for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 1 Corinthians 3:3

FleshlyLook at a few English versions and you will quickly discover that the Greek word sarkikos is translated in several ways.  The NASB uses “fleshly,” an odd English word but close to the Greek sarx.  The NIV uses “worldly.”  We might understand the term better but it removes us from sarx and implies the Greek term cosmos.  The ESV and RSV use “of the flesh,” but the preposition is gar (from), not de (of).  The NLT imports additional meaning with “controlled by your own sinful desires.”

So, why does this matter?  Don’t we get the meaning no matter which translation we choose?  Well, yes – and no.  Yes, we understand that Paul is diagnosing ungodly behavior as a symptom of spiritual immaturity.  But no, we might not see that Paul is not connecting the simple fact that we are embodied with spiritual malaise.  Paul is not suggesting a Greek dualism.  Being human does not mean being sinful.  Paul is focused on the behavior, not the vehicle that transports the behavior.  To be sarkikos is to act in certain ways, not to be a certain kind of person.

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about sin here?  He implies that this kind of behavior is not appropriate.  He chastises his readers for their lack of spiritual maturity.  He is clearly addressing believers.  But he doesn’t equate sarkikos with sin (hamartia), at least not in this context.  Paul is concerned with the principle of outward expression of the Spirit.  His diagnosis focuses on what any observer could see.  If believers exhibit jealousy and strife, they look like ordinary pagans.  They diminish the image of God in the world and insult the glory of the Creator.  They don’t shine with His character.  And everyone can see it!  That’s the shame of it all.  Their witness as new people in the Messiah is sullied.

The cause of all this tragic display might be sin.  After all, jealousy and strife are listed among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5.  They stand in opposition to life in the Spirit.  But the emphasis here is not on the inner cause.  It is on the outward display.  This is about behavior modification.  Paul’s words imply that the congregation in Corinth claimed to be followers of the Way, but they were acting with the same behavior as pagans.  There was no discernible difference.  Therefore, their claim appears empty.

If we associate “flesh” with sin, we are likely to say, “But my sins have been forgiven.  I have been cleansed.  I really do believe.”  That could become an excuse for avoiding Paul’s behavior diagnosis.  But if we realize that Paul is simply looking at the way we act and drawing conclusions about our spiritual maturity, then claims about forgiveness are immaterial.  Stop acting this way!

Today isn’t the day to assess whether or not we have been redeemed.  Today is the day to take a hard look at how we behave – and see if our actions match our words.

Topical Index:  fleshly, sarkikos, 1 Corinthians 3:3

  • Fred March 28, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Could it be said that the Corinthians were acting as if they had not been sanctified?

    • Skip Moen March 28, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      It certainly could be said, if sanctification were a state of being rather than a process. 🙂

  • Michael March 28, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Hi Fred,

    I think that in Paul’s mind the Corinthians were acting more like animals than our model of Man.

    • Skip Moen March 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      Maybe they were just acting more like “men” than like the image of God. But, of course, if they were acting like true human beings, then they would be acting like the image of God since true human beings carry that image. So, maybe you’re right. To act other than the image of God means to not be human.

      • Michael March 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm

        “image of God”

        Hi Skip,

        I tend to think of our “model of Man” as the Son of Man or Son of God; a manifestation of God in human form.

        But I must admit that it seems to me that, in Mark, Jesus seems to say that he is not God, but will sit at the right hand of POWER and come with the clouds of HEAVEN.

        Mark 14:62 I am, said Jesus and you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”

        • Skip Moen March 29, 2010 at 5:30 am

          Do a little research on the way that Yeshua alters the Tanakh verses to fit His message. You will discover that He adapts the verses to show that He is the equal of the Father.

        • carl roberts March 29, 2010 at 5:53 am

          good morning Michael.. this is where it gets interesting.. Jesus (Yeshua to some) is both Son of G-d and (as He liked to refer to Himself) Son of Man. He was (and still is!) the (one and only) G-d/man. He is (now, today) the Word Incarnate or the Word made flesh. G-d became a man in order to “demonstrate” before our very eyes- how to live. By His words and by His witness. By His attitudes and by His actions. By His doctrines and by His deeds. He is the Christ, the Son of the (now) living G-d and He is G-d the (now) living Son.
          If you are still confused by this- “not to worry..”- so am I. The “finite” (me) cannot grasp (or contain “the infinite.” The doctrine of the Trinity has had theologians “spinning” for centuries.
          Meanwhile (back at the ranch!).. we have been given a book which is like no other. In it are contained (both) the word and the words of G-d. Precept upon precept and line upon line we are daily (as His disciples) are studying and learning more (and leaning more!) about and upon this wonderful Savior/Redeemer/Master and Friend. His name is Wonderful!
          “Rest assured” my dear brother- “G-d was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” How do I “know” this? “It is written!” The great Creator became our Savior! “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” (Colossians 2.9)
          Still not confused?- Let me help some more.. (lol!!) Not only was our dear LORD Jesus the perfect man, He was (and is) the perfect woman as well!
          ..”every knee shall bow and every tongue confess”- Jesus (the) Christ is LORD!! (Romans 14.11) -Dear brother- I’m not gonna wait ’til then!
          -Our dear Abba’s full blessings to you today.

  • Robin Jeep March 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Right on! Your blog wants me to make my comment longer. I just want to say, “Right on!”

  • carl roberts March 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Don’t be astonished that I said to you, ‘All of you must be born from above.’ (John 3.6,7)

    We are getting into some heavy-duty stuff here brother Skip.. (some “meat” if you will!) This conversation between Yeshua and Nicodemus (a ruler of the Jews whose very name means “superior”) is recorded for us in John chapter 3 for a witness unto us of the necessity of the “new birth”. -Simply repeating the very words of the Christ- “you must be born again!” Now- ‘that’ will preach! Yes, Nicodemus, (and Nancy, and Nichole, and Natalie, and Nelson and Norman) -you too, must be ‘born again!’

    Who are we outside of Christ? Without Him, we are___________? and _______ and ______.
    And (good news..) “in Christ” we are now ________,_________, and ________. We also have ______, ______, and_______, and let us not fail to mention our _______. Yes, Christianity is a relationship with the now living, ever present, never failing, always faithful, indescribably beautiful YHWH.
    I do not know what the time or manner of my death will be, but should I leave this world peacefully in my sleep, and you still remain behind, you are invited to come and view my cold, lifeless form and you will understand “flesh.” (I won’t be there y’all, -just the shell!) This “earthly tent” in which I dwell is in the slow process of perishing day by day. This body is wearin’ out, but that’s part of the process! My “inner man” is being renewed (and refreshed) day by day. -“cool beans!”-
    If tomorrow, I should lose a hand, I will still be me. Should I lose a toe or a leg or an eye, I will still be me. I will have lost one of the members of my body- this flesh, -but I will still remain and my name will still be Carl. Carl (still) lives here. Hello Carl,- how you doin’?
    Praise His name- His peace is upon this house. -Amen

    • Skip Moen March 29, 2010 at 5:32 am

      Take another look at the conversation with Nicodemus. Yeshua does not say, “You must be born again.” That is an evangelical alteration of the Greek to fit the theology. In every case but this one, the Greek words mean “from above.” He says, “You must be generated from above.” His answer is a DNA argument. You aren’t part of the family unless you Father is the heavenly Father. Peter is the one who coins the Greek word “Born again.”

      • Fred March 29, 2010 at 11:24 am

        Skip, what I don’t understand about this conversation between Jeshua and Nakdimon is why there would be any misunderstanding at all. They are both Jews, both thoroughly knowledgeable in Hebrew, which they no doubt used in this conversation, then why the confusion; unless Jeshua somehow used a Hebraic term that somehow combined being beget and from above. To Nakdimon, the concept of being beget from above made no sense, and so he asks the human question about going back into his mother’s womb. It seems that all this debate about this verse comes with the assumption that they were speaking Greek, which I seriously doubt.

        • Skip Moen March 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

          Yeah, it isn’t possible that they were speaking Greek. So, you are right about our usual assumptions as to the confusion. But Nicodemus was confused – or at least mislead in his conclusions. So, that means we need to understand why he, a teacher of the Jews, didn’t get this. It can’t be about the necessity of being part of the Father’s household. That would have been intuitively obvious to a Jewish teacher. What is it about? Why does Nicodemus ask the very unusual question about being “conceived” again? Could it be that Nicodemus assumed that being born Jewish was sufficient? Yeshua suggests that even those born Jewish must be yet born from above. But if Nicodemus assumes that simply being Jewish is sufficient, then Yeshua’s claim with seem nonsensical. Nicodemus draws an analogy about birth. No one can be “born” twice, can he? His implication is that once born Jewish is enough. Yeshua then introduces some thoughts about the unpredictable nature of the wind. God does what He wishes and no man can obligate Him. Those born from above are of God’s choosing, not man’s. The issue under discussion is the obligation of God toward each Jew, not toward Israel as a whole.

          Don’t we see the same argument in the 4th chapter of Romans?

  • Drew March 29, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Skip has on many occasions addressed the issue of “flesh” from a Hebraic context. As such let us simply be reminded that the light of Yeshua resides within “flesh” from creation and that upon making mankind YHVH declared this to be “tov”!

    Regarding “fleshly” and “walking as mere men” … it would seem that Sha’ul is commenting upon the lack of distinctiveness, the lack of spiritual passion and yes, dare I say, the lack of Torah obedience within Mashiach’s community at Corinth.

    YHVH is Ruach (as it is written) and Torah is a reflection of HIS character. To walk in the ways of Yeshua is to walk in the ways of G_D. To walk like mere men can certainly not be the same as walking like a “Son of ELOHIM”.

    To whom much is given much is required. The LORD gifts, to the elect, personal redemption …. but there are aspects of this covenantal relationship which need to be carried out. In response to “chesed/grace” there is the matter of purpose and becoming “kedoshim” (set apart/distinctive).

    It seems that Sha’ul is chastising the community at Corinth for its lack of change … its lack of passion … and its inability to be recognized as something distinct … as something that can’t be distinguished from the Gentiles.

    So what do we look like as believers in Mashiach? How do our eyes see the world as the filter to our soul? What do others see when they look into our eyes? Is our life style noticeably different from the life style of the non-believer? Over the course of time is their no way to tell the difference between the synagogue of Yeshua and the synagogue of satan?

    I think these are the questions that should be asked in response to the specific passage sited by Skip!

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