Wednesday, November 14, 2012

1st Clement 51 to 53 - Turning the tide of division

Clement is coming near to the end of his letter. He has chastised and exhorted the Corinthians regarding the ongoing division and sedition that was in their midst and now it's time for the Corinthians to act; now is the time for them to bring an end to this division and to restore harmony and concord in their midst. The first step in this process is to repent.
"Let us therefore implore forgiveness for all those transgressions which through any [suggestion] of the adversary we have committed." (1 Clement 51)
It does not matter to what degree we may have participated in the division, if we participated at all, then we must repent. Whether we were aligned with the loyalty party or the opposition party, if we took sides and joined one party or another, we need to repent. We must realize that a party spirit is not from God but from the enemy. If we have come into agreement with this spirit, then we have sinned and we must repent of our transgressions and implore God for forgiveness. Repentance brings forgiveness and forgiveness brings peace. "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)

Secondly, those who authored the division must acknowledge their sin. There must be confession along with repentance. When we are convicted of our sin, we have a choice to make; do we eagerly respond to God or do we harden our hearts. David said, "Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." (Psalm 95:7-8) and Clement put it this way,
"For it is better that a man should acknowledge his transgressions than that he should harden his heart, as the hearts of those were hardened who stirred up sedition against Moses the servant of God, and whose condemnation was made manifest [unto all]. For they went down alive into Hades, and death swallowed them up... for no other reason than that their foolish hearts were hardened. (1 Clement 51)
It is better for us to humble ourselves and confess our sin than to harden our hearts and reap destruction from the Lord. Such confession is pleasing to God.
"The Lord, brethren, stands in need of nothing; and He desires nothing of any one, except that confession be made to Him. For, says the elect David, 'I will confess unto the Lord; and that will please Him more than a young bullock that hath horns and hoofs.' " (1 Clement 52)
God is not interested in sacrifices, but He is looking for a "A broken and a contrite heart." (Psalm 51:17)

Finally, we must have respect for our common hope.
"And those who have been the leaders of sedition and disagreement ought to have respect to the common hope." (1 Clement 51)
Ignatius refers to Jesus as our common hope, but not only is He our common hope, but He also brings a common hope that we shall be like Him; that we shall be made into His image and His likeness. However, when division and sedition enters the church, it begins to destroy that common hope, it diverts our attention away from being conformed into His image to being on the "right" side. Strife and division are incompatible with our common hope. Further more, these divisions destroy the "commonness" we have in His body; we cease to be one Body and are merely isolated parts that once were a body.

We must once again learn to "discern the Lord's body." (1 Corinthians 11:29) We must learn to put the needs of other first, before our own needs.
"For such as live in fear and love would rather that they themselves than their neighbours should be involved in suffering. And they prefer to bear blame themselves, rather than that the concord which has been well and piously handed down to us should suffer." (1 Clement 51)
When we find our needs and want at odds with the church then we have a choice to make; will we chose our own suffering by sacrificing our needs and wants in favor of those of others, or will we insist on our needs and desires, even to the suffering of the Body? Will we inflict our own wants and desires on the church, even if it means the suffering of that concord it presently enjoys? One living in love would not do this; they would prefer their own suffering to the suffering of others.

To drive this point home, Clement relates a story from the life of Moses.
 "Ye understand, beloved, ye understand well the Sacred Scriptures, and ye have looked very earnestly into the oracles of God. Call then these things to your remembrance. When Moses went up into the mount, and abode there, with fasting and humiliation, forty days and forty nights." (1 Clement 53)
However, while Moses was on the mountain, the people reverted into idolatry and sin. God intended to destroy the whole wicked lot of them and start over with the decedents of Moses. However, Moses would not have it.
"But Moses said, 'Far be it from Thee, Lord: pardon the sin of this people; else blot me also out of the book of the living.' "(1 Clement 53)
Moses was more concerned with the lives of the people than his own life; he was more concerned with their blessing than his own blessing; he preferred the current promises of God for others than God's new promise for himself. Out of love Moses entreated God and God repented of the harm He had intended against the nation of Israel. Clement comments,
"O marvellous love! O insuperable perfection! The servant speaks freely to his Lord, and asks forgiveness for the people, or begs that he himself might perish along with them." (1 Clement 53)
Love covers a multitude of sins. Love heals division and restores unity. Love is the answer.

David Robison

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