Monday, May 06, 2013

Clement of Alexandria - Who is the rich man that shall be saved?

Clement of Alexandria lived and wrote near the close of the second century. He was educated in Apollos' native city of Alexandria and learned the apostolic traditions and teachings from those who knew and remembered the apostles. He is often counted among those early writers who became the founders of Christian thought, and this in a time when the scriptures as we have come to know them had not yet been gathered and assembled together as a single work.

He is most remembered for his three books, "The Exhortation to the Heathen", "The Instructor", and "The Miscellanies". However, over the next several weeks we will be looking at another of his works called, "Who is the rich man that shall be saved?" This little book is both instructional and important. In it Clement challenges those who believed that God intended us to denounce all worldly possessions and  believed that poverty was a path to holiness. Clement discusses at length Christ's encounter with the rich young ruler and His exportation to him,
"If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21)
In discussing this Clement questions whether it is really God's will that we should give away all our worldly wealth and live poor as Christians in this world. He also deals directly with Christ's warnings regarding worldly wealth when He said,
"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)
Clement understood that Jesus was not saying that the rich cannot be saved, but that it would be hard and would require the agency of God on their behalf.

This book is important to us for two reasons, First is because many of us are rich. We may not count ourselves among the top richest people of the world but, in comparison to our neighbors and the poor in our communities, we are wealthy. Also, in many of our countries, even our poor are rich in comparison to those who are truly desolate in other countries. We must understand that, while material riches can be a blessing from God, it can also come with its own dangers. We need to understand God's perspective on wealth and our need of Him to aid us in our salvation.

Secondly, this book is important because it introduces us to the oriental mindset and their way of thinking. At the close of the second century there were two schools of Christian thought developing; one in Alexandria and one in Antioch. The school in Alexandra was know for its allegorical understanding of the scripture while the school in Antioch held to a more literal and historical interpretation of the scripture. Much of our modern thought was developed and honed in these two varied schools.  In referencing these two schools, Philip Schaff , the translator and editor of the version of this book I am working from, wrote, "Alexandria becomes the brain of Christendom: its heart was yet beating at Antioch, but the West was still receptive only, its hands and arms stretched forth towards the sunrise for further enlightenment." Over time, the allegorical method of Alexandria would even find its influences into Antioch.

The use of an allegorical understanding of the scriptures has always been around. In fact a famous example of it is used by the Apostle Paul. In speaking of Abraham's two sons, Paul write,
"This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother." (Galatians 4:24-26)
In this book we will see how Clement applies this allegorical thinking to the topic at hand. I hope you enjoy this series and that it is Transformative in your life as you consider how a rich man should live in his walk with God.

David Robison

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