God’s People, part 269: Erasmus

Read Acts 19:21-23

“Gaius says hello to you. He is my host and also serves as host to the whole church. Erastus, the city treasurer, sends you his greetings, and so does our brother Quartus.”  (Romans 16:23, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 269: Erastus. Overall, Erastus is one of those people in the New Testament that we know very little of; however, there are some things that were mentioned about him that will give us enough of an understanding. While we cannot be certain about much regarding Erastus’ life, but we do know that he was an assistant of the Apostle Paul, and that he worked along Timothy.

The first thing that should be mentioned is that Erastus was a man of prominence in his community. At the end of Romans, Paul states that Erastus was a treasurer in the city he was writing the letter in, meaning that he served in high civil office in Corinth. That means that we do know that Erastus was a politician from the city of Corinth. Knowing that, we should pause to get an understanding of the city in which he lived and served.

Ancient Corinth was one of the populous and important cities in Ancient Greece. In 400 BCE it had an estimated population of 90,000. With that said, the city in Paul’s time was a newer city from that of Ancient Corinth. The Romans had leveled it in 146 BCE, but rebuilt it the same year that Julius Caesar was assassinated (44 BCE) and made it the capital of the Roman Province of Greece. In fact, Julius Caesar was the one who started that rebuilding just prior to his assassination. Thus, being the capital of a Roman province, Corinth was a very important city. What’s more, the office of Treasurer of the capital of a major Roman province was a very high and important political office. From this alone, we can tell that Erastus was a person of wealth, status and power.

Corinth was not just the political center of Greece, but it was also the religious and cultural center. There were many famous temples, such as the Temple of Apollo and there was a strong presence of the Imperial Cult, where emperor worship took place. Corinth was a strongly Hellenistic society where there was other cultures were expected to be in the melting pot with Greek culture. This made it a difficult place to be Jewish and Christian. We can see that difficulty played out in the letters to the Corinthians written by Paul.

So, what does all of this tell us about Erastus himself. Let’s look at the facts. Erastus was held a powerful political and civil servant role in one of the most influential political, economic, cultural, and religious centers in the ancient Roman Empire. What’s more, Corinth was a major melting pot, and any resistance to that drew much suspicion. So, it is an enigma how someone like Erastus, a Christian, could effectively serve under such circumstances.

Yet, he did. That is not to say that he drew no suspicion or ran into no problems. He very well may have, given that Christians were not the most welcome group of people in that society. With that said, Erastus proves to be an assistant of the Apostle Paul and a faithful Christian witness who happened to also be holding one of the higher civil servant offices.

This shows us that we, as Christians, can be politically active and still serve Christ, although, there is a fine line to walk there. A public servant serves the public. A Christian serves Christ. One can do both, but one must never conflate the two and, no matter what, one’s loyalty to Christ must come first over every other loyalty one might have. We have seen public servants walk that fine line; however, it sometimes becomes a difficult fine line to walk. The same, by the way, is true for us the public. We can engage politically; however, we MUST conform our politics to our faith in Jesus Christ…not try to conform our faith in Jesus Christ to politics.

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” – Dante Alighieri

Lord, help me to be engaged in society in a way that faithfully witnesses to you. Amen.

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