The life of virtue is one in which a person is able to evaluate and order values in accordance with their true worth. It’s about priorities. For many things in life, priorities are a subjective thing, but how does one determine true worth? What is the standard? Everyone has a standard that they use to determine their values and the way they live their life. It’s called religion. Non-authority does not exist. At the very least, ultimate authority rests with the self. For the Christian, the standard measurement for values is God’s law. God sets the priorities for his people.
Even among the depraved society of ancient Rome persecuted Christians knew and lived their Godly priorities. For these saints, first loyalty was not to the family, not even to the authority of a father or a mother, but to God. For this greatest of loyalties many gave their lives. A fine example of this is apparent in the first eye-witness account of Christian martyrdom, on March 7, 203, at Carthage. The accused was Perpetua, a twenty-two year old mother, of a noble family, with an infant son at her breast.
Then they came to me, and my father immediately appeared with my boy, and withdrew me from the step, and said in a supplicating tone,Have pity on your babe.And Hilarianus the procurator, who had just received the power of life and death in the place of the proconsul Minucius Timinianus, who was deceased, said,Spare the grey hairs of your father, spare the infancy of your boy, offer sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors.And I replied,I will not do so.Hilarianus said,Are you a Christian?And I replied,I am a Christian.
And as my father stood there to cast me down from the faith, he was ordered by Hilarianus to be thrown down, and was beaten with rods. And my father’s misfortune grieved me as if I myself had been beaten, I so grieved for his wretched old age.
As much as she loved her father, husband and son, there was no compromising Perpetua’s priorities. For this heroine, it was her God who came first.
Perpetua’s crime was her refusal to
offer sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors. This is a larger matter than it may first appear to the modern reader. The main issue was not just about the state. Rather, the issue was state worship via worship of the Emperor. For the Romans, Caesar was Lord to whom sacrifice was owed. To disobey was treason, an offense punishable by death. Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to think that the emperor’s well-being would be threatened by a Christian uprising; especially if the emperor is divine. While Christians like Perpetua were willing to pray for Caesar, and render to Caesar the things that are his, they rightly refused to pray to him. (Mark 12:17) Rome’s problem was not rebellion but the excellent integrity of Christian character. Caesar was worshiped as God with absolute authority. The Christians understood that Caesar was under submission to God, for
there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1) Caesar persecuted the Church because the Church put him in his place. This continues today.
God has set his priorities for the Christian. In general, the priorities are: God, spouse, children, and then everything else. The young Perpetua and many others lived and died according to God’s standards, not their own. The great challenge for the Christian, today and throughout history, is to uncompromisingly maintain Godly values while sojourning in this wicked age.