Rebuilding the Foundations
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Today's commentary is not divided up by chapter. All four chapters cover Old Testament followers of God who are set forth as an example for us. Clement has been giving examples of the dangers of envy in the previous chapters, but now he switches to examples that we should follow rather than avoid, as the first sentence indicates.
Some people may dislike [Rebuilding the Foundations]. It upsets applecarts, slays sacred cows, demands that we 'go back to the Bible' and for all of those reasons all of us must read it.—John Tancock
Wherefore, let us yield obedience to His excellent and glorious will; and imploring His mercy and loving-kindness, while we forsake all fruitless labours4048 and strife, and envy, which leads to death, let us turn and have recourse to His compassions. Let us stedfastly contemplate those who have perfectly ministered to his excellent glory. (ch. 9)
The examples Clement gives are Abraham, Lot, and as an aside the negative example of Lot's wife, and finally Rahab. I am not going to go over these. Clement does a great job himself, and the text is not long. (Use the arrows in the top right to go from chapter to chapter.) Instead, let's talk about knowing these stories ourselves.
Clement of Rome—there is a Clement of Alexandria a century later—did not have access to a leather or imitation leather covered Bible from his local bookstore. He read from precious scrolls, kept by the church, for there were precious few. Individuals did not own them. Thus, Paul exhorts Timothy to "give attention to the public reading of Scripture" (1 Tim. 4:13). There is some interpretation in that translation of 1 Timothy 4:13. The Greek simply says "reading" without any reference to the Scriptures, but most modern translations agree that the public reading of Scripture was what Paul was referring to.
Clement was Rome's "messenger." In Revelation, chapters 2-3, Jesus sends seven letters to seven churches, but specifically to the "angel" of each church. "Angel" is simply a mistranslation in this passage. The Greek word for "angel," angellos, literally means "messenger," and is used of earthly messengers (e.g. Matt. 11:10, where John the Baptist is called angellos, but the word is translated "messenger") as well as heavenly ones. The Shepherd of Hermas, probably written long after Clement's time, anachronistically says that Clement's job is to send and receive letters for the church (Vision 2, ch. 4). (Admittedly, this is not a certain interpretation of Clement's role, and others might contest my applying the reference in The Shepherd of Hermas to Clement of Rome, but I think that role for Clement is extremely likely, and I argue for it in Rome's Audacious Claim.)
Because of his role—whether elder, teaching elder, bishop, or elder and messenger, as I argue—Clement had access to the scrolls of Scripture, and he put them to good use, telling the stories of Abraham, Lot, and Rahab, almost certainly from memory. To help those with no access to the Scriptures, they were read every week in the gatherings of the churches. Justin Martyr describes this in his First Apology. In fact, except for the Eucharist/communion, this is the primary purpose of the assembly as Justin reports it. The Scripture is read, and "the presiding one" expounds on it. Simply put, it was important for the saints to know the Scripture.
Thus, the application I want to pull from today's reading is that we, who can run down to a bookstore and buy a Bible, or order one on line, or read it for free on our phones, tablets, and computers, should be ashamed of ourselves if we call ourselves Christians and are not becoming thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures. In fact, we should fear God, who has so freely given us his Word, and we prove ourselves to be more interested in other things.
There are a couple interesting things in these four chapters we should cover.
"Noah, being found faithful, preached regeneration through his ministry."
This is in chapter 9. Clement says Noah was preaching the new birth. This is interesting because we know that the new birth is a New Covenant promise. Nonetheless, there was at least one "regenerating" transformation in the Old Covenant, and many who lived like regenerated men. King Saul, who became proud and backslid as a warning to us all, was "turned into a new man" by the Spirit of the Lord (1 Sam. 10:6). And, of course, we have the examples of Joseph and Daniel, who were known as men in whom were the Spirit of "the gods." (Of course, we know they had the Spirit of the one true God.)
We cannot be sure what Clement meant by Noah preaching regeneration, but Saul, Joseph, and Daniel give us an idea.
"For Lot’s wife, who went forth with him, being of a different mind from himself, and not continuing in agreement with him [as to the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt unto this day. This was done that all might know that those who are of a double mind, and who distrust the power of God, bring down judgment on themselves and become a sign to all succeeding generations (ch. 11, brackets in original).
Clement is not the only early Christian to say that the pillar of salt that was Lot's wife was still standing. He could only have known that from hearsay, though. I doubt Clement had been to the promised land or the area of the Dead Sea.
This is also a very important clarification of what a double mind is. In James 1:6-8, James has harsh words for the double-minded man. I am pretty sure there are Bible translations that associate this double-mindedness with doubt. The Greek word, though, which the King James Version translates "wavering" is diakrinos (v. 6), which has more to do with distinguishing, deciding, and discerning than doubting.
James 1:6-8 is talking more about the kind of unbelief described in Hebrews, where Christians converted from Judaism were struggling with their decision to leave Judaism. This is the kind of doubt that Lot's wife had. She doubted the path she and her husband had set their face towards. God was not kind to her doubt. When she looked back, judgment was swift and final. Jesus spoke of something similar, saying, "The one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). A terrifying warning for us all!
Take heart, though, what this means is that if you ask God for wisdom, then wonder a bit if he really is going to give it to you, this does not disqualify you from receiving anythig from the Lord. I am sure most of us know that from experience. We have asked for wisdom and many other things, wondered if we would get it, and have received it. We may also have experience getting complacent about our faith, returning to our old ways, and finding ourselves distant from God, not even praying, much less receiving. This is what James is talking about in James 1. That is wavering, doubting, and being indecisive. This is also what Hebrews 6:3-6 is talking about. God has much more understanding for the weak who waver than the highly empowered and experienced who look back or fall away. The writer of Hebrews warns that there is no repentance for such.
This last paragraph reminds me of Moses, who was not allowed into the promised land because of one act of unbelief. Moses' situation was compounded, though, because God had a symbol he was giving through Moses. Moses, representing the Law, cannot get us into the promised land. Only Jesus (Joshua) can do that.
Again, grace and peace to all of you who love the Lord Jesus in truth. Continue in him, just as you have begun, by clinging to his love, to Jesus, and to the cross. He is worthy of everything from us.