Friday, February 28, 2014

Finger Rings - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"The Word, then, permits them a finger-ring of gold. Nor is this for ornament, but for sealing things which are worth keeping safe in the house in the exercise of their charge of housekeeping. For if all were well trained, there would be no need of seals, if servants and masters were equally honest. But since want of training produces an inclination to dishonesty, we require seals... And if it is necessary for us, while engaged in public business, or discharging other avocations in the country, and often away from our wives, to seal anything for the sake of safety, He (the Word) allows us a signet for this purpose only. Other finger-rings are to be cast off, since, according to the Scripture, 'instruction is a golden ornament for a wise man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Signet rings were rings that bore an image that when pressed against an object, or dipped in some form of ink, left a recognizable impression behind. They were used for many different purposes in Clement's day. They were used to conduct business by either signing a document or sealing correspondence. They were also used to indicate that the bearer had authority to conduct business on behalf of the one whose signet ring they wore. Finally, they were also used to mark objects as being owned by the wearer so as to prevent theft or enable the recovery of lost or stolen object. In Clement's mind, simplicity and frugality demanded that things be valued based on their utility rather than their vanity. Because signet rings served a purpose, they were allowed, as opposed to other rings whose use was merely for show.
"But there are circumstances in which this strictness may relaxed. For allowance must sometimes be made in favour of those women who have not been fortunate in falling in with chaste husbands, and adorn themselves in order to please their husbands. But let desire for the admiration of their husbands alone be proposed as their aim. I would not have them to devote themselves to personal display, but to attract their husbands by chaste love for them—a powerful and legitimate charm. But since they wish their wives to be unhappy in mind, let the latter, if they would be chaste, make it their aim to allay by degrees the irrational impulses and passions of their husbands. And they are to be gently drawn to simplicity, by gradually accustoming them to sobriety. For decency is not produced by the imposition of what is burdensome, but by the abstraction of excess." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Clement understood that not all women were fortunate enough to be married to a good and understanding husband, rather they were married to husbands who would make demands or have expectations regarding how their wives should dress in order to please them. Their concern was not for their wife but themselves, to please themselves rather than pleasing their wife. These were men who could only see the outer beauty and were ignorant of their wive's true beauty, a beauty that lay within. Clement understood that, in such cases, marital harmony and bliss were to trump frugality and simplicity, thus allowing the wife to respond in a proper and chase way to her husband. However, such compliance was to have as its goal the winning over of her husband to a view that is more godlike and more representative of the Gospel she espouses, and that such persuasion should be gentle and gradual, not forced and coerced. As Peter put it, "In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior." (1 Peter 3:1-2)

That being said, as husbands we must take care not to grieve our wive or make them "unhappy in mind." When we lay expectations and demands on our wives, especially as relates to external dress or appearances, we impugn their true beauty and treat them as less than human and as being inferior in their creation by God. Often, as men, we hold the key to our wives heath of mind, her self image, and her joy in her marriage to us. We must always see them as God does, for the beautiful work of creation they are, and always seek to release them from our carnal expectations of them, that they may be free to become whom God has called them to be.
"But women who wear gold seem to me to be afraid, lest, if one strip them of their jewellery, they should be taken for servants, without their ornaments. But the nobility of truth, discovered in the native beauty which has its seat in the soul, judges the slave not by buying and selling, but by a servile disposition. And it is incumbent on us not to seem, but to be free, trained by God, adopted by God. Wherefore we must adopt a mode of standing and motion, and a step, and dress, and in a word, a mode of life, in all respects as worthy as possible of freemen." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Sometimes our outward comportment is, either consciously or unconsciously, done for the purpose of making sure people see us for who we are (or wish we are) or in an attempt to portray ourselves in a particular light. For example, people who dress flashy or with much finery so that people will see and understand that they are wealthy. However, doing so only serves to show our own insecurities about who we are and our need for people to see us and to approve of us. If we understand that Jesus knows us and accepts us, why do we seek the recognition and acceptance of men?

My dad has a PhD and was department chair at the college in our town. However, having nine children, he and my mom did a morning paper route for several years to make ends meet. During the route they would stop in at a for a cup of coffee at a local hangout that was frequented by many of the farmers in our area. Dressed for delivering papers, when he told them he worked at the college they just assumed he worked on the grounds or doing maintenance, not knowing he was a highly educated and popular teacher on campus. Their failure to recognize his as a teach always amused him and he never told them the truth. He just kept on letting them believe he was the janitor and enjoyed his coffee with them. When you are secure in God's love for you, you care little about what others think.

Finally, Clement urges us to adopt a way of life that would express outwardly the inward reality we possess. Paul put it this way, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." (Ephesians 4:1) We are called to live a life that is worthy of our calling in God; not that we might become worthy, but because we already are worth. Everything about us, how we walk, carry ourselves, speak, interact with others, dress, eat, relax, should all be done in a way that shows forth the truth of who we are and in a way that brings glory to God. It is not enough to conceal righteousness within us, we are to, as Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) All of our life and all that we do are holy, therefore let this be the guiding truth in all we do and who we are.

David Robison

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ear Rings - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"The Word prohibits us from doing violence to nature by boring the lobes of the ears. For why not the nose too?—so that, what was spoken, may be fulfilled: 'As an ear-ring in a swine’s nose, so is beauty to a woman without discretion.' For, in a word, if one thinks himself made beautiful by gold, he is inferior to gold; and he that is inferior to gold is not lord of it. But to confess one’s self less ornamental than the Lydian ore, how monstrous! As, then, the gold is polluted by the dirtiness of the sow, which stirs up the mire with her snout, so those women that are luxurious to excess in their wantonness, elated by wealth, dishonour by the stains of amatory indulgences what is the true beauty." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
It is hard for us to understand Clement's concerns with jewelry when we live in a culture where such ornamentation is so common place and, in many ways, taken for granted. In Clement's day, such display of jewelry were mainly reserved for the very right and the meretricious. Still, Clement's concerns center around two issues of the heart.

The first is how we perceive nature and what is "natural." Clement believed that there is that which nature can teach is about how we aught to live. Appropriating God's wisdom is, in part, about understanding how we were made and how we were meant to live. A life of righteousness is not just right because it is conformant with God's laws, but it is right because it is conformant with how God made us to live. To live according to our God given "nature" is to live rightly and according to righteousness since we were made for righteousness and not sin.

This idea that nature has something to teach us was an idea that Paul taught as well. "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering." (1 Corinthians 11:14-15) In Clement's mind, understanding that we were created a certain way, it would be wrong to do "violence" to our created nature. In other words, why should we pierce what nature had not pierced.

Certainly this may be a debatable point, but still it is a thought worth considering. Most believers believe in the sanctity of life, but is there also a sanctity of nature? This question becomes even more poignant when we combine it with Clements second heart issue: the false assumption that we must dress up the body to be beautiful. When we believe that we need jewelry and ornamentation to become beautiful, we not only devalue ourselves but also the work of God, that being our bodies. At what point does our attempts to dress up the body become dishonorable to God? At what point does it become pride to presume that we know better than God what it means to be beautiful? In our attempts to "modify" our bodies by piercing and other methods do we condemn God as having created that which is less than beautiful?

Each of us must decide regarding our outward appearance as to what is honorable and pleasing to the Lord, but such a decision can only find truth with God once we come to understand and accept that He has created us and we are beautiful in His sight. Only when we are secure in His love and His estimation of us are we free to decide regarding the matters of the body and of beauty.

