1 Corinthians 3:1–9

6th Sunday after the Epiphany – 2/12/2023

Oh, boy! It's going to be quite a day today, isn't it? Yes, of course, if you love pies, and who doesn't, and you have a real desire to help a great cause, namely, support the new Luther's Classical College in Casper, Wyoming, then this is a wonderful day!

Oh, I'm sorry. When I said this was going to be quite a day, you probably thought I was talking about the Super Bowl.

Yes, it's Super Sunday! Today, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs collide to see who is the best team in the National Football League. I see some loyal colors being sported this morning! I'll bet many of you are revved up and ready to make a whole day of it—party and all! Spirits will be high, that's for sure, and not just on the gridiron! For many, this Super Bowl will be a true spiritual experience!

Just what does it mean to be "spiritual"? Sporting teams talk about it all the time: "We've got spirit, yes, we do!" "How about you?" They chant and taunt across the field, court, or floor. And, of course, the talk of being spiritual is not limited to sports. In our day and age, it is once again in vogue to be spiritual. People all over the world are becoming disillusioned with materialism and looking for something to give their lives meaning, lift their spirits, and bring peace to their troubled souls.

Of course, the term "spiritual" can mean many things to many people.

As it seems to be used today, "spiritual" can mean anything that affects or moves one's spirit. For some, the love for our earthly environment and the appreciation of its beauty is spiritual.

Others find that music, poetry, art, or even philosophy can lift their spirits. Still, for many others, any sort of encounter with a god, an angelic creature, or even an extraterrestrial being is a spiritual experience.

We even find Christian churches cashing in on this hunger for the spiritual. They advertise themselves as "spirit-filled" churches. The implication, of course, is that the rest of us are void of the spirit. In their minds, we are stuffy, set in our ways, old-fashioned, unhip, bland, and religious dinosaurs clinging to antiquated worship forms and doctrinal positions. The groups that claim to be spirit-filled boast that they have no set liturgies, no set doctrinal standards, and no man-made traditions. Instead, they claim to be bastions of spiritual freedom. They boast that in their church, everyone is free to experience God in their unique way...The spirit, on the other hand, moves him or her to worship God... and to believe and confess about God whatever he or she feels in his or her own heart. Experience and feelings carry the day.

But I ask you, is being spiritual simply being a spirit liberated—a so-called free spirit? If that is the case, then a follower of the Dalai Lama, an Islamic Jihadist, a worshipper of nature on his latest crusade to save the planet, or even a Satanist who is calling upon spirits for guidance are all just as spiritual as a sincere Christian holding fast to Jesus Christ as his Savior.

I say, enough about what people think or feel! What does God think? What does he say is spiritual?

The Lord's apostle Paul counsels us today about being truly spiritual. It is not in line with what our world and even many within the Christian community consider to be spiritual.

In fact, according to St. Paul's use of the term "spiritual," just because one calls himself a Christian does not mean he is truly spiritual. At the same time, one cannot be truly spiritual and not be a Christian.

Our text is a portion of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. It is clear from what he says that the Corinthian Christians considered themselves truly spiritual.

But Paul begs to differ with them!

For no matter what they thought, felt, or what contemporary people insist on, Paul asserts that only a Christian, that is, a person who believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior and God, can be truly spiritual by God's definition. Only a believer has the Spirit of God residing in him.

Just before our text, Paul had made this point: "For who knows a person's thoughts except for the spirit of that person, which is in him?" So also, no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now that we have received not the spirit of the world but the spirit of God, we can comprehend the things freely given to us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths for those who are spiritual.

"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:11–14).

Later in his epistle, Paul also proclaims: "Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 12:3).

Therefore, being spiritual has nothing to do with simply being human.

Yes, God indeed created all human beings with both a material body and an immaterial soul, or spirit. By God's design, we as humans, therefore, can relate to the immaterial world.

Unlike animals or plants, we can feel and experience things in our souls that cannot be detected by our five senses. This means, unlike the merely material creatures of our world, we can appreciate beauty, art, music, poetry… We can dream and imagine... We can feel inspiration, joy, peace, and contentment. As great as all this is, though, it simply means that we are human beings as God made us.

It does not mean we are what God calls spiritual. As Jesus told the worldly Nicodemus, being truly spiritual must begin with being born of water and the Spirit. Being born into this world is simply being born of the flesh, with a body and a soul. (John 3)

And, as a result of sin's corruption of our humanity, our human nature, we are born enemies of God, devoid of the truth, incapable of knowing the true God or of enjoying fellowship with Him, and, as Paul said, totally incapable of comprehending and accepting the things of the Spirit of God. We are, therefore, purely carnal and fleshly. As Jesus also said to Nicodemus, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn 3:6). To be truly spiritual, the Holy Spirit must instill spiritual life in us. Only then, as Jesus says, can we enter the kingdom of God.

