Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Smelling like roses- The Instructor on the use of Ointments and Crowns

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"The use of crowns and ointments is not necessary for us; for it impels to pleasures and indulgences, especially on the approach of night." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
Here Clement is referring to perfumes. The "crowns" he is talking about are not crowns of gold or silver tiaras, but floral wreaths worn around the head as accessories; used for their beauty and fragrant scents. Of key concerns is their use for the sake of pleasure alone and their tendency to lead to licentiousness and voluptuousness.
"I know, too, the words of Aristippus the Cyrenian. Aristippus was a luxurious man. He asked an answer to a sophistical proposition in the following terms: 'A horse anointed with ointment is not injured in his excellence as a horse, nor is a dog which has been anointed, in his excellence as a dog; no more is a man,' he added, and so finished. But the dog and horse take no account of the ointment, whilst in the case of those whose perceptions are more rational, applying girlish scents to their persons, its use is more censurable." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
Aristippus was a Greek philosopher who was a disciple of Socrates. However, unlike Socrates, he believed the the ultimate goal of life was pleasure. Pleasure and luxury had become the goal of the Greek/Roman culture in Clement's day. This included the use of perfumes and ointments.
"for day by day their thoughts are directed to the gratification of insatiable desire, to the exhaustless variety of fragrance. Wherefore also they are redolent of an excessive luxuriousness. And they fumigate and sprinkle their clothes, their bed-clothes, and their houses. Luxury all but compels vessels for the meanest uses to smell of perfume... Ointment being smooth oil, do you not think that it is calculated to render noble manners effeminate? Certainly. And as we have abandoned luxury in taste, so certainly do we renounce voluptuousness in sights and odours; lest through the senses, as through unwatched doors, we unconsciously give access into the soul to that excess which we have driven away." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
The early Christians considered luxury one of the greatest sins of their day. They believed that followers of Christ were called to a life of moderation, simplicity, and temperance; giving preference to necessity over pleasure. They believed that a life spent on the pursuit of pleasure was incompatible with a live given to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." (Matthew 6:33)
"To resume: oil itself suffices to lubricate the skin, and relax the nerves, and remove any heavy smell from the body, if we require oil for this purpose. But attention to sweet scents is a bait which draws us in to sensual lust. For the licentious man is led on every hand, both by his food, his bed, his conversation, by his eyes, his ears, his jaws, and by his nostrils too. As oxen are pulled by rings and ropes, so is the voluptuary by fumigations and unguents, and the sweet scents of crowns. But since we assign no place to pleasure which is linked to no use serviceable to life, come let us also distinguish here too, selecting what is useful. For there are sweet scents which neither make the head heavy nor provoke love, and are not redolent of embraces and licentious companionship, but, along with moderation, are salutary, nourishing the brain when labouring under indisposition, and strengthening the stomach... For their use is not wholly to be laid aside, but ointment is to be employed as a medicine and help in order to bring up the strength when enfeebled, and against catarrhs, and colds, and ennui, as the comic poet says:— 'The nostrils are anointed; it being A most essential thing for health to fill the brain with good odours.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
There is a proper use of ointments and perfumes, that which is beneficial to the mind and body and that which is useful to cover up "heavy smells from the body," but there is also that use which is only for pleasure and for the purpose of sensuality and seduction. One has only to watch the advertisements for perfumes on television to see how they are marketed; as being sensual, provocative, louring, and seductive. All such uses of perfume should be rejected by those who are seeking to live a righteous life. Perfumes in moderation, and for salutary purposes, may be used, but not indulged in to serve the pleasure of the flesh.
"But pleasure to which no utility attaches, induces the suspicion of meretricious habits, and is a drug provocative of the passions. Rubbing one’s self with ointment is entirely different from anointing one’s self with ointment. The former is effeminate, while anointing with ointment is in some cases beneficial." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
We are called to seek a life of righteousness not pleasure for true pleasure is not found in luxury or the indulgence in the things of this world. True pleasure is found in the presence of God. "In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11) Those who pursue pleasure may find it, though fleeting, but those who pursue God will find, not only His Kingdom, but will also receive pleasures forevermore. Let us pursue those things that are eternal, not the passing pleasures of this life.

David Robison

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Too much eating and speaking - The instructor on those who live together

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"It is the part of a temperate man also, in eating and drinking, to take a small portion, and deliberately, not eagerly, both at the beginning and during the courses, and to leave off betimes, and so show his indifference. 'Eat,' it is said, 'like a man what is set before you. Be the first to stop for the sake of regimen; and, if seated in the midst of several people, do not stretch out your hand before them.' You must never rush forward under the influence of gluttony; nor must you, though desirous, reach out your hand till some time, inasmuch as by greed one shows an uncontrolled appetite... A temperate man, too, must rise before the general company, and retire quietly from the banquet. 'For at the time for rising,' it is said, 'be not the last; haste home." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Clement continues to describe how men should behave themselves at feasts and at other times when entertaining or being entertained by friends. On the matter of food, temperance should be the rule. One should not display themselves as a glutton by his eagerness to eat or by the enormous portions he chooses. He should eat properly and with proper portions and leave off eating when full. He should also not be the last to leave but rather showing his regimented and well ordered way of life by leaving early. A man should not be one way in his day-to-day life and another when feasting; he should be consistent and temperate at all times.
"And elderly people, looking on the young as children, may, though but very rarely, be playful with them, joking with them to train them in good behaviour.For example, before a bashful and silent youth, one might by way of pleasantry speak thus: 'This son of mine (I mean one who is silent) is perpetually talking.' For a joke such as this enhances the youth’s modesty, by showing the good qualities that belong to him playfully, by censure of the bad quantities, which do not. For this device is instructive, confirming as it does what is present by what is not present." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
There is a proper place for joking and good humor, when it has regard for the well being of others. Such a joke can serve to ease the uneasiness of a shy youth while still instructing him is how to properly behave socially. However, such joking can turn destructive and must be guarded against and not used liberally.
"But if there are those who like to jest at people, we must be silent, and dispense with superfluous words like full cups. For such sport is dangerous. 'The mouth of the impetuous approaches to contrition'... I also should think it right to impose a limit on the speech of rightly regulated persons, who are impelled to speak to one who maintains a conversation with them... But let both speakers regulate their discourse according to just proportion... Let contentiousness in words, for the sake of a useless triumph, be banished; for our aim is to be free from perturbation... Answer not a word before you hear... And it is with triflers as with old shoes: all the rest is worn away by evil; the tongue only is left for destruction." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Our goal in speaking should be friendly conversation and not prideful monologues or contentions arguments that lead to offenses. In speaking of avoiding perturbations, Clement is saying that we should speak in a way as to not irritate, offend, or inflame the passions and emotions in another's soul; we should seek for peace and harmony not argument and strife. Clement also reminds us of Solomon's words, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19) When given to words, sin is not too far behind. However, sin is vanquished when we remain silent. As with food, let temperance rule our speech as well.