David Robison

Monday, February 24, 2014

Clothes - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"The Instructor permits us, then, to use simple clothing, and of a white colour, as we said before. So that, accommodating ourselves not to variegated art, but to nature as it is produced, and pushing away whatever is deceptive and belies the truth, we may embrace the uniformity and simplicity of the truth... For, as in the case of the soldier, the sailor, and the ruler, so also the proper dress of the temperate man is what is plain, becoming, and clean." (Clement of Alexandria, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Christians taking to wearing all white, especially after Labor Day, would certainly make them stand out and appear very odd. However, in Clement's day, it was not that uncommon. Many people wore clothes of white or tan, simple cloths of natural color. Clement is not calling us to become an oddity in our communities but rather to prefer natural colors and fibers so that we will not be tempted into superfluity, extravagances, or dressing for show. Dress was to be plain, becoming, and clean; well suited for our life and meeting the purposes dress such as that for covering and warmth. Anything beyond this was excess whose end was not towards good for man and woman given to a life of holiness.
"As, then, signs, which are very closely allied to causes, by their presence indicate, or rather demonstrate, the existence of the result; as smoke is the sign of fire, and a good complexion and a regular pulse of health; so also clothing of this description shows the character of our habits. Temperance is pure and simple; since purity is a habit which ensures pure conduct unmixed with what is base. Simplicity is a habit which does away with superfluities... It also (temperance) is contented. And contentment is a habit which dispenses with superfluities, and, that there may be no failure, is receptive of what suffices for the healthful and blessed life according to the Word." (Clement of Alexandria, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Our cloths represent ourselves. Some cloths show forth our wealth and our love of finery. Others serve to align ourselves with a certain segment of society, for example, dress that is indicative of the Gothic subculture in America. Some dress shows our affinity for a group or cause that may or may not be in keeping with our Christian morals. For example, wearing a T-Shirt bearing the logo or likeness of a music group whose music and lyrics are decidedly anti-Christian. Clement calls us to chose dress that is in keeping with our Christian character, such as, purity, simplicity, and temperance. How can we claim a habit of purity when our dress states otherwise or how can we feign temperance when we use extravagance of dress?
"Let the women wear a plain and becoming dress, but softer than what is suitable for a man, yet not quite immodest or entirely gone in luxury. And let the garments be suited to age, person, figure, nature, pursuits. For the divine apostle most beautifully counsels us 'to put on Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the lusts of the flesh.'" (Clement of Alexandria, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Here is the end of the matter. The issue at hand is, how does our dress reflect upon our Christianity and upon Christ? If, when we got dressed each morning, we saw ourselves as "putting on" Christ, how would that change the way we dress? If we saw our dress as reflecting the degree to which we bear His image and likeness, how would that change our behavior as it relates to cloths? If we have experienced a change on the inside through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is it reasonable to assume that that change would also produce (and even necessitate) a change on the outside? Perhaps there does need to be a rethinking of our dress and how we present ourselves to the world.

David Robison

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Life in short - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Wherefore the wearing of gold and the use of softer clothing is not to be entirely prohibited. But irrational impulses must be curbed, lest, carrying us away through excessive relaxation, they impel us to voluptuousness. For luxury, that has dashed on to surfeit, is prone to kick up its heels and toss its mane, and shake off the charioteer, the Instructor; who, pulling back the reins from far, leads and drives to salvation the human horse—that is, the irrational part of the soul—which is wildly bent on pleasures, and vicious appetites, and precious stones, and gold, and variety of dress, and other luxuries." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
As Clement nears the end of his book, he takes to summarizing what he has previously said through a series of short dissertation describing his philosophy of what it means to live a Christian life. It is a compendium of thoughts and goals for a life lived in humility, temperance, moderation, and holiness.

For some, his prescriptions may seem out dated and impractical, and, in truth, not all of his regulations translate well into the twenty first century. Literal adherence to some of his commands, instead of showing forth the glory of God, would simply server to show Christians as odd and out of place, such as his command of wearing only white. However, there is still value in examining his teachings. We grow up and live inside a culture that is often formed by influences other than the word of God. We view this culture as normal, since it is the only one we know. However, when we become sons and daughters of God and are brought into the Kingdom of God, we must learn another culture. We all bring our old culture in with us into the Kingdom and it is the work of the Instructor to teach us a new way to live and to fit us into a new culture, one of holiness and rightness. When we read Clement's injunctions, we must allow them to challenge the way we live, to use them to search our hearts for why we do certain things and why we follow the cultural norms of this world. In the end, it may not look exactly like he prescribes, but if we can catch the significance of what he is saying and use it to identify the remnants of our former life and culture, then we will arrive at the point where transformation can begin.
"Above all, we are to keep in mind what was spoken sacredly: 'Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles; that, whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may, by the good works which they behold, glorify God.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Here is the goal of all of Clements commands, that in the end, we would be like Christ; that we would bear His image and His glory. The term "conversation" is an older usage of the word and includes the who manor of our life, our speech, our behavior, our manors, and our thoughts. God wants our whole life to give testimony of Him and to show forth to the world His Glory. The world may not like us, they may even hate us, but when we live a godly life, they won't be able to deny the rightness of our lives and, in the end, they will glorify God.

David Robison

Friday, February 21, 2014

Working out - The Instructor on exercises suited to a good life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"The gymnasium is sufficient for boys, even if a bath is within reach. And even for men to prefer gymnastic exercises by far to the baths, is perchance not bad, since they are in some respects conducive to the health of young men, and produce exertion—emulation to aim at not only a healthy habit of body, but courageousness of soul. When this is done without dragging a man away from better employments, it is pleasant, and not unprofitable." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Paul reminds us that, "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19) But what good is is the body to the Holy Spirit if it is tired, worn out, and unhealthy? Our goal should be, as much as it depends upon us, that our bodies would not give out before we have completed the purpose of God for our lives; that we might remain strong in body, even to the end, that we might full fill God's purpose for our lives equally to the end. Clement understood the importance of health and the role exercise could play in strengthening our earthly bodies. Clement believed that exercise, when done in moderation, and in balance with our other responsibilities in life, could be both pleasant and profitable. He also believed that the best exercise for men was strenuous exercise as it not only benefited the body but also encouraged "courageousness of soul."
"Nor are women to be deprived of bodily exercise. But they are not to be encouraged to engage in wrestling or running, but are to exercise themselves in spinning, and weaving, and superintending the cooking if necessary. And they are, with their own hand, to fetch from the store what we require. And it is no disgrace for them to apply themselves to the mill. Nor is it a reproach to a wife—housekeeper and helpmeet—to occupy herself in cooking, so that it may be palatable to her husband... the Instructor will approve of a woman like this, who 'stretches forth her arms to useful tasks, rests her hands on the distaff, opens her hand to the pour, and extends her wrist to the beggar.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Some may find Clement's views towards women offensive but it must be remembered that Clement wrote in the context of his own culture with its own social norms. Such social norms do not change overnight and often, even as Christians, we must learn to live within our society's norms even as they are ever slowly changing. What is important to understand is that Clement refuses to treat women as if they are men. He sees them as being created uniquely by God and substantially different in make up, both in body and soul. What women even today must understand is that there is no disgrace in being a woman and women do not need to become like men to have value. Hilary Clinton, while her husband was President of the United States, once said, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession" as if such endeavors were of little value and worthy of being despised. However Clement does not see it this way. Women who fulfill what some may see as traditional female roles are often so busy with life that their activities provide them all the necessary exercise need for a strong and healthy life.
"She who emulates Sarah is not ashamed of that highest of ministries, helping wayfarers... And innumerable such examples of frugality and self-help, and also of exercises, are furnished by the Scriptures. In the case of men, let some strip and engage in wrestling; let some play at the small ball, especially the game they call Pheninda, in the sun. To others who walk into the country, or go down into the town, the walk is sufficient exercise. And were they to handle the hoe, this stroke of economy in agricultural labour would not be ungentleman like." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Clement acknowledges that often, a simple and active lifestyle, can provide the exercise necessary for a health life. Additionally, simply abstaining from some of the conveniences of life can provide us with the extra exercise we need, such as choosing to walk instead of taking the car.
"For such a struggle with graceful strength is more becoming and manly, being undertaken for the sake of serviceable and profitable health... We must always aim at moderation. For as it is best that labour should precede food, so to labour above measure is both very bad, very exhausting, and apt to make us ill. Neither, then, should we be idle altogether, nor completely fatigued. For similarly to what we have laid down with respect to food, are we to do everywhere and with everything. Our mode of life is not to accustom us to voluptuousness and licentiousness, nor to the opposite extreme, but to the medium between these, that which is harmonious and temperate, and free of either evil, luxury and parsimony."  (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Our lives should be well regulated, held in balance, and with a goal towards temperance, frugality, and moderation. It is not good to be a workaholic nor is it good to be slothful. It is not good to strain the body to the point of exhaustion or ill health nor is it good to be idle to the point of weakness. Balance and moderation should be our goal in both body and soul.

