Didache- The Christian’s First Steps in Practice

Didache 2

In the second instruction of the Didache, the author(s) lists several restrictions for new Christians and young churches. These instructions follow from what we have already seen in this document. We saw that regeneration precedes faith (see the notes on 1:1), and that works naturally follow regeneration in faith. So, those who come to know Christ, even as infant Christians, are being conformed to Christ. This explicitly means becoming willfully obedient to God’s Law. So, being sanctified, being conformed to the image of Christ, can’t mean anything less than desiring to be and willfully becoming more and more obedient to God’s Law.

Furthermore, we remember the historical context of the Didache. It was written either by the apostles or by the apostolic fathers. It was written to new believers and young churches as a starting point for right Christian practice. So, even infant believers and young churches should be sanctified to this degree according to the author(s). These instructions are not for the submission of nonbelievers. Instead, they serve the same purpose as the Law, because they are a summary of the Law, for those who are not in Christ- revealing the unrighteousness of people and their need for salvation by grace alone. This means that these instructions cannot be rightly or correctly used as an excuse to look down on or condemn nonbelievers. We do not have that kind of authority. Let’s examine these instructions for new believers and young churches:

  1. You shall not murder.
    1. This command is found in Exodus 20:13. When a person’s heart is regenerated according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he or she no longer resorts to the ways of the world, murdering, whether physically, emotionally, outwardly, or even by hating or harboring anger toward in one’s mind. We are changed so that we love others more than our own lives (see #18).
  2. You shall not commit adultery.
    1. This command is found in Exodus 20:14. Adultery is lusting after anyone, desiring to have anyone sexually. This especially applied to women or men who are married.
  3. You shall not be sexually perverse.
    1. The literal translation, here, is “You shall not corrupt boys.”
  4. You shall not be sexually promiscuous.
    1. Numbers 3 and 4, in this list, are derived from the command found in Deuteronomy 23:17. It literally means that we do not present ourselves like sexual prostitutes or worship our own sexuality in any way. This encompasses course gesturing, joking, and dressing so as to entice another with our bodies. We no longer do this worldly thing because we are now concerned about God’s glory, not our own.
  5. You shall not steal.
    1. This command is found in Exodus 20:15. Since our hearts are regenerated in such a way that we are no longer greedy (see #16), we are not interested in gaining from anyone like those who are worldly do as they steal time, money, and energy from others in a variety of ways.
  6. You shall not practice magic.
  7. You shall not practice sorcery
    1. Numbers 6 and 7, in this list, are derived from Deuteronomy 18:10. Sorcery and magic is practiced, usually, because there is something to be gained by some supernatural means. The practice is a practice of greed, theft, and of fulfilling personal desires. It rejects trust in the providence of God in favor of a personal ability to affect some sort of miracle. Worldly people are hungry for miracles and signs performed by others or affected by themselves while the Christian is regenerated to contentment and to trust in God’s will.
  8. You shall not murder a child by abortion, nor kill a child at birth.
    1. This instruction is derived from the command not to kill. It is interesting that, in the First Century AD, the apostles or apostolic fathers are having to instruct new Christians and young local churches not to, like the world, abort children or kill children at birth. This is not new in our day. The ways of the world have not changed. Christians are called to selfless, simple, and responsible living. Willful abortion and infanticide reflects a heart that is opposite the regenerated heart of a believer, even an infant believer.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s things.
    1. This command is found in Exodus 20:17. It is another statement of the selflessness and contentment that come with the regeneration of the heart, even for infant believers.
  10. You shall not commit perjury.
  11. You shall not bear false witness.
    1. Numbers 10 and 11, in this list, are derived from Exodus 20:16. The idea is that we do not lie or give a false testimony concerning anything or anyone. While the world justifies its lies, we are interested in truth because God is truth. If we lie or share a false story, we show that we are not people of God. That trend, no matter the justification we place with it, is not consistent with the regeneration of the heart in Christ.
  12. You shall not speak evil.
