In 313 A.D. Constantine the Great proclaimed the Edict of Milan, where persecution of the church ended. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this moment. For two hundred years the mightiest empire in history had turned its attention to snuffing out a religion that appealed to the poor, peasants, fishermen – the weak and unimportant of the empire. Christians had suffered unspeakably.
It certainly had the effect of weeding out the improperly motivated and the undedicated. If you weren’t deeply, thoroughly dedicated to your Lord Jesus, you would be unable to endure the beatings, imprisonments, the lions and gladiators. Many Christians no doubt did forsake their Lord under duress.
But the Edict of Milan changed all of that. Now Christianity was “tolerated.” But it went farther than that. Constantine ensured that Christians would receive promotions in the Imperial Government while businesses owned by Christians were favored. The church enjoyed unprecedented growth; people flocked to churches all over the empire, and named Jesus as their Lord. This was a good thing, or so it seemed! How could it be bad? Now you could worship in an unhindered manner, churches were no longer underground. Whereas it had once been tough to be a Christian, now it paid to be a Christian!
And yet there were those who worried. Had Jesus ever proclaimed that it “paid to be a Christian”? Or had he said something else? There was that troubling statement in Matthew 16:24,25: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any one would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'”
Viewed that way, Christianity is a lifestyle, not a past time, a life’s commitment, not a hobby. The real question is, not what you “got” out of Christianity, but what you gave. What have you given this week?