This is Part 2 of 7 in a series about the Didache, a very early Christian book written to serve as a handbook introducing the faith to new Christians. It serves as a great overview or orientation manual on Christianity.
Click here to read the entire series.
The Way of Life: The Didache, Chapters 1-4
The Didache begins with a description of the “right” lifestyle of a Christian. As has been established many times, it is our faith in Christ which brings us into salvation, so please do not mistake this section for a “works-based” salvation plan. Far from it, this section describes to already-saved Christians what kind of life they should be aspiring to lead.
To use my example from a previous post about the Law, you can consider this a sort of summary of the “Moral Law”—the things which God expects of us, and which a Christian should be achieving (or at least, aiming for) in day-to-day living.
The frame which the Didache uses is to compare the “Way of Life”—the Christian lifestyle—with the “Way of Death”—the non-Christian lifestyle. So this week we will see the Didache’s summary of the Way of Life, and next week the Way of Death.
Key Principle (Ch.1)
The Didache begins with a basic summary of the Christian life: “First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.”
Everything else in the first four chapters is considered a subset of these two commandments. As Christians, they recommend that we relentlessly chase these two commandments and use them to inform our every decision.
First Teaching: What Christians should be doing (Ch.1)
Next the Didache gives two practical examples of the key principle above. First, it gives a brief teaching on the kind of activities a Christian should be engaged in.
Let’s list and briefly comment on these application examples, so that we know what it looks like to love God and love others.
1. Love your enemies. The Didache says that you should be blessing, praying for, and fasting for your enemies. Love those who hate you so that they are no longer enemies. This is part of “loving other people”.
2. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. This is a part of loving God, by keeping yourself as a pure servant to Him, so that He may be proud of and have a good relationship with you.
3. Do not seek out revenge. If you are attacked, turn the other cheek rather than take your legally-allowed retaliation. If someone kidnaps you and forces you to walk with him for a mile, go with him for two. If you catch someone stealing your shirt, give him a coat as well. If someone robs you, let him keep the thing. If someone asks to borrow from you, lend with no expectation of return.
The Didache says to accept this teaching and simply decide that if someone takes advantage of you in life, you will not seek revenge (legal or otherwise). Instead, you will remember that this personal is an immortal soul whom God loves, and aid and pray for them rather than seek retribution. The Didache says that if you can allow this practice of incredible forgiveness into your heart, you will have a more happy, peaceful, joyful life.
4. Be extremely generous. When you have money to give to others, it should be “sweat[ing] in your hands until you know to whom you should give.”
Second Teaching: What Christians Shoudn't Be Doing (Ch.2)
Next the Didache gives its “second teaching”—a list of grave sins which should be avoided at all costs. While it is true that all sins separate us from God and make us in need of a savior, that does not mean that all sins are equally hurtful or damaging to our relationships to God and other people. Thus the below are considered the “worst of the worst” sins, the ones which no Christian should be a part of:
1. You shall not commit murder.
2. You shall not commit adultery.
3. You shall not have sex with children.
4. You shall not have sex outside of marriage.
5. You shall not steal.
6. You shall not practice magic/demonic worship.
7. You shall not have an abortion or kill an infant.
8. You shall not covet (obsess about and desire the things someone else has).
9. You shall not blaspheme.
10. You shall not lie or be double-tongued.
11. You shall not hold grudges.
12. You shall not be a hypocrite or arrogant.
13. You shall not hate anyone—some you can try to help and correct, the rest just pray for.
On some of these, every modern Christian agrees. Most Christians teach against, and do a decent job of, avoiding murder, pedophilia, adultery, theft, magic-use, using the Lord’s name as a swear, and abortion. (Also to those pro-choice Christians out there…as you can see even the earliest Christian church was very clear about being against abortion. It is part of our DNA, and considered just as bad as murder.)
But on some of the others, the modern Church is quite weak, and we need a renewed focus. We worry about minor theological things while over 90% of Christians have sex before they are married, and many Christians are arrogant, hold grudges, lie or deceive (often to “defend” the Bible, or rather their view of it), and hate other people. On these things we need a new focus.
What does it mean not to be a hypocrite? It does not mean perfection, but it means that you do not expect others to achieve the above while you do not do it. Thus it implies that you are not out judging others for their failures, when instead you should be pursuing the above.
General Comments (Ch.3-4)
The first two sections are the key part of the Didache’s teaching on the Way of Life. You should be a person who is known as being forgiving, generous, and someone who avoids the major worldly sins (murder, adultery, sex outside of marriage, stealing, abortion, lying, hating, arrogance, hypocrisy, materialism).
In addition, the Didache makes a variety of general comments in chapters 3 and 4, sharing a sort of “overview” of life as a Christian.
First, the Didache (ch.3) talks about actively fleeing the grave sins above, and even the things which are like them. Lesser sins which are “like” the above have a tendency to lead to the above. The Didache says you should avoid anger because anger is what leads to murder. You should avoid lust (pornography, for example) because it leads to fornication. You should not talk dirty to people and flirt because this leads to adultery. You should not pay attention to astrology or omen-reading or fortune tellers or supposed “magicians” because this leads to idolatry. You should not value money and lying too much for it leads to theft. You should not gossip or be hypocritical for these lead to blasphemy.
So while the early Christians did not say these things are themselves grave sins, they have a tendency to create a lifestyle that fosters grave sin. You build habits which slowly and surely push you further into sin until eventually you are committing the grave sins of chapter two. So the Didache says you should really understand that these things are dangerous hooks which lead you into the deeper sins.
Next, the Didache (ch.4) gives a variety of general life precepts. It says to pay attention to who God is using to speak to you in your life, and give him honor. Try to spend some time every day with godly men and women who can help you with their wisdom. Seek peace with others instead of division. Do not “look past” the sins of wealthy or powerful people while condemning ‘normal’ people for living poorly. Don’t be the kind of person who is always receiving charity and never giving it. Do not hesitate to give to others nor complain when you give. Share everything with a brother in need, for you are both going to share immortality, so how can you not share mortal things together?
Further, the Didache advises to teach your children about God from their youth. Treat your employees well, and show honor to your bosses and authorities. Do not add laws onto the faith. Be honest about your sins in church, for it is of no value to worship with an evil conscience.
So the Didache, the ancient handbook of Christian living, opens by telling us that the only real Commandment is this: love the God who made you, and love other people as much as yourself. That is the only commandment of our faith.
It also gives us two specific practical teachings showing what this means. First, you should be a person known as generous and forgiving, and who prays for those who harm him. Second, you should be a person who avoids the grave sins which greatly offend God (murder, adultery, fornication, abortion, theft, materialism, blasphemy, lying, arrogance, hatefulness).
Basically, how would those around you describe you? Would they use the words immoral, blasphemer, hateful, arrogant, liar, unforgiving, tightwad, or hypocritical? If so then the Didache says you are not living the way you ought to live. That is not a Christian lifestyle.
Further, the Didache gives some various pieces of advice which will help you to honor God and others. These short aphorisms say that the grave sins are best avoided by avoiding the behavior which lead to them, like treating people unjustly, lustfulness, greed, anger, etc. Also it suggests spending time around mature Christians who can help you, viewing those around you as immortals but the things around you as mortal, being honest about your sins, and teaching your children about God.
This is, the Didache says, “The Way of Life.” The early believers, before being called “Christians”, were often called the disciples of The Way—and this is the “Way” that they were talking about.