“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another…”
It is one thing to say that I ought not to think too highly of myself but rather to think soberly with regard to personal self-esteem – it is one thing to say that but it is another matter to understand that Paul literally expects each and everyone of us to appropriate our ability to understand our experience and to understand what he is writing, as well as to act responsibly as Christians with regard to what we understand. The word translated as “sober” means not merely “clearheaded,” but more to Paul’s point “arriving at the right judgment by being attentive and careful.” Further more this verse is highly formal in structure – one could even say that Paul is handing over a formulary, a practice, or even activities. And these activities go back to the beginning of chapter 12 where the emphasis is on the reasonable worship of the Creator that renews, refreshes, and transforms the mind of the worshipper. The mind of the worshipper is transformed – the form of the Christian mind is changed so that it conforms to ultimate reality, which we know in the worship of Jesus Christ. The upshot is that the Christian may intellectually grasp God’s perfect will. One thing I want you to see is that far from endorsing an anti-intellectualism that regards the Christian way in life as some form of super spiritual, unmediated, pietism, Paul is absolutely committed to the role of disciplined thinking as the very ground of Christian living.
And it was in the presence of Christians together at one another’s baptisms and the baptisms of their children and the baptisms of new converts to Jesus; and in the presence of one another in the worship of the Messiah Jesus in the Holy Communion; and in the presence of one another as they cared for the poor, the sick, the loathed and the scorned – because of all that Paul’s talk of members of the one Body has ultimate meaning for us. Just as your physical body is composed of members so the Church is the Body of Christ and we are members. Members as in hands, feet, eyes and ears not members as a list of names on a roll – members as in “body parts” is Paul’s point, we are all members of Christ – as a living organism. And then Paul made what for me was a surprising but very logical conclusion: Not only are we members of Christ but we are also “every one members one of another,” which phrase means that in some fashion being a member of Christ is also being a member of the other person who is a member of Christ. The Greek here is very strong and it is as though Paul is underscoring the reality of both the Body of Christ and the reality of the individual Christian who is, as it were, a body-part of Christ. Both are important: the union of the Body and the integrity of what we call the individual human person. To not think to highly of myself may begin by realizing that I am a member of you and you are a member of me and that is our reality as members of the Body of Christ, the Church. But honestly it is a hard thing to live up and it is a hard thing to understand because I am not you and you are not me and all we have to go on regarding our ultimate concerns with regard to one another is what we say to one another, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and what we do, that we have been baptized and partake of the Holy Communion. I want to say something about the good of the human person – but also how human beings are incomplete until we are reborn into the Body of the Messiah.
Queen Elizabeth I is frequently quoted as saying, “I would not open windows into men’s souls,” by which she meant that she had no intention of peering into the hearts of her subjects to see if they were Anglicans or Papists or Calvinists or Unitarians or whatever. But lets face it – it is just as well that Elizabeth forsook opening up windows into the souls of her subjects because that is an impossible action anyway. No one can see into another person’s heart no matter what they think and people who claim know the interior life of other people should be cautioned for they are either deceived or they are attempting to deceive some one else and they should be avoided if they continue in that error. This is especially true for what has come to be called the “word of knowledge” which is a misinterpretation of a one of the gifts that Paul list to mean that some people have special supernatural knowledge of God’s will for your life. I will deal with this fully later on, but for now let me just say that anyone who tells you that God has revealed his specific will for your life to them is either delusional or he is intentionally attempting to deceive someone. There is no such gift in the New Testament. But I will get back to the specific gift later. Right now I want to look at the individual Christian.
St. Paul wrote:
“For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” I Corinthians 2: 11
I always experience a sense of loneliness when I think about the meaning of these verses because I know even though I am a member of Christ still I know that I am, in a sense, alone within myself. Absolutely no one but God can peer into my soul to know and experience my interior life along with me. All of Elizabeth’s powers as the Queen of England were helpless when it came to really and truly looking into the souls of her subjects. Even though it is a fact that we are members of Christ and “every one members one of another” it is still true that no one can really know me without my willingness and my active participation in being known by the other person. By the way, it is important for everyone to remember this: as loving and intimate as husbands and wives may be, as loving and caring as parents are to their children, as loving and respectful we may be in the Body of Christ – the reality of our life together is that no one can really know me without my willingness and my active participation in being known by the other person.
I am speaking of the poignant truth that we are “every one members one of another” and yet none of us can enter into the other person’s interior life no matter how much we love one another, no matter how much we wish to know one another, no matter how much we wish to be known – it is simply impossible. This is how we are created; it is not a matter of the sin or the fall, it is a matter of being human, of being a living soul. What is a matter of the sin, sickness is what we have lost: That there was a time when there was no loneliness in the world. Once there was a time when man’s interior life was filled with sweet communion between him and his Creator. (What is impossible for man is possible with God.) But now all that remains is God’s omniscient presence, which is the theologian’s way to say that God is everywhere. So yes, God is in my soul by definition, but the knowledge of God’s presence without Christ is the experience of ultimate judgment not of mercy and peace. But in the beginning there was no loneness. In the beginning God and man shared a communion of love in which man was known and cherished inside and out by his Creator. But our communion of love with our Creator was lost in the fall and man experienced himself as thrown and alone in the world. This loneliness still lingers in us till we come to Jesus the Messiah. Maybe it was such an experience of loneliness that led Blaise Pascal to write:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself…”
Pascal’s thought has been reduced to the more familiar phrase: “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every person that only God can fill.” And Augustine seems to be thinking of something like this experience in the opening words of his Confessions when his initial reflection upon his personal story and God’s story swells to finality:
“You move us to delight in praising you; for you have formed us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”
The point that I am making is that you know by experience that there is at the center of your being a loneliness that no other person, no angel, no other being, no created thing can enter into even if you wanted them to, even if you say, “here I am wide open,” it would not matter because it is simply impossible – there is in that experience only you and God and that is the way it will always be.
And yet we know by the infallible doctrines of the Church that we are “every one of us members one of another” and so I have to contend with my experience and I have to do so faithfully as I can as a Christian. What I want to suggest to you is that rather than avoiding this experience of loneliness it is better to face the truth and that means facing two truths at once and by doing so we may learn, every one of us, how not to exaggerate our self-esteem and how we are persons with an impenetrable interior life and consciousness and we are also every one of us really and truly members one of another. We will never grow windows so that we can see into one another’s souls, but we can respect the limits that God has created for our life together and live according to those limits. We can cherish the fact that we have an interior life of sweet communion that each person may share with God almighty in prayer and the sacrament of the altar. We can strive to bring men and women to Christ and his Kingdom. We can learn to esteem one another more highly than ourselves. And by understanding what Paul is saying about your soul and God, and about the Church, we can know that by behaving the way Paul says we should behave in the Church, in our families, and in our communities we may distinguish the experience of loneliness from the experience of isolation. We can know the difference between the experience of solitude, which is a faculty of our creation as persons, and the experience of seclusion, which is a distortion of creation and of ourselves.