David Robison

Friday, December 27, 2013

The lure of the eye - The Instructor on those who live together

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"On the whole, let young men and young women altogether keep away from such festivals, that they may not make a slip in respect to what is unsuitable. For things to which their ears are unaccustomed, and unseemly sights, inflame the mind, while faith within them is still wavering; and the instability of their age conspires to make them easily carried away by lust." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
We must all know our oun limits and avoid exposing ourselves to temptations beyond what our Christian maturity is able to withstand. For example, a man recently freed by the Lord from his addiction to alcohol should not quickly return to the taverns to test his new found freedom. Similarly, one finding new freedom from pornography should not rush to the theaters to watch movies containing lewd and obscene scenes that might inflame his old desires. I have even know leaders of a Christian college age group that, on their member's 21st birthday, take them out drinking and many of themselves getting drunk. Are we not better than this? Is there not a better way to celebrate someone's birthday rather than drinking and drunkenness? Have we no care for the limits of our maturity and ability to withstand sin?
"Sometimes also they are the cause of others stumbling, by displaying the dangerous charms of their time of life. For Wisdom appears to enjoin well: 'Sit not at all with a married woman, and recline not on the elbow with her;' that is, do not sup nor eat with her frequently. Wherefore he adds, 'And do not join company with her in wine, lest thy heart incline to her, and by thy blood slide to ruin.' For the licence of intoxication is dangerous, and prone to deflower. And he names 'a married woman,' because the danger is greater to him who attempts to break the connubial bond." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
More than just the things around us that may tempt us to sin, sometimes people can also cause us to stumble by their behavior and their exposure. Here Clement is referring to a woman's body as her "charms of their time of life." It was not uncommon for women attending such feasts as Clement is describing to dress very revealing and seductively, and when combined with wine, there was a tendency for them to "deflower" and to show even more. It is easy to be tempted and enticed when sitting next to a women who is dressing to reveal and shows more than she should. It is better to avoid all such parties, or at least to choose a seat somewhere else, then to bear the lure and temptation of a scantly dressed woman.
"But if any necessity arises, commanding the presence of married women, let them be well clothed—without by raiment, within by modesty. But as for such as are unmarried, it is the extremest scandal for them to be present at a banquet of men, especially men under the influence of wine." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Here is the instruction for women, let their bodies be well clothed as directed by their sense of Christian modesty. If a woman is single, they should be doubly careful about the parties and festivals they choose to attend, especially those where the presence of drunken men is to be expected. Far better to enjoy a quiet night at home than to risk the dangers of lust and drunkenness with partying.

David Robison

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teasing & Insults - The Instructor on those who live together

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"Let us keep away from us jibing, the originator of insult, from which strifes and contentions and enmities burst forth... A man is judged, not from his deeds alone, but from his words... For if we are enjoined especially to associate with saints, it is a sin to jibe at a saint: 'For from the mouth of the foolish,' says the Scripture, 'is a staff of insult,'—meaning by staff the prop of insult, on which insult leans and rests. Whence I admire the apostle, who, in reference to this, exhorts us not to utter 'scurrilous nor unsuitable words.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
To "Gibe" (the modern spelling of Jibe) is to tease or taunt someone by our speech. Friendly banter is one thing, but careless words, regardless of their intentions can wound others leaving them hurt and offended. The distance from Gibe to Insult can be incredibly small yet insults can separate friends and ruin relationships. However, insults are not only the result of careless words but can also result from the repetition of gibes. If we are continually teasing and putting someone else down, then eventually those words will enter into our own hearts and we will begin to believe them ourselves, souring our hearts against those we associate with. When I was in college, the Physic majors would jokingly make fun of the Engineers. At first, it was all in fun but it didn't take long for us to believe what we were saying and to see ourselves as superior to them. In the end our gibes were not in jest but were the true expressions of our heart.
"For if the assemblies at festivals take place on account of affection, and the end of a banquet is friendliness towards those who meet, and meat and drink accompany affection, how should not conversation be conducted in a rational manner, and puzzling people with questions be avoided from affection? For if we meet together for the purpose of increasing our good-will to each other, why should we stir up enmity by jibing? It is better to be silent than to contradict, and thereby add sin to ignorance." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
If we associate with each other for the purpose of building relationships based on mutual affection for one another, then why would we slip into conduct that can destroy the very thing we are seeking to establish? Why would we risk insults by our gibes rather than avoiding gibes altogether? Let our conversation be pleasant, beneficial, and encouraging. Moreover, its not just gibes that we should avoid, but also such topics that we know to be contrary with those we are with. For example, I have known some who, in conversation, always like to argue about their favorite doctrine, trying to prove the other person wrong and themselves right. I have learned to avoid these people. For some it's theology and for others it's politics. What ever the case, when we enter into conversation for the purpose of proving ourselves right, we enter them not for the purpose of building up relationships with other people.
"'Blessed,' in truth, 'is the man who has not made a slip with his mouth, and has not been pierced by the pain of sin;' or has repented of what he has said amiss, or has spoken so as to wound no one." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Let our aim in all our conversations be to no offend or injure others by what we might say. If we have sinned in our words then let us quickly repent, both to God and the one we have injured, that through forgiveness our wounded relationship might be healed.

David Robison

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Obscenities - The Instructor on Filthy Speaking

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"And much more must we keep pure from shameful deeds: on the one hand, from exhibiting and exposing parts of the body which we ought not; and on the other, from beholding what is forbidden. For the modest son could not bear to look on the shameful exposure of the righteous man; and modesty covered what intoxication exposed—the spectacle of the transgression of ignorance. No less ought we to keep pure from calumnious reports, to which the ears of those who have believed in Christ ought to be inaccessible." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 6)
Not only must we be pure in our speech but also modest in our behavior and appearance. For if we should avoid hearing and viewing such obscenities, then we must certainly avoid them in our own speech and behavior as well. However, if we certainly would consider such exposure of our own bodies to be "indecent" then why would we choose to view such obscenities by others either in the books we read or the movies we watch? If we would not commit such behavior ourselves then why should we look at others when they do? What we forbid for ourselves we should also forbid our eyes from seeing and our ears from hearing.
"It is on this account, as appears to me, that the Instructor does not permit us to give utterance to aught unseemly, fortifying us at an early stage against licentiousness. For He is admirable always at cutting out the roots of sins, such as, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' by 'Thou shalt not lust.' For adultery is the fruit of lust, which is the evil root. And so likewise also in this instance the Instructor censures licence in names, and thus cuts off the licentious intercourse of excess. For licence in names produces the desire of being indecorous in conduct; and the observance of modesty in names is a training in resistance to lasciviousness." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 6)
Our choice of words and the use of indecency in our use of speech can incite us and lead us to sin. Just like lust is a precursor to adultery, so indecency and obscenities can become a precursor to lust and, in the end, to sin. The role of the instructor is not only to convince us of sin and to forbid us of its partaking, but also to help us avoid it altogether by teaching us to stop it earlier and earlier in its progress within us. We can still overcome adultery even at the moment of the act, but better is it to avoid it by overcoming lust that led us to the act, and even better to quench the filthy speech that incited the lust within us in the first place. Victory over sin is achieved by continuously moving the finish line further and further back in our struggle against it; from act to lust to speech to thought.
"We have shown in a more exhaustive treatise, that neither in the names nor in the members to which appellations not in common use are applied, is there the designation of what is really obscene. For neither are knee and leg, and such other members, nor are the names applied to them, and the activity put forth by them, obscene. And even the pudenda are to be regarded as objects suggestive of modesty, not shame. It is their unlawful activity that is shameful, and deserving ignominy, and reproach, and punishment. For the only thing that is in reality shameful is wickedness, and what is done through it." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 6)
Clement warns us about something we don't often think about and that is the names and expressions we use to describe things and events. For example, there is nothing innately obscene about the body nor the common names we use to describe it. Neither the foot nor its name "foot"is obscene. Even the human pudenda (external sexual organs) are neither obscene nor are their names obscene. However, it is their use and their designations, in the case of words, that makes them obscene. When we speak of the body in normal modest terms, no indecency is found, but when we speak of it using degrading and indecent terms, describing foul and sinful intentions with it, then our speech had become obscene and incitful of lust. Let not only our behavior and dress be modest, but let our speech be modest as well.

