The mature Christian is able to show mercy to the wayward, live with peaceful intentions, displaying an attitude of contented, godly integrity, speaking wholesome, edifying words, and bringing about spiritual change without excessive judgment or negative criticism.
He doesn’t lift himself above his station. Prefers others. Shows no partiality. Does not criticise by association. He handles himself with humility and meekness, which is the quality of harnessed power and self-control.
He approaches those who are in error with regard to his own potential flaws, fallibility and weakness. He seeks to uphold and edify, not crush or destroy others.
He leads from a position of contrition before the Lord, not from being puffed up with knowledge. He brings discipline, where necessary, from a desire to bring true change, not to elevate himself to a state of prideful piety.
Tools of the carnal
Conversely, envy, strife and division are the tools of the carnal. They demonstrate a level of immaturity. Carnality is earth-confined logic and action based on limited understanding of spiritual truth. Paul addressed it in his letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
Christian carnality equates with behaving like mere men. What does Paul mean by ‘mere men’? He is speaking about unsaved men – the unregenerate – people who are ignorant of spiritual things. We are supposed to grow up in spiritual things and resist the thoughts and actions of the carnal man. Paul compares this to acting like babes in Christ.
The Greek for ‘babes’ is nepios, meaning ‘simple-minded, or an immature Christian’, but used to describe an infant or little child. We derive the word ‘nappy’ from nepios, which, for our US readers, is UK English for a diaper. So, this is Paul’s way of describing a nappy-wearing Christian, who can only take the milk of the Word and not stomach the meat. He is telling us that those who act in such childish ways, engaging in envy, strife and division, are immature and not fit or ready for solid food.
You can’t sow strife and division by your words and actions, and be considered mature enough to assess or criticise others. There is a massive lesson in this for all of us.
In other words, there is a place, beyond the carnal man, where spiritual things are better understood by mature believers. This is scripturally termed walking in the Spirit. Paul has just been speaking to the Corinthians about how we can know the mind of Christ and the will of God through the Spirit of God interacting with the believer’s regenerated spirit. He has been telling us how we can grow in maturity through the Word and Spirit.
Now he is telling his audience that they have fallen short and been behaving in an immature way. This was evidenced in them when they demonstrating envy, strife and division. If they understood the spiritual man they would know that envy, strife and division are not characteristic of the spiritual nature.
What does he mean by ‘carnal’? The Greek word is sarkikos, which refers to the animal nature or unregenerate man. It is also called having the nature of the flesh, not having control over the appetites. It is the uncontrolled natural man devoid of the Spirit. The natural man, we are told, cannot understand the things of the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Paul is revealing the difference between the Spirit-led person and the carnal man. If we are going to be engaged in envy, strife or division we are showing ourselves to be carnal and therefore unable to be properly led by the Spirit. ‘Strife’ is, in the Greek, eris, which means ‘contention, wrangling, debate, or variance’. We know that division is a separation and a paring off. It is taking sides against another.
When people take sides and defend their position or attack others through envy or strife they are acting with immaturity. They are being carnal, even if they claim to be Christians. If we feed the carnal man we develop it at the expense of the spiritual man.
Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
The person that promotes strife and division or sows discord is feeding his or her flesh. If we constantly seek to fault-find we are engaging in a carnal activity. Looking for ways to judge people enviously, or through strife, is sowing corruption to our own lives. We are admonished to uplift one another, not to look for faults.
That is not to say that we overlook error. On the contrary, we must be awake to such things. But if we make a lifestyle of seeking out the worse in people we will be guilty of living in the flesh and sowing to it. We should realise that the flesh and spirit can be hostile to one another if the flesh is not brought under control, so one has to overpower the other for us to be settled.
Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
To be carnally minded is death. There is distinction between being a carnal Christian and a Spirit-led believer. In fact, being a carnal Christian is something of an oxymoron, because a Christian is supposed to be a follower of Christ and therefore Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. The person who purports to be a Christian but lives in the flesh is, indeed, carnal, however, if we are in the Spirit we will be able to resist the appetites of the flesh-driven nature.
Romans 8:9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
Paul reminds us that living and walking in the Spirit is an imperative for the disciple of Christ. Through the Spirit we are empowered to overcome the flesh and exercise godly self-control.
The nature of the Spirit
So we have seen and now should know that envy, strife and division cause us to be considered babes in Christ, immature believers, and mere men. Envy is of the flesh. Strife is of the flesh. Division is of the flesh. The flesh is the natural man devoid of the Spirit.
However, we can live in this fleshly body and be influenced by the Spirit. We can allow the regenerated spirit to have dominion over the natural man. We can exercise self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-26 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
By exercising the fruit – the nature or character – of the Spirit in our lives, which is akin to walking in the Spirit, we will resist the temptation to be conceited, provocative and envious. We will not enter into strife or divisions. We will overpower the desires of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. We will crucify, put to death, the passions and appetites of the flesh. We will exercise the mind of the Spirit.
2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Those who live in the Spirit learn how to overcome the temptation to be envious of others, cause strife, or bring about tension or division in the Body. It is easy to fault find. If we look hard enough at another person we will find something about them which is not good. On the other hand, if they examine us in the same way they are sure to find something.
If someone studies every word another person speaks, or every action they will discover that none of us is perfect, each of us is prone to error, sin or a lack of self-control at times, and that we all need the leading of the Spirit and the mercy of God along with the counsel of the Word to get us through this life. That is why we need Christ. That is why we need deliverance. That is why we need salvation.
Wisdom of the wise
Looking for faults in others is a journey into envy, strife and division. It is sowing seeds of death and corruption. Telling other people about these faults is sowing discord. Spreading rumours is divisive and controlling. Envy and strife lead to confusion and every wicked work. Spreading words of strife is not acting on the wisdom of God, but on the wisdom of the wicked one.
James 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers. But those who spread envy, strife and self-seeking promote earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom. They have aligned themselves with wickedness as tools of envy, strife and division.
Blogs which claim to expose ministries and yet spread their own envy, strife and division work against truth. They set themselves up for ultimate judgment by their own tendency to judge and criticise. Doing it anonymously as a pack is devilish beyond words. Those who do so seek to publicly defame and misrepresent their quarry, yet remain hidden from scrutiny themselves.
They sow discord amongst the brethren. They backbite and spread unfounded rumours. They pick apart, according to their own flawed logic, every phrase and sentence their target utters, contort their words to fabricate another meaning, manufacture memes which bear no resemblance to reality or fact, and create a strategic narrative by which to spread their unruly opinion.
Proverbs 6:12-14 A worthless person, a wicked man, Walks with a perverse mouth; He winks with his eyes, He shuffles his feet, He points with his fingers; Perversity is in his heart, He devises evil continually, He sows discord.
We can only treat as immature those who continuously rail against targeted ministries and movements, who constantly find fault with people, and repeat over and over perceived shortcomings, blemishes, weaknesses, and errors of judgement, often from the distant past, who dig and dig until something seemingly negative can be magnified beyond reason, who judge and criticise by association, who add innuendo, suggestion and rumour to thinly veiled bias and flawed opinion.
They spread envy, strife and division in the Body. They peddle the shallow weapons of the immature.
Better to walk in the Spirit, enjoy the Word of God apart from the scoffers and scornful. Better to be in the place of the blessed, meditating on God’s Word.
Psalms 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
Better to be planted by the rivers of living water and flourishing in the courts of the Lord.