Rebuilding the Foundations
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I use this newsletter to send Bible studies as much as once per week, sometimes less, but never more. See back issues.
In chapters 22-23 of 1 Clement, the church in Rome encourages the church in Corinth to do good, to embrace humility, and to continue hoping and watching for Jesus's return.
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In chapter 22, Clement focuses on one passage. It is found in 1 Peter 3:10-12, which is quote from Psalm 34. (Clement is surely quoting from Psalm 34 as well rather than from 1 Peter.) It is worth writing out here in Clement's words:
Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desires life, and longs to see good days? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are [open] to their prayers. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cried, and the Lord heard him, and delivered him out of all his troubles. (Brackets in original; I updated the King James English.)
Clement does add, "Many are the stripes for the wicked, but mercy shall surround those who hope in the Lord" from Psalm 32:10.
I hear it repeated often that Christianity is not about do's and don't's, and there is some truth to that. Our righteousness, not just our right standing with God but our righteous living, comes from the Lord as we walk by his Spirit. Nonetheless, we cannot say that Christianity is not about do's and don'ts when there are dos and don'ts on at least half the pages of the New Testament if not more!
This is a rather important, central, and foundational statement that Peter quotes in 1 Peter and Clement quotes a few decades later. "If," the psalmist says,"you want life and long to see good days," then stop saying evil or deceitful things, don't do evil, and do good.
In that passage, quoted by both Peter and Clement, the desire for life and good days is to be sought by controlling your tongue, ceasing to do evil, and doing good instead. These are do's and don'ts, and they are right at the heart of the Christian life.
You may ask, "What if those trying to 'do' these things, but then become legalistic or get their eyes off Jesus because they are trying to do good?"
If you are asking me that because you do not like the idea that David, Peter, and Clement told us to control our tongues, stop doing evil, and do good, then you are asking the wrong person. You should ask God what you have been misunderstanding that stops you from embracing a teaching that he himself gave through David, Peter, and Clement.
If you are simply curious what I think about such a command and the possibility that a person might try to do good in their own strength, then I am happy to give my opinion. My opinion is that those who become legalistic (which usually means judgmental to others) have not understood the Gospel well enough. Trying to do good is not a problem, even if we are legalistic about it. Judging others is a serious violation of the Gospel because we will be judged the way we judge others. We should be heaping mercy on others so that we can receive mercy from God.
If we try to obey God in our own strength, it will be a wonderful opportunity for our friends and teachers to explain to us why we are failing. It is a wonderful opportunity for those who speak into our lives to teach us by showing us mercy in our failure, for we will surely fail if we try to please God in our own strength. Our friends and teachers will also have opportunity to direct us back to Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and to re-establish Gospel teaching in our lives, that we are children of the Spirit, sons of God, free from law and empowered in righteousness by the Spirit of God.
Don't take the do's and don't's out of the New Testament. They are there for a reason.
What a great beginning line to this chapter!
The all-merciful and beneficent ["characterized by ... acts of kindness and charity"--American Heritage Dictionary] Father has [a heart of compassion] toward those that fear him and kindly and lovingly bestows his favors upon those who come to him with a single mind.
I did a lot of editing on that sentence to put it in modern English. You can see the original at ccel.org/fathers. I thought you might think it strange that the Father has "bowels" toward us.
Right after the do's and don't's, Clement makes sure we know the Father's heart. He is full of mercy, acts of kindness, and favors to those who fear him. That should teach us something about the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not to make us cower, but to lead us to control our tongue, do good, turn from evil, and thus expect mercy, acts of kindness, and favors from God. Many Christians can tell you that when they really laid their lives down before God, repented, and committed themselves to following the commands and teachings of Jesus, their lives were filled with such peace and joy that thanksgiving in the midst of trials was just no problem at all.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "ambivalent" as "undecided as to whether or not to take a proposed course of action; having feelings both for and against the proposed action." I think "ambivalent" is a fair definition for "double-minded," and Clement talks about double-mindedness in the next line.
Wherefore let us not be double-minded; neither let our soul be lifted up on account of his exceedingly great and glorious gifts Far from us be that which is written, “Wretched are they who are of a double mind, and of a doubting heart; who say, "These things we have heard even in the times of our fathers; but, behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened unto us."
Don't forget the end of the previous line, quoted in the previous section, that ends with the rewards to the ones with a "single mind." He is contrasting those with those who have a double mind. He is saying, "Keep on keeping on!"
But how do we do that? The surest answer is to be at the feet of Jesus. No one doubts who is in the presence of God. We walk away and wonder if what we have experienced is real and whether we can trust the words of God. Those who tarry long at his feet, though, have their faith renewed. There are other ways to strengthen your faith, especially from those gifted and called to speak into your life, but the first and primary way to is to go often to the feet of Jesus.
From my own experience, I must tell you not to go to him full of words. Go often to his feet to open your heart to him, tell him the truth about yourself and your feelings, and pledge yourself to him. He will speak to you, whether then or whether later through some other means.
Feed your faith often. The world around you will take care of feeding your doubt. Your faith must be fed more often than your doubt if you are to avoid being double-minded.
Finally, Clement gives an illustration to keep us hoping, expecting, and waiting. Just was we have to wait for a tree or vine to grow, but grow it will, so "soon and suddenly," Clement says, "his will will be accomplished."
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