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1 Clement, Chapters 17-19: Commentary by Paul Pavao

Old Testament Examples of Humility

In chapters 17-18 Clement gives Abraham, Job, Moses, and David as examples of humility, as well as listing others. In chapter 19 he exhorts the Corinthians, and through them us as well, to follow those examples of humility. There are some interesting statements to cover through all three chapters.

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Chapter 17: The Prophets, Abraham, Job, and Moses

Let us be imitators also of those who in goat-skins and sheep-skins went about proclaiming the coming of Christ

This sentence is interesting for two reasons. First, it is a reference to Hebrews 11, which was not received by all churches in the early centuries of the Church. As late as 323, Eusebius questions it in his Church History (Bk. III, ch. 3, par. 5). This reference is not strong enough to establish that the church in Rome accepted it as Scripture, but it does establish ("prove" is too strong a word) that the Epistle to the Hebrews was known and read in the late first century.

Second, looking at the Roman bishop today and reading "in goat-skins and sheep-skins" is a great contradiction and has been for centuries. Clement was one of a group of Roman elder-bishops, as we shall discuss in chapters 42-44. I have a Facebook friend who argues with me regularly that Clement was the head or chief of those elder-bishops. That is plausible, but I find it unlikely, but that can wait until we get to chapter 42. For now, suffice it to say that even my friend has to agree that the correct terminology in Clement's time is that he was one of a college of elder-bishops in Rome.

So, back to the second point: it seems certain to me that a church leader who brings up men "in goat-skins and sheep-skins preaching the Gospel" as an example of humility is not going to dress himself in elaborate robes that distinguish him from the rest of the church.

Clement then mentions Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel and othe prophecs not named who were similarly humble (in dress?). He follows this by bringing up Abraham, "honored" and "friend of God," who called himself "dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27). Then Job "was a righteous man ... who kept himself from all evil" (Job 1:1) but accused himself with "no man is free from defilement" (Job 14:4-5). Finally, Moses "was called faithful in all God's house" (Num. 12:7) but said, "I am but as the smoke of a pot" (not in Scripture).

Clement actually wrote a few short things about Moses' humility, but I chose the one that is not in the Bible because I wanted you to know that comes up regularly in the early church writings. This is true of very few citations, no more than one percent, I would guess, but it does happen. If I had to guess, I would suggest he is quoting some apocryphal book like "The Assumption of Moses," which is referenced in Jude 1:9.

Chapter 18: David

David is "a man of God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22), Clement points out. Nonetheless, Clement has quite a long list of passages in which David is repenting in humility. I hate to point out that David made some grand mistakes that he had to repent for or be delivered from in advance (Bathsheba; Nabal and Abigail). Most of Clement's quote is from Psalm 51, where David is repenting for adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, one of his own mighty men.

Chapter 19: Imitating These Examples

This is a powerful statement:

Thus the humility and godly submission of so great and illustrious men have rendered not only us, but also all the generations before us, better; even as many as have received His oracles in fear and truth.

Godly examples do not do us any good unless we follow those examples, especially those found in the oracles of God, "in fear and truth." We have to be honest with ourselves. Do we repent and cry out for our sin, not being ashamed before men, but fearing God instead. I remember discussing with our church the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. We looked carefully at the third category, the fruit that was choked out by riches and the cares of this world, and I could hear several of the saints suck in their breath. They were hearing "in fear and truth." Riches and the cares of this world are an extreme temptation and distraction in prosperous countries.

I am not condemning my brothers and sisters for realizing the touch riches and the cares of this world were having on them; I am commending them. They were hearing "in fear and truth." Vulnerability and honesty and a true fear of God are essential to living holy in the face of persecution but also in living holy in the face of extreme comfort.

Wherefore, having so many great and glorious examples set before us, let us turn again to the practice of that peace which from the beginning was the mark set before us

"... that peace which from the beginning was the mark set before us."

Now that's a thought. Peace is a mark that is set before us?

"Peace" is used just over a hundred times in the New Testament. The passage that leaps to my mind is James 3:17-18:

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Maybe some others come to your mind. The apostle Paul began and ended most of his letters with "grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said peacemakers will be called the sons of God. In Hebrews, we read, "Pursue peace with everyone and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (12:14). Peace that passes understanding is a gift for those who cast their cares on the Lord (Php. 4:6-7). Then there is Romans 12:18, which commands us to be at peace with everyone "so far as it depends on you."

Again, I am sure you can find others, but we must not forget, "I did not come to bring peace on the earth, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34) from the same mouth that said, "My peace I give you" (Jn. 14:27). God makes a distinction between those who are his people and those who are not.

With that let's end with this description of our God and Father by Clement:

Let us look stedfastly to the Father and Creator of the universe, and cleave to his mighty and surpassingly great gifts and blessings of peace. Let us contemplate him with our understanding, and look with the eyes of our soul to his long-suffering will. Let us reflect how free from the wrath he is towards all his creation.

Where to Go from Here

You can return Home, go to the index of commentaries, or go to my categorized index of artices. I also have a rough draft of what will be the Rebuilding the Foundations book