Last week, we took a dive into defining what it means to be a spiritual man or woman. This week we continue that examination.
You will recall that we looked at three classifications, or categories of persons:
1) The Spiritual – This is the Christ-follower who has the mind of Christ, discerns all things, but who is subject to no human judgment.
2) The Carnal – This is the Christ-follower who is not mature enough for the “meat” of the Christian walk, but who, rather, is dominated by the flesh, refusing to grow.
3) The Natural – This is the person outside of Christ, to whom spiritual matters are non-discernible gibberish.
But as it is written,
‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him.’
But God has revealed those things to us by his Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the deep things of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, ISV
One of the characteristic marks of a Christ-follower who is growing in maturity, is depth of discernment. It is the ability to penetrate beyond the visible surface to the quick of life and unseen reality. The carnal Christ-follower cannot make such discernments, walking by sight, touch, and human reason, and as a result sees nothing of the reality that the spiritual Christ-follower sees.
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 … But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. – Hebrews 5:12, 14, NASB
The fact that the apostle Paul refers to these carnal believers as “babes in Christ,” or “infants in Christ,” (1 Corinthians 3:1) confirms that they are in Christ, and are therefore to be treated with the full honor, love, and respect that is due any fellow believer. Rather than condemn them, or berate them, the spiritual man and woman will call them to fuller submission, to crucifixion of the flesh, to God-glorifying selflessness.
Some, believing they have deep spiritual insight, begin to view themselves as instructors and disciplinarians of the body of Christ, very high up in the discernment and maturity hierarchy. From this deluded vantage point, these brothers and sisters in Christ declare themselves to be discipleship authorities over those whom they deem less discerning than themselves. This self-aggrandizing attitude is teeming with the immature mind of the carnal Christian and devoid of everything it claims to espouse.
One who is spiritually discerning will quickly recognize such fleshly impulses, even within himself or herself, and reject them. Even the apostle Paul refused to become dictatorial from the position and authority of his apostolicity.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. – 2 Corinthians 1:24, NASB
Responsibility & Peril
There is a responsibility borne by the spiritual Christ-follower, and it has been my experience that those who bear it well wish that they did not bear it at all. Those who wish to bear it, are generally those who ought not do so, as it carries with it a propensity for abuse. It is an unpleasant responsibility.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1, ESV
Do not miss the goal, or the purpose of interacting with the transgressor. There is no hint of “spiritual one-upmanship” in this directive from Paul. Everything is done with a view toward restoring the transgressor, and the entire transaction is to be bathed in love and humility. There is no shaming, no harsh chastisement, no bold confrontation. Do not miss that term “gentleness.”
I can recall so clearly a time several years back when there was a sin in my life that needed to be dealt with. I was ensnared and desperately needed to be set free. But rather than restore me in a spirit of gentleness, the pastor of the church glared angrily at me, repeatedly slamming his fist on my dining-room table, cursing profanely at me as he did so.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
In love we “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2, NASB) and in humility, “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3, NASB). We are called to speak truth, yes, but to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
There is a very real danger to religion-based arrogance. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1b). In this, there are echoes of Paul’s admonition to the church in Corinth.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:12, ESV
James had something to say about this as well.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. – James 3:1-2a, ESV
And Jesus weighed in on the subject.
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? – Matthew 7:2-3, ESV
Speaking the truth in love is often quite difficult. We risk relationship. We risk the snare of spiritual arrogance. There may be anger and pain. But, in self-denial, we are called to endure the discomfort, even the occasional agony, of loving our brother or sister in Christ enough to bring healing and restoration into their life. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6, NASB).
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV