Writing a devotional for publication is a challenge. Each publisher has a word limit and the writer must keep his thoughts to that limit. Usually that means reference to one verse, making one point, and using one illustration.
With Oswald Chambers, it seems he had much more to say but an editor cut up his thoughts to fit the word count. So I checked and found that most of his devotionals originated in lectures where he taught. They probably were pieced together and certainly were edited.
Today’s devotional seems to have missing lines and missing words that would explain Chambers’ thoughts more clearly. Some of what I’m writing is an attempt to figure out what he was trying to say, and some is an attempt to say it. The rest uses his thoughts as a catalyst to hear the Lord speak to me.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (1 Corinthians 3:1–3)
Chambers refers to verse 3 only, but the context is helpful in defining what Paul means by “carnal” people. Some say it can only be those who are not saved, but Paul puts new Christians in this ‘category’ and describes them as not yet walking in the Spirit. Instead they are “fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.”
This battle between flesh and Spirit happens in the life of all Christians. Those not saved can battle with the Spirit if He is convicting them of sin and their need for salvation. Otherwise, their battle is more about ‘me against what others want or expect of me.’ As Chambers says, no natural or unsaved person knows anything about carnality, just as they are unaware of spirituality in relation to Jesus Christ.
A carnal life includes many things. Paul points to one of them in that the Corinthian Christians were jealous and fighting. This showed in their boasting about which church leader they followed. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 3:4) He is saying they are ‘fleshy’ or ‘carnal’ rather than behaving as spiritual believers.
In today’s world, ‘carnal’ Christians boast about their church, their denomination, and their pastor as if they are superior and have an edge over others. Because such boasting comes from personal insecurity, it will pop up in other areas too. Carnality is highly competitive and boasts instead of realizing that all we have and are is of God, and not at all a reflection on us. We do not deserve even the least of His blessings.
As God works in my life, I’ve noticed how He builds and balances my sense of identity. I am a sinner, yet a child of God saved by grace. I am less competitive and have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. He has made me to be more objective as I evaluate the value of what I do, who I know, which church I attend, and many other things. If I see weakness in myself or others, instead of trying to establish ‘bigger, better, more’ so I can boast, I’m more apt to make these things a matter of prayer.
Chambers adds that carnality is being contentious, easily troubled about trifles, and bragging. The entire book of 1 Corinthians is filled with more examples. But what is the answer to all of this? Paul gives it in his opening words:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4–9)
My carnality fades as I realize the grace of God and how He enriches my life. He humbles me with gifts so undeserved. He is coming back for me and will sustain me until then. He covers my sins and is faithful to His promises. He cured the problem of my ‘mere humanness’ by making me, a sinner, into a new creature and then shedding light on the old stuff so I can agree with Him in confession and let Him do the cleansing.
Chambers ends with this: “When carnality is gone it is the most real thing imaginable.” That is, when God provides practical tests, I am amazed that events which once made me feel weak, defensive and full of a desire to prove myself are no longer issues. For that, I praise His marvelous grace!