David Robison

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Talking Dirty - The Instructor on Filthy Speaking

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"From filthy speaking we ourselves must entirely abstain, and stop the mouths of those who practice it by stern looks and averting the face, and by what we call making a mock of one: often also by a harsher mode of speech. 'For what proceedeth out of the mouth,' He says, 'defileth a man,'—shows him to be unclean, and heathenish, and untrained, and licentious, and not select, and proper, and honourable, and temperate." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 6)
It is not always easy to live a life that is honoring to God and is befitting of our elevated position in Christ. This can be especially true when we are in a group with others and the conversation sinks down to the realms of the base, the ignoble, and the perverted; when we are in a crowd and others start using filthily and disgusting talk and speak of detestable things that offend the Spirit within us. Part of us wants to smile or laugh along as not to stand out or be embarrassed in front of others. It is hard at times like these to know what to do and to do the right thing. However, not only should we abstain from such talk ourselves, but we should not enter into or even become a passive participant by smiling or feigning laughter just to "fit in." Sometimes, though difficult, stoic silence is enough to show our displeasure and, in some cases, to even turn around the course of the conversation. By refusing to participate, people will eventually understand our sensitivities and, either not include us in their filthy discussions, or even begin to modify their behavior so as to not offend and to fit in with us themselves.
"And as a similar rule holds with regard to hearing and seeing in the case of what is obscene, the divine Instructor, following the same course with both, arrays those children who are engaged in the struggle in words of modesty, as ear-guards, so that the pulsation of fornication may not penetrate to the bruising of the soul; and He directs the eyes to the sight of what is honourable, saying that it is better to make a slip with the feet than with the eyes... What, then, are the salutary ear-guards, and what the regulations for slippery eyes? Conversations with the righteous, preoccupying and forearming the ears against those that would lead away from the truth... For he who associates with the saints shall be sanctified." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 6)
Sometimes our struggle is not with associates who live to talk dirty, but with what we voluntarily allow ourselves to see and hear. This can include our choice of music, entertainment, and movies. How can we pursue purity of our soul and yet voluntarily subject ourselves to obscenities in the music we hear and the movies we watch? We cleanse our souls only to fill them up with filth time and time again. While no one can make these decisions for us, and we must set our own limits, we all must evaluate what we choose to let into our ears and our eyes as to whether or not they hinder or help our progress towards a sanctified soul.

However, even when taking control over what we voluntarily let into our eyes and ears, many of us are faced with obscenities through out our day that we cannot simply ignore. I used to live in Las Vegas and could not drive back and forth to work without being confronted by the filth of licentiousness plastered on billboards through out town. How does one maintain a sanctified soul in the mist of a world bent on corruption? Fortunately God had provided us "salutary ear-guards" in the form of our Christian brothers and sisters. When we spend time with each other we build one another up and strengthen each other against the defiling onslaught of the world. Our righteous conversation heals our ears and our hearts and fortifies us against the obscenities of the world that we simply cannot escape. We need each other and in our fellowship there is healing and strength.

David Robison

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crude Humor - The Instructor on laughter

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"People who are imitators of ludicrous sensations, or rather of such as deserve derision,are to be driven from our polity." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 5)
It was Clement's belief that, as believers and children of God, we were called to live well ordered lives with all moderation and temperance. All who would live otherwise had no part in the church of Christ. This is not to say that we should not continue to love them and to reach out to them with the message of Christ, but simply that, because of their chosen behavior, they had chose for themselves a lifestyle that was not in keeping with, and congruent with, those who were seeking to live lives worthy of their upward call and their association together as the church. This rule Clement applied to all aspects of life, including humor and laughter.
"For since all forms of speech flow from mind and manners, ludicrous expressions could not be uttered, did they not proceed from ludicrous practices... For speech is the fruit of the mind. If, then, wags are to be ejected from our society, we ourselves must by no manner of means be allowed to stir up laughter. For it were absurd to be found imitators of things of which we are prohibited to be listeners; and still more absurd for a man to set about making himself a laughing-stock, that is, the butt of insult and derision... Wherefore we ought never of our own accord to assume a ludicrous character.. It is therefore disgraceful to set one’s self to do this; since the conversation of wags of this description is not fit for our ears, inasmuch as by the very expressions used it familiarizes us with shameful actions." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 5)
Clement is not speaking of those who maintain a good since of humor but of those whose "humor" dips down into what is crude, crass, demeaning, and disgraceful. Such humor is not funny but only befitting of those whose since of reason has already been overcome by the rudeness and filthiness of their hearts. For, just like speech, humor is an expression of the heart; either good or bad. Jesus came to conform us into His own image, why, therefore, should we joke about, laugh about, and mimic in a mocking way speech and behavior that is offensive to God and the very antithesis of His nature? Such behavior is fitting for those who do not know Him but not for those whose aim it is is to be like Him.
"Pleasantry is allowable, not waggery. Besides, even laughter must be kept in check; for when given vent to in the right manner it indicates orderliness, but when it issues differently it shows a want of restraint. For, in a word, whatever things are natural to men we must not eradicate from them, but rather impose on them limits and suitable times. For man is not to laugh on all occasions because he is a laughing animal, any more than the horse neighs on all occasions because he is a neighing animal. But as rational beings, we are to regulate ourselves suitably, harmoniously relaxing the austerity and over-tension of our serious pursuits, not inharmoniously breaking them up altogether." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 5)
Waggery is best defined as roguish, mischievous, and unprincipled behavior. Clement is not condemning all humor and lightness of life, in fact there is a place for the relaxation from our more serious pursuits, a relaxation that serves to melt away the tensions of the day, but we must not allow our merriment to proceed into excess. Nothing that is natural to us is unlawful, but all things must be held in check.
"For the seemly relaxation of the countenance in a harmonious manner—as of a musical instrument—is called a smile. So also is laughter on the face of well-regulated men termed. But the discordant relaxation of countenance in the case of women is called a giggle, and is meretricious laughter; in the case of men, a guffaw, and is savage and insulting laughter. 'A fool raises his voice in laughter,' says the Scripture; but a clever man smiles almost imperceptibly. The clever man in this case he calls wise, inasmuch as he is differently affected from the fool. But, on the other hand, one needs not be gloomy, only grave. For I certainly prefer a man to smile who has a stern countenance than the reverse; for so his laughter will be less apt to become the object of ridicule." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 5)
Its not that Clement is against laughter, but he does caution us against letting it go too far to where we laugh at what is crude and base or engender laughter by imitating such things. When he speaks of a women's "giggle" he is speaking of meretricious laughter. That which is meretricious possesses false beauty and is done in the manor of prostitutes. Clement is warning women to not let their behavior imitate that of a prostitute, or anyone else who has chosen a life separated from God. However, laughter, in its proper place, not only serve to remove the stress of the day but also make a person appear more affable then they otherwise may seem.
"Smiling even requires to be made the subject of discipline. If it is at what is disgraceful, we ought to blush rather than smile, lest we seem to take pleasure in it by sympathy; if at what is painful, it is fitting to look sad rather than to seem pleased. For to do the former is a sign of rational human thought; the other infers suspicion of cruelty. We are not to laugh perpetually, for that is going beyond bounds; nor in the presence of elderly persons, or others worthy of respect, unless they indulge in pleasantry for our amusement. Nor are we to laugh before all and sundry, nor in every place, nor to every one, nor about everything... We must consider, too, how consequently freedom of speech leads impropriety on to filthy speaking. 'And he uttered a word which had been better unsaid.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 5)
One of the hardest things to master is when, in the company of those who do not share the same morals as you, a group laughs at what is base and crude not to laugh yourself and join in their waggery. Not to do so is a matter of discipline and something we should work towards, lest our inappropriate laughter may be seen by some as tacit approval for their behavior and the things they laugh at. In the end, every area of our lives aught to be subject to discipline lest, in searching out the limits of our freedom, we find our selves in error.

