Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Newlywed Persecution: 3 Ways to Face Challenges Together

[Let's Pray for Persecuted Marriages Around the World]
“I am prepared to die with you,” whispered Maura to her husband Timothy. It was AD 286 and Emperor Diocletian was ruthless in his determination to stamp out Christianity in the empire. We might expect this devotion from a trusting wife happily married to her husband for decades, but Timothy and Maura had married only twenty days before. They were newlyweds who should have been basking in one another’s love in a cozy bungalow on some warm Egyptian beach along the Nile or the Mediterranean.

Diocletian had other plans for the couple. Timothy was a copyist and keeper of Christian books. We would call him our church librarian, the bespeckled bibliophile who runs the bookstore. But Christian books were contraband in AD 286 and possessing and distributing them was an intolerable crime.

For Timothy’s refusal to turn over the library in his charge, the governor ordered him to be suspended upside down and a heavy rock to be chained to his neck, almost choking him. Still he refused to comply. Next, they applied red hot irons to his ear. Meanwhile, Roman soldiers had seized his wife Maura and, thinking Timothy would crack under threat of harm to his new bride, they brought her in and thrust the young woman toward him. “I am prepared to die with you,” she reassured her husband.

What happened next, what they did to Maura, is too terrible to describe in complete detail. After tearing out her hair, the executioners severed fingers from her hands, then immersed her in a cauldron of near-boiling water. Though onlookers enjoyed blood sports, cruelty masquerading as entertainment, even they began to grumble against the extent of the brutalities inflicted on the young married couple. Yet Maura, alongside her husband, endured with remarkable constancy. When the audience had had enough and called for the governor to halt the torture, Maura replied, “Let no one defend me. I have one Defender, Christ, in whom I trust.”  

Tradition tells us that Timothy and Maura were then led out and, like their Lord, crucified, crosses facing one another, giving thanks to God that they were called to suffer for Christ’s sake. They died together May 3, 286.


How did Timothy and Maura face such a titanic challenge so early in their marriage? Young newlyweds enduring such brutal martyrdom together, all their temporal hopes and dreams and pleasures cut short? No doubt they drew on the promises of the Word of God contained in those books Timothy refused to hand over to the governor  for burning. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Or Christ’s solemn promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Or “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

When we consider the stalwart faith of a couple like Timothy and Maura, it’s easy for such a marriage to seem too heroic, too unlike our mundane and all-too-comfortable lives, and we push it away, consign it to the fantasy folder in our minds, and dismiss it as wholly irrelevant to our lives and marriages today. That would be a mistake, akin to reading a weight loss story of ginormous proportion but dismissing any application of it to our diet and exercise needs. "That would never work for me. Pass the potato chips."


I think there were three heart conditions, three higher loves, that both Timothy and Maura must of had that strengthened their married love for one another, and prepared, and enabled them to endure such a tragedy so early in their married life together:

1. Devotion to God's Word. It's what Timothy did, copy and preserve the Bible and other Christian writings from the early Church. Timothy and Maura were one in their devotion to the Word of God. They knew with renewed minds, and felt with regenerated hearts, that their God is faithful, and whatever trial he has ordained, he will enabled them to endure it patiently (I Corinthians 10:13). Together, they were a married couple who loved God's Word and thereby were impervious to the Enemy's assaults.
2. Devotion to Christ. The Word of God pointed them to the Lord of the Word. I received an email from a former student asking if I would officiate at her wedding. "I finally found someone who loves Christ more than me." This young woman understood something many already married couples do not. Seek love for Christ, first and last, and devoted love with your spouse will be a delightful byproduct. Timothy and Maura's devotion, first and last, in life and in death, was to Jesus Christ. He was their Lord and God, not Diocletian. Couples who claim to be Christians but who have other masters, other lords, other loves, will have great difficulty whispering in one another's ear "I am here to die with you, my love." Timothy and Maura were not friends with the world (James 4:4). They had not made peace with Rome and it's god-deluded emperors. They were devoted to Christ, even, similar to their Lord's, to a horrible death.
3. Devotion to the Kingdom of God. Heaven. Timothy and Maura had their eyes fixed on Jesus; they loved his eternal kingdom. Therefore, no temporal allurement held any sway for them. Their short marriage--twenty days--was not a diversion from heaven.  It was the closest thing to heaven. Still on their honeymoon, they knew that "earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy [our deepest longings], but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing" (CS Lewis).   I remember before I was married not wanting to say "Thy kingdom come," for fear it would, and I would never know the pleasures of married love, children, family. Timothy and Maura were far ahead of me. 

Timothy and Maura's devotion to God's Word, to Christ, and to the heavenly Kingdom of God made them constant in the greatest extremity of affliction. May your loyalties, the things you are most devoted to, make the "things of earth [to] grow strangely dim/In the light of his glory and grace."

Douglas Bond, author of more than twenty-five books, is writing a non-fiction book on the Marriages of the Ages, the good ones, the disappointing ones, and the despicable ones, from which this blog post is adapted. He leads Church history tours, speaks at conferences, writes New Reformation Hymns, and podcasts at The Scriptorium. Learn more at bondbooks.net

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