Monday, June 24, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Condescend to the Lowly

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.
"But contrary to what is the case with the rest of men, collect for thyself an unarmed, an unwarlike, a bloodless, a passionless, a stainless host, pious old men, orphans dear to God, widows armed with meekness, men, adorned with love. Obtain with thy money such guards, for body and for soul, for whose sake a sinking ship is made buoyant, when steered by the prayers of the saints alone; and disease at its height is subdued, put to flight by the laying on of hands; and the attack of robbers is disarmed, spoiled by pious prayers; and the might of demons is crushed, put to shame in its operations by strenuous commands." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 34)
It is a common desire of men to want to be associated with and seen along side with those who are great. We like having our picture taken with celebrities as if we know them and are their companions. We like to be in the presence of wealthy and powerful men and seen as their confidants and equals. When given a choice, we will shy away from the lowly, plain, and common to seek the company of the high, distinguished, and great. Yet Paul reminds us to, "Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." (Romans 12:16 KJV) Clement also encourages us that, in selecting those who might sand as guards with us and along side of use on our way into the Kingdom of God, that we choose instead the meek and lowly; those who hold power with God rather than those who hold power in this world.
"All these warriors and guards are trusty. No one is idle, no one is useless. One can obtain your pardon from God, another comfort you when sick, another weep and groan in sympathy for you to the Lord of all, another teach some of the things useful for salvation, another admonish with confidence, another counsel with kindness. And all can love truly, without guile, without fear, without hypocrisy, without flattery, without pretence. O sweet service of loving [souls]! O blessed thoughts of confident [hearts]! O sincere faith of those who fear God alone! O truth of words with those who cannot lie! O beauty of deeds with those who have been commissioned to serve God, to persuade God, to please God, not to touch thy flesh! to speak, but to the King of eternity dwelling in thee." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 35)
This is a message we have heard before, that the rich should not trust in their riches, rather they should use their riches to make friends who will assist them and "will receive you into the eternal dwellings." (Luke 16:9) The rich, encumbered as they are by the constant attention their business requires, while they may seem short of their own services towards God, can yet spend their wealth in service of the poor, the needy, and the lowly and procure for themselves those who will aid them in their journey towards the Kingdom of God. The  rich providing service to the poor and the poor returning service to the rich; this is all part of God's plan for mankind on the earth.

Finally, there is one other class of people that the rich should submit their lives to.
"All the faithful, then, are good and godlike, and worthy of the name by which they are encircled as with a diadem. There are, besides, some, the elect of the elect, and so much more or less distinguished by drawing themselves, like ships to the strand, out of the surge of the world and bringing themselves to safety; not wishing to seem holy, and ashamed if one call them so; hiding in the depth of their mind the ineffable mysteries, and disdaining to let their nobleness be seen in the world; whom the Word calls 'the light of the world, and the salt of the earth.' This is the seed, the image and likeness of God, and His true son and heir, sent here as it were on a sojourn, by the high administration and suitable arrangement of the Father, by whom the visible and invisible things of the world were created; some for their service, some for their discipline, some for their instruction; and all things are held together so long as the seed remains here; and when it is gathered, these things shall be very quickly dissolved." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 36)
While the meaning chapter is a bit uncertain, I believe that Clement is speaking of those gifts that God has placed within the body of Christ. "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13) Those servants who have obtained such a reputation as Clement describes are worthy of our submission and provide benefit to those who will follow them. Their example can provide us with a map to guide our steps and shape our character, if we will chose to submit to them and to follow their direction and example.

David Robison

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