponder the breadth and depth of our love for brethren. Paul had not always considered Mark useful (good and profitable) for the service of the gospel. About 20 years earlier, John Mark had joined Paul and Barnabas on a preaching journey into Gentile regions, only to leave them and return to Jerusalem shortly after it began (Acts 13:4-5, 13). This failure to continue with them caused Paul to insist Mark would not be on his next preaching trip despite disagreeing with Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). We should note that Paul did not “write off” Barnabas or Mark as unworthy Christians who did not love the Lord. The rest of the story makes this apparent. Paul was associated with Mark during his first Roman imprisonment (AD 60-62), sending greetings from him to the Colossian church and instructing them to welcome Mark if he came to them (Col. 4:10). Now, during his final days of life, Paul asked for Mark. The man he had refused to take with him roughly two decades earlier was now useful for the gospel’s service (2 Tim. 4:11). A great lesson of love’s patient endurance is staring us in the face (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Mark’s faith had matured, and Paul respected that. Paul loved Mark. Indeed, “love suffers long and is kind” as it rejoices in the truth. Love keeps on bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things, both in our attitudes and treatment of others. Love did not fail Paul and Mark. It will not fail us, either.
3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3–5, NKJV)
The willingness and ability of a mature Christian to bear the burden of a fellow disciple overtaken by sin (and attempting to restore him, Gal. 6:1-2). This requires humbly examining oneself and accepting one’s spiritual responsibility (“bear his own load,” v. 5). Here is the essential meaning and application of verses 3-5. Without this preparation of faith and character we are ill-equipped to “fulfill the law of Christ” when others need help overcoming sin (Gal. 6:2). The mature Christian understands he (or she) is not the savior of the fallen; the Lord is. He is merely a servant of the Lord doing His work. The mature Christian’s joy in doing this work does not come from measuring himself against the failures (or successes) of others. Mature Christians rejoice in doing their duty (“his own work”) and giving Christ the glory and honor (Lk. 17:10). Our responsibility is to fulfill the law of Christ and to love one another by helping restore the fallen. Pride and self-promotion prevent us from fulfilling this task. “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13–14, NKJV)
It is hard to miss the point of this passage. Spiritual growth from infancy to maturity (“full age”) occurs by learning and using the word of God. It is crucial to see that knowing God’s word is not the same as being fully grown in Christ. We can amass knowledge of the Scriptures and still be an immature Christian. Today’s passage explains that partaking of the “first principles of the oracles of God” is like drinking milk. If milk is the only thing we eat, we will not grow sufficiently. These Christians were “unskilled” (inexperienced) “in the word of righteousness.” They were not using what they were taught from God’s word. The problem went beyond not knowing the word (true, they needed to learn more, Heb. 5:11). Their failure was not using God’s word to train themselves to distinguish good and evil (v. 14). In that state, they could not be teachers of God’s word (Heb. 5:12). Similarly, we remain spiritually weak when we know God’s word but do not apply it to our daily decisions and actions. Are you unskilled or experienced in using the word of God? Strive for spiritual maturity. Train yourself to use your knowledge of God’s word to recognize both good and evil.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2–4, NKJV)
Trials are not pleasant. Adversity, difficulty, anxiety, and uncertainty test our faith in moments of trial. Trials will either provoke us to evil or discipline us for good. They do not remove our free will; trials present us with opportunities to choose faith over fear and patience over provocation. How is this possible? By maintaining this faith-perspective before and during trials: “Count it all joy.” Trials prove (test) our faith, exposing our vulnerabilities and strengths. Faith chooses to endure the trial steadfastly. Faith draws strength from the Lord in the hour of trial, instead of wavering in disbelief (Rom. 4:20). God has promised not to fail or forsake us (Heb. 13:5-6). And so, firm endurance fortifies and matures our faith, even as trials would overwhelm us. Joy enables us to endure. Joy turns trials into seedbeds from which mature faith grows. As trials come, may we be content to rely on the Lord while rejoicing in His promises and provisions (Jas. 1:5-8).
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1, NKJV)
Whether the topic is politics, social issues, or religion, reasoned discussion is too often drowned out by vitriol and venom in the public square these days. Whatever happened to the time when those with opposing viewpoints could disagree without being disagreeable? I suppose some never learned could. We pray for and long for a return to such dispositions, for any society whose citizens cannot calmly communicate is headed for tension, turmoil, and trouble (Prov. 14:34). The same is true of the Lord’s church. Can you to talk with someone who has fallen away? And if you can, how do you do that? The goal is to “restore” the soul overtaken in sin – any other aim is beneath this worthy objective. Spiritual maturity is essential when approaching a Christian who has fallen into sin. Such maturity will be reflected by the spirit of gentleness used when talking with the sinning saint about his or her sin. Approaching a fallen Christian with an air of disgust or superiority is the height of arrogance, and is sure to fail. Mature (spiritual) Christians remember sin also tempts them. And so, with meek compassion the effort is made to turn a sinner from error and save a soul from death (Jas. 5:19-20). Yes, the “spiritual” disagree with the one overtaken by sin. But, to have a spirit of antagonism only aggravates and hinders the effort to save the lost. Furthermore, to do so is also sin.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, NKJV)
The devil is delighted when Christians do not love one another. He also takes delight when Christians do not love their enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). God is “perfect” in verse 48 because He does precisely that – He loves His enemies. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The word “perfect” in today’s passage (verse 48) conveys completeness, being of full age or maturity. Our love is not complete if we do not love our enemies. We love our enemies by showing them active goodwill, even though they are actively showing ill will toward us (see Matthew 5:44). Loving only those who love us is the world’s model of love. Loving your enemies is what God does toward the whole world. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven model themselves after God’s love, not the world’s incomplete, immature love.
14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (Ephesians 4:14–15, NKJV)
Maturity in Christ equips us to achieve and maintain the “the unity of the faith” to which we have been called by the gospel. Christ gave the work of inspired men (through which that gospel came to earth from heaven), and the work of uninspired men (who continue to proclaim and teach the gospel) to thoroughly equip us to serve the will of God as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). In today’s text, our spiritual maturity prevents us from being tossed about like children by the prevailing winds of false doctrine. The “trickery of men” describes the sleight of hand by which one defrauds another. False doctrine defrauds and plunders the unsuspecting of their spiritual treasure (Colossians 2:8). The “cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” describes the deceptive method of sophistry that attacks the simplicity of the gospel of Christ (Romans 16:17-18). As our maturity in Christ protects us, it also enables us to speak the truth in love. God’s truth equips us to grow in Christ, while protecting us from spiritual danger, and securing our standing with Christ (the Head of the church). Let us determine to grow up in Christ by becoming strong in the truth.