David Robison

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Party tunes - The Instructor on behavior at feasts

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"Let revelry keep away from our rational entertainments, and foolish vigils, too, that revel in intemperance. For revelry is an inebriating pipe... of sorrow. And let love, and intoxication, and senseless passions, be removed from our choir. Burlesque singing is the boon companion of drunkenness. A night spent over drink invites drunkenness, rouses lust, and is audacious in deeds of shame. For if people occupy their time with pipes, and psalteries, and choirs, and dances, and Egyptian clapping of hands, and such disorderly frivolities, they become quite immodest and intractable, beat on cymbals and drums, and make a noise on instruments of delusion; for plainly such a banquet, as seems to me, is a theatre of drunkenness." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
Revelry is defined as "lively and noisy festivities, especially when these involve drinking a large amount of alcohol." Clement is describing parties that are large, loud, brusque, and drunken. These are parties that have an atmosphere intended to reduce inhibitions and incite the passions and desires of the soul. These parties are conceived and designed to move the person from the rational to the emotional, from order to disorder, and from the honorable to the dishonorable. Clement contends that such parties have no place in the lives of those whose aim it is is to please God.
"For the apostle decrees that, 'putting off the works of darkness, we should put on the armour of light, walking honestly as in the day, not spending our time in rioting and drunkenness, in chambering and wantonness.' Let the pipe be resigned to the shepherds, and the flute to the superstitious who are engrossed in idolatry. For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from the temperate banquet, being more suitable to beasts than men, and the more irrational portion of mankind." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
Of special interest to clement is not just the wanton behavior at parties but also the music. Here, its not the specific instruments that are in question, but the type of music played by them; music whose aim it is is to impassion the soul and to inspire it to illicit desires. Music can have a powerful influence over the soul; either to inspire it or degrade it, either to lead it to the contemplation of the greatness of God or to cause it to seek after the baser desires of man. Music, because of its influence on the soul, is not neutral; it is intended to have an impact and we must be aware of that and treat it accordingly.
"And every improper sight and sound, to speak in a word, and every shameful sensation of licentiousnes—which, in truth, is privation of sensation—must by all means be excluded; and we must be on our guard against whatever pleasure titillates eye and ear, and effeminates. For the various spells of the broken strains and plaintive numbers of the Carian muse corrupt men’s morals, drawing to perturbation of mind, by the licentious and mischievous art of music." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
We have been called to purify our souls "for a sincere love of the brethren" (1 Peter 1:22) yet how can we pursue purification when we expose ourselves to that which "titillates" and wages war against the purity of our souls? For what purpose would we willing submit ourselves to endure the louring of our souls to baseness when we have as our aim the purifying of our souls for the sincere love of God and one another? Such actions are at odds with each other. We must pursue one and escape the other.
"But let our genial feeling in drinking be twofold, in accordance with the law. For 'if thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' and then 'thy neighbour,' let its first manifestation be towards God in thanksgiving and psalmody, and the second toward our neighbour in decorous fellowship. For says the apostle, 'Let the Word of the Lord dwell in you richly.' And this Word suits and conforms Himself to seasons, to persons, to places." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
In our partying, let this be our rule, that all should be done with the love of God and the love of one another in mind; that our recognition, praise, and honor of God should never be forgotten from our minds and that our behavior should always reflect our greater interest for another than for ourselves. Let our entertaining and partying be pleasing to God and full of genuine love and fellowship for each other.

David Robison

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fine china - The Instructor on costly vessels

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"And so the use of cups made of silver and gold, and of others inlaid with precious stones, is out of place, being only a deception of the vision. For if you pour any warm liquid into them, the vessels becoming hot, to touch them is painful. On the other hand, if you pour in what is cold, the material changes its quality, injuring the mixture, and the rich potion is hurtful. Away, then, with Thericleian cups and Antigonides, and Canthari, and goblets, and Lepastæ, and the endless shapes of drinking vessels, and wine-coolers, and wine-pourers also." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 3)
The Shakers, being a Christian sect formed in the later eighteenth century, believed that "Beauty rests on utility." Now we know that this is not entirely true, for there is much beauty that has nothing to do with utility, such as the beauty of a sunset or a rose, but aside from the beauty of God's creation, chasing beauty in man's creation apart from its utility is vain. It is vanity, for example, to place a greater value on the dish then its contents when the excessiveness of the dish offers nothing to its contents in way of quality or quantity.
"For my part, I approve of Plato, who plainly lays it down as a law, that a man is not to labour for wealth of gold or silver, nor to possess a useless vessel which is not for some necessary purpose, and moderate; so that the same thing may serve for many purposes, and the possession of a variety of things may be done away with. Excellently, therefore, the Divine Scripture, addressing boasters and lovers of their own selves, says, 'Where are the rulers of the nations, and the lords of the wild beasts of the earth, who sport among the birds of heaven, who treasured up silver and gold, in whom men trusted, and there was no end of their substance, who fashioned silver and gold, and were full of care? There is no finding of their works. They have vanished, and gone down to Hades.' Such is the reward of display." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 3)
Speaking of the "reward of display" Jesus said that, "do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:2) How vain it is to seek the rewards of this lifetime and, in the process, forfeit eternal rewards yet to come. There is nothing wrong with nice things, but when used for show only, in order to demonstrate by them our wealth, refinement, and good taste, we receive our reward in full here and reap emptiness and loss in the age to come. In using things to seek the praise of men, we place impediments in our lives to receiving true praise form God. Jesus said, "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44) When we seek the fame, honor, and praise from men we weaken our faith and our relationship with God.
"What we acquire without difficulty, and use with ease, we praise, keep easily, and communicate freely. The things which are useful are preferable, and consequently cheap things are better than dear. In fine, wealth, when not properly governed, is a stronghold of evil, about which many casting their eyes, they will never reach the kingdom of heaven, sick for the things of the world, and living proudly through luxury. But those who are in earnest about salvation must settle this beforehand in their mind, 'that all that we possess is given to us for use, and use for sufficiency, which one may attain to by a few things.' For silly are they who, from greed, take delight in what they have hoarded up." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 3)
Those things we buy out of necessity and without extravagance are those things which we use freely and are willing to share with little regard to their return. How hard it is to obey the Lord's command to share with those in need if we are worried about the safety and return of things of great price? Worried to lend them out lest they be broken, lost, or never returned. With costly things we are forever fretting over them, always concerned for their protection and well keeping, setting our focus on things and not people.
"It is a farce, and a thing to make one laugh outright, for men to bring in silver urinals and crystal vases de nuit, as they usher in their counsellors, and for silly rich women to get gold receptacles for excrements made; so that being rich, they cannot even ease themselves except in superb way. I would that in their whole life they deemed gold fit for dung... But the best riches is poverty of desires; and the true magnanimity is not to be proud of wealth, but to despise it. Boasting about one’s plate is utterly base." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 3)
In our extravagances and seeking after expensive and luxurious items, we must ask ourselves, "Is it worth it?" Do we really need gold dishes and costly glasses? Do we really need the latest and greatest and most costly things? After all, is anyone really impressed? Man maybe, but God no! Instead we are merely conceited, thinking we are something because of what we own rather than for who we are. Such a love for things is truly a path towards ruin.
"The Lord ate from a common bowl, and made the disciples recline on the grass on the ground, and washed their feet, girded with a linen towel—He, the lowly-minded God, and Lord of the universe. He did not bring down a silver foot-bath from heaven. He asked to drink of the Samaritan woman, who drew the water from the well in an earthenware vessel, not seeking regal gold, but teaching us how to quench thirst easily. For He made use, not extravagance His aim." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 3)
In the end, our lives should be about people rather than things. Jesus set an example of frugality and simplicity that we should follow; using the things of this life for necessity not for luxury. He did this, not because He did not have a right to these things, but because His focus was on us and not things; we were what He valued not worldly items of great price.

