Saturday, September 08, 2012

1st Clement 14 - Whose side are you on?

When division occurs in a church, while it often may start out one sided, it usually does not remain so. Clement tells us,
"It is right and holy therefore, men and brethren, rather to obey God than to follow those who, through pride and sedition, have become the leaders of a detestable emulation." (1 Clement 14)
Often division in a church degrades to where there are two waring factions, each seeking loyal and devoted followers, and each group seeking dominance and control over the other group. In such situations, members often feel great pressure to chose sides; either the side of the establishment or the side of the innovators. Often people may not feel an affinity for either faction but find little middle ground left for them in the church. However, Clement reminds us that, in such cases, there are really three sides: Their side, the other side, and God's side.

There was a time when Joshuah was preparing for war with the Canaanites and he happens upon a man dressed for battle and he ask him, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" (Joshuah 5:13) And his response was "No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord." (Joshuah 5:14) He as not on Joshuah's side nor the side of the Canaanites, he was on God's side. When faced with division it is critical that we strive not to yield to a party spirit but to remain loyal to the Lord; to remain on His side. If we must choose sides, let us choose God's side. However, for those who give in and choose one side over the other, Clement warns,
"For we shall incur no slight injury, but rather great danger, if we rashly yield ourselves to the inclinations of men who aim at exciting strife and tumults, so as to draw us away from what is good." (1 Clement 14)
We must not yield to men in their attempts to amass supporters to their side. We must not allow ourselves to be made pawns in a battle between two waring factions. We must not allow the ambitious desires of some to lead us away from what is good. We must remain loyal and submitted to God and we must hold fast to what is good. In times of division, we must be like the warrior that Joshuah met; we must come in the name of the Lord. As those on God's side we must treat all men alike, regardless of whose side they are on, and we must treat them with the kindness and love of God.
"Let us be kind one to another after the pattern of the tender mercy and benignity of our Creator." (1 Clement 14)
In saying this, Clement is acknowledging the words of his teacher, Paul, when he too counseled us,
"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality." (Romans 12:9-13)
When division rises, let this be the character of our lives; let this be the side we choose.

David Robison

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