Monday, December 31, 2012

Polycarp 3 - You asked for it

This is a continuation of my series on Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. If you are unfamiliar with Polycarp or his letter to the Philippians, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Polycarp acknowledges that his writing to the Philippians was not on his own accord but was in response to their request.
"These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so." (Polycarp 3)
In the first and second centuries, churches were autonomous. There was no hierarchy of churches; no one church assuming ascendancy or preeminence over the faith and lives of other believes or their churches. When help was needed, it was sought along relational lines not along lines of authority or oversight. Polycarp had no authority over the Philippian church other than grant to him by them in their request for help and encouragement.

I have been in a number of churches that believed in church planting and in the replication of the life they had into other bodies of believers. However, in most cases there was a clear line of hierarchy; there was a "mother" church and a "daughter" church, one with authority and one subservient to the other, even to the point where the "daughter" church was expected to tithe off their tithes to the "mother" church. In cases where the new church plant needed help, it was "expected" that they would seek it first, and sometimes only, from of the "mother" church. Maybe our model of church planting needs to be revised to be more apostolic; more consistent with the apostolic model that we see in the early churches.

Polycarp also refuses to assert himself to be grater than the apostles or to relate to the Pilippians in such a way as to presume to unseat the love and adoration they had for the one who had first planted and established the church.
"For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive." (Polycarp 3)
Polycarp had no "new" revelation for them other than what the Apostles had delivered to the churches. He could expound on it and exhort them to adhere to the apostolic message, but the message and revelation had already been given. Polycarp was not an apostle, but as a shepherd and teacher he could, and did, help people to understand and apply the apostolic message to their own lives.

Polycarp also reminds them of the importance of the teachings of the apostles and of the importance of reading, studying, and obeying the letters they had received from the apostles.
"And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, 'is the mother of us all.' " (Polycarp 3)
Our lives in Christ begin with love towards God, Jesus, and others. Then, as we build up our faith through the message of Christ, we move towards hope. This faith, which is built up and strengthened by the word of God, and especially by the apostolic message, is what he refers to as the "mother of us all." What joins us in commonality with other believes is the common faith we have in God, His Christ, and His message. It is only through this faith that we come to be children of God and members of the universal body of Christ.

This is what makes our devotion and obedience to the message so critical, it is what makes us "Christians." We are all Christians because we have all believed and obeyed His gospel. It is not just God who unites us, but our common faith and obedience to Him and His message. His message defines us; our calling, our nature, and our purpose.

Those who thus have believed and obeyed the message of God are those who have passed onto righteousness.
"For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin." (Polycarp 3)
A righteousness that would not have come to light apart of the message of God and the teaching of the apostles.

David Robison

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Polycarp 2 - Now serve the Lord

This is a continuation of my series on Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. If you are unfamiliar with Polycarp or his letter to the Philippians, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Polycarp exhorts the Philippian church to serve the Lord in fear and truth.
" 'Wherefore, girding up your loins,' 'serve the Lord in fear' and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and 'believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory,' and a throne at His right hand." (Polycarp 2)
Notice that God does not call those who are already perfect, but He calls those whom He may make to be perfect. The Philippians were not called because they were already serving God, but now that they have been called, Polycarp exhorts them to serve God. The "Wherefore" is on account of the Joy they have received from knowing the invisible God. Now that they have received this Joy, the should turn their attention to serving the one who has given then that joy; the one whom they have come to know and to love. In serving God, fear or reverence is not enough, we must also serve in truth; we must serve Him from a true and whole heart, not feigning service, but serving from the heart.

Polycarp also reminds them of the reward for those who serve God well.
"But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; 'not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,' or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again;' and once more, 'Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.' " (Polycarp 2)
While our service to God may abound in earthly blessings, our true reward is a heavenly blessing; an eternal blessing rather than a temporal blessing; our true reward is life everlasting with Him where He is.

Some think of Christianity as "fire insurance" allowing then to continue to lives their life as they choose knowing that, in the end, they have their "ticket punched" for heaven. However, Polycarp did not understand Christianity in this way. To him, Christianity was a life long journey of learning to become more and more like Him. One day our journey would end when we take up our residency with Him in heaven, but until then, our lives should be spent knowing, conforming, and growing fruit for Christ. For those who such occupy their lives, heaven is an eventual certainty.