David Robison

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Public Bathing - The Instructor on why we use the baths

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"There are, then, four reasons for the bath (for from that point I digressed in my oration), for which we frequent it: for cleanliness, or heat, or health, or lastly, for pleasure. Bathing for pleasure is to be omitted. For unblushing pleasure must be cut out by the roots; and the bath is to be taken by women for cleanliness and health, by men for health alone. To bathe for the sake of heat is a superfluity, since one may restore what is frozen by the cold in other ways... Unless, then, the bath is for some use, we ought not to indulge in it." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 9)
Clement is not talking about showering in the privacy of your own home, but the habit in his day of people frequenting public bathing houses where men and women bathed together in view of each other. Here we see clearly Clement's view that that which is done for pleasure only aught to be rejected by those who have the Spirit of Truth living inside them. To sacrifice modesty for the sake of pleasure is to loose in the exchange; giving up something of great value for that which has not lasting value here or in the life to come. Bathing for utility is permitted, as it benefits the body, but bathing for pleasure is luxury and aught to be avoided.

I do find it funny the women are allowed to bathe for cleanliness and health, but men for health alone. Clement have a very rugged view of men and found any effeminacy in men offensive. Women were to be women and men were to be men, even if they stank.
"For we must not so use the bath as to require an assistant, nor are we to bathe constantly and often in the day as we frequent the market-place. But to have the water poured over us by several people is an outrage on our neighbours, through fondness for luxuriousness, and is done by those who will not understand that the bath is common to all the bathers equally." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 9)
Again, we must remind ourselves that Clement is not talking about hygiene or showering at home but the use of public bath houses. For some, the bath houses had become a way of life, frequenting them as often as they went to the market, not for the benefit to the body but for the pleasure of the soul. Such pleasure had at its root sensuality and an abandonment of modesty. In pursuing pleasure, the bathers did not care who saw them or who attended to their body, pleasure was first, modesty could wait outside the doors.
"But most of all is it necessary to wash the soul in the cleansing Word (sometimes the body too, on account of the dirt which gathers and grows to it, sometimes also to relieve fatigue)... The best bath, then, is what rubs off the pollution of the soul, and is spiritual... The bathing which is carnal, that is to say, of the body, is accomplished by water alone, as often in the country where there is not a bath." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 9)
There is a place for hygiene, but it is at home, or at least away from prying eyes, where modesty can be maintained. It is also simple, tending to the needs of the body without inciting the lusts of the flesh. Luxury and the desire for pleasure are the enemies of modesty and dignity. Their path never leads to truth, happiness, or life but only death, destruction, and loss. Far better to be simple and pure than lavish and polluted.

David Robison

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Training for difficulties - The Instructor on similitudes and examples in right training

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"And if any one of you shall entirely avoid luxury, he will, by a frugal upbringing, train himself to the endurance of involuntary labours, by employing constantly voluntary afflictions as training exercises for persecutions; so that when he comes to compulsory labours, and fears, and griefs, he will not be unpracticed in endurance." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 8)
The time to train for difficulties is not when you are in the midst of them but before, when you are at ease. Consider the actions of King Asa, "He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah. And the kingdom was undisturbed under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, since the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest." (2 Chronicles 14:5-6) Asa and the Israelite found themselves in a time of peace, but instead of depending on their peace, they took advantage of the time to prepare themselves spiritually and their nation for future wars. Times of ease are when we need to be most diligent in preparing ourselves for difficulties to come. They are times when, though tempted to be slothful, we must choose to be diligent and active in preparation for the future.

This applies not only to preparing for our ability to overcome future adversity but also for preparing ourselves to be ready to respond to God whenever He might call us. I remember reading about J Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission during the latter half of the nineteenth century. When he was younger he always made sure to leave the table a little bit hungry and to sleep at night so that he would always be a little bit cold. In this way he hopped to prepare himself for life on the mission field. His discipline as a youth prepared him for over fifty years of fruitful ministry in China and for breaking new ground in inland missions. In contrast, I remember when a church I was apart of was ready to send a team to Venezuela to start a church there, there was a couple who knew that it was God's will and call for them to go and be a part of the team. Unfortunately, their life of undisciplined had left them in debt and this debt prevented them from responding to God's call when it came. They had waited for God's call but were unable to respond to it when it came because they failed to prepare themselves while they had the chance. Our choices today should be made based on the life we hope to have in the future.
"What pertains to disciplane alone is reserved now for description, as we delineate the life of Christians. The most indeed has been already said, and laid down in the form of disciplinary rules. What still remains we shall subjoin; for examples are of no small moment in determining to salvation." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 8)
One of the greatest gifts history gives us is the abundant collection of examples of lives lived well and not so well. By studying history, we can often see the reflection of our own life and the multiple possible outcomes if we continue in, or deviate from, the current arc of our life. We can learn to identify the things in our lives that are leading to a positive end as well as those things that are tending to destruction; history congratulating the former and warning against the latter. Clement sees examples of history as one of the greatest teachers of human life.
"For some men being instructed are saved; and others, self-taught, either aspire after or seek virtue. 'He truly is the best of all who himself perceives all things.' Such is Abraham, who sought God. 'And good, again, is he who obeys him who advises well.' Such are those disciples who obeyed the Word. Wherefore the former was called 'friend,' the latter 'apostles;' the one diligently seeking, and the other preaching one and the same God. And both are peoples, and both these have hearers, the one who is profited through seeking, the other who is saved through finding. 'But whoever neither himself perceives, nor, hearing another, Lays to heart—he is a worthless man.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 8)
Not all people learn in the same way, nor is the manor of instruction the same for all teachers. Some are given to seeking out truth and storing it up in their heart while others are given to receiving the truth and treasuring it equally within them. Some prefer reading, some hearing, and some need personal coaching. However, the "hows" of instruction doesn't matter, what matters is what we do with what we learn. Do we take the lessons of history and apply them to our lives that we might live abundantly, or do we ignore history and plow ahead towards our own destiny of destruction? Are we like those of whom Paul says are, "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7) Or are we like those whom Jesus spoke of who, "hears these words of Mine and acts on them," (Matthew 7:24) who built for themselves strong foundations for their lives? The choice is ours.

