Before You – Augustine

College can be a time of great opportunity.  Trying new things, meeting new people, and gaining experiences are all part of the joys of this time in your life.  However, in some instances, the opportunities presented to you are not always the best for you.  In many cases, these sorts of opportunities come to us when we are amongst other people who may not have our best interest in mind.  There is something about being in a herd that leads us to do things that we normally wouldn’t do.  This is a human reality that is nothing new. Today we are going to wrap up our series on early church leaders with arguably the most influential theologian in western civilization, Augustine.  We will take a look at one of the most important events in his life and analyze how it affected his writing and teaching. 

Augustine was born in 354 in North Africa.  From the time of his youth, Augustine was recognized by others as a very bright mind.  As he grew older, Augustine became a public debater which brought him great wealth.  Despite this he found himself still to be unhappy so he searched for what he called the “beata vita”, or happy life.  At this point, Augustine was not a Christian.  His parents were pagan and Augustine believed that religion, more specifically scripture, was primitive.  However, while in school a Bishop named Ambrose showed Augustine how to read scripture for its theological value.  Thus began Augustine’s life journey as a Christian.  But this isn’t the event that I want to share with you today.  

Augustine’s most famous work is known as Confessions.  In this work Augustine talks about an experience that he had with some friends.  Augustine writes that him and some friends were out when they came across a pear tree.  In this moment Augustine does something that he cannot explain, he steals a pear from the tree.  This is strange because Augustine writes that despite the fact that he did not need the pear or even want the pear, he stole it anyways.  Even though this may not seem like a big deal, Augustine believed that it said something about human nature, sin, and the influence of others.  Augustine writes that the fact that he sinned simply to sin reveals that in that moment, sin was more important to him than God.  What I want to draw your attention to is the fact that this particular sin was promoted by something seemingly good like friendship.  He is not trying to say that friendship is sinful rather that if we are not careful we can allow the things around us to dictate how we act, even the good things.  

I can honestly say that I can look back on my life and there are times that I have done some pretty dumb things so that I could impress the people around me.  Though the people around me were all really great people and I valued their friendship tremendously, there is something about being around people that can sometimes make us do things that we wouldn’t normally do.  I am sure that you know what I am talking about.  One of the reasons that I think it is so important for us to look at figures like Augustine, is so that we can learn from their experiences.  The story of the pear tree in particular is something that I find extremely relevant all these years later.  Though it may not be stealing pears, it could be going to parties, abusing substances, or anything of that nature.  Even though we cannot explain why we do these things we for some reason still do them.  Though Augustine’s theological argument is a long one (and one that I recommend you to look into yourself) one thing is very clear, who you surround yourself with matters.  Though this may not keep you from always doing things that seem uncharacteristic, it is foolish to think that those around you do not influence your actions.  I want to encourage you to always be thinking about who you surround yourself with.  There will always be times that you get caught up in the moment and do silly things.  However, if you are around the right people, they will be able to tell you when something you are doing isn’t right.  The right kinds of people are the ones who keep your focus on God.  When the situation calls for it, the right person will be there to help you and keep you on the path of your ultimate success.  Augustine learned this when he stole from a pear tree.  Use his story to realize that the better the people in your corner are, the easier it will be to to make the decisions that God wants you to make.

-Sean

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