Rebuilding the Foundations
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1 Clement chapters 13-16 deal entirely with humility. 1 Clement is a letter from the church at Rome to the church in Corinth, probably in A.D. 95-96, but possibly also in the year 81. There are other dates given, but those two are the most likely.
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Honestly, these are terrible chapters for a commentary. They would be most beneficial if you read them. They are packed with scriptural examples of humility, and the following chapters, which I will cover in the next commentary are as well. So first I will give you the link to the chapters, so you can just read them if you want. I do have a few comments, and I will give you the Scripture references for the passages Clement quotes, so you can also just read the Scripture passages he gives, keeping in mind that the subject is humility.
Once again, the setting is that the Corinthians, after decades of following Paul's advice in his letters to them have again embarked in a divisive path. A couple or perhaps some of the younger Christians have staged an uprising, which Clement says is pure envy, and removed two faultless elders from their positions. After using the Scriptures to warn them of the dangers of envy in the previous chapters, he now moves on to exhorting them to humility.
You can read this chapter at ccel.org. You can get to the following chapters by using the arrows at the top right.
This chapter is all Scripture. He quotes Jeremiah 9:23-24, which is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. He follows it with a rough translation of Matthew 6:12-15, and he adds Isaiah 66:2 at the end. Those are all worth looking up.
Here Clement uses his own words:
It is right and holy therefore, men and brethren, rather to obey God than to follow those who, through pride and sedition, have become the leaders of a detestable emulation.
Emulation is another word for jealousy or envy. To "emulate," though regularly used to mean "imitate" nowadays, means to "imitate for the purpose of surpassing." That is why "emulation" means "jealousy" or "envy." Clement is saying that those who removed the elders in Corinth are guilty of pride, sedition, and a "detestable" envy. They have followed the leaders, which would be good if they stopped there, but they have tried to surpass them and take their positions.
For we shall incur no slight injury, but rather great danger, if we rashly yield ourselves to the inclinations of men who aim at exciting strife and tumults so as to draw us away from what is good.
Of course, divisions abound today. Boards of deacons or elders regularly fire pastors. Congrgations regularly divide. These things don't generally alarm us except for the emotional damage that church splits often cause to church members. Clement, however, reminds us that the greatest danger is to God's church, and our greatest danger is always the judgment of God when we exalt ourselves and do not love one another.
These men, writes Clement, are "exciting strife and tumults." Have you experienced that in church or business? Proverbs says that a whisperer can separate the best of friends (Prov. 16:28). This is surely what the Corinthians had at this time, whisperers (or perhaps those who spread rumors more loudly than whispering) who spoke ill of leaders or highly of themselves. Absalom, King David's son, did this to his father and stole the kingdom from him (2 Samuel 15).
Clement quotes Psalm 37 to say of such rebels, "I saw the ungodly highly exalted and lifted up like the cedars of Lebanon. I passed by and, behold, he was not."
It is those that God exalts who will experience his blessing. Those that take their place out of envy or sedition will suffer the punishments that come to all those who exalt themselves and are thus opposed by God.
In this chapter, Clement address those who only pretend to be humble, quoting Isaiah 29:13, Psalm 62:4, Psalm 78:36-37, Psalm 31:18, and Psalm 12:3-5. He also mentions "those who cultivate with godliness" which is a reference to the wisdom that is from above in James 3:17-18.
Finally, Clement turns this around from dangers of not having humility to the example of Jesus' humility. He will choose other examples in the chapters that follow, but Jesus himself is worth ending with today. As Clement says, Jesus has more right to exalt himself than anyone, but he did not do so. Clement quotes all of Isaiah 53 and adds Psalm 22:6-8. I will leave those to you to read.
In the next commentary, Clement covers further examples of humility. As always, grace and peace to all who love our Lord Jesus in truth.
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