David Robison

Monday, February 17, 2014

Frugality - The Instructor on frugality, a good possession of the Christian

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Delicacies spent on pleasures become a dangerous shipwreck to men; for this voluptuous and ignoble life of the many is alien to true love for the beautiful and to refined pleasures. For man is by nature an erect and majestic being, aspiring after the good as becomes the creature of the One. But the life which crawls on its belly is destitute of dignity, is scandalous, hateful, ridiculous. And to the divine nature voluptuousness is a thing most alien... For to regard pleasure as a good thing, is the sign of utter ignorance of what is excellent. Love of wealth displaces a man from the right mode of life, and induces him to cease from feeling shame at what is shameful." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
Clement contrasts two modes of life. One spent on the pursuits of pleasure and the other on the pursuit of God. One spent on what one considers as good and the other on what is truly excellent. How often do we allow our lives to be hijacked by the "good," causing us to forgo what is excellent? God created us as noble and majestic beings, destined for those things that are most excellent, but we have demeaned ourselves and accepted rather the pursuit of momentary pleasures, changing our noble character for that which is ignoble and shameful. Worst of all, we fail to see how far we have fallen. "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) And yet how many have perceived that from which they have fallen?
"We must, then, cast away the multitude of vessels, silver and gold drinking cups, and the crowd of domestics, receiving as we have done from the Instructor the fair and grave attendants, Self-help and Simplicity. And we must walk suitably to the Word; and if there be a wife and children, the house is not a burden, having learned to change its place along with the sound-minded traveller. The wife who loves her husband must be furnished for travel similarly to her husband. A fair provision for the journey to heaven is theirs who bear frugality with chaste gravity. And as the foot is the measure of the shoe, so also is the body of what each individual possesses." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
If we are to find the excellent, we must cast off all that is superfluous in our lives. We must learn lives of simplicity and frugality, traveling light through this world in which we are merely sojourners. Clement reminds us that the necessary cares of life are not a burden to those who know how to live simply while the "stuff" of the rich weighs them down and encumbers their every steps and causes them to stumble in the way. The one who lives a simple life is always ready to go while the one encumbered with the things of this world finds it difficult to respond to God; their possessions calling to them even while they try to respond. It is the same lure of life that caused Lot's wife to look back, "But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." (Genesis 19:26)
"He who climbs to the heavens by force, must carry with him the fair staff of beneficence, and attain to the true rest by communicating to those who are in distress... For as gushing wells, when pumped out, rise again to their former measure, so giving away, being the benignant spring of love, by communicating of its drink to the thirsty, again increases and is replenished, just as the milk is wont to flow into the breasts that are sucked or milked." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
Wealth is not to be horded, nor is it to be spent on the superfluity of life, but is to be stewarded and used for the relief of those in need. Solomon reminds us, "There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want." (Proverbs 11:24) Those who give out of the wealth God has given them are like wells that never runs dry. They keep giving and God keeps increasing. The are blessed and those they give to are blessed, and all give thanks to God.
"For the Word is a possession that wants nothing, and is the cause of all abundance. If one say that he has often seen the righteous man in need of food, this is rare, and happens only where there is not another righteous man... The good man, then, can never be in difficulties so long as he keeps intact his confession towards God. For it appertains to him to ask and to receive whatever he requires from the Father of all; and to enjoy what is his own, if he keep the Son. And this also appertains to him, to feel no want." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7)
The key to living a simple and frugal life is knowing that God cares for us and will always provide for us. Where there is want, there is a place where righteousness is lacking or where righteous men have failed in their call and duty. God has promised to provide and, when righteous men live lives in keeping with God's word, God will always provide for what is needed. 

Finally, God desires us to live a life where we want for nothing. Can you imagine the blessings of such a life, to be in need and want for nothing? To be free from the desire of all the world has to offer? To live a life knowing that, whatever you may need, God will provide, would be a life most blessed in deed. To love in want of nothing would be to live in the image of God.

David Robison

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who is truly rich? - The Instructor on Christians alone are rich

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"But, as is reasonable, he alone, who possesses what is worth most, turns out truly rich, though not recognised as such. And it is not jewels, or gold, or clothing, or beauty of person, that are of high value, but virtue; which is the Word given by the Instructor to be put in practice." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
To understand who is truly rich we must first identify those things that are worth the most. Also, we must identify who is the most competent to assign value to determine if things are worth much or little. In this case, the best judge of value is Jesus for He created all things and assigned to them their value. Based on this, it is easy to see that things of this creation, such as gold, money, or real estate are not those things that are of real value. Rather it is those things that are meant to inherit eternity that possess true value. Therefore, the most precious thing a person can possess is virtue. Virtue being that quality of soul that expresses the very image and nature of the one who created it. So how does one achieve such a quality of soul? By putting the Word of God into practice in our lives. When we live the Word of God we live in virtue and show forth the image and nature of God.
"So that it is not he who has and keeps, but he who gives away, that is rich; and it is giving away, not possession, which renders a man happy; and the fruit of the Spirit is generosity. It is in the soul, then, that riches are." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
This understanding of true wealth makes it almost comical that, in the world, we judge richness based on what a person holds not on what they give away. If I have a lot of money, how does that make me rich? How does that add anything of value to my life? In truth is is how we use the stockpile of wealth that makes us "rich" or "poor". I could possess billions and billions of dollars, but as long as I just hoard them and hold onto them, it benefits my life little. Even if I use my wealth to spend it on my every wish and desire, what little value, in the end, has it really brought to my life? However, when one uses their wealth to give to help those in need, their wealth makes them truly rich; rich in soul and rich in gratitude towards God.
"Let it, then, be granted that good things are the property only of good men; and Christians are good. Now,  fool or a libertine can neither have any perception of what is good, nor obtain possession of it. Accordingly, good things are possessed by Christians alone... For righteousness is true riches; and the Word is more valuable than all treasure, not accruing from cattle and fields, but given by God—riches which cannot be taken away." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
For those of us who live so distant from the great philosophers, such logical constructions seem foreign, but they were not so to the great Christian thinkers of the early church. Let's stop and consider Clement's preposition that good things are the property of good men alone. Is this true? Consider how Jesus warned His disciples, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6) Those who belong to this world do not, and cannot, understand the things of heaven nor can they perceive and understand those things that are of great value. Paul confirms Jesus' words when he said, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one." (1 Corinthians 2:14-15) True wealth and true riches are not to be discerned by worldly means but must be discerned and received by the spirit. Thus, for certain, good things are the property of good people, those made good through the redemptive work of Christ, and those good things are the things of the Kingdom, those things that can never be taken away.
"For he whose it is to desire nothing that is not in our power, and to obtain by asking from God what he piously desires, does he not possess much, nay all, having God as his everlasting treasure? 'To him that asks,' it is said, 'shall be given, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.' If God denies nothing, all things belong to the godly." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
So how does one live truly rich in this life, by not desiring what we do not have and by asking God for what we need; by accepting what God provides as sufficient for our lives. When we view riches in worldly terms, we can view ourselves as poor, yet when we view ourselves in light of God's Kingdom, we find we are truly rich. It reminds me of when the nations of Israel entered into the promised land and the land was divided to all the tribes except the tribe of Levi. It was said of Levi, "They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them." (Deuteronomy 18:2) On one hand it appears as if they got "ripped off", not getting any inheritance in the new land, however, they got something of much greater value, God, and when God is your inheritance, you have access to everything. One is never as rich as when he has God in his possession!

