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Cyril of Alexandria: Consistent and Simple Life

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey — no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:1-5

“For this reason very fitly He bade them take nothing with them, wishing them both to be free from all worldly care, and so entirely exempt from the labours that worldly things occasion, as even to pay no regard to their necessary and indispensable food. But manifestly One who bids them abstain even from things such as these, entirely cuts away the love of riches and the desire of gain. For their glory, He said, and, so to speak, their crown, is to possess nothing. And He withdraws them even from such things as are necessary for their use, by the command to carry nothing whatsoever, neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money, nor two coats.

Observe, therefore, as I said, that He withdraws them from vain distractions, and anxiety about the body, and bids them have no cares about food, repeating to them, as it were, that passage in the Psalm: “Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall feed thee.” For true also is that which Christ said: “Ye are not able to serve God and Mammon.” And again; “For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”

That they may lead, therefore, a consistent and simple life, and, being free from vain and superfluous anxiety, may devote themselves entirely to the duty of proclaiming His mystery, and labour without ceasing in publishing to men everywhere the tidings of salvation, He commands them to be indifferent both as regards clothing and food. And to the same effect the Saviour elsewhere spake: “For let your loins, He says, be girt, and your lights burning.” But by their loins being girt, He means the readiness of the mind for every good work: and by their lights burning, that their heart be filled with divine light.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, Sermon XLVII (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 203-204.

Our Lord commands the disciples to take nothing for the journey to teach them to learn to trust Him to supply. What about you? Have you allowed him to cut away the love of riches and the desire of gain from your heart?

The journey of life is too short to fill your heart with “vain and superfluous anxiety” on the way. This will steal our joy and surely limit our generosity. How about casting all your cares on the LORD to prepare your heart to celebrate Christmas?

Cyril rightly connects the dots in Scripture to remind us of the reason we are to live this way. We are lights intended to shine. This means we do not just point the way to life but we also show people how to live. We must do this with peace, kindness, and love.

I have had many interesting conversations with Christians and Muslims on this trip to Egypt, and while I have many thoughts, one things is clear to me. When disciples of Jesus live a consistent and simple life, free of anxiety and rich with generosity, they are bright and radiant witness.

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Clement of Alexandria: Good activity with enthusiasm

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. Galatians 6:4

“This then is the first good activity of the perfect man, when it is done not because of any usefulness in his own affairs, but because he considers it right to do good. His activity being borne along with enthusiasm becomes good in every act, not being good in these matters and bad in those. But it is settled in a disposition towards good conduct, not for the sake of glory, nor as the philosophers say for good report, not for the sake of reward whether from men or from God, but to bring one’s life in accordance with the image and likeness of the Lord.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Stromateis, Book IV, 137; Book II 308, 333 as recounted in The Philosophy of Clement of Alexandria, Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, ed. C. H. Dodd (Cambridge: University Press, 1957) 99.

I found this excerpt in a book on my visit to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), the second largest library in the world (pictured above). This excerpt comes from Stromateis (which is translated “Miscellanies”), which is the collection of good advice from Clement the Instructor of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.

So, what’s Clement’s advice for those who want to be generous?

We need to do good for the only right reason, which is for the glory of God. Do not do good for reward or for being able to give a good report (perhaps so that we might get praise of people) but for bringing our lives into conformity with the “image and likeness of the Lord.”

We must want people to see Jesus when they see us. That is what the “perfect” or “mature” person desires. My charge to readers everywhere today, echoing Clement, is to do good activities with enthusiasm. You will figure out as you live out this instruction that it shapes people and circumstances.

People cannot help but notice such good activity or generosity.

At that moment, don’t say to yourself, “I want to do this again for people to like me.” Or maybe, “If I do this my boss will give me a pay raise.” The mature person says, “I do this because I want everyone around me to see the love of God today. Do it for that reason.

Soon we welcome the advent or coming of our Lord Jesus on Christmas. What a day to celebrate! In the meantime, let us make the most of every opportunity to do good activity with enthusiasm, so that people see Jesus through us. That’s my prayer so that each day is like Christmas.

We want our arrival or advent in any setting to be like Jesus in the room. When that’s our aim, we are generous, and He is glorified.

