General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, A - Part 2: Romans through Philemon, by Witness Lee


The third main principle in 1 Corinthians is that a believer can be spiritual, soulish, or fleshly, even fleshy. Simply speaking, a spiritual person is one who lives and walks by his spirit, whose soul is always subdued by the spirit, and whose body, the flesh, is always under the control of the strong will of his renewed soul. Such a one lives, walks, and acts by the spirit with his soul subdued and with the flesh controlled.

A soulish person, on the other hand, is neither fleshly nor spiritual but simply natural. This kind of person is one who lives by the soul, that is, by the intellect, by the mind, by the reasonings, by the will, and by the emotion. Whereas there is nothing sinful or fleshly with him, there is neither anything spiritual. He is neutral to being fleshly, and he is neutral to being spiritual. He does things, lives, and acts always by his intellect, by his will, or by his emotion.

Such a person cannot understand the things of God (2:14). There is no potential for him to know the spiritual things because he does not have the spiritual discernment. He simply cannot discern spiritual things because he does not exercise his spirit, which is the spiritual organ to know the spiritual things. For a soulish man to discern spiritual things may be compared to exercising our ears to substantiate color. It is impossible to listen to colors; this is to exercise the wrong organ. There is no potential for our ears to realize colors. If we want to substantiate color, we need to exercise our eyes. In the same way, we cannot know spiritual things if we live by the soul, by our mentality, reasoning, intellect, mind, will, or emotion. No matter how good we may be, we are still not spiritual; we are soulish.

A fleshly person is one fully controlled by the flesh. His soul is controlled by his flesh, and his spirit is covered by his soul. This person acts, lives, and does things by the flesh. The Corinthian believers were not only fleshly but even fleshy. There is a difference between being fleshly and fleshy. The case mentioned in chapters one and three, for example, involves fleshly believers. These persons caused divisions and strife, saying, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ” (1:12). Those persons with jealousy and strife were fleshly (3:3). The cases in chapters five and six, however, are more serious, involving people who were not only fleshly but fleshy, those who lived, walked, and did things by the fallen flesh. Fleshy denotes a person who does evil things directly from his flesh. Fleshly denotes a person who does things under the influence of the nature of the flesh and partakes of the character of the flesh. Quarreling, making divisions, and envying are matters done under the influence of the flesh. However, to do the evil things by the fallen flesh, as recorded in chapter five, is to be fleshy, even like an animal.

All of this indicates that we can do things either by the spirit as a spiritual man, by the soul as soulish persons, by the flesh directly as fleshy persons, or under the influence of the flesh as fleshly persons. This is why Paul used these four different words in chapters two and three: soulish (2:14), spiritual (v. 15), fleshy (3:1), and fleshly (v. 3).

I hope that you will keep these principles in mind and put them into practice. In the next chapter we will see at least ten problems in 1 Corinthians that illustrate how much we need to take Christ on the positive side and experience the cross on the negative side. All the time we must look to the Lord’s help to realize that as Christians we must always learn to apply Christ as everything in our family, in the church, in our daily walk, and in the church service. In addition, before we quarrel with others, do something for others, or deal with others, we must learn to apply the cross to ourselves. Moreover, we must realize that although we may have the best things, such as gifts, signs, knowledge, and wisdom, those things are not Christ Himself. It is not a matter of these things; we must have Christ. If we do not have Christ, we are finished; we may still remain infants in Christ and fleshly. In addition, we must realize that even though we are the children of God, we may still be something other than spiritual; we may be soulish, fleshly, and even fleshy. We must be burdened and trust the Lord that we may all walk in the spirit.

(General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, A - Part 2: Romans through Philemon, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)