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 comes from our ego bolsters our pride. But what comes from Christ engenders our humility. Pride divides us from others. But in humility we can be united with others.
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 has planted the divisions among you? “Who is making you differ from one another?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And then he digs up the root of their divisions. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
What We Have Is Cause for Humility
Today our reading prompts us to reflect on what we have received from the Lord without reason for boasting but with cause for humility.
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). But he went on, “And you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:24).
God Has Already Supplied Them With Every Blessing
Paul has pointed out that the Corinthians are called to be Christ’s own, and that He has already supplied His own with every blessing. But the problem is that the Corinthians are claiming even more than God gives. They are bragging that they have acquired even loftier wisdom and knowledge, even greater blessings, even larger riches, and even higher kingship (1 Cor. 4:8).
But they have not received these supposed better things from Christ. Their own ego has deceived them to think that they are on a higher spiritual level than others. But this claim has caused bitter conflicts in the Corinthian congregation. When one pretends to be better than others, others will respond with their own claims of superiority. So begins a vicious cycle of allegation and recrimination driven by pride. Each side will define itself by its contrast with the others in knowledge, spiritual gifts, and status before God. And each side will choose a champion of its arrogance. As Paul puts it, “You are puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (OSB vs. 6).
Humility Is the Only Weapon Against Pride
Against such pride there is only one recourse, humility. Humility will not think of itself as different from others. Humility will not go beyond what is written in the scriptures. Humility will not think it is already are “full,” that is, “satisfied” (Strong’s #2880). It will not think of itself as spiritually rich. Humbleness will not believe that it already reigns in the kingdom of God (OSB vs. 8).
And in summary humility will realize that whatever wisdom, knowledge, spiritual gifts, and blessings it possesses, 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] Today we see the prime example of these fruits of the devil in the prideful and divisive behavior of the Corinthians.
Attaining Peace in the Way of St. Anatoly
How do we attain peace? We put aside all that St. Anatoly lists as the signs of pride and 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 when we open our hearts to receive nothing but Him.
This serene attitude 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 by our own works or worthiness.
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 has promised that 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.