Our family served as missionaries in Spain from 2003-2005. Because Dedra and our girls had just spent the past year and a half in Latin America, I was given the task of leading the Latin American Immigrant Team. We lived in downtown Madrid, a bustling city of over 6 million people. It was an interesting time in our lives, and Spain was a fascinating country for a history buff like me. It was the Apostle Paul’s great ambition to reach the shores of Spain to preach the gospel, and scholars still debate whether that became a reality for him or not. Strange as it may sound, I felt some kinship with Paul when we arrived on a hot summer day in 2003. During our time in Spain we visited many fascinating sites, but I think my favorite location was the ancient city of Seville in the province of Andalusia. Although I only spent a little over a day in the city, I did a great deal of research before arriving and was interested in learning about a great Christian saint from that city - Bishop Isidore.
Isidore was born around 560 in Seville. His older brother, Leander, who was very strict but also very loving, educated him. His tutoring made Isidore not only a great scholar, but also a tenderhearted pastor. He succeeded in the double task of establishing schools for children and combating growing heresy from false teachers. He was a champion for sharing Christ with the many Jews who lived in Spain at that time yet vehemently opposed their conversion by force, which was commonly practiced. The scholar in him led to his compiling the first encyclopedia in history, the Etymologieae, covering everything from medicine to grammar, history, theology and arithmetic. He also published books on astronomy and biographies of saints and biblical characters. In addition to all of this, he became famous as the best preacher in all of Spain.
In 633, he presided over a great church council gathering in Toledo. At this council it was decided that baptismal candidates need only be “dunked” one time (not the customary three times), and that hymns could be sung (not just read) and need not be exclusively drawn from the Psalms. The council also forbade the forcible conversion of anyone to Christianity. Amazing as it may seem to our modern ears, these were all hotly debated concepts in the 7th century.
In 635 Isidore sensed he was dying. As a result, he began giving away all of his earthly goods to the poor. Four days prior to his death he was carried to the cathedral of St. Vincent the Martyr, put on sackcloth and ashes and confessed his sins, and then publicly asked forgiveness from both God and man. As the crowds assembled, he preached a short message focusing on the love of Christ, gave away his clothing as his final earthly possessions, and then returned to his home where he died, the most beloved saint of Spain.
I share this story not only so that you will learn a bit more about one of your brothers in Christ who proceeded you in the faith, but to remind you, and me, that although biblical knowledge and study is very important, it does not eclipse our need to love people with the love of Jesus. Yes, we must grow in our knowledge through hard work, study and discipline, as the Scriptures instruct us, but we must always love more than we instruct. “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13). We are learning this lesson from our study in James—now we must all learn to put it into practice.
Grace and peace,