Watchfulness

So equip yourself in time
And shun all sin
Living in righteousness
That is true watchfulness
Whereby one can attain
to eternal blessedness.
~16th Century Anabaptist Hymn1~

We’ve reached the end of our little series about doing everything through love. The first post was a simple reminder that all things find their worth through love. The second post explained just what exactly love means from a Christian perspective. Outwardly it will form as seeking the best interests of those around you. It is utter selflessness with a result of serving others. Inwardly, it’s a complete devotion to God. Love is the natural outflowing when the correct conditions are met, that is, when we abide in Christ in the same way that he is abiding in the Father.

This last post will be more practical in nature. How do we cultivate that love? How do we abide in Christ? Before we begin, I want to be very clear that this will not be a step by step guide to becoming holy (or loving or godly or whatever else you’re looking to be). If you are looking to be one of those things, then you will never reach it. How can one become selfless with a motivation to be great? Let us start with the psalm in Philippians 2 to remind us of the person in whom we are to find our being, our love. If we have any holiness, it is only because we have forsaken our dreams of becoming so and have instead fully dedicated ourselves to following Him in the way He laid out for us.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.


Watchfulness

What we will be talking about in this article is called different things by different traditions and different people. To my knowledge, Eastern Orthodoxy has the most established tradition of this and it is most often called watchfulness in that tradition, so that is what I will call it here.

Watchfulness is the guarding of the heart from evil thoughts. If you recall from the last post, usually what we call sinful actions are the result of little seeds which have grown to fruition. The seeds of sin are most often planted as small thoughts. They float through the air and land in the soil of our hearts. Here, if we are not careful, they will take root. Watchfulness is simply staying alert and keeping the seeds from ever landing. We, like Habukkuk, we must stand at the gates of our hearts and keep watch, never allowing the enemy to enter yet always prepared to receive our Lord (Hab 2:1).

Throughout the day we are tempted with seemingly innocent thoughts. Pleasurable to our minds and emotions, these persistent thoughts are what most often cause us to fall. St. Francis de Sales reminds us that “although the greater temptations exceed in power, there are so infinitely more in number of little temptations, that a victory over them is fully as important as over the greater but rarer ones.”2 In fact, St. Mark the Ascetic said, “When you sin, blame your thought and not your action. For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.”3 These small, enjoyable thoughts fill us with pride or grow into great monuments of lust. Surely a person has never lost their temper who didn’t harbor thoughts of anger, pride or contempt.  These small and natural thoughts stay and rot our hearts until an opportune time to strike. Of course we may always repent and ask forgiveness, but we should be always striving to rid ourselves of such damaging actions. To do so, we need to keep as far away as possible from the seeds of sin. “Let us flee from it in our thoughts so that we may have nothing in common with the enemy of God.”4 

We cannot control when a thought enters our mind, but we can decide how to deal with it. Often there is not a moment of our waking hours that a thought is not floating through our minds. While that in and of itself is not bad, we must not allow these thoughts to take root.

The first step we must take is to be aware. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.” Jesus and the New Testament authors all gave several warnings to be prepared, alert, ready, watchful and awake lest we be taken by surprise.5 Several psalms and proverbs remind us to keep careful watch over our hearts as well.6

When a thought floats into our minds, we must be aware that it has done so, but we must also not give it attention. When we try to attack it head on we in fact give it strength. We cannot fight these thoughts off ourselves, so we must turn to Christ. He is our savior, our victorious King.  In his death and resurrection he has defeated evil.7 In him they are powerless, so to him we must turn. As St. Hesychius said, “Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart”8. This ‘invocation of Jesus Christ’ can take many forms. St Hesychius was most likely referencing the Jesus Prayer9, a traditional Orthodox prayer taken from Jesus himself, but it need not be. I personally like to recite scripture which directly contrasts the thoughts which are tempting me. When I feel irritation slipping in for example, I do not focus on the irritation, but instead focus on the words of Paul when he said, “Love is patient and kind… It is not irritable or resentful.” When I pray these verses with my heart in Christ, the weeds of irritability never take root, never even germinate. Instead, the seeds of patience begin to grow. 

This is not always immediate and sometimes the thoughts keep raging. It is important to recognize that if we “try to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance, [we] will become more entangled in them instead of driving them away.”10 Recognizing that these evil thoughts and temptations cannot actually harm us unless we give them the power to do so, St. Francis de Sales tells us to “despise all these trivial onslaughts, and do not even deign to think about them; but let them buzz about your ears as much as they please.. do no more than simply remove them, not fighting with them, or arguing, but simply doing that which is precisely contrary to their suggestions, and specially making acts of the Love of God.. Simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet.”11


Morning and Evening Prayers

Watchfulness is sitting at the feet of our Master and listening to His voice and His alone. We ignore the distractions in the background that bring our attention away from Him and focus all the more intently on his voice. This is not only done as the distractors come, but should be done in deliberate times when we are free from distractions. I find that set prayer times are the most effective way for me to ensure I have regular time alone with my Master. Through this practice, I am much more prepared when the little seeds of distraction do come. We must always be on guard lest we are unknowingly carried away from abiding in Christ and the effectiveness of preparing both before the day begins and after it ends can hardly be overstated. Especially for those areas in which we are particularly weak, we need to work on fully turning them over to Jesus during times when we are not being bombarded by temptations. “In a word, let your time of peace,—that is to say, the time when you are not beset by temptations to sin,—be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your natural difficulties, and if opportunities for their exercise do not arise, go out of your way to seek them, and by so doing you will strengthen your heart against future temptations.”12 

To begin a day devoted to God, it is best to begin with time set apart for prayer. Do your best to start this sacred time with God before any thoughts can enter your mind. Avoid texts, social media, television, other people even, until your devotions are finished. This can be difficult, and I understand even impossible for some people at times, but it is most helpful so I encourage you to do the best that you can.

