The Shepherd of Hermas: Useful or Useless

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The Shepherd of Hermas: Useful or Useless

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:23

In today’s post Hermas sees a vision of the church as a building. In the vision, narrated by an unnamed lady, describes the different stones. Of interest to this post, notice who appears as useful or useless and why.

“Hear now about the stones that go into the building. On the one hand, the squared and white stones that fit together at the joints are the apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons who live reverently towards God and perform their duties as bishops, teachers, and deacons for the chosen ones of God in a holy and respectful way; some of these have fallen asleep, but others are still living. And they have always been harmonious with one another and at peace with one an­ other, and they have listened to one an­ other. For this reason their joints fit to­gether in the building of the tower.”

“But who are the ones drawn from the depths of the sea and placed into the building, who fit together at their joints with the other stones already built in it?” “These are those who have suffered on account of the name of the Lord.” “But I also want to know, Lady, who the other stones are, the ones brought from the dry land.” She said, “Those that go into the building without being hewn are ones the Lord has approved, because they walk in the uprightness of the Lord and carry out His commandments.”

“And who are the ones brought and placed in the building?” “These are those who are new in the faith and faithful. They are admonished by the angels to do good; for this reason, no evil has been found in them.” “But who are the ones who were tossed aside and cast out?” “These are those who have sinned but wish to repent. For this reason they are not cast far away from the tower, because they will be use­ful for the building, if they repent. And so if those who are about to repent do so, they will be strong in faith—if they re­ pent now while the tower is still under construction. But if the building is com­pleted, they will no longer have a place, but will be outcasts. This alone is to their advantage, that they lie next to the tower.

“But do you want to know about the ones that are broken off and cast far from the tower? These are the children of lawlessness. For they came to faith hypocritically and no wick­edness ever left them. And so they have no salvation, since, because of their wick­edness, they are useless for the building. This is why they were broken off and cast far away, because of the Lord’s an­ger, since they aggravated Him. But with respect to the many other stones you saw lying on the ground and not coming into the building — the ones that are rough are those who know the truth but do not remain in it nor cling to the saints. This is why they are of no use.”

“But who are the ones with cracks?” “These are those who hold a grudge against one another in their hearts and have no peace among themselves. Even though they seem to be peace-loving, when they leave one another’s presence, their wickedness remains in their hearts. These are the cracks the stones have. But the ones that are broken off are those who have believed and live, for the most part, in righteousness, but also have a certain share of lawlessness. This is why they are broken off and not whole.”

“But who are the white stones, Lady, which are rounded and do not fit into the building?” She replied to me, “How long will you be foolish and ignorant, asking everything and understanding nothing? These are the ones who have faith, but also are wealthy in this age. But when affliction comes, because of their wealth and their business affairs, they deny their Lord.” And I responded to her, “And so when, Lady, will they be useful for the building?”

“When the wealth that be­ guiles them is cut off from them,” she said, “then they will be useful to God. For just as a round stone cannot be made square unless it has something cut off and discarded, so also with those who are rich in this age: if their wealth is not cut off from them, they cannot be useful to the Lord. You should know this above all from your own case. When you were wealthy, you were of no use; but now you are useful and helpful in life. All of you should be useful to God. For you yourself are also being taken from the same stones.”

“The Shepherd of Hermas” 13-14, III.5-6 (c. A.D. 70-140) as reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 258-259.

Those who have repented appear as useful while the lawless are described as useless. And those with wealth only appear as useful when they are cut off from their wealth. Here’s the powerful lesson. Don’t miss it.

In today’s Scripture, Jesus reports that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom. Why is it hard? They must let go of their riches which provide much power and security and so much more in this life.

Or in today’s reading, the wealth causes them to “deny their Lord.” This means it causes them to trust in it and by their behavior cause others to trust in it rather than putting their trust in God.

Only when their wealth is cut off from them, the lady says, can they be useful to God. Think about it. Our usefulness to God is not based on our measure of wealth but on our willingness to let it go.

Remember, Jesus cares not how much we give, but how much we hold back because of what that says about our hearts. His only teachable moment about giving related to the widow who put in everything she had.

