"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.