Praying first thing in the morning, before even looking at your phone or eating breakfast, sets the tone for the entire day. By putting aside your hunger and praying, you are making a conscious effort to follow God even over your own desires. “Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord, because the whole day will belong to whoever gets the first start.”13  It releases the floodgates to allow Father’s love to pour into and through us thus squashing many thoughts and keeping our focus on him. At some point I would like to discuss more about morning prayers, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

There is no perfect way to pray, but surely there are more effective methods than others. I have found St. Francis de Sales’ method for morning prayers to be indispensable.14 He suggests we start with thanksgiving, as all prayers should. A rejoicing to the Lord of All that we have made it through the night and into the next day that He has made. Then we should go through the day we have ahead of us in our minds. Of course we cannot completely predict what will happen, but we know many of the trials in which we’ll face. Pray now for those specific things, to remain strong in Him and that His love, faithfulness, peace and kindness will flow out of you rather than the frustration and anger which normally does. End your prayer recognizing that without His Spirit, you could never live as you should. You have an uncountable list of failures as evidence.

This structure is only a suggestion though I do highly recommend something similar. As you change and the situations surrounding your life change, what is most effective will change as well. We must always be willing to adapt our lives to follow the Spirit. Similarly, if you have a morning prayer routine different than what I have described and it works well for you, don’t abandon it for this one! 

Just as we begin the day with prayer, so should we end with it. Mornings tend to invoke ideas of life and beginnings whereas night is often most conducive for dwelling on death and sin. Each night as the sun sets we need to remember that our lives will set someday as well. It is most helpful to go through our day reviewing those situations in which we recognize the Spirit of Christ working through us as well as those when we let wickedness rule. We must offer thankfulness for our successes and ask for forgiveness for our failures15.

In addition to evening prayers, it is best to have our last thoughts as we doze off be those of prayer. I personally, taking note from Clement of Alexandria, like to recite Psalms until I fall asleep.16In doing this, we can ensure that both our first and last thoughts of the day will be of and devoted to God.

Of course, we should not be legalistic about such prayers. We are not dependent on morning and evening prayers, but on Christ himself. And we should never feel satisfied at simply completing our two daily prayers, but should always take advantage of a time when it arises. “At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.”17 


When You Fall

Note that I said when you fall not if you fall. On the one hand I don’t want us going into this with a losing attitude. On the other, it is important to recognize that we are weak and will eventually stumble. I find the words of Brother Lawrence most helpful in this regard. In his short book Practice of the Presence of God, Lawrence describes his simple life of devotion. He said we should live in “one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to God” (Fourth conversation). Brother Lawrence had, since becoming a monk, always desired to live for nothing and no one other than God. Yet for ten years he lived in guilt and misery over how much he continually failed in that endeavor. Eventually he stopped living in shame and instead turned even his failures over to God. When he stumbled, he simply confessed his fault and said, “God, I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself; it is you who must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss.” After this, he felt no further uneasiness about it but simply continued in his constant walk with God.

To give in to guilt and shame is to give into the very powers in which we are struggling against. We have our worth through Jesus. When we sin, we must not turn to shame or guilt, but turn immediately to him. When we do this we learn humility which is to take the failure and convert it into victory. “I will merely say that for all the passion mentioned above, the remedy is humility. Those who have obtained that virtue have won the whole fight.”18 


I’ll end with the words of St. Hesychios, :”We are not mightier than Samson, wiser than Solomon, more knowledgeable about God than David, and we do not love God better than did Peter, prince of the apostles. So let us not have confidence in ourselves; for he who has confidence in himself will fall headlong.

Let us learn humility from Christ, humiliation from David, and from Peter to shed tears over what has happened; but let us also learn to avoid the despair of Samson, Judas, and that wisest of men, Solomon.

The devil, with all his powers, ‘walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; (1 Pet 5:8). So must you never relax your attentiveness of heart, your watchfulness, your power of rebuttal or your prayer to Jesus Christ our God. You will not find a greater help than Jesus in all your life, for He alone, as God, knows the deceitful ways of the demons, their subtlety and their guile.

Let your soul, then, trust in Christ, let it call on Him and never fear; for it fights, not alone, but with the aid of a mighty King, Jesus Christ, Creator of all that is, both bodiless and embodied, visible and invisible.

The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, Christ’s holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.”

Just as the Word is spread to but doesn’t not take root in all soil (Matt. 13:1-23), so let us strive to be inhospitable soils for the seeds of sins. If sin is refused germination, it will never bloom. The soil which is ripe for the Word, is death for sin. A soul which is rich for the Word, is arid for sin. Humility, faith, gentleness, patience, self-control, love and kindness will choke out the weeds of sin before they can even begin to take root. But the Word flourishes in such conditions and surely we may reap 100 fold in crop.

“Let this be your rule and practice, to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God’s will?”19 


Further Reading

There are many resources for watchfulness in the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. Here are a several works about watchfulness or with parts pertaining to it.

The Philokalia The Philokalia is a five volume collection of writings from monastic Christians between the 4th and 15th centuries, although only four are available in English (only 99¢ for a digital copy of all four volumes!) The topics of the writings vary but are primarily related to quiet prayer within the heart. It is very highly regarded in Eastern Orthodoxy. Some of the writings which have helped me the most in regards to watchfulness are St. Isaiah the Solitary’s On Guarding the Intellect, St. Mark the Ascetic’s On the Spiritual Law, St. Hesychios the Priest and Nikiphoros the Monk.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent Another book valued in Orthodoxy is this one by John Climacus. This book describes the virtues a Christian should strive to encompass and is very practical in nature. Chapters 26 and 27 are the most relevant for our topic.

Prima the First Things… Written by Puritan mystic Isaac Ambrose, this book is wonderfully practical and enlightening. The most relevant chapter starts on page 28.

Practice of the Presence of God This incredibly simple book by Brother Lawrence gives you a peek into the life of a man who is living exactly as I have suggested we should strive to live. He devoted all thoughts and actions to God and saw no difference between times of prayer and times of work.

Introduction to the Devout Life Written by St. Francis de Sales, this book is odd for the time in that is was written specifically for lay people, not other monks. As such, it makes it very accessible to all of us lay people! The chapters are short, simple and powerful.

The Spiritual Watch This short book written by a moderate puritan Thomas Gataker can be difficult to read because of the spelling and language, but offers a deep insight into keeping a spiritual watch.