David Robison

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Purpusful wealth - The Instructor on Christians alone are rich

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Riches are then to be partaken of rationally, bestowed lovingly, not sordidly, or pompously; nor is the love of the beautiful to be turned into self-love and ostentation; lest perchance some one say to us, "His horse, or land, or domestic, or gold, is worth fifteen talents; but the man himself is dear at three coppers.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
Wealth should be approached rationally and with purpose rather than emotionally and for the purpose of spending it on our every impulse and desire. Wealth is not good or evil, it is amoral. What makes wealth good or evil is how we use it. Do we spend it on our self-love and our "love of show" or do we use it for the benefit others because we love them above ourselves? We spend our wealth on what we value. Unfortunately, for some, what we value is "stuff". Too often we see ourselves and things as being of greater value than other human beings. If we would stop to recognize the true value of others, as also being those where were created by God, then we would treat our wealth very differently; our wealth would take on a whole new purpose. We would understand that, as those to whom He has entrusted His wealth, He has not done so that they might satisfy our own lusts and desires, but that we may be the ones who come to the aid of the poor and needy, that we may be the arms of God's grace to those in need around us.
"This best of maxims, then, ought to be perpetually repeated, 'That the good man, being temperate and just,' treasures up his wealth in heaven. He who has sold his worldly goods, and given them to the poor, finds the imperishable treasure, 'where is neither moth nor robber.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
A maxim is a fundamental truth that is true everywhere and for everyone. It is not relative nor does it change with the times or circumstances. It is always and everywhere true. This "best of maxims" teaches us that true wealth resides in heaven and cannot be purchased and horded here on earth. Worldly wealth pails in comparison to true wealth; one tarnishes, rust, and fades away while the other, "is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you." (1 Peter 1:4) A life spent in pursuit of this worlds wealth and riches is a life spend in futility. For worldly possessions may delight for a while, but of what use or value are they when we enter into eternity? Far better to live a life to gain eternal treasures than treasure whose end is certain.
"Wealth seems to me to be like a serpent, which will twist round the hand and bite; unless one knows how to lay hold of it without danger by the point of the tail. And riches, wriggling either in an experienced or inexperienced grasp, are dexterous at adhering and biting; unless one, despising them, use them skilfully, so as to crush the creature by the charm of the Word, and himself escape unscathed." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 6)
Many want to be rich, but how few really know how to be rich? Solomon said, "It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it." (Proverbs 10:22) However, I know many who, though being very rich, have with it great sorrow. Their wealth has not brought them the happiness and enjoyment they wished. Instead it has become a burden that destroys families, relationships, and godly morals. Instead of elevating, it has debased. Instead of making the them great, it has lowered them to the level of their lusts and sordid desires. For the man who does not know how to be rich, riches can be his destruction! Clement likens riches to a snake that twists and bites until it finally destroys its holder. To be rich with no sorrow attached, one must first come to find those things that are of true value and learn to despise worldly wealth. They must learn to treat riches, not as something to obtain and to spend for their own enjoyment, but as a tool to be used for the benefit of many. Wealth is not a measure of our stature, nor is it a means to never having to work again, but it is simply a tool, a tool to be used to extend the grace and love of God to others in need. Wealth is given by God, not as a possession, but as a stewardship. It is God's wealth and we are merely its stewards, to steward it according to His plan and purpose. If we can come to know wealth in this way then safely will we be able to handle it and to avoid its spiteful biting.

David Robison

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bathing for all to see - The Instructor on behavior in the baths

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"And of what sort are their baths? Houses skilfully constructed, compact, portable, transparent, covered with fine linen. And gold-plated chairs, and silver ones, too, and ten thousand vessels of gold and silver, some for drinking, some for eating, some for bathing, are carried about with them... proving at least that they themselves cannot meet and cannot sweat without a multitude of vessels, although poor women who have no display equally enjoy their baths. The dirt of wealth, then, has an abundant covering of censure. With this, as with a bait, they hook the miserable creatures that gape at the glitter of gold... They will scarce strip before their own husbands affecting a plausible pretence of modesty; but any others who wish, may see them at home shut up naked in their baths. For there they are not ashamed to strip before spectators, as if exposing their persons for sale." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 5)
Here Clement is not referring to public bath houses but portable rooms that were moved and setup in the house for the purpose of bathing, Yet even here the trappings of luxury surround the wealthy. One would not think of bathing in an ordinary tub, lacking its gold, finery, and accessories. It's almost as if expensive dirt requires expensive means by which to be removed.

What is most curious in Clement's mind is how one can show such modesty in one setting and yet, in another, cast it off entirely. We no longer have such bath houses today, but living near the coast, the comparison is not lost on me. I find it odd that women who would shutter to walk around in  their underwear would yet present themselves on the beach wearing even less than if they wore their unmentionables. How can that be? Should not modesty in one setting be the same in another? Does the presence of salt air make all the difference and render immodesty as modest? I think not! One should seek to be modest where ever they are.
"The ancient athletes, ashamed to exhibit a man naked, preserved their modesty by going through the contest in drawers; but these women, divesting themselves of their modesty along with their tunic, wish to appear beautiful, but contrary to their wish are simply proved to be wicked. For through the body itself the wantonness of lust shines clearly." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 5)
Unfortunately, many women, wishing to become beautiful, assume they must become what lustful men desire; men who care more for flesh and form than they do for the person. Men desire a certain look of a women so a woman assumes she must become that in order to be beautiful. However, in doing so they enslave themselves to the expectations and wishes of men and, in the end, fail to find what it means to be truly beautiful. In seeking the approbation of men they forget the one who already loves them and who finds them truly beautiful for so He created them.
"Men, therefore, affording to women a noble example of truth, ought to be ashamed at their stripping before them, and guard against these dangerous sights; 'for he who has looked curiously,' it is said, 'hath sinned already.'... For so only shall one remain without falling, if he regard God as ever present with him." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 5)
I had a friend who worked in an office building that was wrapped with one way glass. On the outside it looked like mirrors while those inside could clearly see out. In the same office building was a beauty shop and women would come and prep themselves outside by looking in the mirrors, not knowing that the people inside could see them. One day, my friend's wife was visiting him at work while this was going on and his coworker said to her, "You don't have to worry about Jim for he always looks away." Men should guard women's modesty by looking away from all indecency. Remember the story of King David and Bathsheba. "Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king's house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, 'Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?'" (2 Samuel 11:2-3) How different would things have been if David had just looked away, yet he gazed, inquired, and sinned. By looking away we honor women, protect their modesty, and save our souls from sin.

Sometimes, when we are alone, with no one around to see us, it is easy to let our guard down and to look upon things that we aught not. However, we must always remember that God is always with us, watching what we are watching. We must always stop to conciser, if Jesus was sitting next to us would He be watching what we are watching? If not, maybe we should just simply look away.

