Again we see the struggle of the Corinthian believers with the surrounding culture. In Acts 18:24 we read about Apollos being an anēr logios which might be rendered “an eloquent/learned man.” Witherington points out that Philo uses such terminology for people who are trained and skilled in rhetoric (Conflict And Community In Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 And 2 Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995] 130).
Hence we see that the believers at Corinth struggled with their former evaluation of speakers in terms of their rhetorical ability and that such has been carried over in their evaluation of Paul and Apollos. First Corinthians 16:12 seems to suggest that Apollos never intended such fractions and disunity in using his rhetorical ability. Further, since Paul does not mention anything negative about him either it is most likely like that the situation was not appreciated by Apollos either. Nevertheless, the “normal” standards the Corinthian believers used to measure the apostles and teachers created much trouble in the church.
The apostle lets the Corinthian believers know that he is still disturbed by their immaturity. In light of their supposedly maturity (in the thanksgiving passage – vv. 4-9 – he mentions their knowledge and charismatic gifts) the statements of the apostle must have come as a harsh rebuke to the church.
Paul reminds them that when he came to them he could not speak to them as “spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (v.1; ESV) and as such he could only feed them with infant nutrition – milk (v.2a). He contrasts the terms pneumatikos and sarkinos. “As σάρκινοι (sarkinoi, fleshly), they are controlled by natural, human impulses rather than the Spirit” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT, 106). This cannot imply, however, that they were not regenerated because the clause “as infants in Christ” (hōs nēpiois en Christǭ) is in apposition to sarkinos and further explains their state of being.
They were infants in Christ. The shocking news, however, is that this situation has not changed (vv.2c-3a “And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh”). The problem they are having is that as people of the flesh (i.e., infants in Christ) they behave like ordinary men, according to human standards (kata anthrōpon).
The current orientation by purely human criteria (3:3b-4) fuels jealously and quarrel among the Christians in Corinth and their secular values of forming parties in the congregation is disturbing to the apostle. Philosophers and rhetorical skillful people are measured this way and in the Christian community at Corinth such values are still prevalent.
Immaturity in the church is to be expected among young converts, but we need to take care of the family and be sure to disciple our fellow believers in a manner which gives them a Christian perspective and worldview. Unfortunately, immaturity is oftentimes found among believers who have been in Christ for quite some time – this seems to be acceptable and “normal” in our times. Let us reexamine our programs and efforts to build the church and see if our focus has not shifted to a wrong place.
The temptation of every church in every age is to follow and stick to the cultural and ethical values of her time. The questions for us today then are: What are we still tied to in our secular thinking and behavior? What are our secular standards in measuring our pastors, missionaries, and teachers? And how should we view those in authority over us?
This article is just sparkling with reasons for discussion. My hope and prayer is that it will help furthering the local church around the globe to enter into those discussions and that there might be openness and new strength for refocus!