    1. This instruction is derived from Exodus 22:28 and Acts 23:5. The idea applies particularly to a person’s treatment of the ruler of a nation and of God. Since God is sovereign, no ruler or leader is in place without His working that together. Therefore, we do not speak evil against the rulers of nations, the leaders of our churches, or of God Himself. This command is present, here, in a more generic than what we find in the Biblical text, so this particular instruction concerns speaking evil against anyone. To speak evil of another person is to curse God. Speaking evil could mean a variety of things, including: cursing others, being overly critical, and especially gossiping about someone.
  13. You shall not bear a grudge.
    1. This instruction is found in Leviticus 19:18, and is the first half of the second most important command in the Law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We do not dwell on the wrongs or insufficiencies of others because God is a God of grace. We also choose not to think little of others or treat them conditionally. This is opposed to the unconditional regeneration of our hearts by grace alone and through faith alone.
  14. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for the double tongue is a snare of death.
    1. This instruction is derived from James 1:8 and 1 Timothy 3:8. The idea aligns, again, with the fact that God is truth. We should neither tell different people different things in order to appease them nor tell people what we do not think for any reason. The regeneration of the heart causes the true Christian to deal in honesty.
  15. Your words shall not be false or empty, but fulfilled in your actions.
    1. This instruction also reveals God as truth. Another way to phrase this, to use a modern slogan, is, “Practice what you preach.” The regeneration of the heart leads us to be honest as we speak and to legitimately practice what we preach. This is the lifestyle of the true believer, even in infancy. 
  16. You shall not be greedy, nor a swindler, nor a hypocrite, nor bad-tempered, nor proud.
    1. We have already seen versions of these instructions present in the Didache. The regeneration of the heart is not bent toward greed and does not swindle others. Even the infant Christian is sanctified to the point of not being a hypocrite (not practicing what he or she preaches or holding others to a higher standard than self). In regeneration, the person is also relinquished of his own pride for self and hot temper. Those are the ways of the world and of worldly religion. Those locked in worldly religion will justify their greed, use worldly gimmicks to increase giving and attendance, claim that hypocrisy is normal for Christians, and justify their anger.
  17. You shall not plot against your neighbor.
  18. You shall not hate any man, but you shall reprove some, and you shall pray for others, and others you shall love more than your own life
    1. Numbers 17 and 18, in this list, reflect ideas already mentioned as well, with the exception of the instruction to reprove some. If a Christian brother or sister is living in sin, we bear the responsibility to correct them for their good and we are submitted to Christian community so that we might be corrected for our own good in sanctification- so that we might be perfect and complete. This does not happen outside of committed devotion to a body of truly regenerate believers. It does not happen if we are worldly in our thinking- that we might find a church home based on our own preferences, forsake our local churches if we imagine something less than heretical teaching or a failure to preach the whole counsel of Scripture to be wrong, make a habit of church-hopping, or attend a local church that is not so concerned about our sanctification according to God’s perfect Law and as an explicit result of salvation by grace alone and through faith alone.

The author(s) of the Didache believes that the use of the Old Testament is foundational for New Testament believers and local churches. The Law of God is still the standard. The difference, for believers, is that our hearts have been regenerated, causing us to desire obedience to our Lord for His glory. Again, works cannot merit salvation (cf. Colossians 2:20-23). Salvation, though, brings even infant Christians into this degree of willful obedience according to the author(s). This is the way of life, not the way to life.

Those who, in their unbelief, sin according to the Law as summarized, here, are not to be condemned by the church. Instead, they are to be cared for as worldly people so that they might receive the Gospel. For, it is only after regeneration that people can come into willful obedience to God’s Law and so glorify God alone (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:10).

Once again, I am amazed at how even those who claim to have been Christians for years and church bodies that were established years and years ago are not yet at the stage of Christian infancy in the faith. I am amazed at how many preachers, pastors, or elders still struggle with these first things. They have wanted to be teachers of the Law but do not understand the things upon which thy insist. Thus, they lead entire congregations of so called “Christians” into perpetual immaturity, even more immature than spiritual infants, or deeper lostness if they are not actually in Christ.

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