The writer of Ecclesiastes states that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV).
Bon Jovi expressed this idea lyrically, “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
Modern Christians can easily feel the anxiety and turbulence of our modern times is unprecedented and unique. A quick read through early Christian history shows this just isn’t the case.
Consider the Epistle to Diognetus, for example.
This early apologetic work is believed to have been written perhaps as early as 130 AD, just a generation or two removed from apostolic times. It may be one of the earliest known noncanonical Christian writings.
No extant copies of this epistle remain. Although the letter was most likely written early in the history of the church, the earliest existing copy was found in a manuscript from the 13th or 14th century and published in 1592. That copy was subsequently destroyed in a fire.
In fact, some historians originally attributed the letter to one “Apollos,” the acquaintance of the Apostle Paul mentioned in Acts. This attribution has since been called into question, and it remains officially anonymous.
As its title suggests, the letter was written to “Diognetus,” whom some historians identify as the tutor of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whom the author says deeply desires to learn how Christians worship God.
The author begins by explaining the faulty ways of pagan idol worship before contrasting it with how Christians live their lives, despite facing fierce persecution. The author claims that the early Christians’ witness is a proof of “the power of God” and “evidence of His manifestation.”
The author writes of early Christians,
They display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. 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; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified.
They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.
One can’t help but draw modern parallels from the author’s descriptions.
Aren’t all modern Christians “simply sojourners” in this life?
When we see our governments pass laws to permitting abortions up until birth and allowing minors to receive harmful transgender medical interventions, doesn’t it seem as if we live in “a land of strangers”?
In our highly-sexualized, addicted and depressed society, don’t we often feel as if we are simply “pass[ing our] days on earth,” while waiting to be fully revealed as “citizens of heaven”?
And has any Christian, for the name of Christ, not been spoken evil of, reviled and insulted? Just consider the ways orthodox Christians are labeled: bigots, homophobes, transphobes, racists, anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-poor and haters.
And yet, we are called to bless, honor and do good. That is what Christians do, with believers providing untold social, economic and mental health benefits in their communities.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10, ESV).
It can be difficult to live in a culture hostile to our modern Christian values. If the past is prologue, it’s likely this trend will get worse in the coming decades before (or if) it gets better.
But despite the struggles and difficulties we face, we’re not the first generation of Christians to experience trials and tribulations.
We must remember that as Christians, we should feel weird in modern society. We should feel like outsiders. We should feel as if we don’t belong – because we don’t.
We don’t belong to this passing world, but to Jesus Christ as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. And that, is good news indeed.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV).
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, ESV).
If you’re having doubts about your faith, Focus on the Family is here to help. Consider the following resources.
Christian author and apologist Lee Strobel recently appeared on the Focus on the Family Broadcast to discuss his new book The Case for Heaven. On the broadcast, titled “Believing in the Hope of Heaven,” Strobel examines why our culture chases immortality and the evidence for the existence of the soul.
You can also purchase a copy of The Case for Christ here.
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