Saturday, December 08, 2012

Mathetes 5 - Christians are a Paradox

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

On one hand, Christians are just like anyone else. They are not distinguished between others based on their nationality, customs, clothing, or speech.
"For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity" (Mathetes 5)
Throughout the centuries there have been those Christians that sought to create their own culture, and their own cities, far away from the rest of the world. They have tried to create "Christian" cities and even "Christian" resorts, all in an attempt to be able to separate themselves from the world around them. However, this was not what the church was meant to be. In the early church Christians worked, talked, and held the same customs as everyone else. They were integrated into the life of their culture and active participants life with everyone else.

They also did not act like those whose association was centered around some new though, idea, or opinion.
"The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines." (Mathetes 5)
They weren't like those following the latest zealot or as those who were quick to jump on the latest bandwagon. They were not activists for their favorite cause; supporting and promoting some new dogma like conservationism, vegetarianism, socialism, or even republicanism. Their life was not centered around a cause or a dogma.

And yet, while they dressed, ate, and observed the same customs as everyone else they were yet still different.
"But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life." (Mathetes 5)
The Latin word "striking" literally means "paradoxical". Christians are a paradox, living so much like everyone else and yet being so different from everyone else. Theirs was a difference, but the difference began as an "inward" difference that expressed itself through everything they did.
"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." (Mathetes 5)
And Mathetes continues in like manner describing the various ways Christians are different from the world. It all reminds us of what Paul said,
"By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true;  as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things." (2 Corinthians 6:8-10)
Christians are a paradox; the same yet different; people just like you yet people so strangely different; people vilified as being evil yet people for whom such evil cannot be identified. It is as Mathetes said,
"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." (Mathetes 5)
Christians are hated by the world, even though those who hate them have a hard time knowing why. Yes, Christians are a paradox.

David Robison

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