Saint John Chrysostom Saint John Chrysostom has an excellent sermon titled ‘A Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself.’ In this sermon he shows from Scripture and logic that it is impossible for anyone to injure a person unless the person decides to injure himself. Every Christian should read this sermon once a year because the world would be a different place if all Christians truly understood that no one can harm us spiritually unless we let them.
When people wrong me, when people mistreat me, when people speak evil against me, when people treat me unjustly, I get upset. But why do I get upset? I get upset because I think they are harming me. I need to stop this, because it is a myth from the devil to think that anyone can injure me spiritually. Sure, people can injure me physically and emotionally and psychologically, but none of these things matter or are worth getting upset about since injury in these areas does not correlate to spiritual injury which is the only thing that really matters. In fact, when people injure us physically or emotionally or psychologically or in some other way, we can actually benefit spiritually through this based on how we respond.
The only person who can harm me spiritually is myself. Read St. John’s treatise to find out why.
One of the points the Saint makes in section 8, which is parenthetical to his overall point but which got me thinking, is that the physical condition of those given to debauchery is usually inferior to those given to moderation. The bodies of those who live in moderation are vigorous and healthy with clear senses, whereas the bodies of those devoted to sin tend to be flaccid and beset with various maladies. St. John was addressing his own cultural context and the sins of his day, but the same could be said of sinners in our own time. Look at those whose lives are devoted to substance abuse or the pursuit of other pleasures, or those who give way to mental vices like worry, self-pity or selfish striving. Compare such people to those who live for others, those who pursue moderation in all things and those who practice virtues like humility, gratitude, love and compassion. More times than not, it is those of the latter group who exude a sense of health and well-being, let alone happiness.
We often think that following Christ is too hard. It is hard, but following the devil is also hard work. Just look at the face of someone who has been doing drugs or alcohol abuse or wild partying or the immoderate pursuit of other pleasures – look into their face and you will immediately see that living for oneself is hard work. Look into the face of someone devoted to mental sins like grumbling, selfish striving, pride or self-pity and it’s again clear that sin is difficult.
I’d rather be tired out by prayer, fasting, long church services, memorizing scripture, forgiving those who offend me, giving my money to the poor, crucifying my personal needs for the needs of others, confessing faults I’d rather hide, trying to love my enemies, struggling against my passions, trying to trust God when I don’t feel like it, etc., (not that I successfully do all these things – but I aspire to) than to be tired out by a lifestyle of sin. I’d rather embrace the struggle involved in the spiritual life than the struggle involved in the sinful life. The spiritual life and the sinful life both involve struggle, just as both involve pleasure; they each involve different types of struggles and different types of pleasures. But the end of the spiritual life is eternal rest, whereas the end of sin is continual struggle with no relief.