George Elliot once said “Selfish, a judgement readily passed by those who have never tested their power of sacrifice.” That’s so true. Most of the times of selfishness in my own life flow from those moments when I was afraid that I’d disappear if I truly gave of myself. Of course, those are also the times when I felt most alone.
And then there were times when I selfishly praised myself for my generosity only to watch that same generosity not be returned to me. The proof of my selfish motivations for being “generous” were found in the resulting loneliness and bitterness that I had let myself be “taken advantage of.” Wow, it seems WHY I act reveals a great deal of WHO I am.
But what if my motivations can be formed and transformed to become truly like Jesus Christ?
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:
Brethren, to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
St. Paul is dealing with his rowdy Corinthian parish and he is approaching that place in his letter of correction to them when he talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Paul, all the troubles in the Corinth parish can be boiled down into their mindless disregard for their relationships with each other.
Their relationship problems are seen in the symptoms of their conflicts. First, there is a moral problem in the parish where a man is actually living in an inappropriate relationship with his step-mother and he’s still being allowed to take the Eucharist in the parish community. Then there is the symptom of the Corinth parish not appreciating the reality of the Eucharist when the rich people in the parish are bringing lavish meals to consume after the Eucharist and the poor in the parish are both shamed and excluded from these feasts. Then, of course, you have the disregard for both humility and wisdom as the Corinth parish struggles with several parishioners who think they have gifts of the Holy Spirit that are more attention getting than actual ministry to the community.
All in all, you have a parish that isn’t nearly as formed into a real community as they might think they are. You see, the Corinth parish was in a wealthy part of the Empire. It was cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and well traveled. Corinth was a seaport where the creme-dela-creme gathered and lived. And the Orthodox parish there were made up of this Empire cosmopolitan crowd. They were educated and wealthy and deeply gripped by selfish attitudes and actions.
It had to be healed, or else the community would never actually be Orthodox Christian.
And Paul starts this corrective process by drilling down to what motivates these less than Christian behaviors – The WHY. Paul rightly diagnoses their weakness and spiritual illness in their motivations for their actions. They are motivated by selfish automatic pilot! They are acting this way BECAUSE they are thoughtlessly self centered. And being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ is supposed to change that. But how?
By understanding that the gifts we have, the talents we possess, the work we do, and the strength we have are all meant “for the common good.” Now, don’t get distracted by your thoughtlessness in understanding what that means. A too quick assumption of this will take you down the wrong path. This “common good” means that the people around you are meant to benefit from your selfless attitude and actions. The evil one wants me to be distracted by delusions like “the poor” or “the needy” nameless, faceless characters I can depersonalize and pretend I’m generous to without actually having to do the hard work of communion with real people with real names! The Holy Spirit was given to the Corinth Christians and us precisely to overcome this temptation to depersonalizing my generosity and ultimately feeding my selfish motivations! We are not saved alone, dear one. We are saved in real, difficult, and costly relationships that demand we see our destructive selfishness addressed, repented of, and healed from!
Today, have you ever spent the time necessary to uncover your motivations? Why are you good? Do you live for yourself or “for the common good?” Being Orthodox on Purpose is a lifestyle where I invite the Holy Spirit to transform my motives and heal my soul!
P.S. Lord help me do the hard work of examining my motives without the distractions of shame or despondency. Grant me the grace of humility and trust in Your love so that I will constantly invite You to strengthen me in Your Love and mercy. Grant me the strength to keep this Nativity Fast well to strengthen my faith! Help me be self forgetful in a healthy way for the good of those whom I say I love. Amen.