David Robison

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Polycarp 1: Praise and Rejoicing

This is a continuation of my series on Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. If you are unfamiliar with Polycarp or his letter to the Philippians, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Polycarp open his letter to the Philippians with praise for their continued life in God.
"I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] 'whom God raised from the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.' " (Polycarp 1)
Polycarp praises the Philippians for three specific things. First is their love for the Brethren. Love is more than a feeling or an emotion, it is also a willingness to associated and identify with others, even with the lowliest and the condemned. In Roman culture there was no one lower in social status than the condemned, yet the Philippians believers' love for one another compelled them to join with the condemned and to walk with them even to their death. They were not afraid to be known as Christians and not afraid to be associated with other Christians. They cared more for the comfort and needs of others than for their own reputation and acceptance by the world. They loved people and demonstrated it every day.

The Philippian church was an old church, one of the first established by Paul, yet they had kept the faith and the traditions handed down to them by the Apostles. Polycarp praises them for their continued faith in Christ. Their faith was more than just a belief , it was rooted in their lives and affected everything they did and said. They not only believed the message of God but they lived their lives everyday by their faith in the message. Their faith became the hallmark of their life.

Finally, Polycarp praises them for the fruit that grew and continued in their lives; fruit they bore unto God. Jesus expects fruit in our lives. It is like the time when Jesus came to the fig tree expecting to find fruit, so he comes to us, to inspect our lives, looking for fruit. For the Philippian church, that fruit was evident and growing.

Polycarp ends this chapter with the following observation,
" 'In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;' into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that 'by grace ye are saved, not of works,'  but by the will of God through Jesus Christ." (Polycarp 1)
They joy of the Philippian church was evident to all and was as a light shining in a dark place, drawing men and women to Christ and to the joy that is found in Him. May our joy also be as contagious in our world.

David Robison

Monday, December 24, 2012

Polycarp: Epistle to the Philippians

Polycarp introduces his letter simply as,
"Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied."
Polycarp is refereed to by Ignatius as the Bishop of Smyrna. The ecclesiastical division and differentiators between bishop and presbyters in Polycarps days is a bit unclear and seems to have varied based on the apostle who founded the church and it seems evident that some churches had a plurality of leaders while others were lead by a single bishop. By reading the writings of Polycarp and Ignatius, both disciples of John, it is reasonable to conclude that many of the churches founded by the apostle John had single bishop over the church.

Many believe Polycarp to be "the angel of the church in Smyrna" (Revelation 2:8) to which John wrote and the Lord prophesied, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10) From the written accounts of his martyrdom, we know that he did remain faithful and was rewarded in his death with grace and glory in the presence of God.

Most of what we know about Polycarp's life and character comes from the writings of his disciple, Irenæus. Speaking directly of Polycarp he says
"But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time... that, namely, which is handed down by the Church." (Irenæu, Against Heresies, Book 3 Chapter 3)
Speaking of his time spent as the pupil of the master, he says,
"For, while I was yet a boy, I saw thee in Lower Asia with Polycarp... I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse— his going out, too, and his coming in—his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever
things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures." (Irenæu, Fragment from De Ogdoade)
Irenæus was also familiar with Polycarp's letter to the Philippians and highly recommended it to his readers.
"There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth." (Irenæu, Against Heresies, Book 3 Chapter 3)
I hope you enjoy the next series of posts as we examine together this valuable letter by one of the truly great men of our faith.

David Robison

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mathetes 12 - Knowledge is Needed for Spiritual Life

