The word of the day is “received.” It takes the spiritual gift of discernment to recognize the difference between what comes from our own ego and what comes from the Spirit of Christ. What originates in our ego comes from our own pride. But we receive what is of Christ. We can only accept it with humility and gratitude as a gift. In today’s study, we will learn that this attitude will enable us to set aside the pride that is so divisive and attain the peace of contentment with what God gives.
In our reading of 1 Cor. 4:5-8, St. Paul sternly rebukes the boasting of the Corinthians. Their judgments of each other are driving a wedge between them. And they are wielding their supposed superior wisdom and knowledge against one another. But St. Paul pulls out their pride by the roots. He asks, “Who is making you differ from one another?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And then he gets at the core of their divisions. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
The Corinthians Claim More Than the Blessings Already Given
Recall that at the beginning of his letter, the apostle said, “…you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge” (1 Cor.1:5). And in chapter 3, he added, “… all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours (1 Cor. 3:22). He went on, “And you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:24).
Paul has pointed out that Christ has called the Corinthians to be his own. Moreover, the Lord has already supplied his own with every blessing. But the problem is that the believers in Corinth are claiming more. They are bragging that they have acquired even loftier wisdom and knowledge, even more incredible blessings, even more immense riches, and an even higher kingship (1 Cor. 4:8). But Paul responds that they have not received these supposed better things from Christ. Their own ego has deceived them into thinking that they are on a higher spiritual level than others.
The Claims of Pride Cause a Vicious Cycle
But this claim has caused bitter conflicts in the Corinthians congregation. When one pretends to be better than others, they will respond with their own claims of superiority. So begins a vicious cycle of allegations and recriminations driven by pride. Each side defines itself by contrasting its knowledge, spiritual gifts, and status before God with the others. And each side has a champion of its arrogance. As Paul puts it, “You are puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (OSB vs. 6).
The Recourse of Humility
Against such pride, there is only one recourse, humility. Humility does not think of itself as different from others except in lowliness. It will not go beyond what is written in the scriptures. It will believe it is already “full,” that is, “satisfied” (Strong’s #2880).
It will not think of itself as spiritually rich. Humbleness does not believe that it already reigns in the Kingdom of God (OSB vs. 8). In summary, humility will realize that whatever wisdom, knowledge, spiritual gifts, and blessings it has, it has received.
The Lord said, “You will know them by their fruits (NKJV Matthew 7:1). One test of spiritual attainment is peace. Those who are truly advanced in the Spirit have peace of mind and share the peace of God. St. Anatoly of Optina said, “Wherever God is — there is peace. And the opposite is self-evident: where there is envy, enmity, impatience, self-love — there is the devil. Wherever the devil is — there, everything is ruinous, proud, and hostile.”[i] Thus in today’s reading, we see the prime example of these fruits of the devil in the prideful and divisive behavior of the Corinthians.
Attaining Peace by Receiving Whatever the Lord Gives
How do we attain peace? We put aside all that St. Anatoly lists: pride, hostility, and destructiveness. And we acquire the virtue of contentment. Such peace of mind comes when we open our hands to receive whatever God wills to give us and open our hearts to receive nothing but Him. This attitude of serenity is in contrast to the ceaseless quest to have and hold by our own efforts. And it is the opposite of the claim that we have achieved what we have, either spiritually or materially, by our own works.
To gain contentment, we might reflect on the truth that we have received from the Lord whatever wisdom, knowledge, and blessings that we have. Moreover, He will supply whatever else that we need for eternal life and salvation. In this peace of mind and heart, we can cultivate the virtues of humility and gratitude and so root out pride from our hearts.
[i] St. Anatoly of Optina, quoted from Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina.