Are You Truly a Spiritual Person?
“I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ.”—1 Cor. 3:1.
1, 2. Why are we interested in studying how to become a spiritual person?
THE Holy Bible speaks very favorably of those who are called “spiritual” persons. On the other hand, it does not mention with merit those described as “fleshly.” Obviously, therefore, a God-fearing individual wants to be a spiritual person, does he not?—Rom. 8:5-8; Gal. 5:16-18.
2 However, many persons who should be spiritual are often, in reality, just the contrary. For this reason, the first-century Bible writer Paul, addressing the Christian congregation at Corinth, Greece, said: “I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:1) Do we, therefore, not want truly to be spiritual men and women?
3. What does being a “fleshly” person mean?
3 To appreciate what it means to be a “spiritual” person, it is helpful to understand the opposite term, “fleshly,” as used by the writer Paul. What does being “fleshly” mean? It means to be dominated by the flesh, that is, to have an earthly, worldly viewpoint. Such thinking is that of imperfect, fallen men; this is what has saturated this whole system. Fleshly men judge “by human standards.”—1 Cor. 9:8.
4. What does it mean to be a “spiritual” person?
4 But, more importantly, what does it mean to be “spiritual men”? It means to think like God, whose thoughts are elevated above those of man. (Isa. 55:8, 9; Rom. 11:33) This thinking ability comes to those who listen to God’s spokesmen, particularly Jesus Christ, ‘the one who has explained Jehovah.’ (John 1:18) In the apostles of Jesus Christ we have an excellent example demonstrating how one can become truly spiritual. Let us briefly trace their spiritual development.
5, 6. (a) How did the apostles become spiritual men? (b) What did Jesus’ training impart to the apostles?
5 To start with, those that God gave to Jesus as apostles were all humble, hardworking and devoted men. These qualities made them receptive to Jesus’ teaching. After their selection some were in virtually constant attendance with him over a period of about two years. They saw his miracles, heard his discourses, drew on his strength, watched his manner of dealing with friend and foe, and observed his stand for right principles. As Peter was to say some years later: “We are witnesses of all the things he did.” (Acts 10:39; Mark 3:14) He taught them, too, that they should willingly express their belief to others.
6 It was this marvelous training that aided the apostles to become spiritual men. It imparted to them “the mind of Christ,” the feelings, temperament and views of Christ, so that they could judge things in his way, which is also Jehovah’s way. Spiritual men see things from “the standpoint of our God.”—1 Cor. 2:16; 1 Pet. 4:6; Jas. 1:27.
YOU TOO CAN BE A SPIRITUAL PERSON
7, 8. (a) To be a spiritual person, what must we develop in ourselves? (b) Is it just one’s mind that must change?
7 For one to be a spiritual person today requires similar training, developing in oneself “the mind of Christ.” This comes by being ‘made new in the force actuating one’s mind.’ (Eph. 4:23, 24) In the daily round of living, the “natural” thing for persons lacking spirituality is to give in to fleshly thinking. The “force” that actuates their minds urges them in a direction that conforms to this old system of things. The “force” or dominant inclination of a Christian’s mind, however, must be made over to be something “new,” so that one thinks in harmony with God’s way, thus becoming a spiritual person.
8 As one’s thinking changes, every aspect of one’s life should also be “made new”; a “new personality” must be developed. Even if one has been a Christian witness of Jehovah for many years this development must continue and take in every area of one’s life. The way a Christian conducts himself at work or at school, his language and his other personal habits, all should reveal spiritual thinking, “the mind of Christ.” But what happens when one allows fleshly thinking to affect one’s life?
9, 10. What may happen, as demonstrated in the Corinthian congregation, when individuals allow themselves to be influenced by fleshly thinking?
9 The Bible gives an example of this that existed in the congregation in Corinth, Greece, in the first century. These Corinthians were already Christians. (1 Cor. 1:2) But many allowed themselves to be overly influenced by the Greek world around them. Exactly how did those men in the congregation become “fleshly”?
10 Certain ones of them who were proud teachers and false apostles brought the world’s standards into the congregation. Disorder, error and vileness were certain to follow, causing many to become like the world, fleshly. That ancient Greek world was certainly not Christlike. Everything about its culture—its art, science, religion, games, philosophy—was earthly, fleshly, man-oriented.
11, 12. Explain how fleshly thinking affected the lives of many members of the Corinthian congregation.
11 For their foolishly trying to insinuate such standards into the congregation, what were the results? Their fleshly viewpoint was reflected by many things they did and believed. It could not be hidden. It was evident in the way they looked at others in the congregation, promoting one above another. This resulted in divisions, a party spirit and subsequent rivalries. (1 Cor. chaps. 1-4; compare James 3:13-18.) Fornication was tolerated. (1 Cor. chap. 5) They took each other to court. (1 Co Chap. 6) Stressing their own rights, they came dangerously close to stumbling others in the matter of idolatry. (1 Co Chaps. 8-10) There was lack of appreciation for proper headship in the congregation as well as self-indulgence regarding the Lord’s Evening Meal. (1 Co Chap. 11) Paul had to tell them that even those members that might “seem to be weaker are necessary” for the congregation.—1 Co Chap. 12, vs. 22.
