How Should We Then Live

One of my favourite readings from early Christianity is this excerpt from an unknown writer offering a defence of what it means to be a Christian to a certain (also unknown) Diognetus. Writing about the end of the second century, the author seeks to show that Christians have a certain relationship to the countries and governments under which they find themselves living. Given the present politicized environment, it might be good medicine to help the church get back to being the church.

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. 2 For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life. 3 This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. 4 But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. 

5 They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. 

6 They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. 7 They share their food but not their wives. 

8 They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.  9 They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. 10 They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. 

11 They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. 12 They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. 13 They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. 14 They are dishonoured, yet they are glorified in their dishonour; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. 15 They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. 16 When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life. 

17 By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility. 6:1 In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.

Epistle to Diognetus 5:1–6:1

[Paragraphing added to aid reading]


When the Resurrection is Assumed (Hebrews)

The resurrection of Jesus is largely missing in Hebrews. Have you noticed?

So how could a preacher so committed to making sure his listeners understand what Jesus did for them say nothing about Jesus’ resurrection? For sure, the Hebrews writer believes Jesus is big stuff. This Jesus, the Son, co-created the world and is the very image of God. He is the cosmic glue that holds the world together and he is the one who made it possible the forgiveness of our sins and now sits at the right hand of God (Heb 1:3-4). So where is the resurrection?

Jesus is greater than angels, greater than Moses, and greater than Joshua. He is our great high priest who can both sympathize with our weaknesses on earth and intercede on our behalf in heaven. This high priest is of a higher order than the levitical priesthood, compared with the mysterious Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. So, again, where is the resurrection?

Jesus’ high priesthood ushers in a new covenant—a new and living way (Heb 10:20). Even more, this High Priest, the Son, offers a better sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats, he offers his own blood—yet not as a dead victim but as a willing and living sacrifice. Wait a moment… Did you see it?

A dead victim now a living high priest! That sounds like a resurrection had to have happened. Yes, and nearly everything said about Jesus in Hebrews assumes the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the necessary assumption that makes what the Hebrews writer says about Jesus makes sense. In other words, there is no high priest without the resurrection of Jesus

What would a life be like that accepted the resurrection of Jesus as a given—as the necessary event that makes sense of our world?

Finally at the end of Hebrews, the writer offers this prayer for his reader:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Powerful Prayer

Ever pray just to make it? Sometimes, so it seems, that is the best we can do. We go from one fire to another, praying we will have the resources to put out the next one. It does not take much of this kind of living to bring us to despair.

However, there is another way of living, a more proactive, powerful way. Paul models that for us in his prayer to the Ephesians (1:15-23 which resumes in 3.14-21). Paul prays that God might give his readers a “spirit of wisdom and revelation.” While is not clear here whether Paul is referencing the Holy Spirit or that the Ephesians might gain the quality of wisdom and revelation, it is clear that both wisdom and revelation are gifts from God.

With wisdom, we can see past the next fire; we can see that some of our fires are the results of our loosely lived lives; and we could more readily live in sync with God’s life.

With revelation, we could see what God had in store for us and more readily anticipate the future. Most of us have the ability to predict more of the future than we practice. Certain ways of living produce life; others, death. One does not have to be religious to figure this out. God’s revelation in our life allows us to see this even more clearly.

Both of these gifts, wisdom and revelation, are supernatural—they come only from God.

Yet Paul seeks a particular outcome for God’s gifts of wisdom and revelation—that we might know Jesus! The NIV translation’s addition of the word “better” is probably correct on the sense of the text—after all the original readers were already Christians—yet it softens the sense that outcome here is to know Jesus.

Thus now Paul prays that the “eyes” of our hearts might be enlightened. This is also the work of God. While “eyes of our minds” might be more natural to the way we think today, “eyes of our hearts” captures the sense that Paul hopes we will see God at our deepest levels, in our heart of hearts.

Paul wants us to see three things: 1) the hope we have because God has called us; 2) the glorious rich inheritance we have among God’s people; and 3) the incredible power we can access as believers in Jesus.

Each of these is worth exploring, but Paul really wants us to get the last one. He really lathers up the descriptors: “the overabundant greatness of his power for us who believe based on the energy of the might of his strength” (my literal translation).

This same power, according to Paul,

  • raised Jesus from the dead,
  • seated him at the right hand of God,
  • raised him above every name, even of angelic and demonic forces,
  • made every thing subject to him, and
  • placed him as supreme in the church over everything.

That is a lot of power! And it is available for those who believe. You don’t have to live fire to fire because we have the power to live triumphant lives in Jesus. All you have to do is ask for it and then begin to live as if you have it.