Just before our text, Paul asserts that the Spirit of God makes one spiritual through the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the true wisdom and power of God. It is that same word of God that also empowers Holy Baptism to be a "washing of regeneration and a renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Through these means, Word and Sacrament, God gives people new birth, gives them faith in Jesus as their Savior, makes them heirs of eternal life, and makes them truly spiritual. In other words, none of us are spiritual by nature, nor can we make ourselves spiritual.

We are truly spiritual only because of the Holy Spirit and when we are indwelt by the Spirit of God.

Through the ministry of St. Paul and other preachers that God sent to Corinth, like Apollos, the gospel they preached and the baptisms they administered made believers out of many of the Gentiles and Jews that lived in Corinth. The Holy Spirit brought forth a congregation of believers, disciples of Jesus Christ. There were now truly spiritual people living among the purely fleshly Corinthian population.

But, unfortunately, all was still not right among the Corinthian Christians. Even though Paul very pastorally still addresses them as "brothers," he asserts that he could still not address them as "spiritual ones." No, they had not fallen back into unbelief. They had not pushed the Holy Spirit out of their lives.

But at the same time, neither was following the Holy Spirit's leading in their lives fully.

Instead, they were still "fleshly," that is, exhibiting the nature and characteristics of the flesh, living and walking as if they were still carnal... "humans," as Paul charges.

As a result, Paul said he had to still speak to them, literally, as "infants."

The Corinthians were exhibiting their immaturity in the faith—their carnality, if you will—in the way they were taking sides against each other, attaching themselves to one preacher over against the other preachers they had. Bitter strife and jealousies were dividing their congregation as they haughtily said to one another, "I am of Paul!" and others said, "I am of Apollos!"

No wonder Paul called them babies. They sound just like whiny infants. Babies think with their mouths and stomachs. They are very "me"-centered. They don't think about others or what is good for their souls. Night and day, it is all about their creature comforts. So the Corinthians were only thinking in fleshly terms. Their focus was not on the message of Christ preached to them by their preachers, but rather on the preacher's style of preaching, his personality, or maybe even their feelings of loyalty to the preacher that first brought them to know Christ.

Whatever their jealousies, you can be sure they were not coming from the Spirit of God but from their flesh. For the Spirit leads people to the Word—the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is not about bringing glory to people, even to great preachers and apostles that He uses to proclaim the Gospel.

The truly spiritual person, the one being led by the Spirit of God, recognizes that the preacher is just the Lord's servant, God's instrument to plant the seed of the word or to "water" that seed.

As Paul says, "Neither he that plants nor he that waters are anything; only God gives the growth." The congregation that the preacher preaches to is not his. The people do not belong to the preacher. The congregation is God's field—God's building. The Corinthians were walking and thinking like all other men in this world.

Ironically, these same Corinthian Christians considered themselves to be spiritual giants, truly spiritual people. That was part of their problem. They were looking down their noses at others because they clung to a different preacher or didn't have the spiritual gifts they had.

How sadly mistaken they were, however, about their status as spiritual people. Their immaturity left Paul no choice but to simply continue to give them only milk to drink.

He could not feed them the more solid food of the gospel. Accordingly, their growth in the Lord would be stunted. They would miss out on the further blessings of God given to the mature, such blessings as contentment, strength in trials, peace of sins forgiven, boldness in witnessing to Christ, and abiding hope in the face of God's judgment.

But enough about the Corinthians. How about you and me? Can God deal with us as truly spiritual beings, or are we similarly still infants in the faith?

A swift look at our relationship with each other and how we deal with challenges in our congregation will tell us much. If we are truly spiritual beings, then our focus is solely on Christ and His Word. His priorities are our priorities. His word, not our word, is sacred to us. His thoughts, not our feelings, drive, encourage and move us.

If we are truly spiritual beings, then we see Christ Jesus as the Savior of our everyday challenges as well as our souls.

If we are truly spiritual, then we are looking beyond the human, or fleshly, aspects of things; beyond mere personalities; beyond our fellow members' weaknesses... Beyond the merely earthly problems that, in the grand scheme of things, don't amount to much... beyond merely seeking our creature comforts

Instead, we are squarely focused on the salvation of people's souls. If we are truly spiritual ones, then instead of stewing and arguing about how we are going to do this and that, we are on our knees commending all things into Jesus' hands, Who, by His shed blood, has redeemed us to be His people and already won the victory over all things for us.

If we are truly spiritual, the only one setting our agenda is Christ, with His priorities, answers, and promises.

How do you think we are doing? Are we ready for the Lord to feed us solid food? May God, in His grace, get and keep our heads and our hearts out of the carnal flesh and in His life-giving and spirit-filled word! Then we will be truly spiritual, and every day will be truly super! Amen!

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