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

When we give head to the message of God and yield ourselves to His will, it is as if we are presenting ourselves to Him as a garden for His planting; even as the Garden of Eden itself. A garden that brings forth fruit, spiritual fruit, unto God.
"When you have read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love Him, being made [as ye are] a paradise of delight, presenting in yourselves a tree bearing all kinds of produce and flourishing well, being adorned with various fruits." (Mathetes 12)
In reflecting on the Garden of Eden, Mathetes recalls that God planted both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life and, while the Tree of Knowledge served as the source of Adam and Eve's down fall, it was not the tree itself that caused their expulsion from Eden but rather their disobedience.
"For in this place the tree of knowledge and the tree of life have been planted; but it is not the tree of knowledge that destroys— it is disobedience that proves destructive." (Mathetes 12)
Mathetes was not the only one who wrote to defend the Tree of Knowledge and to point out that the cause of Adam and Even's fall was not the tree but their lack of obedience. Theophilus in his second book to Autolycus wrote,
"The tree of knowledge itself was good, and its fruit was good. For it was not the tree, as some think, but the disobedience, which had death in it. For there was nothing else in the fruit than only knowledge; but knowledge is good when one uses it discreetly.81 But Adam, being yet an infant in age, was on this account as yet unable to receive knowledge worthily." (Theophilus, Book 2, Chapter 25)
Theophilus, who wrote around 168 AD, believed that God forbade access to the Tree of Knowledge because some knowledge was only fit for, and therefore reserved for, those who had achieved a stature of life and the a degree of wisdom commensurate with that stature. Mathetes also believed that knowledge was as essential to life as life was to knowledge and that God forbidding access to the Tree of Knowledge was not an indictment against knowledge.
"Nor truly are those words without significance which are written, how God from the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of paradise, revealing through knowledge the way to life, and when those who were first formed did not use this [knowledge] properly, they were, through the fraud of the Serpent, stripped naked. For neither can life exist without knowledge, nor is knowledge secure without life. Wherefore both were planted close together." (Mathetes 12)
The problem with knowledge arises when we seek for it apart from God. Remember what the serpent told Eve, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5) The lure of the Devil was that Adam and Eve could become like God, knowing the difference between good and evil, without God. The serpent promised that they could obtain knowledge by themselves, without the aid or relationship with God. However, knowledge apart from God is folly.
"The Apostle, perceiving the force [of this conjunction], and blaming that knowledge which, without true doctrine, is admitted to influence life, declares, 'Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth.' For he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, and such as is witnessed to by life, knows nothing, but is deceived by the Serpent, as not loving life." (Mathetes 12)
It is very possible that Mathetes learned this directly from Paul himself being that he was discipled by the apostles. The knowledge that puffs up is a knowledge that does not come from God. Mathetes understood that life does not come from knowledge but knowledge from life. The Tree of Knowledge only makes since after we have eaten of the Tree of Life, not the other way around.
"But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge inwardly received." (Mathetes 12)
Knowledge from life is the way of the kingdom. As we pursue our life in Christ, in obedience and faith, we come to learn and acknowledge true knowledge and understanding. When we learn to first eat of the Tree of Life, then we are made fit to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and the knowledge we gain serves to move us closer to God rather than drive us further away by our own conceit and pride.
"Bearing this tree and displaying its fruit, thou shalt always gather in those things which are desired by God, which the Serpent cannot reach, and to which deception does not approach; nor is Eve then corrupted, but is trusted as a virgin; and salvation is manifested, and the Apostles are filled with understanding, and the Passover of the Lord advances, and the choirs are gathered together, and are arranged in proper order, and the Word rejoices in teaching the saints,—by whom the Father is glorified: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Mathetes 12)
Knowledge is essential to our spiritual life just as life to knowledge, but knowledge does not begin with us, it flows from the life we have in Christ. If we pursue first our life with Christ then knowledge will follow. However, if we pursue knowledge first, then we will never find life with God. God is the god of all knowledge and it is only in Him that we can truly be filled with all knowledge and truth.

David Robison

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mathetes 11 - You can trust me

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Mathetes assures us that we can trust him is what he is saying. He is well acquainted with the message he is teaching and he learned it directly from the Apostles of our Lord. Jesus communicated His message to the Apostles and he learned it directly from them. Having been taught this message from God, he has subsequently become and teacher and disciple to the gentiles. Not of his own accord but by the will of God.
"I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles. I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples worthy of the truth." (Mathetes 11)
Those whom he deems "worthy of the truth" are those who, not only believe, also have a desire to accurately learn this message sent sent to us by God; they not only graciously receive salvation from God but have a burning desire in their hearts to fully learn, understand, and share this glorious message that has been delivered once and for all to mankind.
"For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking plainly [to them], not understood indeed by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples, who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father?" (Mathetes 11)
Jesus came not only to save us but also to teach us God's message; to teach it to all who wish to know and understand that message, Jesus willingly reveals that message to us and helps us to understand it and to apply it to our lives. This is, in part, the reason why He came. Speaking of Jesus, Mathetes says,
"This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over." (Mathetes 11)
Oh the blessings of knowing Christ, who being from old is ever new in our hearts, who disperses grace and love to all who believe.

