The early church was very familiar with persecution. Within a short time after its inception, Stephen was martyred. They expected suffering and if martyrdom was the price of following Jesus, there was no higher honour. In the words of the apostle Peter to churches persecuted, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16). Despite nearly 300 years of hostility, the church expanded rather than weakened!
A significant factor according to Rodney Stark, a historian and sociologist who studied the expansion of Christianity in the Roman Empire, was the way Christians took care of the sick and the poor. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria around 260 AD wrote, [During the great epidemic] most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves… Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…The [pagan] behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled even from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead”. What motivated them to care so selflessly?
It most certainly had something to do with Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24, “…If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is the heart of the Christian faith – following Jesus all the way, no matter what the cost. But this still doesn’t explain why the early Christians did what they did. Perhaps Jesus’ short parable provides the answer. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44 – emphasis mine).
I suggest the early Christians did the costly thing they did because Jesus was absolutely worth it. Isn’t that why Ed and Di do what they do for Timmy (who has Angelman Syndrome)? Is it costly? Absolutely! Is Timmy worth it? Absolutely! Why? They love him! Why did Jesus go to the cross as costly as it was? ‘I love the Father’ (John 14:31).
To love and glorify God on earth is our ultimate purpose for living and the true measure of a well-lived life! It means to go all in for God whatever that means and wherever that takes us because God is worth it. He is the true treasure!
Have a fruitful week!