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

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