It is interesting that Mathetes speaks of the "limits of faith" and the "boundaries set by the fathers." Jesus not only teaches us God's message but He also keeps us from going into error; from "going too far." I'm sure he had in mind some of those Gnostic sects who took God's word and re-imagined it after their own unholy reasoning to create a new religion for which Christ was no longer the head. However, when we hold fast to the Son, His grace keeps us within the bounds of faith and sound doctrine; a doctrine that is consistent with the "boundaries" of the fathers.

If we will yield ourselves to the Son and to His teaching, then our lives will be changed and even our desires remolded into conformance with His own. The things that are precious to Him will become precious to us and the things known to him will be revealed in us.
"Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases." (Mathetes 11)
This journey begins by coming to Jesus, continues by devoting ourselves to understanding and living according to His message, and is rewarded by the many blessing to be found in His presence.

It is for the love of this message, and for the effect it has on the lives of people, that Mathetes and men like him, devoted their lives to teaching and disciplining the world.
"For whatever things we are moved to utter by the will of the Word commanding us, we communicate to you with pains, and from a love of the things that have been revealed to us." (Mathetes 11)
Let their love for the things of God become contagious in our lives. Let their love for God and His message become our love for the same. In doing so we too will find the righteousness, peace, and joy they have found in Christ.

David Robison

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mathetes 10 - Every Spiritual Blessing

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

God's plan was to provide for the forgiveness of our sins, to abolish death, and to reconcile us to Himself that we might come to know His and His Son. This provision of God is received through faith, not through works or religion, and for those who receive it by faith, they also receive the knowledge of the Father.
"If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him." (Mathetes 10)
With the knowledge of the Father we also come to understand His love for mankind in general and for us in particular. The Father has loved us and made the world for us. He has subjected all things on earth to us. However He has not left us to earthly toil but has granted us the privileges, and has placed it in our hearts the desire, to "look upwards to Himself" that our hearts and lives may be refreshed with the knowledge of Him. And when we rebelled, He chose to send His Son to ransom us and to give us the promise of the Father and our portion in His Kingdom.

With such knowledge we are ready to receive the things of the Kingdom, namely, "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17)
"And when you have attained this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled? Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing." (Mathetes 10)
Righteousness is the imitation of God, but how shall we imitate that which we do not know? However, to know God is to imitate Him. God Himself said, "He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?" (Jeremiah 22:16) When we know God then we will imitate God; we will begin to do the things that He is doing.
"For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God." (Mathetes 10)
To imitate God is to imitate His love. A love that is shown not "with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18)

As we grow in our knowledge and imitation of God, our lives we be transformed from the inside out and our minds will be renewed according to the true knowledge of Him. With our renewed mind we will come to see and understand the world around us as God sees it. We will come to know and understand the mysteries of this life.
"Then thou shalt see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe]; then thou shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shalt thou both love and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then shall thou condemn the deceit and error of the world when thou shall know what it is to live truly in heaven, when thou shalt despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when thou shalt fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it. Then shalt thou admire those who for righteousness’ sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and shalt count them happy when thou shalt know [the nature of] that fire." (Mathetes 10)
We will once again come to be God's children in this world.

David Robison

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mathetes 9 - What took God so long?

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

If you believe the Biblical chronology, as I do, then you might ask yourself, "Why did it take God four thousand years to decide to come and save us?" What took God so long? Mathetes answers this question.
 "As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able." (Mathetes 9)
God was not inattentive to the sins that preceded our salvation, but He had a larger plan in mind. More than the punishing of individual sins, He had a plan to bring salvation to all men. God permitted and endured the sins of past generation in order that He might accomplish His plan for all of mankind; God ignored our sins and focused instead on His plan of salvation.

Specifically there were two things that God had to do first before offering salvation to all. First, He had to instill in us a since of righteousness so that we might know the sinfulness of sin. Without this sense of righteousness we would never know we were doing anything wrong and that we needed salvation from our sins. Paul tells us that the Law came, "so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful." (Romans 7:13)

Secondly, we needed to realize for ourselves that, through our own works, we could never achieve our own salvation. We needed to realize that we need a savior. Paul again, speaking of the Law, says that it, "has become our tutor to lead us to Christ." (Galatians 3:24) The Law was sent to convince us that we could never be good enough to achieve eternal life. We need a savior to forgive us, cleanse us from our sins, and to make us fit for heaven.