 


  1. If Now We Must Part: A Parting Hymn
  2. although greater temptations exceed in power… St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 8
  3. When you sin, blame your thought and not your action… St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law #119Philokalia Vol. 1
  4. May we have nothing in common with the enemy of God… Nikiphoros the Monk, On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart. The Philokalia, vol. 4
  5. New Testament warnings to stay watch… Luke 12:35-39, 12:15, 21:34; Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 13:34-37, 14:38; 2 Peter 1:19; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; Hebrews 2:1
  6. Psalms and Proverbs related to watchfulness… Proverbs 4:23, 8:33-34; Psalms 39:1, 141:3, 123:1-2; 
  7. In his death and resurrection he has defeated death… Col 2:5, Heb 2:14-15, 1 Jn 3:8, Jn 12:31, Acts 2:32-36
  8. Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart… St. Hesychius the Priest, On Watchfulness and Holiness #143. Philokalia Vol. 1
  9. Jesus prayer
  10. try to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance… St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law #189. Philokalia Vol. 1
  11. Simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet… Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV Chapter 9
  12. let your time of peace be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your natural difficulties ibid.
  13. Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord… St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 99
  14. St. Francis de Sales’ method for morning prayers… Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II Chapter 10
  15. This is a type of Prayer Examen. For more information about this, here is one set of steps and here is another.
  16.  “Finally, before partaking of sleep, it is a sacred duty to give thanks to God, having enjoyed His grace and love, and so go straight to sleep. And confess to Him in songs of the lips because in His command all His good pleasure is done, and there is no deficiency in His salvation.  Instructor Book II, Chapter 4
  17. At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers… St. Mark the Ascetic, #25. Philokalia Vol. 1
  18. The remedy is humility Ladder, p. 94
  19. Ladder, p. 98
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Christian Pacifists: Lactantius


Lactantius was a famous teacher of Latin rhetoric who was known to be incredibly elegant. He converted to Christianity late in life and wrote so elegantly that he has been dubbed a “Christian Cicero”. He became the first advisor to Constantine, the first Christian emperor. His most important work is The Divine Institutes which is the only of his works that will be referenced here. The Divine Institutes is an example of early Christian systematic thinking which was written in order to combat the ideas of paganism by showing the superiority of Christian thought. Although his theology and knowledge of scripture is criticized, the work still offers a very beautiful presentation of Christian ideas.


Pacifism

Lactantius posed an interesting dilemma for this series. In Lactantius we get the most fierce and thorough condemnations of all killing, not least war. However, after the rise of Constantine, Lactantius wrote in support of his violent victory, contradicting much of what he had written before. He did not write an explanation as to what made his views change nor did he try to explain how this apparent change was actually consistent. Thus, I have decided to make sure the reader is fully aware of the change in views of Lactantius, yet feel no need in this essay to consider why such a change took place. His arguments against violence, despite an apparent change of heart later on in his life, remain.

Lactantius was absolutely fierce in his condemnation of killing of any kind. This was because of the God whom he worshipped. To him it was a given that were one to worship the true God, one could not end the life of another. They would “maintain concord with all.. even to enemies, love all men as brethren.. restrain anger and soothe every passion.” They would not “be at enmity with any human being nor desire anything at all which is the property of another.”

The Divine Institutes 5.8

But if God only were worshipped, there would not be dissensions and wars, since men would know that they are the sons of one God; and, therefore, among those who were connected by the sacred and inviolable bond of divine relationship, there would be no plottings, inasmuch as they would know what kind of punishments God prepared for the destroyers of souls, who sees through secret crimes, and even the very thoughts themselves.

Lactantius blamed pagans’ unjust ways (which included all kinds of violence) on the types of gods they followed. “Thus it comes to pass that the god fashions the life of his worshippers according to the character of his own will, since the most religious worship is to imitate” (5.10). To him, the Christian God is one who abhors violence and is thus against it. If we are to follow God then, we too should refrain from all violence.

The Divine Institutes 5.10

What then, or where, or of what character is piety? Truly it is among those who are ignorant of wars, who maintain concord with all, who are friendly even to their enemies, who love all men as brethren, who know how to restrain their anger, and to soothe every passion of the mind with calm government.

In the 17th chapter of the fifth book of his Divine Institutes, Lactantius quotes the Greek philosopher Carneades who said that, although it is normally not a just action to shed blood, we are often forced to do so, in which case it becomes just. He uses several examples including that of a shipwrecked person holding onto a plank of wood. It would be unjust to push someone off the plank if both could grab hold and live, but if only one person can fit, then it is not unjust for the stronger to push the weaker off. If we are in war, it is not unjust to kill an enemy lest you yourself are killed by them. Lactantius rejects this splitting up of justice and insists that justice is not folly (refusing to steal a horse from a wounded enemy and thus dying yourself), but that the philosophers, wise are they were, simply did not understand the justice of God. In responding to the argument set forth by Carneades he says,

The Divine Institutes 5.17

First of all, I deny that it can in any way happen that a man who is truly just should be in circumstances of this kind; for the just man is neither at enmity with any human being, nor desires anything at all which is the property of another. For why should he take a voyage, or what should he seek from another land, when his own is sufficient for him? Or why should he carry on war, and mix himself with the passions of others, when his mind is engaged in perpetual peace with men? Doubtless he will be delighted with foreign merchandise or with human blood, who does not know how to seek gain, who is satisfied with his mode of living, and considers it unlawful not only himself to commit slaughter, but to be present with those who do it, and to behold it!

So, according to Lactantius, one who is just won’t have to worry about such things because, being content with what they have and engaging in perpetual peace with all, they will have no desire to fight wars or gain possessions. He admits though that at times “it is possible that a man may be compelled even against his will to undergo these things” and thus gives a more direct answer. Is one ever just in pushing someone else off a plank? Even in order to survive? He answers with shockingly blunt *no*.

The Divine Institutes 5.18

I am not unwilling to confess he will rather die than put another to death. Nor will justice, which is the chief good of man, on this account receive the name of folly. For what ought to be better and dearer to man than innocence? And this must be the more perfect, the more you bring it to extremity, and choose to die rather than to detract from the character of innocence.

