Generosity and counter cultural living!
As we concluded our Fructiferous series, I used a quote from the early church. In the 2nd century, the church was exploding even when the Roman Empire was trying to stop it. Embedded in a very anti Christian culture, the church grew. Why? How? Mathetes wrote a letter to Diognetus explaining how the church grew. The writer speaks of the fruitfulness of the early church that came from their counter cultural way Christians were living. Here is what he wrote:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men ..... They 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. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. 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. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; ... When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. Letter to Diognetus from Mathetes (1st Century)
Mathetes noted 4 ways Christians lived differently.
They were not racist. They did not just identify with their own racially. Their native land was not their native land because their citizenship was in Heaven. Because of that they did not separate from others based on race. They truly loved everyone. That sets Christians apart.
They were fruitful because they had a high view of life. They do not destroy their offspring. In Roman culture if you had a baby and you didn't like the look of the baby the father would have the baby killed. If the dad wanted a boy and a girl was born, the girl was often killed. Life was expendable. But the Christians had a high view of life. This month is a month that celebrates the high view of life. Life before birth is valuable. Life that doesn't meet society's standards of real living is important. Humans at the end of life are valued and have dignity. That sets Christians apart.
They were fruitful because they lived with a different sexual ethic. They have a common table, but not a common bed. What a phrase. They invite everyone to eat, but the marriage bed is honored. They are in the flesh, but they don't live after the flesh. In Roman and Greek culture, anything would go. Their families were fruitful. Their marriages were fruitful. The willingness to live rightly paid major dividends.
Fourthly they were fruitful because they were radically generous. They shared their table with everyone and anyone. Though they were poor, they were rich. They had nothing, but they had plenty of everything. They were poor yet made everyone else around them rich. The people could not believe how quick they were to share.. They were short on many things, but lived with great generosity and it spoke to the culture. They saw God as a giver and it made a difference in their lives.
We have the same to offer. Living counter to our culture leaves the sweet aroma of Jesus. And that is contagious.