It was when these two things had been fully achieved that God came to our rescue.
"But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal." (Mathetes 9)
With the coming of Jesus, God renewed in our mind the revelation of His love for us. Regardless of how we previously had perceived God to be, we now understood Him to be loving, kind, and approachable. What greater love could God have shown us then to send His only Son, His holy and righteous one, to atone for the sins of wicked and ungrateful men? What mankind could not do for themselves, God chose to do for us.
"For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!" (Mathetes 9)
By the coming of one righteous man, the man Jesus, we have been freed from our sins and reunited with God. Oh what a plan! Oh how deep is the wisdom and knowledge of God! Not only has He become our savior but so much more. He has become our all-in-all.
"Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food." (Mathetes 9)
Oh what a God we serve!

David Robison

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mathetes 8 - How can we know God?

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Philosophy originally was simply the study of the natural world, but with Aristotle and Plato Philosophy shifted to being a search for the ultimate good, the first principle, that which our whole attention and focus would be worthy of. But how was man to know and understand God. Mathetes asks this question.
"For, who of men at all understood before His coming what God is? Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? of whom some said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God. But if any one of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created things might also be declared to be God." (Mathetes 8)
Prior to His coming there were many guesses and speculations as to who God was, but most of them were wrong. Even Plato, though he understood that there was one supreme God, came far short of truly understanding him, and further short still of knowing His message. Man, in searching for God by his own reasonings, failed to find Him.
"But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; and no man has either seen Him, or made Him known, but He has revealed Himself." (Mathetes 8)
In previous ages, it may have seemed that God did not care for us; that He purposely hid Himself from us, that He let us grope in darkness trying to understand Him and His Word. In truth, however, God is and has always been good.
"And He has manifested Himself through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering [in His dealings with them]. Yea, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is [absolutely] good; and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone." (Mathetes 8)
God is and has always been good, but while He kept concealed His plan to rescue and reconcile us, we did not perceive His purpose of properly understand His character.
"As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in concealment, He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us." (Mathetes 8)
But now God has revealed Himself and He has sent His word to reveal the Father to us. Now we can fully understand and appreciate the truly good nature of God. Now we understand God's care for us that has always existed since the beginning of time. God has revealed Himself and, with that revelation, has brought us all of His blessing as well.
"But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active [in His service]." (Mathetes 8)
We may not have understood God's purpose before His appearing, but God always had a purpose; a purpose shared and know between Him and His Son. We may not have understood His plan or anticipated what He would do but God knew, and all of history was a prelude to the salvation He would one day bring to mankind.
"Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting between them." (Mathetes 8)
God has now appeared to us, He has given us His Word and His message, and with these also His blessings. It is now ours to both "see and be active" in His service; it is now ours to behold Him though faith.

David Robison

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mathetes 7 - A Divine Advent

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Mathetes tells us that the faith of the Christians is not simply another philosophy of men, nor does its message have its origin with men. Rather its message and its origin are divine, both delivered and taught by God, not my men.
"For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts." (Mathetes 7)
What makes the Christianity, and its message, so powerful is the origin of that message. That message originated within God and was sent to us by God that we might believe in His message and His messenger. The word, truth, and message of God is more than just words, it is a person. The truth of God is a person, that same person who was sent to us that we might believe Him and His message.

So whom did God send? We should not presume, as some may, that it was simply an angle, a spiritual potentate, or a heavenly ruler. No, the one whom God sent was the very creator of the world.
"He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things—by whom He made the heavens—by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds—whose ordinances all the stars faithfully observe—from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily course to be observed—whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course; by whom all things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom all are subject." (Mathetes 7)
This is what John meant when he said, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." (John 1:10-11) The one who came to this world was the same one who created it. The one who brought us a message to hear was the same one who created the ears for hearing and the heart for believing. This was not simply another angle He sent, rather He sent a part of Himself, He sent His own Son.

Yet He sent Him, not as some might suppose, to force us to loyalty through fear, violence, or vengeance, but rather He sent Him in the spirit of forgiveness, meekness, and love.
"Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?" (Mathetes 7)
God did not come as we supposed, but He came as Himself, full of clemency, meekness, calling us, and loving us. He proved Himself to be a God in which "violence has no place in His character."

Unfortunately, much the last part of this chapter is missing from our manuscripts, but Mathetes ends with this thought.
 "Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation." (Mathetes 7)
Most of us today are unfamiliar with this type of persecution, though, in some part of the world, such persecution still exists. But what amazed the people of Mathetes' day was the Christians' response to such persecution. The did not shrink back, they did not deny their faith, and, in the face of such persecution, they just kept growing stronger and greater in numbers. Such is not the response of those who have believed upon a mere message of men. Such is the response of a message that has been born and carried along by God. Such is the very evidence of the manifestation of God.