12 While the secular, worldly-wise, fleshly Greek writers put stress on harsh, so-called “masculine” qualities, such as pride and egotism, God does not. The Corinthians needed to cultivate love, godly love. (1 Co Chap. 13) Even the Corinthian view of Christian doctrine was strongly colored by fleshly thinking. Some, just like the Greeks at Athens, found the teaching of the resurrection hard to accept. Such ‘unreasonable persons’ needed a spiritual mind. (1 Cor. 15:12-57; Acts 17:32) Does this not illustrate that trying to mix worldly thinking with the teachings of Christ produces poor results in every way? We should recognize this truth in our own personal lives. But how can one develop “the mind of Christ” and become a truly spiritual person?
STUDY TO BECOME A SPIRITUAL MAN
13. Why are study and meditation essential to become a spiritual person?
13 A regular study of God’s Word is essential, and along with study meditation is required. Do not mistakenly think of meditation as a passive process. It takes positive, deliberate effort. Daily reading of the Bible itself should be made part of our life, since by such reading we learn of the life of Jesus and of other spiritual men who had God’s approval. But time must be spent considering how this material applies personally, how it sets one apart from the world. In this way there is further introduction of God’s thinking into our mind, letting it bend or urge our own thinking processes in the proper direction. After reading a portion of Scripture, one can ask oneself: “How can I use this to avoid repeating past mistakes? How does it enhance my appreciation of Jehovah’s goodness and swell within me a desire to be like him?”
14. Explain Proverbs 28:14.
14 In this way we see how to imitate God and not the fleshly world. As we endure in the Christian way we come to appreciate the excelling value of God’s thinking, and the study of his Word comes to mean even more to us. We are made more keenly aware of the need for carefully serving him. As Proverbs 28:14 says: “Happy is the man that is feeling dread constantly, but he that is hardening his heart will fall into calamity.” We develop a healthy fear of God and so a conscientious dread of worldly things that God hates. Coming to realize our own inabilities, we rely more on Jehovah. Thoughtful study keeps us alert to problems and coming changes so that when they do arrive they are not a surprise. This kind of study inclines our minds toward that which is spiritual and results in our being “happy.”
15. If we are to be spiritual persons, what tendency in the matter of study must be avoided?
15 Diligent study, however, must be centered on that which is genuinely spiritual. Some persons who profess to be Christians pride themselves on human learning and avidly look to it. Worldliness may creep into their Christian teaching; it did in Corinth. Jesus said to those who tried to put a human interpretation on his words: “It is the spirit that is life-giving; the flesh is of no use at all.” The sum total of human experience and wisdom, all its writings, philosophies and teachings, cannot be relied on for life. They are “of no use at all” as a means to gain eternal life. (John 6:63) So, why spend hours delving into such writings, which give one, at best, not godly, but human, fleshly viewpoints and fashion one like the world? The apostle Paul told Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired of God . . . I solemnly charge you . . . preach the word.”—2 Tim. 3:16–4:2; compare 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 13.
PRAYER AIDS TOWARD SPIRITUAL MANHOOD
16. Why is prayer so important to one who would be spiritual?
16 Prayer is also an invaluable aid to bring our thoughts toward those of God. The humble person, when talking to Jehovah in prayer, is reminded of how far removed he is from God’s perfection and of his need to wrench his thinking away from the world and to elevate it like Jehovah’s. “Pray incessantly,” therefore, is good advice. (1 Thess. 5:17) That is, besides praying regularly on occasions customarily set aside for it in the congregation or in your family, develop an inclination toward prayer, a readiness throughout each day and night to look constantly for Jehovah’s direction. (Compare Psalm 119:62.) Do you know that what you pray for—or fail to pray for—can show whether you have a fleshly frame of mind? That it does can be illustrated.
17. How and why may a husband’s prayers be affected if he neglects or mistreats his wife?
17 The married apostle Peter says that a man is to ‘assign his wife honor as to a weaker vessel,’ dealing with her according to “knowledge.” Why? In order for his prayers not to be hindered. (1 Pet. 3:7) The Christian who knowingly fails to show his wife consideration or to provide her with needed guidance cannot, with a clean conscience, speak freely to God. Rather, he feels condemned, disapproved, knowing that he is not obeying God’s command. He hesitates to speak openly to God, and in view of his unchristian conduct he cannot expect that God will approve or strengthen him in the selfish course he is pursuing. This could be spiritually disastrous. It could mean failure to receive holy spirit, which is vital to maintain faithfulness. Then, because of his weakened condition, he might commit a serious wrong, requiring congregation action. Yes, his personal life, guided, not by God’s thinking, but by the world’s, has affected his prayer to Jehovah and his standing in the Christian congregation. Awareness of this close interaction between his private life and his relationship to God in prayer prompts the appreciative Christian toward godly thinking and action at all times.—Luke 11:9-13; compare James 1:5-8; 1 John 4:17.
