January 1, 2013

How Christianity Turned the Tables in the 1st Century—And Still Does

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Two things are usually dear to our hearts: sex and money. We so value control of these that we have adverse reactions to anyone or anything that gets in the way. A good way to know that these may be idols in our lives is how we respond inwardly if they are ever threatened. Believers in the early church understood this.

In the first-century Christian church, followers of Jesus were easy targets. This was because the surrounding culture was shocked at how they lived. In the Greco-Roman world, it was all about being guarded, even tight-fisted, with your pocketbook, your money, and yet being very liberal with your body. You shared it with anyone you liked, any time you liked, any way you liked, with either males or females—maybe all at the same time in orgies, which were common.

Then along came Jesus. He entered the depravity of the world and gave people a sense of worth and dignity. He hung around the down and out, the social misfits and outsiders. He did this so much that the religious people of the day considered him a loser and labeled him unclean, because he surrounded himself with shady characters and sinners—the unreligious.

Jesus also offered people both a clean slate from their past sins and a friendship with God, no matter what their background. All they had to do was quit trying so hard to make up for their own faults and failures; to quit trying so hard to be religious. Jesus welcomed all who had run out of solutions for own their lives. As a result, they became different people and it became all about inverted living; that is, living just the opposite of everyone else. This was not because they tried so hard to be good, but because God forgave them, and as a result it affected how they lived, how they treated others and how they viewed their bodies and possessions.

Instead of being liberal and free when it came to sex and their bodies, they became protective and stingy about their bodies. The body was seen as special and holy, because God now resided there. On the other hand, according to Acts 2:45 in the Bible, they became liberal with their money and material assets: “Selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as they had need” (ESV).

People sold what they didn’t need, maybe stuff just sitting around collecting dust, and gave the money to those who had need of it.

We also learn from historians of the time that these early followers of Jesus also did some other unconventional, even radical stuff. While it was the habit of first-century Roman society to leave infant girls out to die in the harsh elements, Jesus’ followers rescued them and took them home. They also nursed and cared for the sick and dying in the midst of many diseases and plagues. While others fled plague-ridden cities, going out of their way to avoid the sick and dying, Christians purposely did just the opposite. Those in the early church became the first social workers and started the first hospitals. The Roman emperors of the first and second century were astounded by all this, so much so that they wrote about it.

God is still the same today. He desires to do business with those who know they need rescuing and salvaging, those who are needy and desperate for changed lives. All we have to do is stop trying so hard and ask. As a result our lives are put on a different course and we’re free to love and serve others in new and bold ways.

Updated 5.19.2017

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John Freeman


John is the founder of Harvest USA. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and Westminster Theological Seminary, PA. He is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). John and his wife, Penny, have been married for more than 30 years and have three grown children. Their home is in the Philadelphia area.

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