Friday, August 31, 2012

1st Clement 9 to 12 - Those who lived well

Clement instructs us to consider those who have lived well in the past.
"Let us stedfastly contemplate those who have perfectly ministered to His excellent glory." (Clement 9)
He counsels us to think deeply and continuously about those who have "perfectly ministered" to God's "excellent glory." So how does one perfectly minister to God's glory? Here is a summary of the saints from the past that Clement includes among those who have successfully done this.
"Enoch, who, being found righteous in obedience, was translated, and death was never known to happen to him. Noah, being found faithful, preached regeneration to the world through his ministry; and the Lord saved by him the animals which, with one accord, entered into the ark." (Clement 9)

"Abraham, styled 'the friend,' was found faithful, inasmuch as he rendered obedience to the words of God. He, in the exercise of obedience, went out from his own country, and from his kindred, and from his father’s house, in order that, by forsaking a small territory, and a weak family, and an insignificant house, he might inherit the promises of God... On account of his faith and hospitality, a son was given him in his old age; and in the exercise of obedience, he offered him as a sacrifice to God on one of the mountains which He showed him." (Clement 10)

"On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country round was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those that hope in Him, but gives up such as depart from Him to punishment and torture." (Clement 11)

"On account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab the harlot was saved. For when spies were sent by Joshua, the son of Nun, to Jericho, the king of the country ascertained that they were come to spy out their land, and sent men to seize them, in order that, when taken, they might be put to death." (Clement 12)
The qualities that are common to those who have ministered well to God's glory include: obedience, godliness, faithfulness, faith, and hospitality. In addition, by reflection on one who did not live well, Clement adds continuance as a necessity for those who would live for God.
"For Lot’s wife, who went forth with him, being of a different mind from himself and not continuing in agreement with him [as to the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt unto this day. This was done that all might know that those who are of a double mind, and who distrust the power of God, bring down judgment on themselves and become a sign to all succeeding generations." (Clement 11).
One of these qualities that I find intriguing is the inclusion of "hospitality." Of all the other qualities, this one directly refers to our behavior towards others rather than towards God. Ministering to the glory of God can never be divorced from ministering to those made in His image.

These are the qualities of those who who would live well with God; those whose life would be an example of how to minister to God's glory. These are the characters of life that we should seek to cultivate in our own lives as we continue in our walk with God.

David Robison

Thursday, August 23, 2012

1st Clement 8 to 9 - A Declaration of Repentance

Both God and His messengers have spoken of and declared the repentance that God made available to all, God Himself interposing the invitation with an oath.
"The ministers of the grace of God have, by the Holy Spirit, spoken of repentance; and the Lord of all things has himself declared with an oath regarding it, 'As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of the sinner, but rather his repentance;' adding, moreover, this gracious declaration, 'Repent, O house of Israel, of your iniquity. Say to the children of My people, Though your sins reach from earth to heaven, I and though they be redder than scarlet, and blacker than sackcloth, yet if ye turn to Me with your whole heart, and say, Father! I will listen to you, as to a holy people.'” (1 Clement 7)
It is interesting to note that Clement obviously read the Septuagint version of the Old Testament scriptures rather than the Hebrew version that most of us, at least as Protestants, are more familiar with. This was because they were the only scriptures Clement had in his own language. It is also important to note how he refers to those who wrote about repentance in the Old Testament. He calls them "ministers of grace" and indicates that they spoke by the "Holy Spirit". Often, today, when we think of those who preach repentance we think of the "fire and brimstone" types of preachers. However, Clement saw those who announced God's offer of repentance as those who ministers His grace and favor. He spoke of preachers that came in a different spirit than many of our more famous, and in some ways, more caustic preachers. The message of repentance does not have to be hard, rather it must be seasoned with the grace and favor of God. God offers repentance, not because He is mad or angry with us, but rather because he loves us and greatly desires us to return to Him. It is because of His favor towards us that He extends to us the opportunity to repent.
"Desiring, therefore, that all His beloved should be partakers of repentance, He has, by His almighty will, established [these declarations]." (1 Clement 8)
So how should we respond to such a gracious offer?
"Wherefore, let us yield obedience to His excellent and glorious will; and imploring His mercy and loving-kindness, while we forsake all fruitless labours, and strife, and envy, which leads to death, let us turn and have recourse to His compassions." (1 Clement 9)
Clement outlines our process of response. First is our response of obedience. It is God's glorious will that we repent and return to him, but often it is not our inglorious will. We must first respond in obedience, submitting ourselves to His glorious will. Secondly, we must confess our sins and ask for His forgiveness and for His mercy and loving-kindness. We must come clean with God and trust in His grace and His love for everyone and for us specifically. Thirdly, we must forsake our old lives. Repentance is not just about us feeling better. Repentance is a change of heart, a turning in our mind, a turning away from one thing or lifestyle and towards another thing or lifestyle. We must completely forsake and turn away from our old life; our life of sin, strife, and envy; a life that leads to death. And lastly, we must turn towards God. Repentance is not a process that we can do on our own, it is a process that is initiated, sustained, and perfected by and with God. We must not trust in our own strength of will or flesh, but we must trust in God's compassion and His strength in our lives. Compassion means to suffer with. As we go through the process of repentance we must realize that God is right there, going through it with us, and He is ever ready to strengthen us in our time of need. Repentance might be painful, but we are never alone in the process.