David Robison

Monday, February 10, 2014

The world's plan for you - The Instructor on with whom we should associate

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"And these women are carried about over the temples, sacrificing and practising divination day by day, spending their time with fortune-tellers, and begging priests, and disreputable old women; and they keep up old wives’ whisperings over their cups, learning charms and incantations from soothsayers, to the ruin of the nuptial bonds. And some men they keep; by others they are kept; and others are promised them by the diviners. They know not that they are cheating themselves, and giving up themselves as a vessel of pleasure to those that wish to indulge in wantonness; and exchanging their purity for the foulest outrage... For the licentious rush readily into uncleanness, like swine rushing to that part of the hold of the ship which is depressed." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 4)
Clement is speaking here of the women of luxury who were carried about on their litters, not to be shielded from the gaze of men, but for the show of their finery. They rush out into the world to engage in the commerce of the day, all the while not realizing that they are the prey the world was seeking for.

If you don't have a plan for your life, the world has one for you and it's not one to bring you closer to God. Peter warns us, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) The devil is seeking to devour us and "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (1 John 5:19 NKJV) We cannot simply go along with the world and expect to find the Kingdom of God. We must break ranks with them and begin marching in a different direction, in a direction that is illuminated by the Word of God inside us. This will not make us popular, for even Peter remarks that, "they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you." (1 Peter 4:4) But we must resist the world and its devices and pursue a different course, casing off all entrapment of our former life. The world does not mean us good, but God does.
"But those who are more refined than these keep Indian birds and Median pea-fowls, and recline with peak-headed creatures; playing with satyrs, delighting in monsters. They laugh when they hear Thersites; and these women, purchasing Thersiteses highly valued, pride themselves not in their husbands, but in those wretches which are a burden on the earth, and overlook the chaste widow, who is of far higher value than a Melit├Žan pup, and look askance at a just old man, who is lovelier in my estimation than a monster purchased for money. And though maintaining parrots and curlews, they do not receive the orphan child; but they expose children that are born at home, and take up the young of birds, and prefer irrational to rational creatures; although they ought to undertake the maintenance of old people with a character for sobriety, who are fairer in my mind than apes, and capable of uttering something better than nightingales... But these, on the other hand, prefer ignorance to wisdom, turning their wealth into stone, that is, into pearls and Indian emeralds. And they squander and throw away their wealth on fading dyes, and bought slaves; like crammed fowls scraping the dung of life. 'Poverty,' it is said, 'humbles a man.' By poverty is meant that niggardliness by which the rich are poor, having nothing to give away." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 4)
How deprived is the world that they should delight in riches and exotic things more than people. Notice the contrast that Clement paints. They delight more in their possessions that in their husbands, they spend their wealth on soulless animals rather than helping the orphaned child, and they prefer their licentious friends while showing disdain on the just and the aged. In their pursuit of worldly riches they value the temporal things those things that have of eternal value. They look with little consequence on the practice of exposing of children at birth yet defend they defend the lives of mere animals. They reminds me of many a rich and famous person today who cries out against the destruction of an Eagle's egg but celebrates the right of a woman to terminate the life of her unborn child.

How can we have become so void of all feeling and care that we no longer know the things that are of true value, that we prize things more than people and worship the creation over the creator? These are the thing that result from the pursuit of the world and its riches. Maybe its time for repentance, for a turning about, for seeking of a new direction. As long as we follow the world we will inherit the corruption of the world, but if we follow Christ, we will find eternal life!

David Robison

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Outsourcing work - The Instructor on with whom we are to associate

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"But really I have unwittingly deviated in spirit from the order, to which I must now revert, and must find fault with having large numbers of domestics. For, avoiding working with their own hands and serving themselves, men have recourse to servants, purchasing a great crowd of fine cooks, and of people to lay out the table, and of others to divide the meat skilfully into pieces... Many are eunuchs; and these panders serve without suspicion those that wish to be free to enjoy their pleasures, because of the belief that they are unable to indulge in lust. But a true eunuch is not one who is unable, but one who is unwilling, to indulge in pleasure." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 4)
Clement would have never understood Twitter. He was a man who wrote according to a plan, a well thought out plan to cover his chosen topic with exhaustive toughness. One hundred and forty four letters? He could not get through his introduction with that! Clement next takes aim at those in his society who purchase for themselves large number of servants to attend to everything in their house thus eliminating from them their need to work and labor; purchasing for themselves time for idleness and the enjoyment of pleasure. They count themselves superior in their liberty to enjoy pleasure while those of true worth are those who are able yet refuse to indulge their lusts.
"The Word, testifying by the prophet Samuel to the Jews, who had transgressed when the people asked for a king, promised not a loving lord, but threatened to give them a self-willed and voluptuous tyrant, 'who shall,' He says, 'take your daughters to be perfumers, and cooks, and bakers,' ruling by the law of war, not desiring a peaceful administration." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 4)
Such lives of abundance and idleness are not conducive to those who wish to live enlightened and holy lives. For such idleness, combined with the power to rule over servants, corrupts our gentle heart and transforms our compassion into pride and arrogance. Instead of loving and compassionate men and women we become tyrannical lords. Some say power corrupts, but never as fast as when accompanied by idleness.
"But those who impose on the women, spend the day with them, telling them silly amatory stories, and wearing out body and soul with their false acts and words. 'Thou shalt not be with many,' it is said, 'for evil, nor give thyself to a multitude;' for wisdom shows itself among few, but disorder in a multitude... 'Look not round,' it is said, 'in the streets of the city, and wander not in its lonely places.' For that is, in truth, a lonely place, though there be a crowd of the licentious in it, where no wise man is present."(Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 4)
When not busily making sure others are doing their work, the powerful idle tend to associate with other lords and ladies of tyranny, spending their days in idleness, speaking of and enjoying endless pleasure, sacrificing their souls for the sake of their flesh.

In a world that has sunk into licentiousness, wisdom is not to be found in her streets. If we make the world our friends, our companions, and our comrades then we will in no ways find the wisdom that comes from above. Wisdom is not found in the multitudes, but in those with whom the Spirit of Truth lives; these should be our friends, companions, and comrades. "'Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord." (2 Corinthians 6:17)

David Robison

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Barbarous man - The Instructor on men embellishing the body

