Spiritual Growth

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Beyond Shallow Faith, copyright 2018, 2019

The church at Corinth was so messed up that the apostle Paul wrote at least three letters—and probably four—trying to straighten them out.[i] He also made three visits there,[ii] and sent Timothy and Titus as well.[iii]

The Corinthians had split into four cliques, each revering a different leader: Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Apollos.[iv] These factions quarreled with each other,[v] arousing jealousy and strife, arrogance and boasting.[vi] Their disputes often spilled over into lawsuits in Rome’s civil courts.[vii]

Immorality had crept into the church as well. One of its members was engaging in sexual relations with his step-mother,[viii] and the other church members bragged about the relationship.[ix] Communion had lost its sacred, commemorative purpose, with some even using the occasion to get drunk.[x]

Perhaps worst of all, some of the Corinthians denied Christ’s resurrection.[xi] Paul pointed out that they were denying the very heart of the Christian message, for

if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

—1 Corinthians 15:17-19

Paul diagnosed the Corinthians’ problem as spiritual immaturity:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

—1 Corinthians 3:1-3

The author of Hebrews perceived a similar problem among his intended audience:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.

—Hebrews 5:12-13

Their message is clear—we need to grow up spiritually and become mature in our faith. So where will we find the step-by-step guide in the New Testament that explains how we do that?

We won’t. It’s not there.

Nevertheless, the New Testament authors have not left us clueless. They provided a lot of hints about how to attain spiritual maturity. . . .

Beyond Shallow Faith is available on Amazon.com.

[i]. 1 Corinthians was Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. We do not have the prior letter, but Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 5:9. 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8 talk about another letter, apparently written after 1 Corinthians, making a total of four letters Paul wrote to that church.

[ii]. See 2 Corinthians 7:6-7, 12:14, and 13:1-2.

[iii]. 1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10-11; 2 Corinthians 8:16-23 and 12:18

[iv]. 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 and 11:18-19. Apollos is also mentioned in Acts 18:24, 19:1; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6, 3:22, 4:6, 16:12; and Titus 3:13.

[v]. 1 Corinthians 1:11

[vi]. 1 Corinthians 3:3, 3:21, and 4:6-7

[vii]. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

[viii]. 1 Corinthians 5:1

[ix]. See 1 Corinthians 5:6: “Your boasting is not good.” Paul does not tell us why the Corinthians boasted about this affair. Perhaps the offending church member was wealthy or prestigious.

[x]. 1 Corinthians 11:20-22

[xi]. 1 Corinthians 15:12