David Robison

Sunday, August 19, 2012

1st Clement 7 - Grace of Repentance

Once envy has taken root in our soul, there is only one tool that is effective enough to excise it from our life; that tool is repentance. Clement says this of repentance,
"Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world." (1 Clement 7)
The blood of Jesus is precious; it is precious to God for the price it cost Him and it is precious to use because of what it accomplished and because of what it made known. Clement says that the blood of Christ has made know to the world the "grace of righteousness." The grace of righteousness has always been present as Clement reminds us,
"Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him." (1 Clement 7)
From generation to generation God, by His grace and favor, has offered repentance and forgiveness to all who were willing, even to those who were aliens of His covenants.
"Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were aliens [to the covenant] of God." (1 Clement 7)
The Ninevites were by no means in the mainstream of God's redemptive history. They did not have God's laws nor did they know of His covenants, yet they found grace and forgiveness with God because of their hearts of repentance and their willingness to amend their ways. Jonah came preaching God's judgment and, in response, they repented of their ways and headed God's word. Those who did not know God found grace and forgiveness though repentance.

God's grace of repentance was available to mankind throughout all of history but it was the shed blood of Jesus that brought this grace truly to light. This is because, through His blood, Jesus became both the, "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:26) God is free to forgive us because His son paid the price for our sin. God's forgiveness is just because the justifier paid the price for our sins Himself. Jesus was the just and, because of that, He became the justifier of all who would trust Him.
"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26)
All throughout history, God extended forgiveness to mankind, knowing that, one day, His Son would pay the price for all their sins. Even now, God's grace and favor of repentance is extended to us, to all who wish, that we too might live and experience God's forgiveness through repentance.Maybe its time we avail ourselves of such a great gift of grace as repentance.

David Robison

Saturday, August 18, 2012

1st Clement 7 - Human Nature

The difficulties the Corinthian church was experiencing were not new nor were they unique to them; they were common issues for all the churches, they were problems that were common to all men and women everywhere.
"These things, beloved, we write unto you, not merely to admonish you of your duty, but also to remind ourselves. For we are struggling on the same arena, and the same conflict is assigned to both of us." (1 Clement 7)
It is easy to read these words with detached indifference as if it is merely a story about a church long ago, but most of us have either experienced these same problems in our church or know someone who has. Envy, strife, and division are common among churches because the are all part of our human nature; part of our fallen human nature. Unfortunately, when we come to the Lord, our human nature is not cleansed in a single moment, rather it is a process that takes a life time. "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6 NIV) The cleansing of our human nature is a work that God begins when we are saved and continues through the rest of our lives. This means that, in our church, there are people in various stages of cleansing; some just starting out, others further along, but for each of us there yet remains those remnants of our past lived that needs to be cleansed. This includes envy.

Since we are all "people in progress," is it inevitable that there will be strife, conflict, envy, and division within our church? As long as we trust in ourselves the answer is, "Yes." However, we cannot forget what our Savior taught us: "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) Over an over we are warned in the scriptures to "take heed," such as when Paul warned us, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12) So what does it look like to take heed against envy and strife in our lives? Clement counsels us,
"Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us." (1 Clement 7)
The key to curbing envy in the corporate expressions of our church is an individual response in the individual members of the church. Oversight in a church can deal with envy once it is exposed, but only an individual response to the love of God can eliminate envy from our hearts. As with most sins, the key to dealing with envy is to flee one thing and to lay a hold of another. In this case to flee "vain and fruitless cares" and to lay hold of the "glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling."

When we strive to be someone, to attain some level of position, status or honor, or to rise above someone else in our estimation or in the estimation of others, then we give place to envy in our lives.Clement would call these pursuits "vain and fruitless cares." James said that the reason for quarrels and conflicts is that, "You lust and do not have." (James 4:2) I believe that the source of envy is that we want to be and are not. All these pursuits are vain and fruitless because the focus on what we want to be rather than who we are. We must learn to be content with who God made us and the station in life he has appointed to us. Unless we learn to master our desires and passions to be something other than who God created us to be, we will never be able to escape the clutches of envy.