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word), if it is to attract men, is the act of an effeminate person,—if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
So what is so wrong with men trying to rid their body of excess hair? Well, besides their battle against nature, the primary question must be "why?" If a man changes his appearance and behavior to attract other men, then he is tending to becoming of an effeminate man. However, if he does so to attract women, then he is behaving as a fornicator or adulterer. The problem is not the hair but that he does it for the purpose of attracting amorous desires either from men or women. Here in lies the true sin of what he is doing.
"The man, who would be beautiful, must adorn that which is the most beautiful thing in man, his mind, which every day he ought to exhibit in greater comeliness; and should pluck out not hairs, but lusts." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
The man who wishes to appear handsome should seek to improve his soul rather than his body. Here, Clement sees no difference between our mind and our soul. Our mind is the knowing part of our soul where we alternatingly resist and yield to the wishes and desires of the flesh. What makes a person ugly is not gray hair, but unrestrained lust. The goal and focus of our lives should be in the continual and incremental improvement of our souls in the resisting of sin and conforming to God's nature. In this way a man grows in beauty before God and men.
"Luxury has deranged all things; it has disgraced man. A luxurious niceness seeks everything, attempts everything, forces everything, coerces nature. Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature; women are at once wives and husbands: no passage is closed against libidinousness; and their promiscuous lechery is a public institution, and luxury is domesticated." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
The root cause of effeminacy among men and the blurring of the lines between what it means to be a man and a woman is, in Clement's day and opinion, luxury. Luxury makes us soft. It causes us to focus on external things rather than on the internal man or woman. It seeks pleasure, sensation, and pursues lust rather than developing habits of piety, purity, and the pursuit of God. It tells us that all is well within our lavish existence while hiding from us the truth about our inward darkness and need as it cloaks us within its finery. Clement once wrote, "nothing is more pernicious to the soul than uninterrupted pleasure." (Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 41)
"Of the nations, the Celts and Scythians wear their hair long, but do not deck themselves. The bushy hair of the barbarian has something fearful in it; and its auburn colour threatens war, the hue being somewhat akin to blood. Both these barbarian races hate luxury... and leaving its luxurious ease, the Scythian man leads a frugal life... Man may, though naked in body, address the Lord. But I approve the simplicity of the barbarians: loving an unencumbered life, the barbarians have abandoned luxury. Such the Lord calls us to be—naked of finery, naked of vanity, wrenched from our sins, bearing only the wood of life, aiming only at salvation." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
By the very definition of the term "barbarian" we refer to such people as being inferior to us, in culture, society, wealth, and refinement. We have risen above such primitive lifestyles, our lives of ease have given us time to pursue the finer things in life, we are no longer burdened down with necessities of everyday life since there is little that we lack. However, in being lifted up to lives of luxury, we have become soft and easy prey for the diseases of our souls. We have become snared by our many possessions and have lost the freedom of an unencumbered life. There is something to be admired of the barbarian life, of a life that is free from the entanglement of "things." As long as we are addicted to luxury we will never arrive at the place where we are free from vanity and the sins that so often plague us. Let us cast of such things and return to holier pursuits, such as the pursuit of God and His Kingdom.

David Robison

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Effeminate men - The Instructor on men emblellishing the body

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"To such an extent, then, has luxury advanced, that not only are the female sex deranged about this frivolous pursuit, but men also are infected with the disease. For not being free of the love of finery, they are not in health; but inclining to voluptuousness, they become effeminate, cutting their hair in an ungentlemanlike and meretricious way, clothed in fine and transparent garments, chewing mastich, smelling of perfume. What can one say on seeing them?... 'Living for unholy acts of audacity, these fickle wretches do reckless and nefarious deeds,' says the Sibyl." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
If you thought Clement was stern with the women, you've seen nothing yet! Clement has no patience for men refusing to act like men. Clement rebukes his culture that had lost its strength, degraded into sensuality, and blurred the lines between men and women, much like our own culture today. He is calling all enlightened men, men who have the Light of Life living inside, to come apart and be separate, living a distinctly different lifestyle. Clement sees luxury and voluptuousness as a disease that has infected his culture in ways that it had actually become institutionalized in the daily lives of many.
"And shops are erected and opened everywhere; and adepts at this meretricious fornication make a deal of money openly by those who plaster themselves, and give their hair to be pulled out in all ways by those who make it their trade, feeling no shame before the onlookers or those who approach, nor before themselves, being men. Such are those addicted to base passions, whose whole body is made smooth by the violent tuggings of pitch-plasters. It is utterly impossible to get beyond such effrontery." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
In clement's day, men saw it as sophisticated to have smooth skin like a woman's, so they went to great lengths to rid their bodies of unwanted hair. To support this growing desire, businesses sprang up providing hair removal for a fee. Clement paints a comical picture of those who would plaster themselves all over and then violently jerk back and forth in an attempt to rip out the hair in the plaster. So common had this become that those involved no longer understood what it meant to be men and were no longer shamed as they saw their effeminate selves in a mirror.
"'And none other,' says the Lord, 'can make the hair white or black.' How, then, do these godless ones work in rivalry with God, or rather violently oppose Him, when they transmute the hair made white by Him?" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
Many men were also vain regarding their hair, attempting to cover the gray of age that they might appear younger and more attractive. Yet here is there folly, why do we spend so much effort on trying to accomplish what we cannot; trying to change our white hair black? We can only achieve in hiding the truth in an attempt to convey a false image of ourselves. Only God can change our hair, yet still we struggle against nature and against our creation.
"But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly! And, in truth, unless you saw them naked, you would suppose them to be women." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
God never intended men and women to be the same. He created them differently; both in body and soul, and God expects men to be men and women to be women, celebrating their differences.
"In this God deemed it right that he should excel, and dispersed hair over man’s whole body. Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. And to him has been assigned action." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
Clement's belief is that when God took Eve from Adam's side He separated his nature into two persons, not by proportions but by segregation. "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27) In God's nature there is both male and female, but God created mankind separating these attributes into separate persons, creating man and woman. If this be the case, then for men to try to be like women, or vice versa, is to contend against nature and to contend against God. Men should be men and women, women. This is the natural order of God.

David Robison

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Trolling for glances - The Instructor on women embellishing the body

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Love of dainties and love of wine, though great vices, are not of such magnitude as fondness for finery. 'A full table and repeated cups' are enough to satisfy greed. But to those who are fond of gold, and purple, and jewels, neither the gold that is above the earth and below it is sufficient; ... not even were a man to become a Midas would he be satisfied, but would be still poor, craving other wealth. Such people are ready to die with their gold." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
To Clement, luxury and voluptuousness were some of the great sins of his generation. However, one who desired food and drink would eventually become full or dunk to unconsciousness, yet those who desire "things" are never satisfied. No matter what we have, there is always someone else who has more and we lust for the more they have. We are delighted with having the the latest and greatest until the later and greater come and then we must have that as well. Love of things is an endless pursuit that, in the end, leaves us empty and poor; rich in things, but poor in soul. This burden of pursuit is compounded when the things we seek are things we hope to make us beautiful. For no mater how hard or long we pursue external beauty, we will never be satisfied and will never find what our souls are truly looking for.
"Having, then, no limit to their lust, they push on to shamelessness. For the theatre, and pageants, and many spectators, and strolling in the temples, and loitering in the streets, that they may be seen conspicuously by all, are necessary to them. For those that glory in their looks, not in heart, dress to please others. For as the brand shows the slave, so do gaudy colours the adulteress." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
Why do we dress the way we do? For the woman who spends hours before a mirror getting all "dressed up," for whom is she preparing herself? If it is to be seen and admired by others, are we not behaving in a meretricious way? Selling our beauty for the amorous desires of others? Are we dressing in a way to invoke a sensuous response in those by whom we wish to be seen? Whether conscious or not, are we, by our dress and appearance, trying to solicit an illicit response from others? For whom are we dressing up and for what response? While desiring to be seen by others, have we ceased to care about the glances of God who sees us and yet loves us?
"Is it not monstrous, that while horses, birds, and the rest of the animals, spring and bound from the grass and meadows, rejoicing in ornament that is their own, in mane, and natural colour, and varied plumage; woman, as if inferior to the brute creation, should think herself so unlovely as to need foreign, and bought, and painted beauty?" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
A love for finery and a desire to be seen are symptoms of a deeper need; the need to be loved, noticed, and affirmed. All this dressing up is a doomed attempt to procure what only God can provide: true love. We will never "feel" beautiful until we come to know the one who created us beautiful. The cure for the diseases of our soul is the living Word of God, even our Instructor, Jesus. He alone can set us free from our relentless pursuit of beauty.

