In my reading this week in preparation for Sundays sermon on a New Kind of Community from Acts 2:42-47, I read John MacArthur’s commentary on the passage. In it he cites this excerpt from the second century philosopher Aristides. I thought it was challenging to read and think about what would be said to the King or President today about Christianity:
Now the Christians, O king, by going about and seeking have found the truth. For they know and trust in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, who has no fellow. From him they receive those commandments which they have engraved on their minds, and which they observe in the hope and expectation of the world to come.
For this reason they do not commit adultery or immorality; they do not bear false witness, or embezzle, nor do they covet what is not theirs. They honor their father and mother, and do good to those who are their neighbors. Whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols made in the image of man. Whatever they do not wish that others should do to them, they in turn do not do; and they do not eat the food sacrificed to idols.
Those who oppress them they exhort and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. Their wives, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest. Their men abstain from all unlawful sexual contact and from impurity, in the hope of recompense that is to come in another world.
As for their bondmen and bondwomen, and their children, if there are any, they persuade them to become Christians; and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.
They refuse to worship strange gods; and they go their way in all humility and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them. They love one another; the widows needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan from the person who does him violence. He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting. When the Christians find a stranger, they bring him into their homes and rejoice over him as a true brother. They do not call brothers those who are bound by blood ties alone, but those who are brethren after the Spirit and in God.
When one of their poor passes away from the world, each provides for his burial according to his ability. If they hear of any of their number who are imprisoned or oppressed for the name of the Messiah, they all provide for his needs, and if it is possible to redeem him, they set him free.
If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with the necessities. They observe scrupulously the commandments of their Messiah, living honestly and soberly as the Lord their God ordered them. Every morning and every hour they praise and thank God for his goodness to them; and for their food and drink they offer thanksgiving.
If any righteous person of their number passes away from the world, they rejoice and thank God, and escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby. When a child is born to one of them, they praise God. If it dies in infancy, they thank God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. But if one of them dies in his iniquity or in his sins, they grieve bitterly and sorrow as over one who is about to meet his doom.
Such O King, is the commandment given to the Christians, and such is their conduct. (The Apology of Aristides, translated by Rendel Harris [London: Cambridge, 1893])
What a testimony the early Christians had. How about the sacrifice of going without meals to provide food for others? What would be said about modern Christians?
Would anyone today say of Christians: Such is the commandment and such is their conduct? Maybe modern vernacular, “They actually do this stuff.” They actually believe what the Bible says and live it out. You can see it in the way they love each other and love the world. You can see it in their families. You can see it in their relationships. They genuinely care about others more than themselves. They are generous with their money. They love their God. What would be said to the King or President today? Would anyone notice a difference?