“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)
The intellectual Christian – the Christian who has reduced faith in Jesus Christ to rational belief in Christian theology and not in attaining through grace the likeness of the Teacher – will often condemn other Christians as being simple-minded. The truth of the matter is the “simple-minded” Christian – if he or she is in fact a sincere disciple of Jesus Christ – is not simple-minded but simple-hearted, i.e., humble, open and cooperative with the Holy Spirit that leads such souls into all truth. (Cf. Jn. 16:13)
Anyone who has spent any time with children know very well that they are not simple-minded, as their brains are soaking in every bit of life’s data like a sponge. Their minds are overflowing with intricate analyses and endless questions of “What?” and especially “Why?” Yet, amidst such complexity due to their intellectual development is a profound simplicity due to their simple-heartedness. This is the childlike quality Jesus wishes his followers to reacquire, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt. 19:14)
The Christian, if he or she wishes to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed – especially as an occupation or apostolate – must be careful not to do so with earthly wisdom but with “God’s wisdom”. God’s wisdom is a mystery – a “hidden wisdom” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7) – that is not comprehended with the rational mind but with a loving heart. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight,” (1 Cor. 3:19) and even if we have the ability to understand all mysteries and all knowledge but have not love, we are nothing. (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:2)
The primary difference between the teaching of earthly and human wisdom as opposed to heavenly and divine wisdom is found in the heart of the person preaching and the spirit they instill into the hearts of others. The contrast is revealed by the teacher’s intention and objective – something they may not even be consciously aware of. This modern edition of the scribe and Pharisee will most likely boast it is simply their evangelical missionary spirit or duty from the Great Commission to save people from the error that will lead them to hell or their crusader-like chivalry to defend the reputation of Christ and his Church, but this is not always or even often the case.
This is the key that unlocks the door of secret motives and hidden agendas, unbridled passions and the unseen warfare:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas. 3:13-17)
Here we see two primary attributes of the false teacher: bitter envy and selfish ambition. These are not merely personal quirks or human imperfections but are actually fruits of the “unspiritual” and the “demonic.” (Jas. 3:15)
It was through pride and envy that Lucifer fell like lightening – a jealousy of God’s only begotten Son, who would sit on the throne of glory – and the resentment of the Father’s benevolent love on his creation – especially man, who is created in God’s image. “With envy against the Son of God, that day. Honored by his great Father, and proclaimed. Messiah King anointed, could not bear. Through pride that sight, and thought himself impaired.” (John Milton, Paradise Lost, V, 662-665)
This fall of the angels from heaven is what led to the fall of man in the garden. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. (No. 391)
The word “Satan” and “devil” mean: one who opposes or resists; to annoy, torment or harass; an adversary; an accuser; a slanderer. Do we not see these same attributes in the countless self-appointed prophetic watchdogs, blogger apologists and “new evangelists” or even in the comments from their readers, critics and trolls? Do we not encounter these even among our family members and friends, co-workers and even fellow Christian believers? In all honesty, do we not at times possess them ourselves?
Bitter envy is often rooted in the false teacher’s insecurity of his own faith and salvation. He must convert other people to his position in order to confirm the belief to himself and to assure himself of the salvation he will receive simply through correct belief, good behavior or (the right) church membership.
Even worse, it is often accompanied by the fear that God would reward equally or (God forbid!) more lavishly those who know less, believe differently or (truth be known) that they be rewarded at all! (Cf. Mt. 20:1-16) In fact, this feigned love quickly turns to vengeance – with all kinds of condemnations and name calling: “heretic”, “apostate”, “schismatic” etc. – when the potential convert doesn’t fall on their knees crying, “What must I do to be as enlightened and as spiritual as YOU?”
Selfish-ambition is often rooted in the false teacher’s egoism, the necessity to feel superior to others, and the passion to turn their faith into material gain, power, vainglory or some other end other than a response to God’s love in the form of obedience to his will. Christian careerism is as old as the faith itself, and it is not only pursued by those who seek to avoid hard work or those who sincerely wish to earn an honest living fulfilling the calling they have received from the Holy Spirit. “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:14)
A more common form of selfish-ambition or careerism is the presumption that conversion to Christ entitles the Christian to all the treasures and pleasures of this world – in fact, proof of God’s favor and predetermined salvation – or simply that people will always agree with them or change their beliefs accordingly, that things will always go their way or should, and that the entire world will accommodate their every whim and fancy as some form of congratulations for signing up for the Jesus Christ fan club. In fact, they consider themselves well on their way to becoming president.
This attempted shortcut or fast-track to salvation is a personal reenactment of the fall and perpetuation of the ancestral sin, where the Christian refuses to attain through testing, struggle and cooperation with God’s grace the deification of his soul but merely wishes it to be granted passively through some sort of transfusion or apparition or (for some) a spiritual diploma for good works or academic learning. The reality is that this is a severe lack of spiritual maturity, sincerity of faith, ignorance of the Gospel or simply put – sin.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (Jas. 4:1-3)
So how do we become simple-hearted in order to avoid bitter envy and selfish ambition and the “conceit of human wisdom” (The Ladder of Divine Ascent)? Well, there is no manual for the Christian life. If there were a type of 7 Easy Steps… or Hitchhiker’s Guide to Heaven, the temptation would again be to equate knowing the manual without living it or embodying it externally without sufficient interior conversion.
The Gospel is summarized in the Beatitudes (cf. Mt. 5:3-10) and the Law and Prophets in the commandments to love God and to love others (cf. Mt. 22:37-40) – even one’s enemies. In short, we must become love, as God is love. (Cf. 1 Jn. 4:16) Sometimes we have not simply because we ask not (Cf. Jas. 4:2) but “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 Jn. 5:14)
In other words, if we truly want the simple-heartedness of the child, all we have to do pray with the willingness to do whatever our divine Teacher tells us (cf. Jn. 2:5), and he will give us the kingdom. “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Mt. 11:25)
And then, after we have acquired this childlike heart (even in the smallest measure) our humble and simple preaching of conversation and lifestyle, blogging or apologetics, service to the needy or whatever the apostolate we are called to, will be better received, and it will produce a “harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:18) “One should preach not from one’s rational mind but rather from the heart. Only that which is from the heart can touch another heart.” (Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica)
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on MONKROCK and is republished here with kind permission.