Below is a description of the early Christian community (c. AD 130), written to a political leader or other authority figure in the Roman Empire, named Diognetus. The author writes in hopes of communicating the truth about Christianity and thereby gaining clemency for Christians under persecution:
“… [The Christians] display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.”
“They dwell in their own countries, but only as aliens [1 Pet 2:11]. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as a their native land, and every land of their birth is as a foreign land to them.”
“The soul is imprisoned in the body, and yet preserves that very body; while Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are preservers of the world.”
— Found in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, John R. Tyson, ed., pp. 58-60. Cited as “The Epistle to Diognetus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, eds., TANF, Vol. I, ch. 5-6, pp. 26-27.
Christians who know this identity in Christ (as foreigners, aliens and sojourners, yet having a heavenly home) will have an identity in the world — being fully present and loving to those around them. They know where they belong because they know to Whom they belong. The imperatives (commands) of the Christian life are rooted in the prior work of God, which is the engine that propels us forward. I found myself rejoicing not so much in a prescription for how to live but a description of how in Christ we can be in His world. Amazing enabling grace!
Earlier in the letter the author states the plain truth of how believing in Christ inevitably makes one the best citizens around [he’s an objective observer] — Christians dwell, share, endure, marry, beget children, obey, love, etc. (Most striking to me is the absence of modifying clauses like “should,” which would give an out to the weak Christians. The writer gives no fancy to a concept of a hypocritical life. The absence of this passive language is more my fault than his, for we have come to accept wishy washy nominalism for self-described Christians.)
The message is embodied in such a way that the people’s lives demand a Gospel explanation. In effect he is giving a gospel explanation as he tells the what and the why of how Christians (are to) see ourselves in this world. I felt like I was reading a summary of the implications of Romans 12 (humility before God, the church family, and outsiders in the world). He ended in stating plainly “Christians love those who hate them,” which lept off the page to me. We are not merely okay will be accepting or neutral towards those who harbor anomosity towards us (noting they themselves may not totally realize why they do so as agents under the sway of the Evil One). How true that as we move upward we are compelled to move outward, missionaries of love like the true Missionary God who loved His enemies (us) and gave Himself for our sake.
Are you a preserver of the world around you? In what way? Get close, step into the mess, be all there.