Taking the argument in the complete opposite direction Carneades was directing it, Lactantius says that in these situations, *all the more* would a just person preserve the life of another. He is able to maintain such a stance while others cannot because, unlike him, they do not believe in eternal life. He admits that it would be folly to let another live at the cost of your own life, but his understanding that through God we have eternal life changes everything. He explains why Christians endure even torture than to retaliate or defend.

The Divine Institutes 5.19

For to choose to be tortured and slain, rather than to take incense in three fingers, and throw it upon the hearth [in honor of other gods] , appears as foolish as, in a case where life is endangered, to be more careful of the life of another than of one’s own. For they do not know how great an act of impiety it is to adore any other object than God, who made heaven and earth, who fashioned the human race, breathed into them the breath of life, and gave them light… How much more so does he who forsakes God [than one whom forsakes an earthly master], in whom the two names entitled to equal reverence, of Lord and Father, alike meet? For what benefit does he who buys a slave bestow upon him, beyond the nourishment with which he supplies him for his own advantage? And he who begets a son has it not in his power to effect that he shall be conceived, or born, or live; from which it is evident that he is not the father, but only the instrument of generation. Of what punishments, therefore, is he deserving, who forsakes Him who is both the true Master and Father, but those which God Himself has appointed? Who has prepared everlasting fire for the wicked spirits; and this He Himself threatens by His prophets to the impious and the rebellious.

Many of Lactantius’ defenses against “virtuous violence” relate to the idea that true virtue “especially consists in the acquisition of those things which neither any man, nor death itself, can take away from us.” (6.6) It is our desires for what others have which leads to such seemingly difficult situations.

In Divine Institutes 6.6 he gives a scathing attack on the Roman ideas of a just war.

He begins by criticizing the notion that virtue is being loyal to the state, for virtue is not dependent on something which can change.

The Divine Institutes 6.6

It is not virtue, therefore, either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances…

When the agreement of men is taken away, virtue has no existence at all; for what are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation?— that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues — all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence…

He continues to criticize this argument as ignorant. Even the wise philosophers fell to such faulty logic, contradicting their own definitions and justice and virtue due to their lack of understanding of God.

The Divine Institutes 6.6 (Last sentence is 6.9)

Whoever, then, has gained for his country these goods — as they themselves call them — that is, who by the overthrow of cities and the destruction of nations has filled the treasury with money, has taken lands and enriched his country-men — he is extolled with praises to the heaven: in him there is said to be the greatest and perfect virtue. And this is the error not only of the people and the ignorant, but also of philosophers, who even give precepts for injustice… Therefore, when they are speaking of the duties relating to warfare, all that discourse is accommodated neither to justice nor to true virtue, but to this life and to civil institutions…  If therefore wisdom is taken away from the philosophers by their own confession, and justice is taken away from those who are regarded as just, it follows that all those descriptions of virtue must be false, because no one can know what true virtue is but he who is just and wise. But no one is just and wise but he whom God has instructed with heavenly precepts… Civil law is one thing, which varies everywhere according to customs; but justice is another thing, which God has set forth to all as uniform and simple: and he who is ignorant of God must also be ignorant of justice.

In 6.20 Lactantius criticizes all forms of killing. He begins with decrying gladiatorial games and continues on to include all forms of ending life, including capital punishment and war.

The Divine Institutes 6.20

For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.

Therefore let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death… Wherefore, if any one on account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from marriage than with wicked hands to mar the work of God…

If, then, it is in no way permitted to commit homicide, it is not allowed us to be present at all, lest any bloodshed should overspread the conscience, since that blood is offered for the gratification of the people…

Therefore all spectacles ought to be avoided, not only that no vice may settle in our breasts, which ought to be tranquil and peaceful; but that the habitual indulgence of any pleasure may not soothe and captivate us, and turn us aside from God and from good works.

I also include an argument of his against suicide. I almost did not include it since the only controversial view towards suicide would be one which condoned it, but in it one can see his arguments against killing of all kinds.

The Divine Institutes 3.18

For if a homicide is guilty because he is a destroyer of man, he who puts himself to death is under the same guilt, because he puts to death a man. Yea, that crime may be considered to be greater, the punishment of which belongs to God alone. For as we did not come into this life of our own accord; so, on the other hand, we can only withdraw from this habitation of the body which has been appointed for us to keep, by the command of Him who placed us in this body that we may inhabit it, until He orders us to depart from it; and if any violence is offered to us, we must endure it with equanimity, since the death of an innocent person cannot be unavenged, and since we have a great Judge who alone always has the power of taking vengeance in His hands.



Further Reading

Everything is found in his The Divine Institutes The first number is the book and the second the chapter.

1.18, 3.18, 5.8, 5.10, 5.17-19, 5.23, 6.5 6.6, 6.9, 6.18, 6.20

More in the Series

Becoming Loving People

In the last post, we looked over 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and Paul’s declaration that nothing has meaning apart from love. Now we are going to discuss a bit on what exactly the New Testament authors meant when they spoke of love and what exactly it would mean to do something with love.

We hear the word love tossed around in our conversations and songs and movies and greeting cards. The love as our culture defines it is often a very fuzzy concept, one likely to change and wiggle around in order that we stay comfortable. As such, it’s impossible to pin down what exactly people mean by love, and perhaps that’s the point. To the world, love is there to make you feel moral and important. But is that what the authors of the New Testament saw love as? A warm fuzzy feeling? A lack of guilt?

To find what love means, we need to first look at Jesus. Jesus is the perfect image of a God who is love. Numerous times in scripture we are told to strive to be as God is and to imitate Jesus.1For Jesus, love was not about doing certain acts and avoiding others. Love came from a natural spring, the Father, who was the one actually producing the appropriate works through the Spirit. Love manifests in one’s own spirit when the person is completely aligned with the Holy Spirit. The easiest place to start when looking for Jesus’ description of love is probably the Sermon on the Mount. It is here that Jesus lays out his moral standard most plainly.

In Jesus’ himself commentary on the OT commandment thou shalt not kill, he does not narrow the word as many commentators attempt to do, but widens it. He does not stop at physical murdering, but digs deep into the heart of it and condemns anger towards others as well. He then slowly makes his way back to the surface meaning, condemning contempt and hatred along the way. That is why John could say in 1 John 3:15: “He who hates his brother is a murderer.”