David Robison

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Am I pretty? - The Instructor on women embellishing the body

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"It is not, then, the aspect of the outward man, but the soul that is to be decorated with the ornament of goodness; we may say also the flesh with the adornment of temperance. But those women who beautify the outside, are unawares all waste in the inner depths, as is the case with the ornaments of the Egyptians; among whom temples with their porticos and vestibules are carefully constructed... and there is no want of artistic painting... But if you enter the penetralia of the enclosure, and, in haste to behold something better, seek the image that is the inhabitant of the temple... he will give you a hearty laugh at the object of worship. For the deity that is sought, to whom you have rushed, will not be found within, but a cat, or a crocodile, or a serpent of the country, or some such beast unworthy of the temple, but quite worthy of a den, a hole, or the dirt." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
True intimacy is never formed nor sustained based on outward beauty. Intimacy grows and flourishes based on the nature, character, and quality of the inward person. As we grow to know who people are on the inside, then we grow in our intimate relationships with them. Those we find wanting, we end our inward pursuit and our quest for intimacy, but those we find inwardly beautiful, we continue to develop and seek for greater intimacy with them.

Clement compares the women of his day with the Egyptian temples around them. The temples were beautiful and exquisitely constructed. Yet if you ventured in to find what such an ornate temple housed, assuming that it would be of greater value than the temple, you would be surprised, disappointed, and a bit amused. For all that was inside was some poor animal that was more fit to run around outside then to be hidden in an ornate temple.
"But if one withdraw the veil of the temple, I mean the head-dress, the dye, the clothes, the gold, the paint, the cosmetics,—that is, the web consisting of them, the veil, with the view of finding within the true beauty, he will be disgusted, I know well. For he will not find the image of God dwelling within, as is meet; but instead of it a fornicator and adulteress has occupied the shrine of the soul. And the true beast will thus be detected—an ape smeared with white paint." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
The women of Clement's day were very much like those Egyptian temples. If you dared to pierce the plastered on "beauty" to view the person within, you would not find what you expect, but rather someone hiding from the light, trying to look beautiful without actually having to become beautiful. Beautifying the outside will never make the inside beautiful. However, when someone is beautiful on the inside, that beauty can never be hidden. True beauty is when we have the Word of God living inside of us and when we allow that living Word to conform us to God's image.
"And that deceitful serpent, devouring the understanding part of man through vanity, has the soul as its hole, filling all with deadly poisons; and injecting his own venom of deception, this pander of a dragon has changed women into harlots. For love of display is not for a lady, but a courtesan. Such women care little for keeping at home with their husbands; but loosing their husbands’ purse-strings, they spend its supplies on their lusts, that they may have many witnesses of their seemingly fair appearance; and, devoting the whole day to their toilet, they spend their time with their bought slaves." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
What a comical and painful picture Clement paints. When we begin to value show over substance, we begin to drink poison that will, over time, destroy us from the inside out. When we care more about people desiring our outward appearance than affirming the truth of our inward person, then we have become little different from the harlots; wanting to be desired more than wanting to be loved. We want the illicit desires of others to prove to ourselves that we are beautiful and desirous; all the time ignoring the one who loves us unconditionally and who can turn our ugly heart into something beautiful. The love of show is a deceitful path from which many never return.
"Unawares the poor wretches destroy their own beauty, by the introduction of what is spurious. At the dawn of day, mangling, racking, and plastering themselves over with certain compositions, they chill the skin, furrow the flesh with poisons, and with curiously prepared washes, thus blighting their own beauty. Wherefore they are seen to be yellow from the use of cosmetics, and susceptible to disease, their flesh, which has been shaded with poisons, being now in a melting state. So they dishonour the Creator of men, as if the beauty given by Him were nothing worth." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
Here in lies the real issue. God has created us, yet many believe that He has created them ugly. We feel the want of beauty so we go to great lengths to supply what we feel we lack from God. We disdain how God has created us and instead try to conceal it with cosmetics, jewelry, and fine clothing. However, for all our efforts, we only succeed in marring our own true beauty. Clement said that to know ourselves is to know God. If we truly understood that we were created by God and that we are precious and lovely to Him, then maybe our outward appearance would not matter so much to us. God created us just as He pleased and He gave us our own unique beauty. Let this beauty suffice for us.

David Robison

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Looking good - The Instructor on True Beauty

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Love of ornament has degenerated to wantonness... Passions break out, pleasures overflow; beauty fades, and falls quicker than the leaf on the ground, when the amorous storms of lust blow on it before the coming of autumn, and is withered by destruction. For lust becomes and fabricates all things, and wishes to cheat, so as to conceal the man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
When one begins to feel the necessity or arraying themselves with finery to be seen as beautiful by men, they take their first steps down a slippery road lined with precipitous cliffs and other dangers. The end of this road leads not to God but to sensuality, lusts, passions, and wantonness. When we adorn ourselves in an attempt to please the eyes of men we turn our hearts away from true beauty and accept instead a counterfeit beauty; a beauty that is merely external, a beauty that simply hides the ugliness that is with in. In the end, we may look beautiful outwardly but our inward appearance grows uglier and uglier day by day,
"But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
There is a true beauty that belongs only to the men and women of God; to those who have the living Word dwelling within them. True beauty is not external but radiates from within. The one who is truly beautiful does not worry about external ornaments for they server only to hide their true beauty. While there is a natural beauty to a man's soul, this beauty is magnified to true beauty when it is mixed with the Spirit of God; when together they shine forth like the radiant beauty of the sun. To be truly beautiful one must be truly alive and to be truly alive one must have God inside.

So what is true beauty? Clement identifies two components of beauty.
"But the compassionate God Himself set the flesh free, and releasing it from destruction, and from bitter and deadly bondage, endowed it with incorruptibility, arraying the flesh in this, the holy embellishment of eternity—immortality." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
The first component of beauty is immortality. The immortal person cares less for this life and more for the life to come. They are not bound up in the cares of this world nor are they entangled in the affairs of men. Yes, they live in this world but they live as if they are just strangers passing through; as people who know their true destination and who are not afraid of the journey. They are people who are truly alive because they know death has no hold on them.
"There is, too, another beauty of men—love. 'And love,' according to the apostle, 'suffers long, and is kind; envieth not; vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.' For the decking of one’s self out—carrying, as it does, the look of superfluity and uselessness—is vaunting one’s self. Wherefore he adds... 'seeketh not,' it is said, 'what is not her own.' For truth calls that its own which belongs to it; but the love of finery seeks what is not its own, being apart from God, and the Word, from love." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
The second component of beauty is love. However, this love is not a feeling or emotion but an action. It is a love that shows itself in goodness and kindness towards others. It is a love that expresses God's love for others, for that is what it really is. The beauty of love can never be compared to the beauty of mere flesh or form. Such may entice our eyes but love pulls on our souls. One produces a response of desire and lust while the other of gratitude and affection. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." (John 3:16) God's love was shown in action. This is the true beauty of love.
"And that the Lord Himself was uncomely in aspect, the Spirit testifies by Esaias: 'And we saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness but His form was mean, inferior to men.' Yet who was more admirable than the Lord? But it was not the beauty of the flesh visible to the eye, but the true beauty of both soul and body, which He exhibited, which in the former is beneficence; in the latter—that is, the flesh—immortality." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
Some will never see beyond the flesh and form, but this is their loss. Some, looking only on the outward appearance will only ever see the counterfeit and never true beauty. It is said of Jesus Himself that He was not much to look at; that he had no outward appearance that we should take notice of Him, yet His true beauty lay inside. Some looking only on the figure never saw the beauty that God came to express to men. Jesus' form bore no comeliness yet he possessed true beauty: immortality and beneficence. Let the same be said of us.

David Robison