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

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