He does the same thing with adultery and finds lust lying deep within its heart. We also see this principle described in several metaphors throughout Jesus’ ministry. He criticizes the religious leaders for washing the outside of the cup instead of the inside. It was the heart of the matter he was after, not the following of arbitrary rules. He said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:19). When we see only the outermost part of sin, we miss the rest of the iceberg hidden beneath the surface.

So is the heart evil then? Not exactly. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Whatever has been planted within our heart is what will sprout, whether it be good or bad. If one’s treasure is pleasure, status and other worldly things, then out of the heart will come worldly things. But if one’s heart dwells on the things of the Spirit, things like patience, gentleness, peace, joy and self-control, then such will be its fruit. This is why Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8). Besides the metaphor of dishes and treasure, our Lord also compared the effects of our deepest selves to plants. Just as trees naturally produce the fruit they are designed to, so too will we produce fruit based on who we are. Who we are is found in the deepest part of ourselves. What is the difference between a good person and a bad person? Jesus. No one but God is good and, left to ourselves, we could only produce the most damaging of thorns if anything at all. But just “as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Unless we graft ourselves into Christ, who is himself grafted into the Father, we will never bear good fruit. Some may bear fruit from the Spirit without fully realizing they have been grafted in and others may produce superficial fruit (though it’s actually poisoned to the core). Only when we turn from the world, from earthly pleasures, from anger and greed, lust and jealousy and turn towards the Spirit, to love and faith and patience and gentleness (i.e. the entire person of Jesus) will we be grafted into the vine and given life bearing fruit. Only in this way may our cup be cleaned from the inside and only when the cup is cleaned from the inside will it be clean at all. Blessed are the pure in heart.

This is precisely what Jesus’ followers taught as well. Paul says in Romans 6:16 that we are either slaves to sin or to righteousness. Peter made it clear that it was not the outside of a person which is important but the inside (1 Pet 3:4) and when he says in 2 Peter 1:4 that we are to be “partakers of the divine nature”, he is describing the phenomenon of abiding in Christ. James describes this process of sin aptly when he says “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

This is not unique to the New Testament either.  Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Ezekiel 26:36 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Jeremiah 24:7 I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.

And this is the most important aspect to know about love. It is not a feeling. It is not an action. It is a general disposition towards Christ. We are not to do loving things but to become loving people. If we want the outside of the cup to be clean, we must first wash the inside. In doing so, the outer will be cleaned as well. And we do this by abiding in Christ. He abides in the Father, cultivating all of his perfect love, and we abide in Christ, which allows his love to be cultivated in us as well. This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. In short, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.

Now certainly there are certain emotions and actions which will naturally arise from a loving spirit. These are talked about extensively in the New Testament so let’s now discuss what love does and doesn’t look like when practiced.

Once again we turn to Jesus first. Jesus’ love was characterized by utter selflessness. We are to treat others as we would have them treat us, to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are not to harm anyone, not even our enemies, but are to return evil for good. We are not to lust, be angry, keep people from the Kingdom, have anything above God, love the things of this world nor behave hypocritically. We are to be poor of spirit,  meek, mournful, merciful, seekers of righteousness, peacemakers, pure in heart and ready to endure suffering for the sake of righteousness. We are told that there is no greater love than one who lays down their life for another. We see all of these lived out in his life. He knew no political, religious, gender or social boundaries. He preached his good news to everyone who would listen and chastised those who tried to keep them from hearing his healing words. He never retaliated when attacked, but instead returned injury with forgiveness. Everything he did was a following after his Father. He did nothing of his own will but emptied himself in complete humility (John 5:30, 8:28, 12:49; Phil 2:5-10). Even when he did not feel like doing what was loving, his commitment to his Father’s will and not his own led him to bear the most bountiful fruit that has ever been bourn.

His immediate followers said and did the same. In Romans, Paul encourages Christians to “let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21)2. Paul constantly told his audience to remain humble just as Jesus was humble 3. Throughout Paul’s ministry he made sure never to burden himself on others whenever it could be avoided. He always fought against evil and wrong, yet never harmed another.

When we look at Peter’s life, we see him go from arguing that he would become the greatest in the Kingdom of God to breaking his Jewish traditions in order to expand the Kingdom to even Gentiles. He says that we are to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” We are to keep our behavior “excellent” among non-Christians in order to bring them to glorify God (1 Pet 2:11-12). He told us all tobe harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, ‘The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it’” (1 Pet 3:8-11).

James says that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21). John says simply that “the one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:10-11).  In short, love looks like treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated.

Conclusion

Love is more than doing or feeling certain things. Love is the Spirit working through our lives. When we love our God above all else, then he will give us the ability to love our neighbors as we should. He will give us the ability to love others in direct proportion to the degree that we’ve given our selves to him. Normally we are slaves to sin; that is why we do what we do not want to do. When we give ourselves to Christ, we become slaves to righteousness. Love looks like a selflessness which has the wellbeing of others as a top priority. There is no selfishness in love, for love of self and love of God cannot mix.

I want to make sure before I close it is clear that, though we become slaves to righteousness and though we are compared to trees which naturally bear fruit, it does not mean that there is no work involved. We must constantly strive to put God first and to trust in Him and his Son. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7) and told the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi 2:12-13). Staying on the path is difficult. Keeping Christ in our deepest selves must be done in diligence. So we must ceaselessly strive to give him more and more of ourselves over to him. Not my will but yours.

So how exactly we can abide in Christ. How do we walk according to the Spirit and not flesh (Rom 8:5-11; Gal 5:16)? That is the subject of the next post.


