“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as 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. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NIV).
I visited a congregation in southwestern Bangladesh and on the way back out, near dark, the Banglas who were with me had me sit in the back seat, surrounded and mostly hidden, by them. After a few miles they stopped and I was able to get back in the front passenger seat where I usually ride. When I asked them why the “musical chairs” they replied, “That is an area notorious for robbers; we did not want them to see you and think we were a good target.”
When I find myself in areas that are potentially dangerous for Americans I face the reality that I don’t look like a native and therefore it is hard for me to hide. I am usually bigger, different in color and features, and I don’t usually speak the local languages. I’m just different.
As Christians we face the same reality. We don’t share many of the common characteristics of those at home in this world. We think differently, speak differently, and act differently. That is the effect of implementing the Spirit’s mandates:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Peter gives more detail as to the nature of these differences.
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Peter 4:3-4).
A thoughtful reading of these and many other passages makes it clear that those who follow Christ are distinct from those who do not. The differences are many, and they are obvious. Christians are called to live at a higher standard of morals and ethics. They are to treat people –- even strangers and enemies — with courtesy, kindness and love. They live to achieve higher goals: those things that are above rather than fame, fortune, or power on this earth (Colossians 3:1-3).
Perhaps the best adjectives to use to demonstrate these differences are those used by Paul in the text at the beginning of this article – “spiritual” and “worldly.” Christians are to be of a spiritual nature, whereas unbelievers will always be worldly. That second term is translated variously, as “fleshly” or “carnal.” A modern synonym is “materialistic.” The emphasis is upon that which is tangible, made of matter, and earthly.
The Corinthian Christians’ willingness to divide over preferred preachers was a sign of their worldliness. They had not matured in spirit but were still preoccupied with things of the flesh. Their divisiveness simply showed their true nature.
The lesson is clear and easy to apply. When our words and actions are like those of unbelievers around us, our nature it still like theirs. We are still worldly, still walking according to the flesh (Galatians 5:16ff), and not yet transformed into the image of Christ. If we are transformed it will show; we will not be able to hide among those of the world. But that is all right – we do not want to hide. Rather we “do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” that all glory will go to him.