THE CONGREGATION’S ROLE IN MAKING YOU A SPIRITUAL PERSON
18, 19. (a) How can the elders in the congregation assist us in developing “the mind of Christ”? (b) What advantage does the spiritual man have over the fleshly one?
18 To be a spiritual person, and, hence, to stand in contrast with the world, one also needs regular association with the modern-day congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. The spiritual elders, appointed by God’s theocratic organization, are able to aid one personally. (Eph. 4:11-16) If there is a symptom in your life indicative of wrong thinking, in time it will “surface,” for any wrong has a way of eventually manifesting itself to observers. (Gal. 6:7; 1 Tim. 5:24, 25) The elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses are discerning men and, with “the mind of Christ,” they often see early warning signs of fleshly thinking in others. They are charged with “carefully watching” so that anyone “not appreciating sacred things [“worldly-minded,” New English Bible]” does not adversely affect the congregation. (Heb. 12:15-17) For one reason or another—wrong associations, secular work or background—you yourself may fail to see things clearly; your thinking may be somewhat fleshly.
19 The apostle Paul said: “A physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually. However, the spiritual man examines indeed all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” (1 Cor. 2:14, 15) A person who insists on looking at things from a fleshly perspective cannot see the wrongness of his position before God. But the spiritual man, attuned to the thinking of Christ, not only understands God’s revealed purpose by means of His spirit, but also sees the erroneous course of the fleshly man. So, then, we will be helped to avoid fleshly tendencies if we accept the aid of the elders in the Christian congregation.
20. Is it only the elders that aid us to become spiritual? Explain.
20 But in many ways we are aided to become spiritual men and women by all of Jehovah’s witnesses, not just by the elders. Mixing with them, we see that the good qualities that we read about in the Bible, and that set Christians apart from the world, are part of the personalities of God’s people today. In addition, many in the congregation have their own outstanding characteristics or abilities. One is hospitable, another is knowledgeable, and yet another is very understanding. Then, there are those who at first appear quite “ordinary.” But as we get to know them, and the struggle they have had to maintain their faith, are we not drawn close to them? We may even find that these “ordinary” persons have already overcome the very problems we yet face. This close association is bound to cultivate in us such qualities as warmth, gentleness and humility. These good qualities are further developed as one shares with the congregation in teaching still other persons “this good news of the kingdom” in the field ministry.—Matt. 24:14.
21. (a) What danger, indicative of a fleshly frame of mine, must be avoided? (b) Enumerate the qualities of the real Christian personality.
21 Of course, as one works to develop a new personality one must be sure that the characteristics one acquires are truly spiritual ones. For instance, the person who thinks he is “spiritual” because he wears a pious expression on his face, or makes extreme sacrifices to appear “righteous” before others, is actually pharisaical. (Matt. 6:5-8) Paul shows in Colossians 2:16-23 that those who delight in “a self-imposed form of worship and mock humility, [or] a severe treatment of the body,” actually have a “fleshly frame of mind.” Not real heartfelt humility, but a prideful desire for prominence motivates their thinking. The real Christian personality is detailed by the apostle Paul thereafter in Colossians 3:5-15:
“Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of those things the wrath of God is coming. In those very things you, too, once walked when you used to live in them. But now really put them all away from you, wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth. Do not be lying to one another. Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it . . . Accordingly, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union. Also, let the peace of the Christ control in your hearts, for you were, in fact, called to it in one body. And show yourselves thankful.”
22, 23. How does Peter’s life show that being a spiritual man does not require that one be perfect?
22 Being a truly spiritual person takes effort. Do not give up on yourself as you work at developing “the mind of Christ.” Remember, just because a person is a spiritual man does not mean that he is in every respect without error and that all his problems and fleshly inclinations vaporize. A few happenings in the life of Peter show this. On one occasion Peter correctly answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” His spiritual viewpoint was commended, Jesus saying, “Flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in the heavens did.” Notice, however, that thereafter when Peter tried to show Jesus a mistaken kindness, he was told: “You think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” Fleshly thinking was still there to be dealt with!—Matt. 16:15-23.
23 Less than a year later, to his grief, Peter, succumbing to fear of man, denied Jesus three times. He repented. But did this tendency to vacillate under crowd pressure just go away? No. Years later Peter again had to be corrected, this time by Paul, for the same weakness. (Luke 22:34, 54-62; Gal. 2:11-14) It seems that Peter, an apostle, a spiritual man, had to work all his life at trying to correct that weakness. Paul, too, tells us that he had to discipline himself to keep his actions proper. (1 Cor. 9:24-27) So, today, a spiritual man may have his weak points, but by earnestly studying God’s Word and applying it in his life and relying on God’s reinforcing spirit he can be aided to overcome them.
24. What other matter regarding being a spiritual person is there yet for us to discuss?
24 But there is yet a major matter to consider as regards proving oneself a truly spiritual person. What is that? Willingness to accept all the opposition that the fleshly world levels against footstep followers of Christ Jesus. You see, the world does not like those who manifest “the mind of Christ.” But you can, if you wish, bear its hatred with great joy and satisfaction. Learn how in the following article.