  1. We are to imitate God/Christ: Matt. 5:48; 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18;  Eph. 4:26, 5:1-2; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 2:6
  2.  Lists of virtues and vices: Eph 4:1-3, 5:15-21; Phil 2:1-4; Col 5:6,8-9, 12-17; 1 Thess 5:13-15; Gal 5:19-23 and of course 1 Cor 13:4-7
  3. Be humble as Christ is humble: Rom 12:16, 2 Cor 12:10, Phil 2:3-5; 1 Thess 2:6-7

Previous post: Love or Nothing

Entering the Kingdom, Step by Step

Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was here. He knew it was, because he himself was living in it. While the rules of the earthly kingdoms are selfishness (however cleverly disguised), Jesus lived by the rules of gentleness, kindness, self-control, faithfulness, hope, meekness and peacefulness. When we look at Jesus, we get a glimpse into the Kingdom of God. He invites us to live there with him now.

This is not to deny the afterlife nor to say that life right now is Heaven. But we can live in the Kingdom now amidst the earthly kingdoms.

A whale comes to the surface to take a deep breath of air before diving back into the depths of the water. It sustains itself on the air it took in from the surface. It may look similar to a fish who filters out its oxygen from the water, but inside the whale is fresh air from the surface itself. The whale must resurface eventually, but back down into the sea it will return as soon as it’s caught its breath. We are living in the world — we are surrounded by water. Through prayer, we take a deep breath of the Spirit. It is this Spirit which sustains us while we mingle around the watery depths. Surely it would be better to be able to walk on land with air surrounding us, but we are not there yet. We can, however, hold that Spirit within us wherever we go. And this is how we enter into the Kingdom of God.

If we abide in the Spirit, then we shall bear the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are what the Kingdom look like. When someone is in a country with no rights and a poor economy, they move to a country with freedoms and benefits. As we bear these fruits, others will see and wish to join the Kingdom as well.

This begs the question: If I wish to do my part in spreading the Kingdom, what should I be doing now?

I’ve been wondering about this for years now. The seed that would germinate into what I am talking about now was planted a few years ago. The bold part is what struck me so hard. I included the rest because he says so much of what I’d love to say so well.

To do this thoroughly, Love must come at the centre of our lives in such a manner that each of us is prepared for any sacrifice. .. We must be ready like Jesus himself to pray for our murderers if ever the occasion arises. That is His absolute standard, and He will never lower it.

Let us, first of all, get as far together as we can in those matters wherein most of us would be agreed. Even today it is surely practicable and feasible for Christians, not only individually, but in groups, to renounce superfluous wealth and live in the simplest manner possible, which will make them more at one with their poorer neighbor…

If groups, as well as isolated individuals, sprang up everywhere, inspired by such a love of Christ for humanity, they would form ‘cells’ of a new ‘peace’ and ‘love’ in the Body of Humanity which would multiply by their very contagion of attractiveness wherever the faith of Christ was truly held and taught…

We each must take the next step forward from where we are. Perhaps this means opening your house to travelers. For someone else they may just need to smile at a beggar instead of scoffing or looking to the ground. Someone else may need to give up even a single coffee a week and use the money to help someone who needs it. Of course, from there we need to keep taking steps further and further along the path. Our pilgrimage will never end on this earth, but it almost always progresses one small step at a time.


Some things we as a community could stand to do starting today:

Reduce spending: Figure out where you are spending needlessly and stop. Use that money for someone who needs it.
More responsible spending: Avoid companies which exploit workers and needlessly destroy the environment. Ethically sourced coffee etc. Of course it’s probably impossible for most to completely switch over to ‘ethically sourced’ goods and it’s certainly impossible to know for certain what it took for the goods to reach you, but we can do the best we are able.
Work on your attitude: Behave with love and kindness, firmness when necessary but always in the pursuit of peace. Cultivating our love for people as well as the rest of creation. In each interaction with people that we have, be it face to face, on the internet or just sitting next to them on the bus, we must cultivate Christlike behavior in order to truly bear the image of God so all may see Him.
Engage in Community: All of this should be done in view of community. Sometimes we may be acting alone, but we are always part of the larger community. No one bear all burdens alone. I will not always use my money as wisely as I should. At times I will be grumpy to children of God. As an individual I am a poor representation of Christ, but as a community we can pull on the strengths of each of us and truly be Christ’s body.

Christian Pacifists: Cyprian


After two heavy posts, we have a nice, lighter post. Well, lighter in content and quotes, but the narrative is quite heavy indeed. I really had a desire to write on Cyprian, but there just isn’t much there for our purposes. I sat at the computer several times trying to come up with a way of putting this post together, but I came up empty each time. Then one late bus ride home it all fell into my lap. With the other posts I wrote mainly about the teachings of the featured Christian. Cyprian frankly didn’t write a whole lot about war, and when he did, it wasn’t as much of an explicit call against violence as much as some passing comments on its horrors or some encouragement for those suffering. I found what struck me most about Cyprian was not his writings as much as his life. So this post will mostly be a short biography of his life as a Christian before a brief explanation of his pacifist views.


Bio

Cyprian was born in Carthage c. 200 where he received a classical education. He converted to Christianity later in his life in 245. He wrote a letter to his friend Donatus shortly after his conversion discussing his change of heart. In it he describes his disgust it the incredibly brutal nature of the world around him. He said that if his friend were to imagine himself high on a mountain, far away from the world, that he would look down and feel compassion for it. At the same time though, he would be glad that he was high above and not mingling in the events of the world for:

To Donatus, Chapters 6-7

the roads blocked up by robbers, the seas beset with pirates, wars scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.

And now, if you turn your eyes and your regards to the cities themselves, you will behold a concourse more fraught with sadness than any solitude. The gladiatorial games are prepared, that blood may gladden the lust of cruel eyes. The body is fed up with stronger food, and the vigorous mass of limbs is enriched with brawn and muscle, that the wretch fattened for punishment may die a harder death. Man is slaughtered that man may be gratified, and the skill that is best able to kill is an exercise and an art.  Crime is not only committed, but it is taught. What can be said more inhuman,—what more repulsive? Training is undergone to acquire the power to murder, and the achievement of murder is its glory.1

Shortly after converting to Christianity he became a priest and two years later a bishop, though against his will. His rule as a bishop was not easy and not without controversy. In 250, the new Emperor Decius issued an imperial edict which required that all “inhabitants of the empire sacrifice before the magistrates of their community ‘for the safety of the empire’ by a certain day.”2 Christians were then faced with a dilemma: Should they sacrifice to the Emperor and publicly deny their faith? Or refuse and risk torture and even death? Many Christians sacrificed (claiming that it was *on behalf of* the Emperor, not *for* him) and many faced death for their refusal. Cyprian did neither, but instead fled for safety. He was criticized by some for being a coward, but he defended himself with scripture and claimed that it was better for him to continue to shepherd his flock, even if only from afar.3

The persecutions died down after a few years and Cyprian was able to safely return. Persecution was especially severe in Carthage and large numbers of Christians had given in to fear and sacrificed. Now that the persecutions had died down they wanted to be accepted back into the church. Some priests were accepting the apostates back with no penance while another group refused to readmit any apostates. Cyprian sought to find a middle ground. He proposed that the apostates only be allowed back with varying degrees of public penance. The worst offenders, who had actually sacrificed and not just bought a forged certificate claiming they had done so, were only to receive Communion at the hour of their death if they had continued life long penance.