David Robison

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The perils of wine - The Instructor on drinking

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"So he adds these most monitory words. 'Who has woes, who has clamour, who has contentions, who has disgusting babblings, who has unavailing remorse?' You see, in all his raggedness, the lover of wine, who despises the Word Himself, and has abandoned and given himself to drunkenness. You see what threatening Scripture has pronounced against him. And to its threatening it adds again: 'Whose are red eyes? Those, is it not, who tarry long at their wine, and hunt out the places where drinking goes on?' Here he shows the lover of drink to be already dead to the Word, by the mention of the bloodshot eyes,—a mark which appears on corpses, announcing to him death in the Lord. For forgetfulness of the things which tend to true life turns the scale towards destruction." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As with many things in this world, their use can bring much benefit and enjoyment to life, yet their abuse can bring harm and destruction. One who drinks to excess drinks great harm to himself. There is no one else to blame, no one else to charge with his errors, he himself is responsible for the wounds he has received. The threatenings of the scriptures are not the threatenings of judgment but rather the reminders of the natural results of too much drink. These are promises from God that you will undoubtedly not find in any promise box, yet they remain just as true.
"It is agreeable, therefore, to right reason, to drink on account of the cold of winter, till the numbness is dispelled from those who are subject to feel it; and on other occasions as a medicine for the intestines. For, as we are to use food to satisfy hunger, so also are we to use drink to satisfy thirst, taking the most careful precautions against a slip: 'for the introduction of wine is perilous.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
Wine is perilous! If we choose to drink we must do so with this in mind. We must always be cognizant of our own selves and the effect wine is having on us. We must be vigilant while drinking to retain our reason and to leave off before foolishness sets in. We should drink like one walking along a precipice, always aware of the danger, always careful to keep one's balance, and always knowing their distance from certain death.
"We must not therefore trouble ourselves to procure Chian wine if it is absent, or Ariousian when it is not at hand. For thirst is a sensation of want, and craves means suitable for supplying the want, and not sumptuous liquor. Importations of wines from beyond seas are for an appetite enfeebled by excess, where the soul even before drunkenness is insane in its desires... For why should not the wine of their own country satisfy men’s desires, unless they were to import water also, like the foolish Persian kings?"(Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
When choosing to drink, we must ask our selves, "Is it worth it?" The effort we put forth to "find the right wine," the perilous risk we assume to ourselves and our relationships, is it all worth it? To be consumed by something so earthly, whose enjoyment last but a brief time yet whose dangers are eternal, is it worthy of a life well lived? If we desire to live a purposeful life, is there any such place for such voluptuous desires? These are questions I cannot answer for anyone else, but they are questions we must ask ourselves.

David Robison

Saturday, December 07, 2013

How to drink wine - The Instructor on drinking

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"It is fitting, then, that some apply wine by way of physic, for the sake of health alone, and others for purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. For first wine makes the man who has drunk it more benignant than before, more agreeable to his boon companions, kinder to his domestics, and more pleasant to his friends. But when intoxicated, he becomes violent instead." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
Wine is one of the many gifts from God. Even King Lemuel wrote, "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more." (Proverbs 31:6-7) The partaking of wine can be enjoyable and pleasant, yet, in its abuse, it can bring swift and certain destruction. How many men have lost life, wealth, health, and family through the abuse and addiction to strong drink? While a little drink may make us more agreeable to those around us, an excess always brings out the worst in us and leads to the destruction of families, wealth, and futures.
"It has therefore been well said, 'A joy of the soul and heart was wine created from the beginning, when drunk in moderate sufficiency.' And it is best to mix the wine with as much water as possible, and not to have recourse to it as to water, and so get enervated to drunkenness, and not pour it in as water from love of wine. For both are works of God; and so the mixture of both, of water and of wine, conduces together to health, because life consists of what is necessary and of what is useful. With water, then, which is the necessary of life, and to be used in abundance, there is also to be mixed the useful." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
I must admit that I grew up in a "dry" home and drinking has never been a part of my lifestyle, so when talking about mixing water with wine, I am in no way an expert. However, it appears to me that Clement is drawing a distinction between drinking for wine and drinking for alcohol. Are we drinking because we enjoy wine or are we drinking because we enjoy getting drunk? Drinking out of an enjoyment of wine still requires wisdom not to drink to excess or drunkenness. However, the one who drinks to get drunk stands condemned even before he drinks, have already sinned in his heart before he ever gets drunk.
"Wherefore most people say that you ought to relax over your cups, and postpone serious business till morning. I however think that then especially ought reason to be introduced to mix in the feast, to act the part of director (pædagogue) to wine-drinking, lest conviviality imperceptibly degenerate to drunkenness...But the miserable wretches who expel temperance from conviviality, think excess in drinking to be the happiest life; and their life is nothing but revel, debauchery, baths, excess, urinals, idleness, drink. You may see some of them, half-drunk, staggering, with crowns round their necks like wine jars, vomiting drink on one another in the name of good fellowship; and others, full of the effects of their debauch, dirty, pale in the face, livid, and still above yesterday’s bout pouring another bout to last till next morning." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
It is always good to have wisdom present when drinking wine or other strong drink. However some see such feasts and parties as a time to cast off all restraint and to disregard wisdom in an empty pursuit of drunkenness. I'm sure that many can relate to the year end office Christmas party where those who are otherwise well reasoned cast of all reason in their pursuit of alcohol, bringing shame to themselves even though they will not remember it in the morning. If, and when, we choose to drink, we must always seek the pleasant company of wisdom, self-restraint, and temperance. We must never "coat check" our wisdom at the door of the party!
"Such a life as this (if life it must be called, which is spent in idleness, in agitation about voluptuous indulgences, and in the hallucinations of debauchery) the divine Wisdom looks on with contempt, and commands her children, 'Be not a wine-bibber, nor spend your money in the purchase of flesh; for every drunkard and fornicator shall come to beggary, and every sluggard shall be clothed in tatters and rags.' For every one that is not awake to wisdom, but is steeped in wine, is a sluggard. 'And the drunkard,' he says, 'shall be clothed in rags, and be ashamed of his drunkenness in the presence of onlookers.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
What defines our life? Is it partying, feasting, and drinking or is it such virtues that speak of our dignity, worth, and honor such as temperance, wisdom, gentleness, self-control, and others? God has called us to a life that is abundant and full of purpose. Therefore why should we spend it on prodigal living, both destroying both our present life and the good life yet to come? If we choose to drink, do so with wisdom and in the fear of God, lest we too become like one of them, being destitute of that which is truly life.

David Robison

Friday, December 06, 2013

When to drink wine - The Instructor on drinking

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"'Use a little wine,' says the apostle to Timothy, who drank water, 'for thy stomach’s sake;' most properly applying its aid as a strengthening tonic suitable to a sickly body enfeebled with watery humours; and specifying 'a little,' lest the remedy should, on account of its quantity, unobserved, create the necessity of other treatment. The natural, temperate, and necessary beverage, therefore, for the thirsty is water. This was the simple drink of sobriety, which, flowing from the smitten rock, was supplied by the Lord to the ancient Hebrews. It was most requisite that in their wanderings they should be temperate." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
This, in a nutshell, is Clement's counsel on whether or not to drink wine: that water should be preferred for temperance sake and wine used only when necessary for medicinal purposes, and then, only a little. Clement believed that we were called to a life of moderation and temperance for which water was the best drink tending towards both. That being said, he goes on to give advice on drinking wine based on our season of life.
"I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire. It is proper, therefore, that boys and girls should keep as much as possible away from this medicine. For it is not right to pour into the burning season of life the hottest of all liquids—wine—adding, as it were, fire to fire. For hence wild impulses and burning lusts and fiery habits are kindled; and young men inflamed from within become prone to the indulgence of vicious propensities; so that signs of injury appear in their body, the members of lust coming to maturity sooner than they ought." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As children are maturing into adulthood, their bodily and hormonal changes can play havoc with their passions and desires which, because of their youth, they may not be readily able to control. To pour the intoxicating influences of wine upon these already inflamed passions is a recipe for disaster. How many young people have perpetrated crimes against themselves and others through the influence of intoxicating drink? How many young people have had sex or spread sexually transmitted diseases  when drunk that they might not have had they been in their right mind and in control of their rational faculties? Wine and strong drink is like fuel to an already lit fire for young people and should be avoided at all cost.
"And in the case of grown-up people... it suits divine studies not to be heavy with wine. 'For unmixed wine is far from compelling a man to be wise, much less temperate,' according to the comic poet. But towards evening, about supper-time, wine may be used, when we are no longer engaged in more serious readings. Then also the air becomes colder than it is during the day; so that the failing natural warmth requires to be nourished by the introduction of heat. But even then it must only be a little wine that is to be used; for we must not go on to intemperate potations." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As mature men and women we are to live lives of purpose; spending our days applying our talents, skills, and intellectual facilities to the business of life and other worthy pursuits. To be dulled through intoxicating drink does not aid us in fulfilling a purposeful life. The day spent drinking can easily lead to a life of dissipation. How can one maintain focus when their mind is under the influence of wine? However, after the day's work is done a little wine can serve to warn the body and cheer the soul. However, one must still guard against intemperance lest they find themselves indulging in strong and exotic drinks leading to greater intemperance. Wine and other strong drinks should never define our lives or our lifestyles rather they should be defined by our purposes and our pursuits.
"Those who are already advanced in life may partake more cheerfully of the draught, to warm by the harmless medicine of the vine the chill of age, which the decay of time has produced. For old men’s passions are not, for the most part, stirred to such agitation as to drive them to the shipwreck of drunkenness. For being moored by reason and time, as by anchors, they stand with greater ease the storm of passions which rushes down from intemperance. They also may be permitted to indulge in pleasantry at feasts. But to them also let the limit of their potations be the point up to which they keep their reason unwavering, their memory active, and their body unmoved and unshaken by wine. People in such a state are called by those who are skilful in these matters, acrothorakes. It is well, therefore, to leave off betimes, for fear of tripping." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As we advance in to old age and the requirements of our daily life have diminished, and when a life spent in perfecting moderation and temperance has made itself evident, them we should not begrudge such for a more cheerful indulgence in wine. For those who have trained their passions and desires through a life dedicated to moderation and temperance are not as susceptible to the influences of wine as those who are just beginning the process of disciplining their soul. However, even here, care must be taken to not partake of wine to the point where we loose our reason or the control over our intellectual and physical faculties. For why should wine be our undoing or the mocker of our lives?

