Suffering, resurrection and Christian love – day 15
To love like the first Christians
Practical, genuine love is the only thing that will show the world that Jesus is truly making a difference in our lives. In the early church, Christianity rapidly spread through a pagan world because the followers of Christ lived with a limitless love. They understood what the love of Christ was really all about. It was a self-sacrificing love that knew no boundaries. The pagan community recognised them as the people who lived differently, not because they were better, but because they served. It was the best possible evangelism that enabled the church to grow.
In his book The Rise of Christianity, the sociologist Rodney Stark talks about two highly serious, infectious diseases that hit the Roman Empire in 165 AD and 251 AD respectively. Each time, about one third of the Roman Empire’s population perished. The Romans’ practice was to put their sick out on the street to reduce the risk of infection. Those who could afford to fled into the mountains to escape the plague. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the Romans treated their dead like garbage to avoid the disease.
The Christians reacted differently. It is well documented that Christians continued to care for their patients even though they faced death themselves. They even collected Romans, who had been abandoned on the streets, welcomed them into their homes and cared for them. Many Christians died as a result, but it was with joy that they carried the sorrow of others, cared for them and made them comfortable, even if it cost them their lives. The Christian faith brought a very new concept into the Roman world; that love is limitless and is not just aimed at oneself, and they did not stop showing love to their fellow Christians. These faithful people made others think twice about their own lives and the church grew from strength to strength.