Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Praising the Rich

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 who bestow laudatory addresses on the rich appear to me to be rightly judged not only flatterers and base, in vehemently pretending that things which are disagreeable give them pleasure, but also godless and treacherous; godless, because neglecting to praise and glorify God ... they invest with divine honours men wallowing in an execrable and abominable life; ... and treacherous, because, although wealth is of itselfsufficient to puff up and corrupt the souls of its possessors ... they stupefy them still more, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises, and by making them utterly despise all things except wealth, on account of which they are admired..." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 1)
I often find it interesting that, those who already abound in wealth, are the same that people strive to be around that they may heap upon them even greater riches, either in the form of gifts or praise. We have all heard of those lavish Hollywood events and awards shows where all the rich and notables of Hollywood are in attendance and where they receive their gift baskets worth thousands of dollars, each gift representing the wish of someone to gain favor from the rich by their offering. The rich receiving riches for no other reason then they are rich. However, such fawning over the rich is not limited by those of the world, but even believers, at times, can be carried away by the desire to be noticed, benefited, or approved of by those who are rich. James asks,
"For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?" (James 2:2-7)
Not only are we personalty oppressed by the rich, but even our faith is blasphemed by those who are rich and live lavishly in this life. For sure, James is not speaking of all those who are rich, but is it not even true today that it is the rich that oppress the poor that they might gain more wealth, and is it not those who live lavishly that despise and ridicule our faith with its call to modesty, moderation, and humility? Yet these are the very people that we often look up to and "worship" with our gifts and praise.

Clement indites all such behavior as flattering, godless, and treacherous. Flattering because our praise is founded in hypocrisy. We praise them for their wealth, dress, food, homes, and even their private jets as if we found pleasure in them possessing such things when in actuality our hearts are disgusted by them or else entirely consumed with covetousness for them. Our praise is godless in that we praise man instead of God who alone is good, and in our praise we praise them for the wrong things, for example, for their life of luxury rather than their discipline of modesty and temperance. Finally, our praise is treacherous because it encourages and provokes the rich in a lifestyle that is devoid of God.
"bringing, as the saying is, fire to fire, pouring pride on pride, and adding conceit to wealth, a heavier burden to that which by nature is a weight, from which somewhat ought rather to be removed and taken away as being a dangerous and deadly disease." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 1)
Far better than praising the rich is to seek to disciple them in the things of God that they may find and acquire for themselves those things that are of true and everlasting value.
"For it appears to me to be far kinder, than basely to flatter the rich and praise them for what is bad, to aid them in working out their salvation in every possible way; asking this of God, who surely and sweetly bestows such things on His own children; and thus by the grace of the Saviour healing their souls, enlightening them and leading them to the attainment of the truth; and whosoever obtains this and distinguishes himself in good works shall gain the prize of everlasting life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 1)
We will see this become one of the main themes of Clement's book. This book is not only about the rich man but also about the believer's response and duty to them.

David Robison

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