“He who desires to worship God must harbor no childish illusions about the matter but bravely renounce his liberty and humanity.” This comes from a Russian anarchist named Mikhail Bakunin who died in 1876. But does the worship of God require a renunciation of liberty and humanity? Well, yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that if I am to worship God truly and with a mature seriousness, I will have to understand that making myself a slave of Christ IS freedom and humanity. And No, in the sense that I actually recover myself and my freedom when I abandon the childish notion of my own self-sufficiency without God. In the chaos of today’s civil strife, much can be seen from perpetual adolescence in the behavior of those demanding their “rights” and insisting on “justice.” And it isn’t even because those are bad goals. It’s because the demanders are woefully immature in their understanding of the words they scream.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 13:11-14; 14:1-5:
BRETHREN, when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
St. Paul is once again attempting to help our precious Corinthian parish grow up and say goodbye to the childish ways they have stumbled over again and again.
Here he tells them directly that it’s time to grow up spiritually by confronting them with three childish ways:
First, the childish way of being unteachable. “We see in a mirror dimly.” St. Paul tells these childish followers of Jesus that is unteachable or believing the foolish notion that we see everything clearly now, is a symptom of their childish ways. It’s when each of us believes we have nothing else to learn that we fall into the trap of childish ways. When we fail to hear wisdom, when we stop being teachable, we freeze our maturity in a moment and get stuck there.
Next, the childish way of being self-centered. The Corinthian parish was awash in “spiritual gifts” and emotional experiences and that made them even more self-centered than the most selfish child. We’ve seen this on playgrounds all over. Children are notorious for being so focused on themselves, they have no room to “share” or “play nice” or even recognize the humanity in another. All they know is their own desires and wants. When I focus on myself to the exclusion of others, I stay gripped by the childish ways that always reduce others in my life to those who can serve me.
Finally, the childish way of being shortsighted. Being in the moment can be a good thing when it is based on a mature spiritual life. But when the immediate focus is childish, one is gripped by a tunnel vision that doesn’t allow the person to see trouble coming ahead! That blindness almost always guarantees a life that crashes because of being unprepared for what comes next!
Today, isn’t it time to put away the childishness of spiritual kindergarten and embrace the mature Orthodox Christian life of a purposeful Orthodoxy? The path to spiritual maturity and a consistent Orthodox life lies in the adult life of responsibility and a focus on doing what I must so that I can be free to do what I want! It’s this mature embrace of the purposeful lifestyle of a practicing, disciplined, Orthodox Christian that will help me grow up and be a mature follower of Christ SO THAT I can be truly grown up in Christ.
P.S. Dear Lord, You commanded me to become like a child so that I will be saved. And You commanded me to grow up and be an adult in my faith and my living. Both of these commands are true and right, O Lord. But I confess sometimes I fail to discern when I’m being child-like or childish. Help me be so close to You that Your wisdom shapes and forms me into a mature believer who never loses the child-like trust, love, and confidence, that keeps me close to You! Amen