Are you a useful or useless stone in the building of the church?

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The Shepherd of Hermas: Save

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:21-22

“But you, Hermas, have experi­enced great afflictions of your own be­ cause of your family’s transgressions, since you paid no attention to them. You neglected them and became enmeshed in your own evil deeds. But you are saved by not straying from the living God, and by your sim­plicity and great self-restraint. These things have saved you, if you continue; and they save all those who do them and who proceed in innocence and simplicity. Such people will overcome all evil and persist to eternal life.”

“The Shepherd of Hermas” 1.1.8-9 (c. A.D. 70-140) as reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 255.

For more background on the Shepherd of Hermas, click on yesterday’s post below.

It was common in the first century for individuals and families to profess faith in Jesus but to conform to the cultural patterns of this world. James describes the the word as the instrument that saves us from this behavior.

The early church was adamant about the fact that our family patterns often follow cultural patterns. Actually, in many cultures, following family expectations causes people to ignore biblical teaching and commands.

Let me connect this to generosity. Many cultures have the expectation to save and hoard for the family and so to obey the biblical command to give generously especially to undeserving people is discouraged.

This may be what pattern is in view with Hermas. He has experienced difficulty as a result of following family patterns instead of urging his family to follow biblical patterns.

So, the call to stay close to the living God and live with simplicity and self-restraint makes sense. Do we stay close to family with a “family first” mentality or stay close to God with a “God first” mentality.

If we choose the former, family patterns will often mimic the culture rather than Christ. If we choose the latter, we will help “save” from evil together and related to money, we will propel them to generosity and good works.

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The Shepherd of Hermas: Invested in this age

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:17

“But she laughed and said to me, “The desire for evil did rise up in your heart. Or do you not think it is evil for an evil desire to arise in the heart of an upright man? Indeed,” she said, “it is a great sin. For the upright man intends to do what is right. And so, when he intends to do what is right his reputation is firmly es­tablished in heaven and he finds that the Lord looks favorably on everything he does.

But those who intend in their hearts to do evil bring death and captivity on themselves — especially those who are invested in this age, who rejoice in their wealth and do not cling to the good things yet to come. Those who have no hope but have already abandoned themselves and their lives will regret it. But pray to God, and he will heal your sins, along with those of your entire household and of all the saints.”

“The Shepherd of Hermas” 1.1.8-9 (c. A.D. 70-140) as reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 251-252.

Ehrman writes “The Shepherd of Hermas was a popular book among Christians of the first four centuries. Written by Hermas, brother of Pius, bishop of Rome, during the first half of the second century, the book was regarded by some churches as canonical Scripture.

It was eventually excluded from the canon, however, in part because it was known not to have been written by an apostle. Even so, it was still included as one of the books of the New Testament in the fourth-century codex Sinaiticus and is mentioned by other authors of the time as standing on the margins of the canon.

The book takes its name from an angelic mediator who appears to Hermas in the form of a shepherd. Other angelic beings appear here as well, in particular an old woman who identifies herself as the personification of the Christian church. These various figures communicate divine revelations to Hermas and, upon request, interpret their meaning to him.

The book is divided into a series of five visions, twelve sets of com­mandments (or “mandates”), and ten parables (or “similitudes”). The visions and similitudes are enigmatic and symbolic; they are usually explained to Hermas as having a spiritual significance for the Christian here on earth.

The mandates are somewhat easier to interpret, consisting for the most part of direct exhortations to speak the truth, give alms, do good, and avoid sexual immorality, drunkenness, gluttony, and other vices. Indeed, the entire book is driven by an ethical concern: what can Christians do if they have fallen into sin after being baptized?

A number of early Christians had insisted that those who returned to lives of sin after joining the church had lost any hope of salvation. An alternative view is advanced by Hermas, who maintains, on the basis of divine revelations, that Christians who have fallen again into sin after their baptism have a second chance (but only one second chance) to repent and return to God’s good graces.

Those who refuse to avail themselves of this opportunity, however, or who revert to sin again thereafter, will be forced to face the judgment of God on the day of reckoning soon to come.”

