Thursday, June 20, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Generous to a Fault

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.
"How then does man give these things? For I will give not only to friends, but to the friends of friends. And who is it that is the friend of God? Do not you judge who is worthy or who is unworthy. For it is possible you may be mistaken in your opinion. As in the uncertainty of ignorance it is better to do good to the undeserving for the sake of the deserving, than by guarding against those that are less good to fail to meet in with the good. For though sparing, and aiming at testing, who will receive meritoriously or not, it is possible for you to neglect some that are loved by God." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 33)
It is dangerous to set ourselves as judges over who is worthy of God's grace and mercy and who is not. As judges, we often judge with wrong motives and always with imperfect understanding. How can you look upon two who are poor and distinguish which is deserving of God's help and which is not? For while their outward appearances are the same, worthiness is found in the heart, a place where our natural eyes are not permitted to see. Clement counsels us to give to all who ask, not making judgements between one and another. For it is better to help some who are not worthy of help then, by attempting to determine who is worthy, to fail to help those who are truly worthy in deed.
"But by offering to all in turn that need, you must of necessity by all means find some one of those who have power with God to save... Open thy compassion to all who are enrolled the disciples of God; not looking contemptuously to personal appearance, nor carelessly disposed to any period of life. Nor if one appears penniless, or ragged, or ugly, or feeble, do thou fret in soul at this and turn away. This form is cast around us from without, the occasion of our entrance into this world, that we may be able to enter into this common school. But within dwells the hidden Father, and His Son, who died for us and rose with us.." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 33)
Jesus Himself said, "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back." (Luke 6:30) Our obedience to Christ's command must not be conditional based upon another's outward appearance. We must not become judges with evil motives, rather we must simply obey Jesus' words and learn to become generous with our wealth; generous to all. By learning to be generous to all we will in no way fail to give help to those whom God finds worthy; to those to whom aid is due.

The truth is that true beauty and true worth is found inside a person, not in their outward appearance or their present station in life.
"This visible appearance cheats death and the devil; for the wealth within, the beauty, is unseen by them. And they rave about the carcase, which they despise as weak, being blind to the wealth within; knowing not what a 'treasure in an earthen vessel' we bear, protected as it is by the power of God the Father, and the blood of God the Son, and the dew of the Holy Spirit." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 34)
Who we are, and our worth before God, is hidden from those who look from without; even the devil fails to fully comprehend us and our value to God since he can only look upon the outward appearance of man. As those who have been enlightened by God, we must avoid this same error; the error of judging based on outward appearances, and rather value people as God does; value them for who they are on the inside. Paul said, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) We must no longer judge people outwardly but rather learn to love them for who they are in the inside, for who Christ seems them to be in their heart and their soul, as those who are precious to God.

David Robison

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