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Cyril of Alexandria: Disregard all these things

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:16-27

“Many were invited by Him who gave the feast. But they were men indifferent to it: for “they made excuse, it says, with one accord, and said, one that he had bought a field, and must needs go to see it: and another, that he had bought five yoke of oxen: and a third again, that he had married a wife:” and by employing these feigned excuses, they vexed Him who invited them. We are therefore given most clearly to understand, that when God calls us unto Him, to make us partakers of His bounty, we must disregard the lusts that are of the flesh, and minister to the flesh, and set no value whatsoever upon the things of this world, but exerting all our force must advance unto those things which will never have to be abandoned, and which fill us with all blessedness, as God bestows with bounteous hand upon us His gifts, and like one welcoming us to a costly banquet, admits us to the right of rejoicing with the rest of the saints in the hope of future blessings. For the things of earth, are but of little value and last only for a time, and belong to the flesh solely, which is the victim of corruption: but those things which are divine and spiritual constantly and without ceasing accompany those who have once been counted worthy of receiving them, and reach onwards to unending worlds. What value therefore will men of sense set upon earthly farms, or the love of carnal pleasure, or the respect due to kinsmen in the flesh, if it be laid down that for love’s sake unto Christ? We must disregard all these things that have been named.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, volume 2, sermon CV (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 490.

Think about what Doctor Cyril is trying to tell us. Earthly property, carnal pleasures, respect to fellow kinsmen, and even the value of one’s own life must not rival devotion to Jesus. We must “disregard all these things” lest they cause us to miss the offer from God to take a place at His banquet table.

What does this have to do with generosity?

Disciples of Jesus must not treat Jesus as an “add on” but be “all in” to receive God’s generous offer of a place at His table. This means we relate differently than the world does to possessions, pleasures, and we don’t succumb to peer pressure. The offer goes to everyone, and yet, the cost of discipleship is everything.

Does your life reflect that you have disregarded all these things?

Earthly things “are but of little value and last only for a time” so we must not get attached to them. We release their power over us by letting go of them and giving them away. The irony is that when we do this, repeatedly, our hands are free to attach to the only One and only thing that matters.

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Clement of Alexandria: Bestow lovingly

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3

“Riches are then to be partaken of rationally, bestowed lovingly, not sordidly, or pompously; nor is the love of the beautiful to be turned into self-love and ostentation…The best of maxims, then, ought to be perpetually repeated, “That the good man, being temperate and just,” treasures up his wealth in heaven.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Paedagogus (The Instructor) chapter 6, “The Christian Alone Rich.”

Since only those who know Christ can possibly possess true riches, Clement the Instructor, reminds us what to do with them. We must bestow them with the one trait for which Christ would have us be known: love.

Too many people focus on self-love. It’s the opposite of bestowing lovingly.

We must live with unselfish awareness toward others. That’s a trait I see in my Alexandrian hostess, Ereny Monir. She may call it Egyptian hospitality, but it appears as unselfish awareness of the needs of others and a willingness to bestow lovingly with temperance and justice.

What will your reputation be when you host visitors this Advent season? I suggest you bestow lovingly with temperance and justice. That means you make everyone around you feel deeply loved, just like Jesus would do if He was in the room.

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Cyril of Alexandria: Apply yourself to holy works

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. Titus 1:15-16

“Let us cease from our sins; let us rest from our offences; let us wash away our stains; let us abandon the impure love of the flesh; let us flee far from covetousness and extortion; and from disgraceful gains, and the love of lucre. Let us first gather provisions for our souls for the way, the meat that will suffice us in the world to come: and let us apply ourselves to holy works.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, volume 2, sermon CI (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 384.

I’ve transitioned from a retreat center some distance from Alexandria to a simple, yet peaceful, Egyptian flat downtown by the sea. This photo is the stunning view from the kitchen window. I’m convinced the beauty of this seaside city helped the early fathers connect deeply with our Creator!

For Titus, whose assignment was to minister in Crete, which happens to be not far from my location on the Mediterranean, people have corrupted minds and consciences if they claim to know God but their actions send a different message.

What message do your actions send with regard to money?

Cyril explains that those who love money and getting more and more of it as compared to what other people have, reveal that they are afflicted with the sins of covetousness and extortion; whereas, those who deploy money find themselves gathering provisions for the world to come.

Which are you doing?

