The Didache is an ancient Christian writing that purports to be a summary of the teachings of the Apostles. The most interesting things about this particular writing are that it dates from the first century, from the very earliest years of the Gentile congregations, and that it was considered by many early Christians to be authoritative Scripture.
For the next couple of weeks [posted June 17, 2015] I’ll be tweeting highlights and thoughts derived from the Didache at Twitter. You can read along for free at Early Christian Writings or buy your own copy at Amazon.
The first chapter of the Didache focuses on the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself, through a series of instructions on living out the commandment, all of which are directly derived from other Scriptures, both Old and New Testament.
For example, one instruction says “Love them that hate you, and you will have no enemy.”
The kindergarten level interpretation of this is if you are nice to those who are mean to you, they’ll change their minds and be nice to you in return. Of course we all learn very quickly that it doesn’t really work that way. So what could the writer have meant?
If you return love for hate, most of your enemies will continue to hate you. They might hate you even more than at first.
If you return kindness for cruelty, your afflicter may become even crueler than before.
But be sure of this: Your enemy will no longer be your enemy. He will be the enemy of God, punishing you for the goodness of God that he sees in you. More importantly, he will be his own enemy, fighting to keep his own spirit from hearing the testimony of your actions. Your kindness will become the instrument through which God disciplines his soul, sealing his condemnation if he doesn’t repent or transforming him if he does.
The Didache also repeats Yeshua’s words, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also,” adding “and you will be made perfect.”
Yeshua wasn’t telling us to be pacifists. That’s the kindergarten interpretation again. He was telling us to be slow to anger and don’t make overly quick conclusions about another’s motivations. Don’t immediately react to violence with violence. Rather, learn to control your passions in order to better judge every situation. Maybe you were struck by accident or because of a misunderstanding. If you discover that someone does indeed intend to do you harm, by all means defend yourself and others.
By mastering self-control, patience, and good judgment, you will become a better person and more Christ-like. This is what it means to “be made perfect.”
Understand also that love and kindness will not always appear as you might expect. Do you love your own soul? Then cut off your hand if it makes you to sin.
We know that God’s Law is the working out of love in an imperfect world. It is a reflection of the character of a perfect Creator who wants only the best for His Creations. Where it forbids, it forbids out of love. Where it allows, it allows out of love.
Be kind. Be patient. But also be wise.
(See here for thoughts on why The Didache cannot be included in the Biblical canon.)