David Robison

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mathetes 6 - Like a Soul for the World

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Mathetes describes the relationship of Christians to the world as the soul to the body.
"To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them." (Mathetes 6)
Notice that Mathetes is not talking about Christianity but about Christians. Christianity is not so much a religion as it is the universal membership of those who have found faith in God and in His Word, Jesus Christ. Christianity is not primarily about believing a certain set of doctrines, although all Christians share a common faith and understanding of God, nor is it primarily found in achieving orthodoxy with some religious group, although there is similarities in their form and mode of worship, but Christianity is primarily a relationship with God and with His Christ. Christianity is both individualistic and corporate. Here Mathetes is speaking of the relationship of the individuals to the world, not necessarily of the relationship with the corporate religious expressions to the world.

One of the chief aspects of Christianity that Mathetes highlights is its universality. In that day the idea of a worldwide religion was something new. Yes, in Mathetes day most people worshiped the Roman gods but they were still the Romans' gods. Previously, many had worshiped the Greek gods but they were still the Greeks' gods. Christianity, however, is a religion that is not "owned" by any nation or by some oligarchy, Christianity is the free association of individuals, first with God and then with each other. Christianity is unowned and uncontrolled, except by its God who has "first place in everything." (Collossians1:18) The universal appeal of Christianity is not found in joining a group but in coming to know someone; you are a Christian because of who you know not what group you join. Once coming to know God, people then freely join themselves with other knowers (or believer).

The second aspect that Mathetes highlights is the preserving and protecting power of Christians in the world.
"The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world." (Mathetes 6)
There is a story of a king of Israel who found favor with God. King Manassah was an evil king and had reigned for fifty five years. As a result God pronounced destruction on Israel, but before God's punishment was executed another king arouse, a good king, named Josiah. Because of his goodness, God delayed His judgment while Josiah was alive. He promised Josiah, "Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants." (2 Chronicles 34:28) As long as Josiah was alive, Israel would have peace. He was as a preserver and protector of Israel against the pending judgement of God.

The same is true for Christians. There are many reasons why God should judge our nations: violence, abortion, and debauchery, but there are also millions of reasons why He doesn't judge us; millions of believing Christians. It is similar to when Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, God said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account." (Genesis 18:26) Eventually Abraham negotiated God down from the original fifty people required to spare Sodom, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten." (Genesis 18:32)

But its not just in the protection from Judgement that Christians preserve and protect the world, its also in the releasing of blessing. It is as the time when Joseph was sold into slavery and became the servant of Potiphar. As Joseph served Potiphar, God blessed all that Potiphar had. "It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the Lord's blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field." (Genesis 39:5) I believe that there is a blessing on my company simply because I am there. I believe that part of the reason my company has prospered is because God's blessing on my life spills over on everyone and everything around me. Christians not only act as a buffer between the world and God's Judgement but they also act as a conduit for His blessing. It is how we become salt and light in the world. This is the role that God has assigned to Christians in the world. As Mathetes said,
"God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake." (Mathetes 6)
Or as Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16)

David Robison

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Mathetes 5 - Christians are a Paradox

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

On one hand, Christians are just like anyone else. They are not distinguished between others based on their nationality, customs, clothing, or speech.
"For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity" (Mathetes 5)
Throughout the centuries there have been those Christians that sought to create their own culture, and their own cities, far away from the rest of the world. They have tried to create "Christian" cities and even "Christian" resorts, all in an attempt to be able to separate themselves from the world around them. However, this was not what the church was meant to be. In the early church Christians worked, talked, and held the same customs as everyone else. They were integrated into the life of their culture and active participants life with everyone else.

They also did not act like those whose association was centered around some new though, idea, or opinion.
"The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines." (Mathetes 5)
They weren't like those following the latest zealot or as those who were quick to jump on the latest bandwagon. They were not activists for their favorite cause; supporting and promoting some new dogma like conservationism, vegetarianism, socialism, or even republicanism. Their life was not centered around a cause or a dogma.