During this time, a horrific plague, now often referred to as The Plague of Cyprian due to his detailed description of it, ravaged Rome. This was a particularly difficult time for Christians because, in addition to being blamed for the plague, they were troubled by the indiscriminate nature of the disease. They were given no special protection by God for being Christians. *On the Mortality* was a letter of encouragement to the Christians enduring such trials. He also encouraged Christians during the plague to give aid not only to fellow Christians, but even to non-Christians because *what credit was it to them if they only helped those who help them, but not their enemies as well* (Matt 5:43-48)?4 This, of course, included those persecuting and blaming Christians.

The Life and Passion of Cyprian, Chapter 9

It becomes us to answer to our birth; and it is not fitting that those who are evidently born of God should be degenerate, but rather that the propagation of a good Father should be proved in His offspring by the emulation of His goodness.

Only a few years later in 256, the new Emperor Valerian began persecuting the Christians once again. But whereas Decius wasn’t specifically targeting Christians, Valerian was.5 Christian bishops in particular were being targeted which resulted in many more Christian deaths, including two popes and Cyprian himself.


Pacifism

Cyprian was heavily influenced by Tertullian and it’s evident in his arguments against using violence. In his letter to Demetrian, a persecutor of Christians, he urges Demetrian to “cease to hurt the servants of God and of Christ with your persecutions, since when they are injured the divine vengeance defends them.”(Ch. 16) In the next chapter he says that Christians refuse to retaliate against violence because “our certainty of vengeance makes us patient.” He gives sources for this reasoning in Testimonies Against Jews referencing Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 32:35 and Zephaniah 3:8. Like Origen combating Celsus, Cyprian made it clear to Demetrian that, though Christians don’t participate in armies, they do pray for the Emperor.

Chapter 20

Only when we go to God will we receive the promised rewards. Nevertheless, we always pray that enemies be kept at bay, that rains be granted, and that adversities either be taken away or mitigated; day and night we pour out our supplications beseeching and placating God, earnestly and continually pleading with him for your safety and peace.

In Testimonies Against Jews he quotes Luke 6:32 and Matthew 5:44-45 to support the fact that Christians love their enemies. Earlier in the same treatise he quotes Proverbs 16:32 and 12:16 as well as Ephesians 4:26 and Matthew 5:21-22 to show that we should not even be angry with others.

His On the Advantage of Patience makes it very clear that he did not believe that Christians should kill, even in self defense. Instead, growing from his experience of persecution and disease, he told his readers to maintain a patience in God that he would avenge those who harm them and that he would take them away from the pain of this world.6

Chapter 14

Adultery, fraud, manslaughter, are mortal crimes. Let patience be strong and stedfast in the heart; and neither is the sanctified body and temple of God polluted by adultery, nor is the innocence dedicated to righteousness stained with the contagion of fraud; nor, after the Eucharist carried in it, is the hand spotted with the sword and blood.

Chapter 16

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 (Matt 5:33-42); that you should forgive a brother who sins against you, not only seven times, but seventy times seven times (Matt 18:22) but, moreover, all his sins altogether; that you should love your enemies (Luke 6:27); that you should offer prayer for your adversaries and persecutors? (Luke 6:28) Can you accomplish these things unless you maintain the stedfastness 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…” (Acts 7:60)

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 clamour, and blasphemy, be put away from you.” (Eph 4:20-31) 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 harbour of Christ, he ought to admit neither anger nor discord within his breast, since he must neither return evil for evil, nor bear hatred.

He says much about martyrdoms, but I think the following is particularly relevant to our topic. He saw the martyrs, in their refusal to hurt another human being, as battling with Christ against the executers, with their worldly weapons. Though the martyr died and the executor lived, he saw it as a spiritual battle in which the martyr, wielding the weapons of faith, actually won.

In an epistle addressed to martyrs he said

The multitude of those who were present saw [the martyrdoms] with admiration the heavenly contest,—the contest of God, the spiritual contest, the battle of Christ,—saw that His servants stood with free voice, with unyielding mind, with divine virtue—bare, indeed, of weapons of this world, but believing and armed with the weapons of faith.



Verses

Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:35; Proverbs 12:16, 16:32; Zephaniah 3:8; Matthew 5:21-22, 33-45, 18:22; Luke 6:27-28,32; Acts 7:60; Ephesians 4:20-32, 6:10-18

Notes

1 This is clearly talking about gladiatorial games and not specifically war.

2 This wikipedia article cites The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180–395 by David Potter as the source.

3 On the Lapsed, Chapter 10. This was also argued Pontius in The Life and Passion of Cyprian at the end of chapter 2.

4 The Life and Passion of Cyprian, Chapter 9

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians_in_the_Roman_Empire#Valerian

6 On the Mortality discusses the idea of being rescued from the plight of this world more extensively.

Further Reading

Cyprian’s Writings

To Demetrius Chapters 16, 17, 20; To Donatus Chapters 6-7,Testimonies Against Jews Book III Chapters 8, 49, 106; On the Advantage of Patience, Epistle VIII To Martyrs and Confessors, On the Lapsed Chapter 10

https://erenow.com/ancient/early-christianity-and-paganism-1902/36.html

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/St._Cyprian_of_Carthage

More in the Series

 

Love or Nothing

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

In this prelude to his love hymn, Paul explains, in no uncertain terms, the absolute priority of love over all else. If we have incredible socials skills, are smooth talkers and great debaters, but do those things without love, we are doing nothing but creating noise pollution. If we are brilliant and highly educated, smarter than everyone who has ever existed, even if we know for certain every single fact about the universe, but are devoid of love, we are nothing. If we have all faith, yes, even if we are incredibly religious and put our entire trust in God, but do not have love, we are nothing. He doesn’t say we’re missing something, that our lives are a bit lopsided. He says it’s all worthless without love. If we are incredibly religious by way of action and give up our bodies, even to painful death, without love, we gain absolutely nothing.

