Articles ECF Article The Early Church


Does God’s grace justify us taking offense? Or are we called to a higher level of forgiveness, like Christ?

Over the past few years there has been a rapid decline in morality and morals have become subjective. We have also seen a rapid increase in the sensitivity of people’s feelings to the point where certain minorities or groups are trying desperately to censor what they call ‘hate speech’. Hate speech, to these groups, is anyone who disagrees with their narrative. For example, if you don’t agree with a person’s choice to switch genders, even using scientific data to prove your point, it is viewed as hatred. This country is on the brink of a civil war that is being fueled by Democratic politicians pushing their agenda and empowering people to feel victimized. There are various university professors who teach their students that if anyone disagrees with you, or says something that offends you, it is the same as them performing a violent physical act on you and therefore you have the right to physically assault them in defense. With this type of rhetoric being taught, it is no wonder why there is a false sense of entitlement within the millennial generation and why there is such a display of violence towards authority and those who disagree with a certain narrative. 

As Christians we are meant to be set apart; we are to be the light in this dark world (Matthew 5:14). As wickedness increases, righteousness should increase, not diminish. This is not a time to argue about what is fair. Can you recall any of the Lord’s saints ever being treated fairly? Observe Joseph, betrayed by his brethren; Moses, attacked by the people he delivered from Egypt; Isaiah being cut in half for the prophetic word he gave; Jesus was crucified by His own people that He came to bring salvation to. This all appears to be unfair, however these circumstances produced godly men that changed the world. These circumstances produced in those saints virtues that are only attainable through intense pressure and persecution. The formula of pressure, persecution and betrayal from loved ones has produced so many faithful men. No matter the circumstances, regardless of the hatred and malicious treatment towards us; we are to love our enemies. Messiah came to teach us to surpass our human nature and desire for vengeance, instead we are to be imitators of Him as He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Notice that by loving our enemies and resisting the urge for vengeance, it produces sons of the kingdom and brings us to perfection. Echoing the immortal words “If you love those who love you, what reward have you?” emphasizes that anyone who is a true follower of Christ is to follow this path of perfection by walking a path that very few are willing to walk. It is certainly easy for anyone to be able to love those who love you in return, the real test and exhibit of the love of God is to love those who hate you. It is significantly easier said than done. One of the reasons why we are so easily offended is because we are not walking out this commandment from Messiah. The Apostle John said, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.” (1 John 2:5) and “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Thus proving to those who call themselves Christians, and do not love their enemies as the Word teaches us, that they truly do not know God or keep His word. John further stated, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (1 John 5:3) The byproduct of not having love, especially concerning loving our enemies, is breaking the commandments. What do the commandments and love have to do with offenses you may ask? It has everything to do with it; for keeping the commandments as the Messiah taught, would lead us to a path that will teach us to lay our lives down for the sake of others, even our own enemies. By doing so we will become impervious to offenses. 

We cannot change how people treat us or what they think of us, all we can change is our reaction towards slander, hatred, persecution and false accusations. Observe the mind of Christianity that was truly upheld by those who walked this path of righteousness in purity:

For they are aware that there is nothing among men more excellent than religion, and that this ought to be defended with the whole of our power; but as they are deceived in the matter of religion itself, so also are they in the manner of its defence. For religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned. For nothing is so much a matter of free-will as religion; in which, if the mind of the worshipper is disinclined to it, religion is at once taken away, and ceases to exist. The right method therefore is, that you defend religion by patient endurance or by death; in which the preservation of the faith is both pleasing to God Himself, and adds authority to religion. For if he who in this earthly warfare preserves his faith to his king in some illustrious action, if he shall continue to live, because more beloved and acceptable, and if he shall fall, obtains the highest glory, because he has undergone death for his leader; how much more is faith to be kept towards God, the Ruler of all, who is able to pay the reward of virtue, not only to the living, but also to the dead!

And, therefore, when we suffer such impious things, we do not resist even in word. Rather, we leave vengeance to God. We do not act as those persons who would have it appear that they are defenders of their gods, who rage without restraint against those who do not worship them.  (1)

Lactantius paints a stark contrast between pagans defending their religious beliefs and Christians defending their faith. John Calvin had women burned at the stake (who were accused of witchcraft) and also a man named Servetus, burned at the stake for marking one of Calvin’s works in a way he felt to be too harsh. It is quite disturbing how Calvin is gushed over by numerous scholars when the martyrs of the Early Church are overlooked, and even discredited in favor of Calvin. With so much vile and hatred in the world today, the church needs to go back to what it once knew, to remedy the malicious murdering spirit plaguing in this world.  

For those of us who struggle with vengeance, defending ourselves, justifying ourselves and anger; these are various forms of defense mechanisms that we tend to use for our protection. Even sarcasm, and joking can be a form of a defense mechanism and is still in the realm of a vice. Loving our enemies is not rewarding to our flesh, it brings life to the inward man. This is a virtue that births peace and tranquility in the midst of chaos, and saints, the earth right now is ripe for the picking. We overcome anger with love and humility; this is a hard fought battle. This type conquers principalities as our savior did by being obedient unto death.

What beyond; — that you should not swear nor curse; that you should not seek again your goods when taken from you; that, when you receive a buffet, you should give your other cheek to the smiter; that you should forgive a brother who sins against you, not only seven times, but seventy times seven times? But, moreover, all his sins altogether; that you should love your enemies; that you should offer prayer for your adversaries and persecutors? Can you accomplish these things unless you maintain the steadfastness of patience and endurance? And this we see done in the case of Stephen, who, when he was slain by the Jews with violence and stoning, did not ask for vengeance for himself, but for pardon for his murderers, saying, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” (Act_7:60) It behooved the first martyr of Christ thus to be, who, fore-running the martyrs that should follow him in a glorious death, was not only the preacher of the Lord’s passion, but also the imitator of His most patient gentleness. What shall I say of anger, of discord, of strife, which things ought not to be found in a Christian? Let there be patience in the breast, and these things cannot have place there; or should they try to enter, they are quickly excluded and depart, that a peaceful abode may continue in the heart, where it delights the God of peace to dwell. Finally, the apostle warns us, and teaches, saying: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and anger, and wrath, and clamor, and blasphemy, be put away from you.” (Eph_4:30, Eph_4:31) For if the Christian have departed from rage and carnal contention as if from the hurricanes of the sea, and have already begun to be tranquil and meek in the harbor of Christ, he ought to admit neither anger nor discord within his breast, since he must neither return evil for evil, nor bear hatred. (2)

For some, this may feel like an impossible feat when you have grown up defending yourself from all the injustice you’ve experienced. However, God commands that we relinquish this attitude for a remedy to the bondage of anger and rage that burns deep within our soul, by means of love and forgiveness. This is not an impossible walk, hence the reason Cyprian mentions Stephen as an example, to show us that we can truly be imitators of Christ and not just in word. The distinguishable character of a Christian is crystal clear; our actions, more than anything else, prove who we belong to. There are a myriad of excuses that we all use for giving reason to vengeful conduct; all are frail justifications in the face of the martyrs who have gone before us. Jesus warns “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!” (Luke 17:1) So here we are in the age of offenses, and woe unto those who are offended, because they did not keep the commandments of Messiah and lay down their life in obedience. The fruit of obedience will manifest when we can truly love those who spit in our face, and still pray for them no matter the vileness they spew. There is only one way to combat the hatred in this world, but will the church wake up and bear the light to remedy the sickness?
To God be the glory, Amen!

1.     Lactantius-Divine Institutes Book 5 Vol. 7
2.     Cyprian-Treatise of Cyprian Vol. 5