A theological word that we will occasionally use to describe a person or situation would be the word “carnal.” Most often we use this word in the sense of being worldly or fleshly. For example, we might refer to a professing male Christian who has earrings, neck tattoos and long hair as being carnal or one might refer to modern American Christianity at large as being full of carnality.
While there is a sense in which using carnal in this instance might be appropriate, I believe more often than not we miss the true meaning of this word. In 1 Corinthians 3 we read Paul’s rebuke of the church in Corinth and we read in verse 3, “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” In no uncertain terms, Paul calls the members of this struggling church carnal and then gives his reasons why he referred to them as being such.
First of all, he points out their envy. Within the congregation, there was apparently different sects with each group identifying someone as a leader of their particular group. No doubt there was a power struggle between these groups with some evidently experiencing envy or jealousy of the position of others in the church. Then we read that Paul pointed out their strife and divisions. There was clearly a lot of quarreling going on and the tension was no doubt obvious in the church. Can you imagine how much fun it must have been to watch this church gather together on the Lord’s Day? No doubt each group sat together segregated within the church. Such unity!
But back to the word carnal and to it’s definition. In short, these Corinthian individuals were acting as if they didn’t know the Lord. They were living as the lost, controlled and driven by their fleshly desires. The opposite of being carnal would be controlled by the Holy Spirit, which in this case would result in humility and peace and unity within the church. How about you? Are there areas of your life that Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, might refer to as being carnal? Any area of your life that more closely aligns itself with an unsaved person than with a Spirit-controlled believer, no matter how conservative and spiritual you may look on the outside? We would be wise to be on guard for areas of carnality that are prone to want to spring up within our hearts.