Epiphany 6 – “Spiritual Infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

We are all babies! Each and every one of us, regardless of our age, are still babies, that is, spiritual babies. Don’t take my word for it; rather, listen to what St. Paul says: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Does it sting a little that Paul refers to us as spiritual infants?  What about those who claim that they’ve been a life-long, card-carrying member of the church from the day of their baptism all those years ago? You’re still an infant. What about those who have just confessed their faith in Jesus Christ? You’re still an infant. We are all spiritual infants, regardless of age, regardless of time spent in the church.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

It really is no different for us. We think that we are able to absorb all that Scripture has to say. We think that we are great Biblical scholars because we have a Bible or have heard the Word of God preached; that we have the full understanding of all of Christianity. In reality, rarely do we comprehend what God’s Word says to us. Rarely are we able to grasp the tenants of the Christian faith to a point where we are considered a novice, let alone an expert. Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with that, because we are spiritual infants, ever growing in our understanding of God and His Word, ever growing in our faith.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

We see firsthand here at Corinth what happens when the central focus is on the speaker rather than the Doer. Strip away the speaker and what do you have? You are left with the sweet sound of the Gospel, a saving word for all who believe. Strip away the speaker and you are left with the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ and He alone. It’s not the speaker that matters; rather what matters is what is spoken. And so Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

There is a single, all-important fact that we must be aware of, even if we forget it from time to time: we are a people of the flesh who need to hear that there is One who became flesh for all people. That One is Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh. Christ, the unchanging God, became flesh for all of our fleshly sins, for all jealousy, for all strife, for all who are behaving only in a sinful and human way. The wages of our sins is death, but the wages of Christ’s labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness. The wages of Christ’s labor is new life and a never-ending salvation. These gifts of God come to us in the simplest of means – in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, in the precious body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. This is the food that we need to grow spiritually and it is the food that our gracious God provides for us at the expense of His Son.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. He feeds you with what you need, the spiritual milk that comes through His precious Word and Sacraments. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.