And yet, while they dressed, ate, and observed the same customs as everyone else they were yet still different.
"But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life." (Mathetes 5)
The Latin word "striking" literally means "paradoxical". Christians are a paradox, living so much like everyone else and yet being so different from everyone else. Theirs was a difference, but the difference began as an "inward" difference that expressed itself through everything they did.
"They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their
lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all." (Mathetes 5)
And Mathetes continues in like manner describing the various ways Christians are different from the world. It all reminds us of what Paul said,
"By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true;  as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things." (2 Corinthians 6:8-10)
Christians are a paradox; the same yet different; people just like you yet people so strangely different; people vilified as being evil yet people for whom such evil cannot be identified. It is as Mathetes said,
"They are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred." (Mathetes 5)
Christians are hated by the world, even though those who hate them have a hard time knowing why. Yes, Christians are a paradox.

David Robison

Friday, December 07, 2012

Mathetes 4 - Religious Superstitions

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Beyond their sacrifices and offerings, the Jews of Mathetes day held to a number of traditions that Mathetes labels as mere superstitions.
"But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice,—I do not think that you require to learn anything from me." (Mathetes 4)
A superstition is a trust in a practice as if the practice alone had saving power, such as throwing salt over your left shoulder, knocking on wood, or not walking under a ladder. God had given the Jews many things to perform and to observe, but they ended up trusting in them rather than in God. Their confidence was not in God but rather in their performance of their rituals. To this end, they went far beyond what God had required in defining the precise requirements of their rituals so that there they could be sure if they were meeting their ritualistic requirements. For example, Mathetes recalls,
"And as to their observing months and days, as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, and others for mourning,—who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly?" (Mathetes 4)
In order to ensure the precise definition of "night" in keeping the Sabbath they had developed a system where if three stars were visible it was night, two starts was dusk, and one star was yet day. These precise requirements not only helped the faithful to ensure they were keeping their rituals correctly but also served to enhance the power of those rituals in the lives of those who kept them.

When we keep traditions and rituals for the power we believe that they hold in themselves, it is truly a manifestation of folly. However, it also serves to cloud the truth about who God is.
 "For, to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant,—how can this be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath-days,—how is not this impious? And to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they were specially beloved by God,—how is it not a subject of ridicule?" (Mathetes 4)
If our practice of the Sabbath demonstrates that its keeping is more importunate than doing good, are we not speaking falsely about the God who created the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath? When we boast about our election as being achieved by what we have done, are we not really boasting against God who Himself has chosen us for election? When we accept some of God's creation as good and others as common, do we not impune God's handiwork in which God Himself saw that "it was very good." (Genesis 1:31)  Such is not a worship that God desires.

In summary, Mathetes relates that the Christian neither follows in the error of the gentiles not of the Jews, but have received a new faith and a new form of worship from God.
"I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews." (Mathetes 4)
Before leaving this topic, I must express my own bewilderment of those believes that seem to want to be Jewish. I'm not speaking of those Jewish believes but of those believers that seem to want to adopt Jewish ways, their customs, their feasts and festivals, and their observances of the Sabbath. The early church understood that Christ had not called us to be Jews but to a new faith, to a new covenant, that was previously unknown to the Jews. However, when we seek to return to the old ways and covenant we obfuscate the truth of what Jesus sought to bring. We should all remember what Paul said to the Galatians, "I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are." (Galatians 4:12)

David Robison

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Mathetes 3 - Folly in worship

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Mathetes not only contrasts the worship of Christians with the worship of idolaters, but he also contrasts Christian worship with the worship of the Jews.
"And next, I imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews. The Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, [are right]; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err." (Mathetes 3)
Mathetes points out that its not what we call ourselves that is important but rather how we choose to worship God. Even a Christian, should they revert to worshiping "god" in the manor of an idol, they would greatly err, even though they be called a Christian  While Mathetes acknowledges that the Jews of his day did not worship idols like the heathen, they still worshiped God without knowledge of the truth and their worship amounted to the same folly as the idolaters around them.
"For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship." (Mathates 3)
It must be remembered that Mathetes was not talking about the worship that was proscribed by God through Moses, rather he was describing how those commands had been translated through the centuries down to his day.