You can’t say both or somewhere in between. That’s like saying you can serve God and money. It’s inconsistent or in biblical terms, impure or corrupted. You only make one objective your aim. Our human tendency is to take and accumulate. Let me urge you to live by faith from beautiful Alexandria by the sea.

This life we are living, it’s only for a brief moment. Eternity is of incomparable length. Make your actions show you are living for the eternal kingdom. We do this not by accumulating money and things, but by applying ourselves to holy works.

What is at stake if we don’t walk this path?

Paul says that if we are not “pure,” which in antiquity refers to “consistent,” then we are “detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Resolve today to apply yourself to holy works, which is “set apart living for God” that dispenses His love wherever you go. You can do it as God will help you.

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Clement of Alexandria: Be freed from greed

So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? Luke 16:11

“It is not scanty means that ever constitute poverty, but greed. The good [person], being free from this, will also be rich.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) E, 2.352, in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 440.

My meetings in Egypt are going great. I love the Egyptian Christians as they are so deeply devoted to Christ, and of all the early church fathers, I would have loved to meet Clement of Alexandria in person.

Here Clement states plainly that poverty is not linked to the level of a person’s resources, but rather, whether or not they are free from greed, which enables them to possess true riches.

Greed tells us we need money. Those who are free know they need God and they only discover this by handling money following God’s design. We must not sugarcoat this. It’s really hard. It’s the hardest thing you will ever do, which is why Jesus is not condemning but sympathetic.

Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23

As I move and interact in what many would say is a country filled with poverty, I am encountering many that, in God’s eyes, are actually quite rich. Additionally, I come from a country that most would say is full of rich people that I believe God would say are poor.

What’s the point for those who want to exhibit generosity?

We only find freedom and true riches through giving. It transforms us into people of trust. God does not need our money. We need to give it to be freed from greed. If we have money stored up on earth, our fund balances are evidence against us that we don’t understand the pathway to freedom and life.

Then He said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Luke 12:15

Jesus not condemn the rich, but He does warns those with wealth to be on guard. With Him, I am alerting everyone to take the pathway to true riches. Each person must decide to take it in order to show where they place their trust.

Give generously whatever you have and be freed from greed. You don’t find it’s the way to life and true riches until you take it.

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Cyril of Alexandria: Open your heart

Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home. Luke 16:9

“He said, “Make for yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon: that when it has failed, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles.” But as being God by nature, He well knew the slothfulness of the human mind in every earnest and good work. It escaped not His knowledge, that men, in their greediness after wealth, giving up their mind to the love of lucre, and being tyrannized over by this passion, become hard-hearted and unsympathizing with affliction, and show no kindness whatsoever to the poor, even though they have heaped up much wealth in their stores…

But this was not God’s purpose in permitting us to possess wealth. If therefore we are unfaithful in the little, by not conforming ourselves to the will of God, and bestow the best portion of ourselves upon our pleasures and our boasts, how can we receive from Him that which is true? And what is this? The abundant bestowal of those divine gifts which adorn man’s soul, and form in it a godlike beauty. This is the spiritual wealth, not that fattens the flesh, which is held by death, but rather that saves the soul, and makes it worthy of emulation, and honorable before God, and that wins for it true praises.

It is our duty therefore to be faithful unto God, pure in heart, merciful and kind, just and holy: for these things imprint in us the outlines of the divine likeness, and perfect us as heirs of eternal life. And this then is that which is true…Let such of us then as possess earthly wealth open our hearts to those who are in need; let us show ourselves faithful and obedient to the laws of God, and followers of our Lord’s will in those things which are from without, and not our own, that we may receive that which is our own, even that holy and admirable beauty which God forms in the souls of men, fashioning them like unto Himself, according to what we originally were.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, volume 2, sermon CIX (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 113. The photo above is the of the retreat center where my meetings have been held. I chose this Bible passage this morning as it is the text I will preach from this Sunday evening at a church in Alexandria.

Doctor Cyril provides the starting point for living generously. It starts with open hearts to those in need. When we “open our hearts” the faithful and obedient giving follows. And it’s God’s design for our lives. When we play our role as generous, merciful and kind givers, we reflect “the divine likeness” and it transforms and perfects us as heirs of eternal life.

So what will you open your heart to this Advent? Don’t be “hard-hearted and unsympathizing.” Today mine is open to the pastors and ministry administrators I am serving in Egypt. The meetings are going well!

