1 Corinthians 3:1-12
And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, even as to babes in Christ.…

The two ideas of the text are — Men, as men, are carnal; Christians, as Christians, ought not to be carnal. Note —


1. The word is of the same kindred as "flesh," "fleshly," &c. Flesh, however, is sometimes used in a good sense, as "the heart of flesh," and sometimes in an indifferent sense, as "all flesh is grass." Mostly, however, it expresses what is bad. Perhaps the terms "carnal" and "fleshly" have become the equivalents of depraved humanity from the fact of man's being in the body, and therefore from the evil in him being more openly manifested by the lustings and corruptions of the animal appetites. There might have been sin without the body, but in that case men would not have been stigmatised as carnal. Having thus got the identity of "carnal" and "fleshly," observe the kinds and gradations of their manifestation.

(1) The first sphere is that known as "fleshly lusts" — irregular animal appetites. Everything that partakes of brute impulse; gluttony, drunkenness, lust.

(2) "Fleshly wisdom," by which is meant not only falsehood and cunning to gain one's own ends, but thought which has no regard for God or duty, but which may be quite moral.

(3) The "fleshly mind" — the actings of the intellect and heart in relation to truth and love which are irregular or defective. Note the forms in which it displays itself.(a) The form in which the intellect rejects truth altogether and turns away from God's revelations in nature and the Bible, to its own systems and philosophies.(b) Or the revelations may be admitted, but so corrupted by hypotheses as to make the Divine in nature and the Bible merely the occasion for filling the invisible with monstrous creations, turning the truth of God into a lie.(c) There may be a holding of the truth simply and uncorrupted; but they who hold it may be so little instructed in it as to know nothing but its first elements, and remain babes.

2. To be carnal in any of these forms is characteristic of man as man. In illustration take —

(1) The history of man as connected with civilisation. Begin with a nation in a state of barbarism and we see disgusting outbreaks of appetite and lust. Elevate them a stage. Let the nation rise into a really civilised society, and understand the nature of prosperity, social comforts, arts, arms, science and commerce; when all the energies look no further than the present life. You know what develops then — pride of prosperity, graspings of avarice, lust of power. Then, when things have advanced further, and minds appear with high spiritual capacity, they surround themselves with forms of beauty, and school themselves in philosophy. But speculation runs rampant, "professing themselves wise they become fools." They are as far from God as when given up to the gratification of animal passion.

(2) Sacred history. Soon after the Fall, with abundant testimonies of God's character before it, the world got so corrupted that it had to be purified by the flood. The little church preserved in the ark had a fresh earth to begin upon, and erected its first altar to the true God. But in a very short time all was wrong again. Next, for the maintenance of the Divine idea, out of the mass of idolaters one man was taken, and Abraham's seed were separated from the world and shielded from corruption. Alas! their constant effort was to break away and get back to the carnal. And when by afflictions and successive revelations the national mind was improved carnality broke out in Sadduceeism and Pharisaism. Then, when Jesus appeared and revealed His truth and established His Church, came the man of sin, and all men worshipped him.

(3) The history of the individual. He begins as the slave of his appetites. By and by he awakes as if another soul were given him, and becomes respectable; he now serves his passions instead of his appetites: a mere man instead of an animal. But some go farther. They get tired of their passions, as they did of their appetites, and take themselves to philosophy, taste, and science, vainly puffed up with their fleshly mind.

(4) Society and literature for the last two hundred years. At the close of the seventeenth century English literature and manners were licentious in the extreme. The latter part of the eighteenth century was an improvement; people got prudent, calculating, and respectable. Their' understanding was developed; but there was a want of all high perception of the spiritual and the Divine. To come to the present day, men talk differently from the moralists of the last century. They speak of the Divine and of the vast things for which man was made, and there is a warmth and grandeur about their speculations. But, with all their grand thoughts, and their respect for Christianity and Christ, they have no idea of sitting at the feet of Jesus. It is just the worship of taste, beauty, and mind.


1. Christianity claims to be a system of supernatural dogmatic truth. The gospel meets man at the highest point in the development of the carnal mind, asking, "What am I, whence and whither?" and says, "I can tell you; I can discover to you the unseen and the eternal. Listen to me with unhesitating faith." All who will do this will find there is not a single question respecting God, man, wants, duties, prospects, which it cannot answer, and by answering put an end to the intrusions of the fleshly mind.

2. The truth thus revealed aims at the purification of our spiritual nature, and must necessarily counteract carnality. It is "the grace of God which bringeth salvation," and under it men "live soberly," putting away carnality from the body, the first sphere of its manifestation; "righteously," putting it away from social life — the second sphere; and "godly," putting it away from the spirit — the third sphere.

3. Christianity as a system of influence forbids it.

(1) It is contained in a Book. I come to that Book that it may meet me in my spiritual condition as a sinner and teach me how to be reconciled to God; and if rightly studied it will be the instrument of constant development of intellectual and moral strength.

(2) It employs, in addition, the preacher, whose office it is to cause men to grow in righteousness and true holiness.

(3) It is a system of worship. Christians approach the Infinite. What an influence for purifying the heart, raising man above the carnal, inspiring him with the Divine.

(4) And all are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

4. The opposite of this — the temper and habits of a spiritual life are essential to their character and preparation for a life to come.

5. They cannot give any other satisfactory evidence of their being Christians.

6. The work they have to do forbids it. They are "the light of the world," "the salt of the earth." The tendency of man as man is to darkness and corruption, which have to be counteracted by the strenuous efforts of the life of faith and spirituality.


1. Christianity, whether true or false, contains those things which, carried out, would care all the disorders of the world, and make society everywhere virtuous and healthy. There can be no question that carnality in its grosser forms is the enemy of all purity, health, and joy; and in its higher manifestation tends to degrade and disorganise humanity.

2. The nature of Christianity demonstrates its truth. It would be a greater miracle for "carnal" man to have been its creator, than for it to be the supernatural thing it is.

3. He that hath this hope purifies himself even as Christ is pure.

(T. Binney.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

WEB: Brothers, I couldn't speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ.

Carnal Christians
Top of Page
Top of Page