In our series on the patristic writings, we return to 2 Clement. Our series uses for its text Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers.
What’s 2 Clement about? It’s an exhortation to faithfulness to the way of Christ in the face of threats like gnosticism, false teachers and rebellion against leaders. I reads like a sermon.
He calls the Christians to turn from the world and worldliness, and he appeals to a text that is not precisely known, while some think it might be The Gospel of the Egyptians. V. 2 sounds like Jesus in Matthew 10 but vv. 3- 4 does sound a bit like Matthew 10 while some of it does not.
2Clem. 5:1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us turn away from life as transient residents in this world and do the will of the one who called us, and let us not be afraid to depart from this world. 2 For the Lord says, “You will be like lambs among wolves.” 3 But Peter answered and said to him, “What if the wolves tear the lambs to pieces?” 4 Jesus said to Peter, “After the lambs are dead, let them fear the wolves no longer, and as for you, do not fear those who, though they kill you, are not able to do anything else to you, but fear the one who, after you are dead, has the power to cast soul and body into the flames of hell.”
The world is transitory; the promise of Christ is eternal. Clement calls them to a life that is holy and righteous.
5 Moreover you know, brothers and sisters, that our stay in this world of the flesh is insignificant and transitory, but the promise of Christ is great and marvelous: rest in the coming kingdom and eternal life! 6 What, then, must we do to obtain these things, except to live a holy and righteous life, and to regard these worldly things as alien to us, and not desire them? 7 For when we desire to acquire these things, we fall away from the path of righteousness.
In preacher-ly fashion, he calls them to make a choice — and there are two options. He cites Jesus for his points. He poses two worlds and two masters and this and that as well as here and there to press them to decision. To enter the kingdom one must be obedient to Christ. They are called to “keep their baptism pure and undefiled.”
2Clem. 6:1 Now the Lord says, “No servant can serve two masters.” If we wish to serve both God and money, it is harmful to us. 2 “For what good is it, if someone gains the whole world but forfeits his life?” 3 This age and the one that is coming are two enemies. 4 This one talks about adultery and corruption and greed and deceit, but that one renounces these things. 5 We cannot, therefore, be friends of both; we must renounce this one in order to experience that one. 6 We think that it is better to hate the things that are here, because they are insignificant, transitory, and perishable, and to love the things that are there, which are good and imperishable. 7 For if we do the will of Christ, we will find rest; but if we do not—if we disobey his commandments—then nothing will save us from eternal punishment. 8 And the scripture also says in Ezekiel, “Even if Noah and Job and Daniel should rise up, they will not save their children” in the captivity. 9 Now if even such righteous men as these are not able, by means of their own righteous deeds, to save their children, what assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled? Or who will be our advocate, if we are not found to have holy and righteous works?
From a This World vs. That World argument he turns to an analogy: the games, or sports. Not all get crowns in competitions. He knows not all will be completely obedient so he says “at least come close to” getting the crown. Cheating in a sport disqualifies and the same applies even more to the “heavenly competition.”
2Clem. 7:1 So then, my brothers and sisters, let us compete in the games, realizing that the competition is at hand. While many come to enter the earthly competitions, not all are crowned, but only those who have trained hard and competed well. 2 Let us compete, therefore, so that we may all be crowned. 3 Let us run in the straight course, the heavenly competition, and let many of us come to enter it and compete, so that we may also be crowned. And if we cannot all be crowned, let us at least come close to it. 4 We must realize that if one who competes in the earthly contest is caught cheating, he is flogged, disqualified, and thrown out of the stadium. 5 What do you think? What will be done to the one who cheats in the heavenly competition? 6 For concerning those who have not kept the seal, he says: “their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be a spectacle for all flesh.”