“How blessed and marvelous are the gifts of God, dear friends! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth with boldness, faith with confidence, self-control with holiness! And all these things fall within our comprehension.” 35.1-2
The Background of First Clement
First Clement is filled with exciting and valuable insights for us today. Written likely at the close of the first century, around the time of the Revelation of John, First Clement gives us a picture of the earliest life of the newly formed Christian church. The author was likely a man named Clement, a leader in the Roman church. The need for the letter was caused by a schism among the members of the church at Corinth. From the fledgling details available to us, it appears that a group of young men in the church went out of their way to oust the established leadership of the church on preferential, rather than biblical, grounds. As such, the larger content of the letter deals with the Christian principles of humility, a warning against jealousy, and a call for repentance.
The Content of First Clement
First Clement was so well received in early Church History, it was given consideration by some to be part of the biblical canon. Reading through the work shows why. Clement addresses head-on the dangerous and ungodly problem of schisms among true believers, and the sorrow and shame it can bring to the faithful and the gospel witness.
Clement commends the congregation for their faith and righteousness. He notes, however, that they began to believe their own press clippings, as it were. They became proud of their good standing, became envious and jealous of one another, and sought the glory of self rather than the glory of Christ and the good of the other. All of these things have led to a need for repentance and a turning away from sin.
Clement makes much of the salvation found only in Christ and the work of the Triune God in accomplishing His purposes among His people. Clement concludes with a call for peace and moving forward toward righteousness, good works, and love.
The Good and The Bad in First Clement
Let’s start with the bad. Clement makes use of pagan concepts, some of which he expresses as being real and true. In the telling of the story fo the Phoenix, Clement describes it as a true-to-life event, rather than a reference to pagan mythology. It is likely that the inclusion of this story was a strong hindrance (from the human perspective) of First Clement being included in the canon of Scripture. Clement also flirts dangerously close with the edges of legalism. Rather than the “law of Christ” being magnified, there is a sense of being strained under the burden of legal obedience. The work and efforts of the congregation seem to (occasionally) take a more prominent place over the glory of Christ. The only saving grace to this point is that Clement is cautious to also give the Triune the glory for the work being done in us.
Now let’s consider the good. First Clement is filled with Scripture. The appeal to the Word of God over the philosophies of the day is the mark of the true Christian. Clement does not appeal to any pragmatic perspective. He appeals to the Word of God. As such, the letter is filled with sound, biblical counsel. The congregation is warned against the dangers of jealousy, envy, and schism. There is a call for repentance, humility, and sacrificial love. Above all this, there is an appeal to the person and work of Jesus Christ, particularly as it relates to his crucifixion and resurrection. The gospel has a prominent place in this writing, as it should in the lives of all those who claim the name of Jesus. Extending the gospel theme, Clement points his audience to the future hope of the resurrection and to the promises God has made to those He is redeeming. It is to these promises and this hope that believers should cling, not to the empty and vain advancement of self-interest in this life.
I hope you were able to read First Clement this month. If not, I hope you take the opportunity to do so in the near future. If you have questions or comments, you can reply to this blog post. It will allow us to have a “public discussion” of sorts. If you come across this on a social media page, you can include your comments there as well. If you are in or around the Tyler area, you can always email or call.
Next up, The Martyrdom of Polycarp.