Sunday, May 26, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Get rid of your passions

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.
"I would then say this. Since some things are within and some without the soul, and if the soul make a good use of them, they also are reputed good, but if a bad, bad;—whether does He who commands us to alienate our possessions repudiate those things, after the removal of which the passions still remain, or those rather, on the removal of which wealth even becomes beneficial?" (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
To properly understand the words of Jesus to this rich young ruler, we must be able to separate those things that are without from those things that are within. Those things that are without, such as money, riches, and wealth, are amoral, they are neither good nor evil, they just are. However, those things that are within, our passions in one case and our reverence and obedience in another, are moral, they can be either good or evil. As Jesus said, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23) Our possessions do not defile us, but rather what's inside; those things that lead us to use our possessions for either good or evil. Moreover, if we merely divest ourselves of our worldly possessions without addressing the need to also cleanse our soul, then our final state may actually be worse then our former.
"If therefore he who casts away worldly wealth can still be rich in the passions, even though the material [for their gratification] is absent,—for the disposition produces its own effects, and strangles the reason, and presses it down and inflames it with its inbred lusts,—it is then of no advantage to him to be poor in purse while he is rich in passions." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
We must, of necessity, if we are to follow Jesus, rid ourselves of all passions of the soul! Today, we often think of passion in terms of love; being passionate for the love of someone else. However, our word for passion comes from the Latin word that means to suffer. Passion is the suffering our soul feels when it desires something that it cannot obtain, such as riches, love, or even another drink. Passion also refers to the disturbances and perturbations of our soul from forces without. Someone gets angry at us and, in return, our soul gets angry. Our souls suffers from what it cannot have and the harm others do to it and its response is from its own nature and not from God. This is what is referred to as the passions of the soul. These are the things we must eradicate from our soul, not the possessions from our hand.
"We must therefore renounce those possessions that are injurious, not those that are capable of being serviceable, if one knows the right use of them. And what is managed with wisdom, and sobriety, and piety, is profitable; and what is hurtful must be cast away. But things external hurt not. So then the Lord introduces the use of external things, bidding us put away not the means of subsistence, but what uses them badly. And these are the infirmities and passions of the soul." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
The rich young ruler understood this. He understood that Jesus was aiming at his heart more than at his wealth. I believe that what made this rich young man leave sorrowful was not the command to give away all his possessions but rather the command to come and follow Jesus.
"The presence of wealth in these is deadly to all, the loss of it salutary. Of which, making the soul pure,—that is, poor and bare,—we must hear the Saviour speaking thus, 'Come, follow Me.' For to the pure in heart He now becomes the way. But into the impure soul the grace of God finds no entrance. And that (soul) is unclean which is rich in lusts, and is in the throes of many worldly affections." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
I have known men who made a fortune and lost it all, only to make it all back again. This rich young man knew how to create wealth. He could have easily given away all he had and, in short order, found a way to earn it all back again. This was not his problem. However, Jesus was asking him to, not only give away his possessions, but to also make a change in the direction of his life. This young man loved riches, he enjoyed pursuing them, acquiring them, and planning on how to acquire even more of them. However, Jesus was asking him to give up the pursuit of money for the pursuit of God; "come follow me." This is what made him sorrowful and to leave without obtaining that which he inquired of, namely eternal life. He was not ready to give up his life, a life centered around wealth and riches, for a life centered around Jesus. He could give up all he possessed, but he was not willing to follow Jesus. He loved his life and even the promise of future eternal life was not enough to make him want to change his manor of living.

What are you pursuing in your life? Is it a relationship, money, or even some addiction? Are you willing to give up those pursuit to pursue Jesus? If not, then you too are a rich young ruler in this life. How hard is it for such rich young people to enter the kingdom of God!

David Robison

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