Mathetes instructs us that, even when worshiping with our offerings to the one true God, when we do so from a wrong attitude or heart motive, then our worship is folly. The Jews of Mathetes day offered to God either thinking that He needed such offerings or that such offering were honoring to Him. However, both attitudes are wrong and nether shows the proper respect due to God.
"But those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices [acceptable] to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect, —these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours." (Mathetes 3)
While today we do not offer burnt sacrifices and offerings as was done in Mathetes day, we too can err in our hearts in the same way as the Jews did back then. When we offer material things to God thinking that they are needed by Him for His work or His Kingdom, or when we offer thinking that our material gifts somehow show honor and respect for Him, then we too err the same as the idolaters and the Jews of Mathetes day. Our worship, in presuming that somehow we are merited with God for our material offerings, is simply folly.

In our worship, God is not after our gifts, He is after our hearts. God stands in need of nothing, but He desires our love and affection. God wants us, not our sacrifices or offerings. Such is the worship God desires, such is the worship He as asked for, saying,
"I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains. shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me." (Psalm 50:9-15)
David Robison

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Mathetes 2 - Christians are Atheists

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

One of the accusations by the Romans against the Christians during the early centuries was that the Christians were atheists. The Romans worshiped many gods including the emperor whom they worshiped as a god. Worship of these gods was required by law and anyone who refused to worship them was labeled as an atheist; a non-worshiper. non-believer in their gods. Unfortunately, being an atheists was a capital offense in those days, punishable by being sent to the lions. Justin Martyr speaks of the claim that Christians are Atheists.
"Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 6)
To the Romans, the worship of any god was tolerated, even gods that were confined to a specific location of people group. They tolerated the worship of any and every god, except the worship of the one true God. Mathetes continues,
"For this reason ye hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods." (Mathetes 2)
The same can be said to be true today. The world seems quite tolerant of all gods and all forms of worship, except for worship of the one true God. You can worship whatever god your mind can imagine and the world might even applaud you for your religious fervor, but those who worship the God of heaven have only the worlds scorn and derision as their reward. We see this in the media where it is not uncommon to portray various religions in favorable and even admirable light, except for Christianity. Great care is given not to offend of demean any religion, but making sport of Christianity is accepted and often common place. The world is willing to defend the religious practices of other religions while remaining silent when christian practices and sensitivities are attacked. There was recently a case where one "pastor" was threatening to burn a copy of the Quran and there was outcries in the media and from governmental officials and even calls for his death for even considering such a proposal, yet when our military burned thousands of copies of the Christian Bible that had been sent oversees as gifts to service men, there was wasn't even a peep heard from the same ones who previously were fulled with outrage. It is on account of the Christians' belief and worship in one God, one God the creator of heaven and earth, that makes them hated throughout the world.

The truth is, however, that those who worship idols do them a greater injustice then the Christians who refuse to worship them at all. Mathetes retorts,
 "But do not ye yourselves, who now think and suppose [such to be gods], much more cast contempt upon them than they [the Christians do]? Do ye not much more mock and insult them, when ye worship those that are made of stone and earthenware, without appointing any persons to guard them; but those made of silver and gold ye shut up by night, and appoint watchers to look after them by day, lest they be stolen? " (Mathetes 2)
Those who worship idols treat them as if they are completely without power, as those who are either too contemptible to steal (such as those made of stone) or as those who cannot defend their own existence and must be protected from thieves (as those made of silver). If idols be god then let them guard and protect themselves. Only a god who is not real requires the defense of mankind to protect them from harm. I often wonder of those, who are so quickly moved to violence to protect the honor of their god at even the smallest slight, if they truly believe that their god is so impotent as to be incapable of defending their own honor. If your god is so powerful, let him be powerful and defend himself, but if not, then he is not a god at all!

Mathetes also points out that the method by which they server their idols also pours contempt out upon their idols.
"And by those gifts which ye mean to present to them, do ye not, if they are possessed of sense, rather punish [than honour] them? ... Let any one of you suffer such indignities! Let any one of you endure to have such things done to himself! But not a single human being will, unless compelled to it, endure such treatment, since he is endowed with sense and reason. A stone, however, readily bears it, seeing it is insensible." (Mathetes 2)
How can a god delight in being sprinkling with blood and having food cast before them unless they be gods lacking sense. None of us would sit for such treatment! How much less would a god of sense be displeased by this! Such worship is not honorable unless to one being honored is insensible. In all this, Mathetes shows that it is not the Christians that defame and show contempt for their idols but rather those very ones who worship them.

In truth, it is not the Christians who are atheists, as Athenagoras wrote,
"That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated,
eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being" (Athenagora, A Plea for the Christians, Chapter 10)
David Robison