An ancient letter caused me to compare our modern practice of Christian love with that of the Early Church. Jesus clearly exemplified love for us. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (NIV: John 13:35).
Paul defined the church foundation for love. “Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all (NIV: Eph 4:2-6).” Have we utterly failed?
Would our attitudes of love towards one another be the same as the early Christians in the first age after Christ? A young disciple of Paul the Apostle, Mathetes, writes to Diognetus, a tutor to M. Aurelius, a Roman nobleman, a revealing letter about AD 130. This very earliest of letters from a Christian disciple is well worth contemplating. He describes the early Christians to his correspondent as follows. I here emphasize the points of discussion.
Pilgrims in common: They (the Christians) dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Abortion and marriage: They marry, as do all others. They beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. Living spiritually: They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.
Citizens of Heaven: They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time, surpass the laws by their lives. Persecuted: They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life. Materially detached: They are poor, yet make many rich. They are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all. They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.
Reviled: They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified. They are reviled and bless. They are insulted and repay the insult with honor. They do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. Joyful Witness: When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life. They are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks. Love exemplified: Yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their own hatred. To sum up all in one word: what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world.
(Source of ancient Letter: Roberts, A. and Donaldson, J., eds. “The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus.” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Mass., USA 1999.)
I think we would do well to weigh our love as modern Christians in the light of Christ and these early Christians. Such consideration should remind us that Christianity is not intended as a religion but a love relationship exemplified through Jesus, the Son of God. How do we really fare in living the love of Christ?