Wednesday, July 18, 2012

1st Clement 2 - A Corporate Culture

Clement continues to congratulate the Corinthian church on the quality of their character that was both individual and corporate.
"Moreover, ye were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive." (1 Clement 2)
Notice that he does not say "you" but "you all" (or as we say in Virginia "all y'all.") The character that marked the Corinthian church were not just individual but together formed a corporate culture that pervaded the church. This was not a culture that was selected and molded from "the top down" but was the result of individual lives having been changed and purified by the living word of God. The culture of a church is determined by the character of its individual members. To change a church's culture you must first change the character of its people.

Besides their humility, two other characteristics were common among the Corinthian church
"Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes." (1 Clement 2)
The Corinthians shared a sense of contentment that allowed them to live for God and others rather than spending their lives in pursuit of their own selfish interests, wants, and desires. When we become discontented with God and with His allotment for our lives then our devotion and progress towards God gets interrupted as we begin to pursue other things. This often happens when our desire for material things supplants our desire for God. Our lives become a focused pursuit of material wealth while God becomes a hidden afterthought. However, we can also replace a pursuit of God with the pursuit of spiritual things. For example, our pursuit of spiritual power or experiences can become a greater driving force in our lives than our pursuit of God. Consider Simon who desired the same power that the apostles had to impart the Holy Spirit. He offered them money asking, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:19) Desiring the power of the Spirit is not bad, but when we desire the power of God more than the God of the power we have a problem. Simon's discontentment with God lead him down a path of destruction regarding his faith. So much so that, during a chance meeting with Polycarp in Rome, he asked Polycarp if he knew him and Polycarp responded, "I know you, you are the firstborn of Satan."

There was another characteristic that marked the culture of the Corinthian church, that was forgiveness and mercy.
"Full of holy designs, ye did, with true earnestness of mind and a godly confidence, stretch forth your hands to God Almighty, beseeching Him to be merciful unto you, if ye had been guilty of any involuntary transgression. Day and night ye were anxious for the whole brotherhood, that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience. Ye were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one another." (1 Clement 2)
 They were constantly mindful of their lives and quick to repent when they sinned or practiced that which did not please their God. Yet this concern was not solely for their own lives but also the the lives of their brethren and for the world around then; for those who had yet come to know the saving grace of God. In their concern for others they were not quick to find fault but rather quick to ask for mercy. I remember a time when, after observing the behavior of others, I marveled at their sin and their lifestyle that was inconsistent with the Gospel. While I pondered this God said, "If you loved them then you would pray form them." The Corinthian church did not simply identify the sins in others, but they besought God for mercy over those sins as if they were their own sins; it was not judgement they sought but rather mercy and forgiveness. This is a true expression of what Jesus meant when He said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39) They quickly repented of their sins, quickly forgave the sins of others, and were quick to ask for the mercy of God on the sins of their neighbors.

In summation, Clement has this estimation of the character and culture of the church at Corinth,
"Ye never grudged any act of kindness, being 'ready to every good work.' Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, ye did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts." (1 Clement 2)
A true judge of a church is an examination of its culture and the character of its people. Perhaps we need a new yardstick to measure our own church, perhaps we need to reevaluate our own culture and character, perhaps we need a return to earlier values; values that pertain to a "thoroughly virtuous and religious life."

David Robison

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