John Chrysostom was a Christian who lived in the fourth-century after Christ (A. D. 347-407). He was perhaps best known for his eloquent and strong preaching1. (The name Chrysostom was a nickname meaning, golden-mouthed.) His criticism of the opulent life of the court, his perceived tactlessness, and opposition of the Patriarch of Alexandria brought him considerable trouble2. He preached so strongly against sin that he even offended many church and government officials, including the unscrupulous Empress Eudoxia. Eventually, he was summoned before the Emperor Arcadius. The exchange that took place at that meeting is one of the jewels to come down to us from all of that historical period3. Let's consider his answer4 phrase by phrase.
Emperor Arcadius threatened Chrysostom with banishment if he did not cease his uncompromising preaching. His response was, 'Sire, you cannot banish me, for the world is my Father's house.'
Chrysostom must have had in mind, of course, David's famous statement: The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1; cf. Psalm 50:12; 1 Chronicles 29:11; 1 Corinthians 14:26). Or, maybe he had been reading Deuteronomy, Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD'S thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is (Deuteronomy 10:14). This comforting thought has made its way into our songbooks. One old hymn is called, Anywhere is Home and its message of let come and go what may has lifted many a heart. Wherever we go on planet earth, we are still at home with the omnipresent Father (Psalm 139). As Abraham left home, but never missed it, many Gospel preachers and missionaries leave the comfort of familiar surroundings to serve Christ in cities distant from grandparents and places far from the nearest McDonald's5. One example is Sarah Andrews of Dickson, Tennessee. While a teenager, she heard J.M McCaleb tell of his work among the Japanese. Years later (at 35), single, and supported by her family, she sailed from San Francisco in 1925 to spend her life in Japan teaching Bible classes to children and their mothers. She was captured during World War II and left to die, but recovered and continued to teach. Four congregations are traced to those she taught. When a friend asked her, What if you die over there? she replied, It is as close to heaven from Japan as it is from the United States.6 Like Abraham, preachers and missionaries look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Haggai 11:10). That's the only city any Christian will really ever call home (Philippians 3:20).
Next Arcadius said, Then I will slay you. Nay, but you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God, came the answer.
Here Chrysostom quoted Colossians 3:3. Paul's word (krupto, translated hid) means, concealed or kept secret. Where are we hidden? In our Father's hand. Jesus said, 'no man is able to pluck7 them out of my Father's hand (John 10:29).' Paul adds, 'the peace of God,shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).' Keep (phroureo) is a compound word that literally means, to stare at before. It is used in military contexts for mounting a guard as a sentinel or posting spies at gates. Figuratively, it means to hem in and protect as with a garrison of soldiers. Remember Satan accused God of doing this for Job, and God did not deny it (Job 1:10).
Still, we should not get the impression that we will never suffer harm or hardship. Job suffered, but God brought him through it (Job 42). Jesus once said, 'the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:30-31),' which is the equivalent of saying, Don't worry, you are in the Father's hand. Then, with the same breath, Jesus warned, 'Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.,and he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:34-39).' This simply means that men cannot harm what really counts. God protects our souls - and, if He so chooses can take us out of physical harm's way, too. But, if not, Jesus taught, ,fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, (Matthew 10:28).
Your treasures will be confiscated was the Emperor's next threat. John replied, Sire, that cannot be, either. My treasures are in heaven, where none can break through and steal.
Chrysostom took personally Jesus' words, 'lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:20-21).' Treasure (thesauros) here is actually deposit. Chrysostom had made deposits in a heavenly bank and knew that Arcadius had no access to its vaults. Paul added, In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom, (Colossians 2:3).
Finally a frustrated Arcadius came full circle and said, Then I will drive you from man, and you will have no friends left! This final, desperate warning did not bother Chrysostom. He said, simply, That you cannot do, either, for I have a Friend in heaven who has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.'
The last promise Jesus made to us was, 'and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).' He kept this promise to the early disciples (Mark 16:20) and does to us, ,for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5). Paul found that ,the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me,I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion (2 Timothy 4:17). Once the Lord even appeared to him to say, For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee, (Acts 18:9).
What finally happened? Chrysostom was banished, first to Armenia and then farther to Pityus on the Black Sea, to which he never arrived because he died on the way. But neither his banishment nor his death disproved or diminished his claims. The things that a Christian values most not even an emperor can take away (2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10).
Interestingly, copies of some 650 of his sermons still exist. These sermons must often have lasted for an hour or more. They portrayed a deep compassion for the poor and a zeal for social righteousness.
2Howard F. Vos, Exploring Church History, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
This story is found in John McArthur's Commentary (Mt. 1-7), p. 232-233.
Peter says Christians must be ready to give an answer for their faith (1 Pet. 3:15). The word answer comes from a root (apologeomai) which means, to give a legal plea of oneself, make defence.
Incidentally, parents, grandparents, and other relatives also make a sacrifice for their sons to preach, and will be rewarded for so doing (cf. Mt. 10:42). We need parents who encourage their children to become preachers and missionaries. Something is wrong when Mormon families get practically every young man to give two years to spreading false doctrine (with the family paying the way!), and we don't encourage our young men to do as much for the Truth! The world is lost, and many of our most talented young people are going into secular fields who could do a wonderful job preaching the Gospel. Some who show interest are discouraged by parents who don't want them to move away, or to make less money than they might make in business, or be less thought of among the parent's worldly friends. Let's reverse this trend! There is no more honorable or rewarding life than preaching. Certainly preachers and their families will receive more reward on Judgment Day than anything this world has to offer.
This is related in the Gospel Advocate, November, 1999, p. 14.
harpazo, to seize, take by force. No one can separate us from God's love (Rm. 8:35-39), though we may remove ourselves from it (as the prodigal did, Lk. 15).