In this first of many posts on this writing from the Apostolic Fathers, I want to center on this phrase: “those who invested in this age, who rejoice in their wealth and do not cling to the good things yet to come.”

We need to ask ourselves if this reflects our lives.

We need to remind ourselves to invest not in this age, which will cause us to take pride in our growing wealth, but rather to store wealth in heaven which causes us to cling to the good things yet to come.

Lest this long post get too long, let me say this as I retreat in the mountains for the weekend with my wife and our dog, with my daughter and son-in-law and their dog, and with dear friends from Czech Republic.

We use worldly wealth on mission and memories.

This weekend we are enjoying some precious time together. Making a few memories and strengthening ourselves for living on mission for the good things to come. Our daughter starts a new job this next week. We are excited for her.

And our friends have come from Europe for their first ever visit to America, so we welcome them. And in our discussions, we celebrate the privilege of time together while focusing on the life that is to come.

I want to challenge you today afresh not to invest in this age.

Use what wealthy you have on missional living and generous giving, lest like Hermas, you fall into temptation to sin by pursuing fleshly desires and rejoicing in earthly wealth.

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Titus of Crete: Hope

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14

“Thus dost thou think to re­main wealthy in body and not be con­trolled by any lust, and dost say that thou possessest the heavenly hope. Hear a word that holds good for thee. Consider what the Lord in the Gospel says to Mary: “Touch me not, says He, for I am not yet ascended to my Father!” O di­vine examples which have been written for us!”

“Pseudo-Titus” reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 246.

The Letter now known as “Pseudo-Titus” was unknown until discovered late in the nineteenth century in a very badly translated Latin manuscript pro­duced some time in the eighth century, probably from a Greek original.

In Paul’s letter to Titus (today’s Scripture which we read two days ago but it’s worth repeating), Paul urged Titus to teach the people of Crete not to allow their passions and lusts to control them.

Instead, he wanted them to live godly lives while waiting for the blessed hope. And to be eager to do what is good. To do good is an expression in Paul’s letters for doing good works that come at a cost.

Interestingly, building on this idea, today’s excerpt from the letter attributed to Titus echoes Paul, and adds a thought from John’s Gospel. Here’s the text he had available to him.

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17.

Jesus had to finish His work and she needed to understand hers (as do we). He wanted her to tell others about His resurrection. If we hold on to wealth and pursue our desires, we fail to do the good work God expects of us.

We have work to do with whatever wealth we have while we wait for the blessed hope!

Today, I honor my daughter Sophie. She shines for Jesus like no other, and she’s focused on the work God has for her. On this, her birthday, I praise God for her new job with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Get to work, Sophie! Spread the word about Jesus!

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Titus of Crete: Learn

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives. Titus 3:14

“The spirit of Elijah rested finally on Elisha. He also begged of him that he might immediately receive from him a double blessing like the one which (later) the Lord gave to his advanced disciples, saying, “He that believes on me will also do the works that I do, and will do greater works than these.” But such grace is granted only to those who fulfill the commandments of the Master.”

“Pseudo-Titus” reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 245.

The Letter now known as “Pseudo-Titus” was unknown until discovered late in the nineteenth century in a very badly translated Latin manuscript pro­duced some time in the eighth century, probably from a Greek original.

In Paul’s letter to Titus he told him that God’s people needed to learn to devote themselves to doing what is good so that they would provide for needs and live productive lives.

In this letter attributed to Titus, we see an echo of this. God gives us grace to do good works only as we learn to follow and fulfill the commandments of our Master Jesus.

I find it interesting that most so-called Christians assess the depth of their faith based on their works (they go to church, they give a percentage, and more) rather than dying to self and doing the radical things Jesus said to do.

For example, most people call it good stewardship to store up treasures on earth. Jesus explicitly says not to do that and urges us to store them up in heaven. When we do, we take hold of life.

Right now, GTP is scaling, and we are praying for God to move people to store up treasures in heaven through giving and release $1,000,000 to help us respond to the unanticipated global demand for our programs over years 6-10.