Once your heart is open, assess what earthly wealth God has richly supplied this year, and ask God what you should do with it because it’s all His. Respond faithfully for what will happen next is bigger than the giving. Only after you open your heart, and respond in obedience and give generously, do you realize you are not diminished but enriched in the process.

We think giving is about the money, but God opens our eyes to see it is what we were made to do with Him as our Supplier. Only when we do our part, are we transformed and do we make friends for eternity.

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Clement of Alexandria: Suited for Pursuits

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Timothy 2:9-10

“Let a woman wear a plain and becoming dress, but softer than what is suitable for a man. Yet, it should not be immodest or entirely steeped in luxury. And let the garments be suited to age, figure, nature, and pursuits.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) E, 2.285, in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 170. It’s beautiful here in Egypt (pictured above).

Clement taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He helped people apply God’s Word in everyday life. Few thoughts are more practical than his adornment advice as everyone wears clothes.

Ladies, notice the middle road down which Clement points. He calls for clothing that is plain, soft, and becoming, or as we might say in today’s terms, simple, soft, and cute.

Such simple, soft, and cute attire avoids immodestly on the one hand and that which is “entirely steeped in luxury” on the other. And notice, it is “suited to age, figure, nature, and pursuits.”

Why make a post about clothing during Advent? One of the most common gifts at Christmas is clothing. The advertisers do everything they can to insist that we must buy luxurious clothing.

To have margin to live generously, ladies, keep it simple, soft and cute. Men, don’t go soft as Clement advises your clothing be different from the ladies; wear practical clothes.

So, today is my birthday. I’m thankful my wife got me six new undershirts, new walking shoes, and some books. I am well suited for my service and pursuits in Egypt today.

Regarding attire, if we all aim at simple and practical, our clothing will neither distract from our Christian testimony nor drain our pockets of resources for generous giving.

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Origen of Alexandria: Plainness and Needful

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

“The words of the Gospel, although probably containing a deeper meaning, may yet be taken in their more simple and obvious sense, as teaching us not to be disturbed with anxieties about our food and clothing. Rather, while living in plainness and desiring only what is needful, we should put our trust in the providence of God.”

Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254) 4.620 in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 441.

This meditation posts about the time I arrive in Egypt. One of the things I love about the Christians there is their simple trust in God. Though, largely speaking, they have limited financial mens, the Christians I have met possess something of inestimable value: deep faith in God.

In the West we tend to trust in our resources rather than in the providence of God, so life is filled with anxiety. We become disturbed and stingy rather than at peace and generous. For many, Christmas is about “what we want” rather than celebrating “what God gave,” namely, Jesus, the greatest gift to the world.

As we experience Advent in Alexandria together by exploring the writings of the early church fathers from this city, we find that the way of Jesus is “living in plainness and desiring only what is needful.” What would that look like for you to trust in the providence of God to care for you?

Only when we grasp God’s care for us do we shift from being anxious and disturbed people whose trust is in ourselves to being joyful distributors of spiritual and material blessings. The simple and obvious way of living is to trust in the providence of God. We can enjoy and share generously as God is our Provider!

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Clement of Alexandria: Divine Market

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20

“What beautiful business! What a divine market! You purchase with money something incorruptible, and you give the perishing things of this world in exchange for heavenly things! Set sail, O Rich Man, for this festal assembly, if you are wise. And if it is necessary, go around the whole earth without considering dangers or toils, that here you might purchase a heavenly kingdom.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Quis dives salvetur (The Rich Man’s Salvation) 32 in Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity by David J. Downs (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016) 185.

Today I depart for Egypt, though I will not exactly set sail. I fly from Denver to Houston to Frankfurt to Cairo. Thanks for your prayers for strength to face whatever awaits me and for the Spirit to work powerfully through my service.

In antiquity, much like today, people with wealth loved to travel and shop. Emporiums and markets in many cities achieved great fame. People would travel many miles to visit temples and to go shopping to purchase a variety of wares.

Clement calls the rich to a different market, a divine market. He beckons them to use wealth to purchase the incorruptible. What about you? What will you do? Will you be wise? If so it will require you to spend differently than your wealthy friends.

This echoes the explicit instructions of Jesus to store money in heaven rather than on earth. Will you prepare for the festal assembly in eternity? I hope and pray you chose wisely. You are not making a sacrifice, but rather the smartest investment on the planet.

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