The grace and consolation of the Christian life is given to those who live and act in faith. Growth in our spiritual life implies pain in just the same way as our bodies experienced growing pains while they were stretched to accommodate our full physical maturity. The spiritually mature do not reach maturity without passing through various, successive and painful deaths. The body stretches painfully to become the place of a soul capable of living out the fullness of it’s human life. The soul is stretched painfully through the guilt and grief of a life lived according to false notions of fullness. Suffering is much more important for our spiritual life than the simple punishment for misdeeds – our own or the misdeeds of others. Christ shows us that suffering is actually the path of holiness which best frees us from our attachment to a life that is beneath our deepest thirst for happiness. Some spiritual growth can only take place when the love that causes us to cling to the world and its passing pleasures faces its own vanity and anxious drive to indulge.
“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” The one who experiences suffering and is able to hate his own life in this world is able to say something similar to himself, “Do I love my God with this heart?” Is my heart not divided amongst so many vain and passing things? Do I love my God with the same heart in which I prefer my own comfort to the needs of the poor? Do I love my God with the same heart in which I prefer human companionship to prayer? Grace works, if we allow it, to progressively cause death to every love within us that isn’t ordered to God. This suffering bears great fruit not only in the life to come but already here below. The peace that the world cannot give comes to us through being healed – by suffering – of the loves that attach us to the world.
Paul is referring to misers when he talks about people who sow sparingly. He says this here because the Corinthians had promised to send something and had subsequently backtracked.1
Accordingly, let us not simply have the recipient in view in showing generosity in almsgiving, but consider who it is who takes as his the kindnesses shown to the poor person and who promises recompense for favors done; and thus let us direct our attention to him while showing all zeal in making offerings with complete enthusiasm, and let us sow generously in season so that we may also reap generously. Scripture says, remember, “he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly.” Let us consequently sow these good seeds generously so that in due season we may reap generously. Now, after all, is the time for sowing, which I beseech you not to ignore, so that on the day of harvesting we may gather the returns of what was sown here and be regaled with loving kindness from the Lord.2
Note how Paul does not pray for riches or abundance but only for enough to live on. Nor is this the only thing he should be admired for. He asks the same thing of the Corinthians.… He wants them to have enough of this world’s goods but more so an overflowing abundance of spiritual blessings.3
THEODORET OF CYR:
Paul adds the prophetic testimony which shows that indifference to money is the beginning of eternal life.4
If God rewards those who till the earth with abundance, how much more will he reward those who till the soil of heaven in caring for the soul?5
How many more wonders appear, if you examine each plant, noticing how the seed when laid in the earth decays and, if it did not die, would bear no fruit. But when it decays, by that very act of death, it rises up to bear fruit in greater abundance. The pliable sod receives, then, a grain of wheat. The scattered seed is controlled by the use of the hoe, and mother earth cherishes it in firm embraces to her breast. When that grain decays, there comes the pleasing aspect of the green burgeoning shoot, which immediately reveals its kind from its similarity to its own seed, so that you may discover the nature of the plant even in the very beginning of its growth, and its fruit, too, is made evident to you.6
A cutting from the vine planted in the ground bears fruit in its season, or a kernel of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed rises and is multiplied by the Spirit of God, who contains all things. And then, through the wisdom of God, it serves for our use when, after receiving the Word of God, it becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time. The Word of God grants them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption. This is so because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from ourselves, or become exalted against God with ungrateful minds.7
Only a human being would ask, “How can someone who loves himself deny himself?” God … says to such a person, “Let him deny himself, if he loves himself.” By loving himself, you see, he loses himself; by denying himself, he finds himself. “Whoever loves his soul,” he says, “let him lose it.” … It is a painful thing to lose what you love.…
There is not anyone, after all, who does not love himself. But we have to look for the right sort of love and avoid the wrong sort. You see, anyone who loves himself by leaving God out of his life (and leaves God out of his life by loving himself), does not even remain in himself. He actually leaves his self. He goes away into exile from his own heart by taking no notice of what is inside and instead only loving what is outside.… For instance, let me ask you this: Are you money?… And yet, by loving money, you end up abandoning yourself. First you abandon and then later end up destroying yourself. Love of money, you see, has caused you to destroy yourself. You tell lies on account of money. … While looking for money, you have destroyed your soul.
Bring out the scales of truth … and put on one side money, on the other the soul.… But do not weigh it yourself. You want to cheat yourself.… Let God do the weighing—the one who does not know how to deceive or be deceived.… Watch him weighing them and then listen to him announce the result: “What does it profit someone if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul?”.… You were willing to lose your soul in order to acquire the earth. This soul, however, outweighs heaven and earth combined. But you do this because by leaving God out of your life and loving yourself, you have also gone away from yourself. You end up valuing other things, which are outside you, more than yourself. Come back to yourself. But then turn upward when you have come back to yourself; do not stay in yourself. First come back to yourself from the things outside you, and then give yourself back to the one who made you, who looked for you when you were lost and found you when you were a runaway.8
CAESARIUS OF ARLES:
Do not make for yourself members over which, when they have begun to be cut away, you will grieve and be afflicted. What then? Rise from that love with which you love things that are lower than you, and begin to love your equals, that is, things that are what you are.… The Lord himself has told us in the Gospel and clearly showed us in what order we may have true love and charity. For he spoke in this way, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul and with your whole strength. And your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, first love God and then yourself. After these, love your neighbor as yourself.9
THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA:
The one who appears to be so concerned with his life here that he does not want to submit it to testing will lose it in the future world. The one who hates his life, and in this world exposes it to afflictions, gathers much more fruit for himself. Jesus does not express this idea as if he wants to reveal here something about life. Rather, he simply identifies love for life as something that is prevalent among us as we seek to defend, preserve and protect our body and life from any possible danger.10
But when no other choice is given you, when the persecutor threatens death and you must either disobey God’s law or leave this life … then hate your life in this world so that you may keep it to life eternal.11
The present life is sweet and full of much pleasure—not for everyone, although it is for those riveted to it. The moment anyone looks to heaven, however, and sees the beauty that is there, he will soon despise this life as if it counted for nothing. The beauty of an object is admired, in other words, as long as there is nothing more beautiful to be seen. But when something better comes along, the earlier object loses its luster.… The one who loves his life in this world loses it by indulging its inordinate desires.… The one who hates it resists them. Notice, it does not say “who does not yield to” but “who hates.” For as we cannot bear to hear the voice or see the face of those whom we hate, so when the soul invites us to things contrary to God, we should turn it away from them with all our might.12
And so, when you hear the Lord saying, “Where I am, there shall also my servant be,” do not think merely of good bishops and clergy. But you yourselves should also serve Christ in your own way by good lives, by giving to the poor, by preaching his name and doctrine as best as you can too. Every father [or mother] … too will be filling an ecclesiastical and episcopal kind of office by serving Christ in their own homes when they serve their families so that they too may be with him forever.13
- COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 279). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON GENESIS 34.8. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (pp. 279–280). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 19.2. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 281). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 335. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 281). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 20.1. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 281). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SIX DAYS OF CREATION 3.8.34. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 60). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- AGAINST HERESIES 5.2.3. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 60). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 330.2–3. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 173.4–5. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 62). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 5.12.25. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 62). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 51.10. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 62). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 67.1. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 62). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 51.12–13. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 63). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.