People are crying for help right now in places like Antigua & Barbuda, Armenia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Brazil, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Panama, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Church and ministry workers want help setting standards so they can learn to exhibit accountability and so people will trust them and grow in their generosity and good works.

Would you pray with me that God will release these funds through faithful and willing servants who choose to obey the Master and store up treasure in heaven? I believe it will happen by the grace of God.

As Paul put it to Titus and as Titus relayed it to us, may God help us learn to devote ourselves to doing good, learn to provide for urgent needs, and learn to live productive lives.

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Titus of Crete: Dead to the world to live for God and do good

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14

“Great and honorable is the divine promise which the Lord has made with His own mouth to them that are holy and pure: He will bestow upon them “what eyes have not seen nor ears heard, nor has it entered into any human heart.” And from eternity to eternity there will be a race incomparable and incomprehen­sible. Blessed then are those who have not polluted their flesh by craving for this world, but are dead to the world that they may live for God!”

“Pseudo-Titus” reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 239.

The Letter now known as “Pseudo-Titus” was unknown until discovered late in the nineteenth century in a very badly translated Latin manuscript pro­duced some time in the eighth century, probably from a Greek original.

The author claims to be Titus, the companion of Paul, to whom one of the letters of the New Testament itself is addressed. We don’t know for a fact. But in reading it, I find a strong echo.

Paul’s letter to Titus celebrates God’s grace that teaches us to say “No” to worldliness so we can say “Yes” to doing good. And in this letter attributed to Titus, he echos this sentiment.

This relates to our generosity in this way. We must say “No” to the worldliness around us. We must be dead to it, so we can be alive to God and eager to do what is good.

What would it look like for each of us to die to the world and live a godly life? How might God want us collectively to be an incomparable and incomprehensible race of people, different in unimaginable ways? Ponder this with the Holy Spirit.

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Peter of Bethsaida: Make a defense and give an account

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

“For example, in the Preaching of Peter the Lord says, “I chose you twelve, judging you to be disciples wor­thy of me, whom the Lord willed, and thinking you faithful apostles I sent you into the world to preach the gospel to people throughout the world, that they should know that there is one God; to declare by faith in me [the Christ] what shall be, so that those who have heard and believed may be saved, and that those who have not believed may hear and bear witness, not having any defense so as to say, ‘We did not hear.’ . . .” And to all reasonable souls it has been said above: Whatever things any of you did in ignorance, not knowing God clearly, all his sins shall be forgiven him, if he comes to God and repents.”

“The Teaching of Peter” reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

The idea of making a defense mattered to the Apostle Peter. Related to that idea and to giving, Peter wants us always to be ready to give an account for the hope that we have, with gentleness and respect.

Then the same word, defense, appears in this quote attributed to the Apostle Peter from the writings of Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata 6.6.48. It seems that when we give an account to others they will not have a defense to say they did not hear.

These words of Peter were circulated in the window of Clement’s life (A.D. 150-215) but not available to us today. Let me explain at least three reasons why I think they surface as significant for us.

Firstly, I think we have room for growth in “making a defense” and “giving an account” with gentleness and respect. If we focus on proving we are right all the time, we may actually appear as haters rather than lovers of lost souls.

Secondly, if we do not exhibit readiness to “make a defense” or “give an account” with gentleness and respect, people may think that Christianity is not the way, the truth, and the life, and abandon it as an option without testing it fully.

Thirdly, remember that Peter walked with Jesus, failed miserably in denying Christ, and experienced restoration. Regardless of our successes or failures, God wants to make known the good news through us.

In that light, linked to generosity today ask God to open the door for you to make a defense and give an account for the hope you have with gentleness and respect. Sharing the gospel is the greatest gift you can ever give someone.

