Clement on the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul

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20110822-030209.jpgClement of Rome was a leader of the early church, who was appointed by the apostle Peter (according to Tertullian and every writer of church history thereafter). His surviving epistle is the letter of First Clement, which was written to the church in Corinth to address division an conflict within the church. The letter itself was written in 96 AD. The following excerpt addresses the matter of the execution of Peter and Paul. Because Clement knew Peter and lived in Rome, which makes it likely that he had first hand knowledge of the deaths of the two. This excerpt is important because, though lacking details, it acknowledges first hand awareness of the apostles’ fate and offers support for later accounts of Peter’s crucifixion and Paul’s beheading. Confirmation of the accounts of their deaths is important because their willing martyrdom indicates conviction in their eye witness accounts.

“But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and wentinto the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.”
Clement of Rome

Clement was later executed by being tied to an anchor and thrown in the sea. This was after he ran the church from prison for several years.

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Sugar Coated Spirituality

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One of my favorite stories of all time is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I will admit that I enjoyed both movies long before I read the book. What I really love about the story isn’t the whimsy or the candy. It’s the various rotten children who visit the factory, face temptations in various forms and are horribly expelled from the factory. Dahl does a really good job of demonstrating an important concept regarding where happiness comes from. Verruca Salt is an excellent example of this idea. She sees something and instantly wants it. “Daddy! Can I have a squirrel?” (Or a golden goose depending on the incarnation we are considering.)

20110813-023813.jpg She asks and she receives. Then, approximately 2 seconds later, she wants something else. Her contentment upon having her squirrel is temporary. (She only held on to the squirrel for a very brief period anyway.) The feeling passed, and she demands a new something that will make her happy. We see the same idea played out in all of the children, except for Charlie. Augustus eats and is never satiated. Mike TV is suckled on never ending entertainment. Violet must be the best and is never content when she wins.

I fear that many in the church have headed down the path of the various miscreant candy factory tourists. We walk through our tour of the church expecting to be fed from a trough with no efforts of our own. We demand to be entertained constantly and will “church shop” until we find the best show. We feel like we need to best our brothers and sisters in Christ and knock each other down or gossip in order to win. We want health and wealth and are willing to treat the almighty God who created the universe like a cosmic vending machine in the process of getting it. As a result, many simply wander through on their tour of the church until they pass the exit door and drag as many people with them as they can. This attitude of self-centeredness keeps many in the church from ever producing fruit as believers, either fruit of the Spirit in their lives or fruit that can only be harvested by Christ.

Paul makes comment on this matter in Philippians 4. He is writing from prison to the church in Philippi when he says:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, tat now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:8-13

Paul opens his passage with the concluding thought: that we are to focus on good, holy and praiseworthy things. He further indicates that the Philippian Christians ought to practice what they learned and saw in him. What they learned from him can likely be gleaned from early chapters of the text.

-“To live is Christ. To die is gain” can be found in chapter 1.

-Imitate Christ in humility, love and lacking personal interests can be found in chapter 2.

-Put no confidence in the flesh or your ability to do things on your own, but rather trust Christ for all our effort is rubbish (literally dung) in favor of gaining Christ. (chapter 3)

Paul joins his final thought to a comment on his own situation with the word “but” at the beginning of verse 11: “But, I have learned to always be content because I am able to do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” Basically, Paul has learned that contentment is a result of Christ. All things worth having are a result of Christ and we are to focus on the things of Christ. We stand in the body of the church because, in it, we grow closer to Christ. We resist temptation and have a joyous heart because of Christ. We cannot earn it because that would be the law, which would be bad news, not good news. This attitude of Paul ought to be mirrored in the church. Christ is what makes life worth living and all things are rubbish next to having him.