It is interesting to note the different ways that our weaknesses manifest. In some churches, it is like pulling teeth to get people to want to study the word of God in depth. In others, the body has such a strong desire to believe that they are going deeper and deeper in their understanding that they may miss the value of simple grace. But neither the one who ignores doctrine nor the one who thinks only of being deep is really honoring the Lord without other things being central to his or her life.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 – 1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
As Paul opens 1 Corinthians 3, he is chastising the church at Corinth for their shallowness. This reminds us that we do not want to be shallow Christians. None of us want to be the people who are only fed on spiritual milk. We need to grow up into maturity. We need to grow to be able to follow the Lord and handle the deeper truths of Scripture.
But notice what Paul has to say to this group about why they are shallow. He is not saying that they require milk because of their lack of study. Nor does Paul indicate that they are disinterested in deep doctrine. In fact, from what he writes in this chapter, it looks like the people are all about steaking out their positions. But, somehow, in the midst of their wrangling, the church is still not mature.
What is the issue? Paul points out that this body of believers is shallow, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of a lack of love and spiritual kindness. Inside the church, there appears to be a factionalism arising. Some love one teacher and some another. Some have their favorite leader while some follow another. And instead of learning from each other, the church has gotten to a point where they are being nasty to each other because of whom they follow or whom they do not.
Can you imagine that in our churches today? I would think so. Even in churches that are united on tough doctrinal things such as reformed theology, how often do you see people measure each other by their favorite? I follow Piper. I follow MacArthur. I follow Mohler. I follow Washer. I follow Lawson. I follow Platt. I follow Chandler. You can get the picture.
Could you imagine, however, a group in which one person in the body looks down on another or poorly treats another because of how they feel about another’s choice of favorite teacher or author? I surely can. And, you can probably also imagine that such a person, when they feel the need to let you know why they don’t like your favorite author or teacher, might end up hurting your feelings or putting you down in one way or another.
Now, go back to Paul’s point. If you are lining up and choosing sides based on your favorite teacher or leader, you are immature. You are babies still on milk. It does not matter how many conferences you have been to. It does not matter how well you can spout catechism. It does not matter whose systematic theology you can quote verbatim. If you are divisive, nasty, and unloving toward others in the body, you are not mature. If you are someone who puts people off and cannot keep friends in the church because of your positions on doctrines or leaders, you are an infant in the faith.
I think this lesson is needed in every church in a different form. For some believers, you need to mature by actually starting to care about biblical doctrine. If you do not know enough Scripture to have a position on sovereignty, election, end times, baptism, divorce, remarriage, eldership, or other such things, you need to grow. There is no biblical excuse for remaining ignorant of the things that the church has wrestled through for centuries.
At the same time, if you are doctrinally well-educated, but your education somehow impacts your personality so that people do not like you, it is your responsibility to grow toward love. No person is spiritually mature who cannot be lovingly connected to a local church body. Even if the people around you land differently on some doctrinal positions, you should be able to be gracious and to show kindness and to keep friendships so long as we are not here talking about doctrines essential for salvation. If you are a deep thinker, a heavy learner, a voracious reader, but if you cannot be friends with an average believer, you are not mature. In fact, Paul would tell you that you are on just as much of a baby bottle diet as is the immature believer you keep offending.
May we learn, therefore, to desire maturity. And may we understand that spiritual maturity always includes loving others in the body and showing the kindness of Christ. Learn the truth, but do so with grace. Tell the truth, but do not break the body in the process.