In fine, wine itself is not evil nor our enemy. Our real enemy is the passions and desires that wage war against our soul. All influences, be they wine or other vices, that serve to enrage or promote such passions and desires should be avoided at all costs. Paul warns us to, "flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22) How can one pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace while at the same time inciting and inflaming the soul through strong drink? Such pursuits are inconsistent with each other. Let us choose one and use the other only as moderation and temperance would dictate.

David Robison

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Table maners - The Instructor on eating

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"From all slavish habits and excess we must abstain, and touch what is set before us in a decorous way; keeping the hand and couch and chin free of stains; preserving the grace of the countenance undisturbed, and committing no indecorum in the act of swallowing; but stretching out the hand at intervals in an orderly manner. We must guard against speaking anything while eating: for the voice becomes disagreeable and inarticulate when it is confined by full jaws; and the tongue, pressed by the food and impeded in its natural energy, gives forth a compressed utterance. Nor is it suitable to eat and to drink simultaneously. For it is the very extreme of intemperance to confound the times whose uses are discordant. And 'whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God,' aiming after true frugality, which the Lord also seems to me to have hinted at when He blessed the loaves and the cooked fishes with which He feasted the disciples, introducing a beautiful example of simple food." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Here Clement sounds like my mom! It may seem odd that a preacher of the gospel would count it important to instruct us in table manors, yet Clement's eye is on something of greater value. Its not that Clement is setting down some new "law" regarding eating, rather he is showing us examples of how to live out the word of God in our lives in very practical ways. We are called to do all to the glory of God, even the most mundane and necessary parts of our lives: eating. Everything we do either contributes or distracts from the glory of God.  Consider the case that Paul mentions of the Corinthian love feasts where some stuffing themselves and others were drunk. "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you." (1 Corinthians 11:20-22) Manors matter; they are a way we show honor and respect to others and bring glory to God.
"For those that do all that is lawful, quickly fall into doing what is unlawful. And just as righteousness is not attained by avarice, nor temperance by excess; so neither is the regimen of a Christian formed by indulgence; for the table of truth is far from lascivious dainties. For though it was chiefly for men’s sake that all things were made, yet it is not good to use all things, nor at all times. For the occasion, and the time, and the mode, and the intention, materially turn the balance with reference to what is useful, in the view of one who is rightly instructed; and this is suitable, and has influence in putting a stop to a life of gluttony, which wealth is prone to choose, not that wealth which sees clearly, but that abundance which makes a man blind with reference to gluttony." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Some may decry Clement's words as legalism, for truly all things were created for our use and enjoyment. However, that does not mean that all things should be used at all times, in all places, and without understanding. If we indulge in all things legal then we will eventually find ourselves indulging in things illegal. The key is moderation not excess, appropriateness not intemperance.
"No one who uses it [abundance] will ever study to become temperate, burying as he does his mind in his belly, very like the fish called ass, which, Aristotle says, alone of all creatures has its heart in its stomach. This fish Epicharmus the comic poet calls 'monster-paunch.' Such are the men who believe in their belly, 'whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.' To them the apostle predicted no good when he said, 'whose end is destruction.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Food is not the enemy, but a life lived for food is a life wasted. When we live for abundance and excess, temperance will never be desirable for us; we want what we want when we want it; living a life of luxury that will never yield to moderation. Let us rather pursue love and the kingdom of God and food only for our sustenance and, in doing so, we will find those things that are of true and lasting character.

David Robison

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The food of daemons - The Instructor on eating

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"At this point, too, we have to advert to what are called things sacrificed to idols, in order to show how we are enjoined to abstain from them. Polluted and abominable those things seem to me, to the blood of which, fly 'Souls from Erebus of inanimate corpses.' 'For I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons,' says the apostle; since the food of those who are saved and those who perish is separate. We must therefore abstain from these viands not for fear (because there is no power in them); but on account of our conscience, which is holy, and out of detestation of the demons to which they are dedicated, are we to loathe them; and further, on account of the instability of those who regard many things in a way that makes them prone to fall, 'whose conscience, being weak, is defiled: for meat commendeth us not to God.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Today, in most western cultures, it is completely foreign to see meat dedicated to idols, but in Clement's day it was very common. Meat that was sold in the marketplace was often first dedicated to an idol and there were often great meals shared publicly which were thrown in honor of one idol or another. It was these meats and ceremonies that Clement was addressing. However, even today, we have places where food and drink are offered with a purpose towards debauchery. For example, some bars and night clubs are know for their excesses and their tendency towards sin. Even some restaurants employ women to dress revealing for the entertainment of their lusting customers. As Christians we must ask ourselves these same questions. Is it right (rather than lawful) for a christian to frequent places where sin and dissipation are prevalent? Is it not a kinship to earlier Christians who faced the same decision regarding going to feasts held in a daemon's honor?
"The natural use of food is then indifferent. 'For neither if we eat are we the better,' it is said, 'nor if we eat not are we the worse.' But it is inconsistent with reason, for those that have been made worthy to share divine and spiritual food, to partake of the tables of demons. 'Have we not power to eat and to drink,' says the apostle, 'and to lead about wives'? But by keeping pleasures under command we prevent lusts. See, then, that this power of yours never 'become a stumbling-block to the weak." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Food is amoral, it is neither good or evil, but it is our actions and attitudes that makes it use evil or good. What place does a christian have among those who are seeking defilement? Yes, there is no law against it and we do not sin if we go, but to what end and to what cost? Should we pursue pleasures even if our brother who is weak is destroyed in the process (let alone us if we yield to the temptation all around us)? Are we really going out of some righteous desire or out of an unwillingness to rule over our lusts?
"For it were not seemly that we, after the fashion of the rich man’s son in the Gospel, should, as prodigals, abuse the Father’s gifts; but we should use them, without undue attachment to them, as having command over ourselves. For we are enjoined to reign and rule over meats, not to be slaves to them... But totally irrational, futile, and not human is it for those that are of the earth, fattening themselves like cattle, to feed themselves up for death; looking downwards on the earth, and bending ever over tables; leading a life of gluttony; burying all the good of existence here in a life that by and by will end; courting voracity alone, in respect to which cooks are held in higher esteem than husbandmen." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Food is not the issue here but our misuse of it, both personally and socially. When food becomes the focus of our lives and our social intercourse then we misuse what God has given us and replace love and communications with brutish consumption.
"For we do not abolish social intercourse, but look with suspicion on the snares of custom, and regard them as a calamity... We are not, then, to abstain wholly from various kinds of food, but only are not to be taken up about them. We are to partake of what is set before us, as becomes a Christian, out of respect to him who has invited us, by a harmless and moderate participation in the social meeting; regarding the sumptuousness of what is put on the table as a matter of indifference, despising the dainties, as after a little destined to perish... So that the right food is thanksgiving. And he who gives thanks does not occupy his time in pleasures. And if we would persuade any of our fellow-guests to virtue, we are all the more on this account to abstain from those dainty dishes; and so exhibit ourselves as a bright pattern of virtue, such as we ourselves have in Christ." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
To completely shun all the sin and defilement of the world we would altogether need to completely separate ourselves from the world, yet this is not what God has asked of us. If we were to hold ourselves separate, then how would anyone hear of Christ? However, while being in the world we do not need to take part of its lusts and attitudes. Our behavior in mixing with the world should be based on love and not a desire for worldly things. If we chose to have dinner with our unbelieving neighbor we should do so out of a kindred love for them as fellow creatures of God. We should not desire their food more than their company; we should love them more than their food.
"If one partakes of them, he does not sin. Only let him partake temperately, not dependent on them, nor gaping after fine fare. For a voice will whisper to him, saying, 'Destroy not the work of God for the sake of food.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Let us pursue the work of God with fervency and food only for our necessity.

