Pursuing God’s Blessing

photo-1462747772350-460bb4aad7f4_opt First Clement urges the Corinthians (Clement, remember, is in Rome) to pursue God’s blessing (chps. 33-35).

I begin with thematic words from 35:4-5:

Let us therefore make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts.  5 But how shall this be, dear friends?—if our mind is fixed on God through faith; if we seek out those things that are well-pleasing and acceptable to him; if we accomplish those things that are in harmony with his faultless will, and follow the way of truth, casting off from ourselves all unrighteousness and lawlessness, covetousness, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, pride and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality.

To pursue God’s blessing, for Clement of Rome, is to pursue pleasing God to pursue “his promised gifts.” It is to desire to be “well-pleasing and acceptable to him.” This theme of desiring to please God is as deeply rooted in Scripture as any theme of Christian ethics. The ethics of the Bible are God-revealed and God-shaped. It is about those things that “are in harmony with his faultless will.” They are concerned with turning away from worldliness toward God.

So we turn to the beginning of our section for today: chps 33-35. God is creator and we are not to turn from God’s ways of doing good and love. Where’s he headed here with God as creator? He’s headed at seeing humans as God’s work. Notice “his works” in 33:2 (bold) and how they are expounded in the other bold terms. Then the pinnacle of his creation is humans (italicized bold).

1Clem. 33:1    What then shall we do, brothers? Shall we idly abstain from doing good, and forsake love? May the Master never allow this to happen, at least to us; but let us hasten with earnestness and zeal to accomplish every good work.  2 For the Creator and Master of the universe himself rejoices in his works.  3 For by his infinitely great might he established the heavens, and in his incomprehensible wisdom he set them in order. Likewise he separated the earth from the water surrounding it, and set it firmly upon the sure foundation of his own will; and the living creatures that walk upon it he called into existence by his decree. Having already created the sea and the living creatures in it, he fixed its boundaries by his own power.  4Above all, as the most excellent and by far the greatest work of his intelligence, with his holy and faultless hands he formed humankind as a representation of his own image.  5 For thus spoke God: “Let us make humankind in our image and likeness. And God created humankind; male and female he created them.”  6 So, having finished all these things, he praised them and blessed them and said, “Increase and multiply.” 

God’s works are to shape human works: homo faber in Latin. Humans as sub-creators. God’s works are to lead to humans doing the “work of righteousness.”

7 We have seen that all the righteous have been adorned with good works. Indeed, the Lord himself, having adorned himself with good works, rejoiced.  8 So, since we have this pattern, let us unhesitatingly conform ourselves to his will; let us with all our strength do the work of righteousness.

Doing God’s work this way, that is, as extensions of God’s own works, is to pursue God’s blessing. Hence, the language of reward in God’s judgment. 34:4 restates 33:1, and hence one suspects idleness is an issue in Corinth. Work needs to become the virtue for them.

Again, it’s all about doing God’s will for the Lord’s blessing.

1Clem. 34:1    The good worker receives the bread of his labor confidently; the one who is lazy and careless dares not look his employer in the face.  2 It is, therefore, necessary that we should be zealous to do good, for all things come from him.  3 For he forewarns us: “Behold, the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work.”  4 He exhorts us, therefore, who believe in him with our whole heart, not to be idle or careless about any good work.  5 Let our boasting and our confidence be in him; let us submit ourselves to his will; let us consider the whole host of his angels, how they stand by and serve his will.  6 For scripture says: “Ten thousand times ten thousand stood by him, and thousands of thousands served him, and they cried out, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; all creation is full of his glory.’ ”  7 Let us also, then, being gathered together in harmony with intentness of heart, cry out to him earnestly, with one mouth, so that we may come to share in his great and glorious promises.  8 For he says: “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and it has not entered into the human heart, what great things he has prepared for those who patiently wait for him.”

What is that blessing? What is that reward? Bold italics.

1Clem. 35:1    How blessed and marvelous are the gifts of God, dear friends!  2Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth with boldness, faith with confidence, self-control with holiness! And all these things fall within our comprehension.  3 What, then, are the things being prepared for those who patiently wait for him? The Creator and Father of the ages, the all-holy one himself, knows their number and their beauty.  4 Let us therefore make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts. 

To find the blessing, then, what are the Christians of Corinth to do?

5 But how shall this be, dear friends?—if our mind is fixed on God through faith; if we seek out those things that are well-pleasing and acceptable to him; if we accomplish those things that are in harmony with his faultless will, and follow the way of truth, casting off from ourselves all unrighteousness and lawlessness, covetousness, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, pride and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality.  6 For those who do these things are hateful to God; and not only those who do them, but also those who approve of them. 

He establishes his point, as he so often does, by quoting Scripture, this time Psalm 50:16-23 (in LXX):

7 For scripture says: “But to the sinner God said, ‘Why do you recite my statutes and take my covenant upon your lips?  8 You hated instruction and threw away my words behind you. If you saw a thief, you joined with him, and with adulterers you threw in your lot. Your mouth produced wickedness abundantly, and your tongue wove deceit. You sat there and slandered your brother and put a stumbling block in the way of your mother’s son.  9 These things you have done, and I kept silent. You thought, you unrighteous person, that I would be like you.  10 I will convict you and set you face to face with yourself.  11 Now consider these things, you who forget God, lest he seize you like a lion, and there be no one to save you.  12 The sacrifice of praise will glorify me, and that is the way by which I will show him the salvation of God.’?”

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