Monday, May 13, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Competing for the prize

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"Those then who are actuated by a love of the truth and love of their brethren, and neither are rudely insolent towards such rich as are called, nor, on the other hand, cringe to them for their own avaricious ends, must first by the word relieve them of their groundless despair, and show with the requisite explanation of the oracles of the Lord that the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven is not quite cut off from them if they obey the commandments; then admonish them that they entertain a causeless fear, and that the Lord gladly receives them, provided they are willing; and then, in addition, exhibit and teach how and by what deeds and dispositions they shall win the objects of hope, inasmuch as it is neither out of their reach, nor, on the other hand, attained without effort; but, as is the case with athletes—to compare things small and perishing with things great and immortal—let the man who is endowed with worldly wealth reckon that this depends on himself." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 3)
It is interesting that, in a book directed at the salvation of the rich, Clement would first deem it necessary to address believers rather than the rich. This book is not simply an exhortation to the rich but also a challenge to believers in how they choose to relate to and interact with the rich. Clement outlines three possible responses to the rich, two which bring death and only one that brings life. Clement cautions us not to despise the rich for being rich nor to "cringe" (or fawn) over them with hypocrisy for our own ends. When we respond to the rich in these ways we are showing a greater love for ourselves than for others.

The correct response to the rich should be to love them as fellow children of God and to instruct them and encourage them in the right way. Specifically, Clement says that we should first relieve them of any fear that they are want for the Kingdom of God. We should do this by first exhorting and encouraging them that their fears are groundless, secondly by taking them to the scriptures to see that the promises and inheritances of the kingdom are theirs too, and thirdly by admonishing them that their fears are groundless against God's word and that all who are willing, God will receive.

However, exhortation, teaching, and admonishment are not enough. It is not enough just to teach and encourage the rich, we must also demonstrate to them the kind of lifestyle God desires for His children. While God's promises and inheritances are never our of our reach, they are often not gained without effort. Not everything in the Kingdom of God is just given to us; some things require effort, deeds, and dispositions requisite to their attaining. The Kingdom of God is not a welfare state but often requires us to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you." (Philippians 2:12-13) Consider what the writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:12-13) Notice that sometimes even our healing require us first to make "straight paths for our feet;" to first begin walling in the ways, deeds, and disciplines of God. How often do we wait on God for the things we ask while He is waiting on us for the things He has asked?

Returning to the analogy of the race, Clement continues,
"For among those, one man, because he despaired of being able to conquer and gain crowns, did not give in his name for the contest; while another, whose mind was inspired with this hope, and yet did not submit to the appropriate labours, and diet, and exercises, remained uncrowned, and was balked in his expectations. So also let not the man that has been invested with worldly wealth proclaim himself excluded at the outset from the Saviour’s lists, provided he is a believer and one who contemplates the greatness of God’s philanthropy; nor let him, on the other hand, expect to grasp the crowns of immortality without struggle and effort, continuing untrained, and without contest." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 3)
Rich or poor, we should all realize that God loves us and is generous to us. None of us should despair of the Kingdom for, as Jesus said, "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32 NKJV) We each have the right and hope to enter into the contest of life, yet we should not presume to enter the race without putting forth the requisite struggle and effort necessary to win the race. We should not presume to enter the Kingdom of Heaven "without contest." Our life with Christ will often take "contest;" contest against the world, contest against sin, and even contest against our flesh, but it is a contest we can win, if we engage the contest with courage, faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us not shrink back but rather take up the contest of compete for the glory and honor of God.

David Robison

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