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Peter of Bethsaida: Material and proper use

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11

“Peter himself will explain, for he continues, “Carried away by igno­rance and not knowing God as we do, according to the perfect knowledge, but shaping those things over which he gave them power for their use, wood and stones, brass and iron, gold and silver, forgetting their material and proper use, they set up things subservient to their existence and worship them; and what things God has given them for food, the fowls of the air and the creatures that swim in the sea and creep on the earth, wild beasts and four-footed cattle of the field, weasels too and mice, cats and dogs and apes; even their own food­ stuffs do they sacrifice to animals that can be consumed and, offering dead things to the dead as if they were gods, they show ingratitude to God since by these practices they deny that he ex­ists. . . .”

“The Teaching of Peter” reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

This excerpt attributed to the Apostle Peter comes to us from the writings of Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata 6.5.39–41. These words of Peter were circulated in the window of Clement’s life (A.D. 150-215).

Peter cares about the right “use” of what we have. In his first epistle he challenges us to use whatever gift (Greek singular) God has given us. That implies we are each like one piece in God’s big puzzle.

In this excerpt of Peter’s teaching, he speaks of the material and proper use of things in a world, back then and now, where people don’t use things rightly and, in so doing, demonstrate ingratitude to God.

Ponder for a moment then what the material and right “use” of your gift and your goods would be. Things have been given to us as gifts from God. But we must not make them the object of our desire. We must use them for good.

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Peter of Bethsaida: Have mercy on many

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10

“Rich is the man who has mercy on many, and, imitating God, gives what he has. For God has given all things to all his crea­tion. Understand then, you rich, that you ought to minister, for you have received more than you yourselves need. Learn that others lack the things you have in superfluity. Be ashamed to keep things that belong to others. Imitate the fairness of God, and no one will be poor.”

“The Teaching of Peter” reported by Bart Ehrman in Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

This is an example of a quote that did not make it into biblical text but ascribed to the apostle by the early church fathers. Specifically this quote comes to us from John of Damascus (c. 675 – 749).

In the early church, the idea of sharing mercy and resources went together. One person’s surplus was viewed as belonging to the person who had need.

I like how today’s Scripture from Peter fits with this quote attributed to him. One we were not a people, now we are the people of God. Once we had not receive mercy, now we have.

And this should change how we relate to people and possessions. I pray it inspires you rich to minister and to share the things you have in superfluity. Imitate the fairness of God as the people of God!

And no one shares and sacrifices and shows mercy like the mothers out there. Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, my wife, sister, son’s wife, and all the mothers out there!

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Barnabas of Cyprus: Last Words

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

“And so it is good for one who has learned all the upright de­mands of the Lord that have been written, to walk in them. For the one who does these things will be glorified in the king­dom of God. The one who chooses those other things will be destroyed, along with his works. This is why there is a resur­rection; this is why a recompense.

I ask those of you who are in high positions, if you are willing to receive advice from my good counsel: keep some people among yourselves for whom you can do good, and do not fail. The day is near when all things will perish, along with the wicked one. The Lord is near, as is His reward.

Again and again I ask you, be your own good lawgivers, remain faithful ad­visors to yourselves, remove all hypoc­risy from yourselves. And may God, the one who rules the entire world, give you wisdom, under­ standing, perception, knowledge of his righteous demands, and patience. Become those who are taught by God, enquiring into what the Lord seeks from you. And do it, that you may be found in the day of judgment.

And if there is any recollection of what is good, remember me by practicing these things, that my desire and vigilance may lead to a good result. I ask this of you, begging for a favor. While the good vessel is still with you, do not fail in any of these things, but enquire fervently after them and ful­fill every commandment. For they are worth doing.

Therefore I have been all the more eager to write what I could, to make you glad. Be well, children of love and peace. May the Lord of glory and of every gra­cious gift be with your spirit.”

Joseph (died A.D. 61) a.k.a. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus in the Epistle of Barnabas 21:1-9.

This marks the last post from Barnabas.

These are the last words in his epistle. I will let them speak for themselves. Just imagine the disciple who journeyed and ministered with the Apostle Paul. He was one of the 70 who helped build the church.

Read and consider what stands out to you.

Words like “upright demands” and “remain faithful” stand out to me. But no sentence more than “And if there is any recollection of what is good, remember me by practicing these things.”

So as we remember Barnabas, let’s practice the generosity he modeled for us.

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