Most people might aspire to being “worldly-wise”, a term I heard my grandmother use about someone who was well-traveled or cosmopolitan. The dictionary echoes that by saying that worldly means “experienced and sophisticated.” Paul saw it a different way: “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV)
These verses remind us of a couple of important things. First, Paul makes a distinction between being spiritual and being worldly. You see this often in the New Testament, because “the world” is selfish, sinful and proud, whereas God’s Spirit is loving, giving, and kind. In 1 John 2:15, John reminded us that “if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Stop and think for a moment: what is celebrated by the world. A short list includes wealth, athleticism. achievement, power, beauty, notoriety, and intelligence; I’m sure you could add a couple more. These things in themselves are certainly not bad, so why does Paul teach that being worldly is not good?
Jesus taught that there was a difference between the things of God and the things of the world. He said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19) What things in your life are worldly? What percentage of your life is attached to the carnal or the temporary as opposed to the spiritual and eternal? That’s a hard inventory to take, isn’t it? When you consider that 1 John 2:15 says, “Love not the world, or the things of the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Strong words about what we humans can get pretty wrapped up in…
The first place we go is probably to all of our material stuff, but Paul characterizes worldliness here as more of an internal condition or an attitude. He says that people who live by the Spirit don’t have jealousy or become contentious with one another—both of which are driven by selfishness. What are you selfish about? What makes you feel “righteous” indignation? Those are both worldly reactions, and they happen with us all the time. When they bubble to the surface we should ask ourselves, “am I being led by the Spirit or by my own emotions and desires?”
Second, Paul reminds us here that living in the Spirit is a journey. Becoming spiritually mature doesn’t happen instantly. He compares spiritual growth to that of an infant, saying that he gave the Corinthians milk because they were not ready for solid food. What about you? How grown up are you spiritually? Are you still drinking milk and being spoon-fed, or are you ready for heartier fare? What intellectual food are you eating?
There’s a lot of junk food out there that won’t contribute to our growth. If we start as infants, then it’s important for us to mature spiritually, “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, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ!” (Ephesians 4:14-15). Eat wisely, not worldly. Grow well.
The world is full of traits and values that are celebrated;
To worldly folks, the spiritual life is somewhat over-rated.
A worldly man is known for being quite sophisticated
With appetites for carnal things that never quite get sated…
Paul told us that worldly folks still have a ways to go,
Advising that we should drink spiritual milk to help us grow;
That we henceforth be not children tossed by doctrine to and fro,
But grow up in the spiritual truth the Lord wants us to know.
Be aware of worldly things, and do not be deceived;
But grow in faith and love, and in the Spirit you received.
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