David Robison

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A false agape - The Instructor on eating

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"whence some, speaking with unbridled tongue, dare to apply the name agape, to pitiful suppers, redolent of savour and sauces. Dishonouring the good and saving work of the Word, the consecrated agape, with pots and pouring of sauce; and by drink and delicacies and smoke desecrating that name, they are deceived in their idea, having expected that the promise of God might be bought with suppers." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Agape, or Love Feasts, were not peculiar to Christianity put were also forms of public entertainment in Clement's day. Though that which was observed by the church was markedly different from that which was observed by the surrounding culture, even the church's Love Feasts were counterfeited by such false christian churches as those of the Marcionites and others. However, Clement condemns all such entertainments, or Love Feasts, where the chief focus was on food rather than love. Such entertainments serve neither the body nor the cause of love.
For they have not yet learned that God has provided for His creature (man I mean) food and drink, for sustenance, not for pleasure; since the body derives no advantage from extravagance in viands. For, quite the contrary, those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest and the healthiest, and the noblest; as domestics are healthier and stronger than their masters, and husbandmen than the proprietors; and not only more robust, but wiser, as philosophers are wiser than rich men. For they have not buried the mind beneath food, nor deceived it with pleasures. But love (agape) is in truth celestial food, the banquet of reason." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
It is not that we should give up such entertaining, but we should remember their purpose. God has given us food, not for pleasure, but for sustenance. Therefore, in our Love Feasts, or in our entertaining, our focus should not be on food but on love, for this is the true food of our spiritual banquet.
"But the hardest of all cases is for charity, which faileth not, to be cast from heaven above to the ground into the midst of sauces... And do you imagine that I am thinking of a supper that is to be done away with?... For the supper is made for love, but the supper is not love (agape); only a proof of mutual and reciprocal kindly feeling." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Entertaining is not about the food, but it is about love! If all we do is feed people a extravagant meal then we are like those whom Paul wrote about who did all things, but "without love." Consider the story when Mary and Martha decided to entertain Jesus at their house. "Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations." (Luke 10:39-40) Martha was busy about the meal. its preparation, its selection, and its presentation, while Mary was conversing with Jesus. One was concerned with food and the other with love. A simple meal shared with love is better than a grand meal with little affection.
"But let the entertainment depend on love. For it is said, 'Let the children whom Thou hast loved, O Lord, learn that it is not the products of fruits that nourish man; but it is Thy word which preserves those who believe on Thee.' 'For the righteous shall not live by bread.' But let our diet be light and digestible, and suitable for keeping awake, unmixed with diverse varieties." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Here is the crux of the matter, when we entertain, either in small intimate settings or in large public feasts, let our focus and aim be on love not food. Let our feasting be on love and our food for our substance for entertaining is not about food but about love.

David Robison

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Living for food - The Instructor on eating

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"Some men, in truth, live that they may eat, as the irrational creatures, 'whose life is their belly, and nothing else.' But the Instructor enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, nor is pleasure our aim; but both are on account of our life here, which the Word is training up to immortality. Wherefore also there is discrimination to be employed in reference to food. And it is to be simple, truly plain, suiting precisely simple and artless children—as ministering to life, not to luxury. And the life to which it conduces consists of two things—health and strength; to which plainness of fare is most suitable, being conducive both to digestion and lightness of body, from which come growth, and health, and right strength, not strength that is wrong or dangerous and wretched, as is that of athletes produced by compulsory feeding." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Clement warns of a life that is centered around food. Eating is a necessity of this life and yet it should not be the focus of our lives. Food is necessary for our life here on Earth, yet we are being prepared for an eternal life in heaven, a life which does not require the consumption of food. While we must eat to live, we must not live to eat. We must view food in light of eternity, something that is required for a short period of time out of necessity, but not part of our eternal life to come. As such, our choice and use of food should be that which contributes to a life of health and strength. In fine, the eating of food that is easily digested and leads to leanness of the body.
"Antiphanes, the Delian physician, said that this variety of viands was the one cause of disease; there being people who dislike the truth, and through various absurd notions abjure moderation of diet, and put themselves to a world of trouble to procure dainties from beyond seas. For my part, I am sorry for this disease, while they are not ashamed to sing the praises of their delicacies, giving themselves great trouble to get lampreys in the Straits of Sicily, the eels of the Mæander..." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Antiphanes was a physician of Clement's day that believed that variation in diet was one of the causes of certain disease of the body, and yet men went to great lengths, even risking personal danger and harm, to procure rare and diverse foods from around the world. I must confess, I do enjoy eating King Crab legs from time to time, but we must ask ourselves "at what cost?" Should we expect men to risk life and limb that we might enjoy such delicacies? Should we expect people to risk personal harm just for "food?" I know it is their job and they do it for the money, but it is our appetite that actually funds their risky behavior. It is one thing to risk one's life for that which sustains life, but another for that which is merely for pleasure and tends to luxury.
"In their greed and solicitude, the gluttons seem absolutely to sweep the world with a drag-net to gratify their luxurious tastes. These gluttons, surrounded with the sound of hissing frying-pans, and wearing their whole life away at the pestle and mortar, cling to matter like fire. More than that, they emasculate plain food, namely bread, by straining off the nourishing part of the grain, so that the necessary part of food becomes matter of reproach to luxury." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
When our life's care centers around food, then our life is centered around that which is temporal and earthly and unbefitting of our call to life eternal with Christ. Clement also denounces the practice of refining foods; removing that which is nutritious for that which is tasty; preferring luxury over that which provides sustenance.
"There is no limit to epicurism among men. For it has driven them to sweetmeats, and honey-cakes, and sugar-plums; inventing a multitude of desserts, hunting after all manner of dishes. A man like this seems to me to be all jaw, and nothing else. 'Desire not,' says the Scripture, 'rich men’s dainties;' for they belong to a false and base life. They partake of luxurious dishes, which a little after go to the dunghill." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Epicurism is the unrelenting pursuit of pleasure. When we pursue food for pleasure we are pursuing that perishes with the use. Our life is meant to be more than "all jaw" and food is meant to support that greater life we have been called to and to provide health more than pleasure.
"But we who seek the heavenly bread must rule the belly, which is beneath heaven, and much more the things which are agreeable to it, which 'God shall destroy,' says the apostle, justly execrating gluttonous desires. For 'meats are for the belly,' for on them depends this truly carnal and destructive life;" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
This is the heart at which Clement is driving at, that we should rule our stomachs rather than be ruled by them. Jesus said, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) We should seek first God's Kingdom and food only as a necessity. All other pursuits other than the pursuit of His Kingdom are vain and empty and devoid of eternal life, even the pursuit of food.