Clement says we should flee these pursuits and rather pursue our "holy calling" in God. So what is the "glorious and venerable rule" of this calling? Some translate the word "rule" as "tradition", so what is the tradition that the apostles taught? Consider these scriptures.
"But we urge you, brethren, to excel [in love for each other] still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

"Our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." (Titus 2:13-14)

"Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful." (Titus 3:14)

"Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed." (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27)

If we live our lives aspiring to be these sorts of people we will do well and envy will be far from us. This is who we are called to be in both simplicity and truth. This is the "glorious and venerable rule" and tradition of our holy calling and, when we have a church that is full of people, even imperfect people, that make this their rule and tradition, then it will become a place of harmony and community.

David Robison

Sunday, August 05, 2012

1st Clement 5 - Paul's Message

Still speaking of envy, Clement introduces the apostles,
"But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death." (1 Clement 5)
It is unfortunate that the original translator of this letter chose the word "heroes." This phrase could more literally be translated, "those who have been athletes." The apostles, including Paul, had run well the race set before them. They started well, ran with courage and strength, and finished well; most ending their lives in martyrdom. Speaking of Paul, Clement writes,
"Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience." (1 Clement 5)
Clement also adds this note about Paul's later life, after going to Rome,
"After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west,29 and suffered martyrdom under the prefects." (1 Clement 5)
Thus supporting the theories that Paul continued to preach the Gospel after his imprisonment in Rome even as far as Spain or even Britain. However, what is most striking to me is the statement "having taught righteousness to the whole world." Clement knew Paul well, as a disciple and companion, and its interesting how he summarizes Paul's message to the world. Of all the ways he could have described his message he chose the word "righteousness." Paul's message to the world was a message of righteousness. While there is a lot that can preached and taught under the heading of Righteousness, it was Paul's constant message to the people throughout the "whole world."

This should cause us ask the question, "What is our message?"

David Robison

Saturday, August 04, 2012

1st Clement 4 to 6 - Envy

Clement proceeds to name the root cause of the division and trouble among the Corinthian church: Envy. Webster defines envy as:
"painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same" advantage(Webster)
Envy is more than covetousness, which is an intense longing for something or someone else. Envy is the painful feeling when we recognize that someone else has what we want. The pain can come from multiple  sources but often, in the church, our seat of envy is a feeling that somehow, deep inside, we believe that we too deserve what they have, that we should be in possession of it not them, that we are really the worthy one! It is as when Aarom and Miriam became envious of Moses.
"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?' And the Lord heard it." (Numbers 12:1-2)
They were offended at Moses for his marrying a foreign woman and, as such, they felt superior to him and, as a result, felt they too deserved to lead the people." Who was Moses that he alone should assume leadership? Was he some great person or someone of unquestionable purity? They were from the same family and in some ways more "pure" them him. They too deserved to lead." Their offense towards Moses turned into envy and, in their envy, they spoke against Moses. However, God heard then and rebuked their folly.
"Hear now My words: if there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. "Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?" (Numbers 12:6-8)
Clement, over the next three chapters, outlines a brief history of envy. Starting with the offspring of our first parents and continuing down to our present day. Here is just a few excepts from his letter.
And Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go into the field. And it came to pass, while they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Ye see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother. Through envy, also, our father Jacob fled from the face of Esau his brother. Envy made Joseph be persecuted unto death, and to come into bondage." (1 Clement 4)
He then continues his history of envy down to the time of our Lord's apostles.
Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him." (1 clement 5)
Finally he reminds his readers of recent examples of envy against those in the church.
Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircæ, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with stedfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward. (1 Clement 6)
Envy is a powerful vice. Clement reminds us that, "Envy has alienated wives from their husbands, and changed that saying of our father Adam, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh'”Envy and strife have overthrown great cities and rooted up mighty nations." (1 Clement 6) Envy as a feeling is not sin, but when it gets translated to our actions, sin is conceived. However, in overcoming envy it is important to recognize it at its root, even when it exists only as an emotion. The emotion of envy has two components, a sense of entitlement: we deserve what they have, and a sense of superiority: we are just as good, if not better, then they are. To overcome envy we must deal with each component separately.

First we must deal with our sense of entitlement. David declares, concerning his possessions. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me." (Psalms 16:5-6) David understood that his lot in life was assigned to him by God, as from a loving father, and as such, he was able to see his allotment as "beautiful." In a world where inequality is a certainty, there will always be someone with more than us. We can either let this cause us to feel slighted by the little we have or we can remind ourselves that it is God who grants us our lot and, weather or not He has given someone else more, we can still rejoice in what He has given us, as gifts given out of His love and care over us.

Secondly, in dealing with our sense of superiority, we must remind ourselves of what Paul spoke about Abraham, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God." (Romans 4:2-3) When we compare ourselves against others we might judge ourselves to be superior, but when we compare ourselves against God we understand our true nature. We find out that we are not all that different from our neighbors and that only God is truly good. Only then can we dispense with our feeling of entitlement and superiority and learn to truly enjoy our gifts from God.

David Robison