Don’t let familiarity of these verses dampen their strength. He is quite literally saying that everything, whether it be valued by the world or religion, is completely worthless without love. That does not mean that they have no value, but that they have no value apart from love. In and of themselves, they are worthless.

As followers of Christ, we cannot speak of miracles without speaking of love. We cannot speak of humility or sacrifice without speaking of love. We cannot speak of God or faith or hope, without first speaking of love. Our logic and knowledge are useless without love.

Paul denounces secular and religious areas, both inner and outer, if they lack love. Nothing surpasses love.

And I think this is where the idea of “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” comes from. We often look for rules to follow. We want to be good Christians. We want to know what we need to do or avoid in order to do right so we can be ‘good’ people. But Paul says that all of that is completely and utterly worthless without love. First, we must seek love. For all meaning comes from love. There is nothing which has its meaning apart from love. Once we are motivated by love, then we can talk about what we should or should not do. Because no matter how right you are, if you don’t have love, you’re wrong.

I realize this post is incredibly vague. Left here, one could interpret love to be whatever they so happened to desire it to be. The next post will describe what exactly Jesus and the writers of the New Testament meant by love. The post after that will discuss ways of achieving that love. But I hope this will at least lead some to rethink their method of being “good Christians” or, more generally, “good people”.


Some additional verses on the subject to meditate on:

Proverbs 3:3-4

Proverbs 10:12

Matthew 22:35-40

John 15:12-13

Romans 13:8-10

Ephesians 5:13-15

Colossians 3:12-14

1 Peter 4:8

1 John (The entire letter is essentially this post repeated again and again)

 

Next Post: Becoming Loving People

C.F. Andrews on Peacemakers

Charles Freer Andrews, now mostly forgotten, was instrumental in the Indian Independence Movement. He was given the nickname “Christ’s Faith Apostle” (from his initials) by Gandhi and was known as “Deenabandhu”, or friend of the poor, throughout India.

I discovered him in my early days at college in the University library. I had just stumbled upon the ‘old book’ section of the library and found a rough blue book titled Christ in the Silence. I don’t quite know why, but the title really enticed me and I sat there for the next hour skimming through it.

At the time I didn’t care much for the book, but still, a certain sentence stood out to me. It’s on page 84 ‘..for love can only win its way by suffering; love has no other weapon’. I ended up not reading anymore of the book, but that line haunted me for years. Finally I was able to track down a version of it and it struck a deep chord within me.

The power of much of the book, and all of his books in general, comes less from the words and prose and more from the life behind the man who wrote them. These words put forth such power because they are written in light of personal experience.

In his fight for the freedom of the Indian people, C.F. Andrews was often called a traitor of England, his own people. There were times when he chastised the Indian workers for trying to oppress other people groups and they called him a traitor to the cause. He never backed down though, despite long periods of loneliness. His devotion to his Lord and master Jesus wouldn’t let him lower his standard and his standing strong was largely responsible for the change of essentially slavery laws in many British provinces, Fiji in particular.

The last writing that C.F. Andrews finished was The Sermon on the Mount. Published posthumously in 1942, it is out of print but can be bought easily enough either second hand or PDF. It’s an incredibly simple book, one that a brand new Christian could easily read and glean helpful knowledge from. I also think it provides such deep truths that even those more experienced in the faith will find it beneficial.

Below is a section from The Sermon on the Mount regarding the beatitude “blessed are the peacemakers”.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.”

At first sight this blessing may appear to be easier than others to attain; for there is a natural tendency among us to praise those who get on well with other people and are not quarrelsome; and this is supposed to be the essence of ‘peacemaking’.

But in reality such easy-going natures may be just the opposite of those that truly make peace; for they are inclined to slur over deep-seated evil in order to create a superficial appearance of harmony and goodwill. No, it is really one of the hardest things in the world to be a true peacemaker; just as it is one of the most fatal things to go on “crying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14 and 8:11). A mere patchwork peace will only result in a more virulent form than before.

For this reason, perhaps, Christ places the peacemakers side by side with the persecuted. For those who “seek peace and ensue it” find out that if the work is to be followed out to the end it must inevitably involve great suffering (1 Pet. 3:11).

We must first of all bear the burden on our hearts of that which has caused offense between those who are thus at enmity with one another. Then, further, we must remain absolutely fair to both sides. While doing so we are likely to be regarded as unfair; and you may have to bear with patience this reproach. Then the change of heart that is needed if a true peace is to be won at last can only come about through the power of love and prayer.

If we keep in mind what has been already said about the earlier Beatitudes, we shall be able to understand how the peacemaker must carry all these earlier blessings with him. He must be utterly humble and conscious of his own failings; he must be ready to stand rebuffs like the meek; he must hunger and thirst after righteousness; he must be pure in heart; he must be full of divine compassion; he must be ready joyfully to suffer persecution. To put the whole matter in a single word, the peacemaker must be Christ-like.

St. James, in his epistles remembering his Lord and Master, gives the character of the Christian. He contrasts the worldly wisdom, which creates “strife and confusion and every evil work,” with the heavenly wisdom which is of God. “The wisdom,” he writes, “that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle , and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17-18).

For those who are humbly seeking to be true peacemakers, and are waiting upon God to give them the strength they need, we have this gracious promise: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the fee of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace” (Isaiah 52:7). And St. Paul has this same verse from Isaiah evidently in his mind when he describes the Christian warrior, going out to do battle against the hosts of darkness, as “having on the breastplate of righteousness,” and his “feed shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

The book can also be checked out for free at Archive.org