David Robison

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Introduction to Book 2 - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Keeping, then, to our aim, and selecting the Scriptures which bear on the usefulness of training for life, we must now compendiously describe what the man who is called a Christian ought to be during the whole of his life." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Here, Clement states in clear terms his purpose for this entire work: to show believer how to behave and walk during their time on earth. Clement lived in a time when many were coming to Christ and the church in Alexandria was flourishing. However, most of these new believers were coming out of a culture and a heritage that was devoid of God. They lacked any basic understanding or knowledge of the scriptures. Most of them would have never read the teachings of Moses let alone heard them expounded upon in public or at home. They were steeped in a culture that served various daemon gods and, in many cases, lived lives of licentiousness and lives spent in seeking hedonistic pleasures. The issue for Clement was how to introduce these new believers to the culture of Christ and how to indoctrinate them into a Christian way of living? This was the purpose of his book, "The Instructor".
"We must accordingly begin with ourselves, and how we ought to regulate ourselves. We have therefore, preserving a due regard to the symmetry of this work, to say how each of us ought to conduct himself in respect to his body, or rather how to regulate the body itself. For whenever any one, who has been brought away by the Word from external things, and from attention to the body itself to the mind, acquires a clear view of what happens according to nature in man, he will know that he is not to be earnestly occupied about external things, but about what is proper and peculiar to man—to purge the eye of the soul, and to sanctify also his flesh. For he that is clean rid of those things which constitute him still dust, what else has he more serviceable than himself for walking in the way which leads to the comprehension of God." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Having completed his introduction in Book 1, in which he presented us a children and Jesus as our loving instructor, he now turns to what he refereed to as "a system of reasonable actions." Specifically, looking at how one aught to regulate their lives and discipline their bodies for this new life that has been granted to us by God. It is a life that is to be no longer lead by our flesh or our passions and desires but a life that is to be lead by our spirit; that rational part of our soul that Clement refers to as the mind.

Some, while reading Clements "system of reasonable actions" will be offended, others will decry "legalism!" However, for both, when reading with simplistic minds, they miss the whole point of Clements teaching. This book is not for those who are content with their present lives nor is it for those looking for an excuse to continue their current lifestyle. This book is for those who are seeking and desiring a new way of living, a new lifestyle; one that is built upon eternal principals, a life style that is good, wholesome, and healthy, a lifestyle that is pleasing to God. For such people seeking something better in their lives, this book is for them.

The key to understanding Clements "system" is to view his remedies in light of his principals. For example, when he speaks against women coloring their hair he does so in encouraging them not to imitate the prostitutes that were common in those days and to not offend God by believing that He had not made the pretty enough and that they had to take matters into their own hands. The principals of not imitating the evil of our culture and not offending God by casting dispersion upon His creation are sound principals and, once understanding his principals, we can discuss the merits of his remedies or how such remedies might be adapted to our present time and culture.

Such us of intellectual reasoning should not be foreign to us and its use and value can be demonstrated in many places throughout the scriptures. For example, consider Paul's instruction to Timothy, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (1 Timothy 2:12-14) Notice Paul says "I" in "I do not allow" not "God does not allow." Paul was establishing an apostolic tradition in the churches he started that women were not to teach or have authority over a man. This was the case in Paul's churches but not necessarily in all churches, for example, in those that might have been started by Peter, John, or another apostle. Regardless of what you think about Paul's injunction, it is clearly shown as a remedy built upon Paul's established principles, that women are more easily deceived than men and men are more easily tempted to sin then women. When we read Paul in such places we must understand his remedy in light of his principal and then examine how the principal and once such remedy might be applied to our present day and time. By using such reasoning we will be able to glean wisdom and counsel from Clements "system of reasonable actions" that will aid us in adopting for ourselves a better life, a superior lifestyle, and a more godly way of living. Such a goal is noble and the end of all good and right teaching.

David Robison

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sin is irrational - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Everything that is contrary to right reason is sin. Accordingly, therefore, the philosophers think fit to define the most generic passions thus: lust, as desire disobedient to reason; fear, as weakness disobedient to reason; pleasure, as an elation of the spirit disobedient to reason." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
This is a profound statement and one that we might be reticent to accept at first glance. We have been conditioned to think of sin in terms of our disobedience to God, His Word, and His ways, and justly so since sin is certainly all these things. However, to juxtapose sin and reason in such a way is not familiar to us. Is there a relationship between sin and right reason?
"If, then, disobedience in reference to reason is the generating cause of sin, how shall we escape the conclusion, that obedience to reason—the Word—which we call faith, will of necessity be the efficacious cause of duty? For virtue itself is a state of the soul rendered harmonious by reason in respect to the whole life. Nay, to crown all, philosophy itself is pronounced to be the cultivation of right reason; so that, necessarily, whatever is done through error of reason is transgression, and is rightly called, sin." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
If sin is anything contrary to right reason then anything done according to right reason must be righteousness; reason being the cause that promotes our duty of right behavior before God. Can it be true that to error against reason is to error against God? That both are one and the same and are both called sin? Interestingly, God refers to sinful man in this way, "Man in his pomp, yet without understanding, is like the beasts that perish." (Psalm 49:20) It is also interesting that Clement defines faith as "obedience to reason." We typically understand faith as being related to the promises of God and the things of the Kingdom that remain unseen. How is faith and reason related?

The answer to how sin, righteousness, faith, and unbelief are all related to reason is that Jesus is the Word or, as the Greeks would say, the Logos of God. Logos is a Greek term for reason. Jesus is the right reason of God! Jesus is what makes this whole world make since. He also brings to light the invisible Kingdom of God. Jesus is not only the Word, as in the message of God, but also the Logos, as the very reason and wisdom of God. To obey Jesus as being God's right reason is both faith and righteousness.
"The right operation of piety perfects duty by works; whence, according to just reasoning, duties consist in actions, not in sayings. And Christian conduct is the operation of the rational soul in accordance with a correct judgment and aspiration after the truth, which attains its destined end through the body, the soul’s consort and ally... For the life of Christians, in which we are now trained, is a system of reasonable actions—that is, of those things taught by the Word—an unfailing energy which we have called faith." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
I have, at times, looked upon works with disdain, as if they were incongruous with my life of faith. However, as the soul works together with the flesh, so faith energizes and produces works. Each are in concert with the other and one cannot exist without the other. James put it this way, "faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) A Christian life cannot be realized without corresponding action, in fact, it is by these actions that we recognize the Christian life in others. It is also these same actions through which we serve both God and mankind. Christianity is not intellectual in that it requires the full participation of the person; both body and soul. Therefore, when considering the instructions of our Lord it is reasonable to expect them to be taught as a "system of reasonable actions."
"The system is the commandments of the Lord, which, being divine statutes and spiritual counsels, have been written for ourselves, being adapted for ourselves and our neighbours... Whence also duties are essential for divine discipline, as being enjoined by God, and furnished for our salvation... The commandments issued with respect to natural life are published to the multitude; but those that are suited for living well, and from which eternal life springs, we have to consider, as in a sketch, as we read them out of the Scriptures." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 13)
Fortunately for us, God has already laid out His counsel and instruction for a life well lived. We find them both in the written word of the scriptures and in the person of Jesus who is the very Word of God. As Clement closes Book One and moves to Books Two and Three, he will draw from the scriptures the counsel contained there in that we might be instructed in the right way, the way of eternal life.

David Robison