Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Full-Grown Man - A Man of Knowledge

When writing to the Corinthian church, Paul addressed a problem that was going on in their church regarding speaking in tongues. He reminds the Corinthians to be mature in their thinking.
"Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature." (1 Corinthians 14:20)
An he directly applied this to their thinking about the scriptures and how they applied the word of God to themselves and their church.
"In the Law it is written, 'By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to me,' says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe." (1 Corinthians 14:21-22)
Paul's exhortation to them was that, when it came to the scriptures and their understanding and knowledge of them, they should no longer be babes but rather mature in their thinking. He exhorted them to grow up in their cognitive abilities to perceive, judge, and know the things of the scriptures and what they really say, not just what others have told them they say. They needed to grow up to the place where they could know and understand the scriptures for themselves, and that in a mature and rational way.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church, tells us why it is so important that we become mature in our thinking.
"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)
The English language does not do this scripture justice in bringing out all the wonderful color of the words Paul used to express his thought. Be that as it may, Paul was concerned about three types of deception that, if we remain as children in our minds, we might fall prey to.

First is the doctrine of the day. There will always be the latest thing, the newest idea, the present fad. However, if we follow after every "wind" of doctrine that comes around we will end up being tossed to and fro and will never make real progress in our walk in the Lord. Jumping on the latest bandwagon may get us into the "in crowd" but may also get us a ride where we do not want to do.

Secondly he warns us of the trickery of men, which literally means the fraud of dice-playing men. A fraud, in terms of doctrine, is purporting something to be true when it is in fact false or purposely twisting what is true so that it becomes false. Often this comes when someone purposely misrepresents or reinterprets the scriptures, replacing one word for another, in an attempt to make God's word say something that it does not.

Thirdly, he warns us of the craftiness in deceitful scheming, which literally means to fall prey to the sophicity of men as they work their plan to deceive. This is often the case, in reference to doctrine, when they present an explanation for the scriptures which seams plausible  yet their explanation fails to find agreement with the rest of the scriptures, the message of Jesus, and/or the teaching of the Apostles.

In all these cases the goal is to deceive. The word used here by Paul us a very interesting word. It is the same word from which we get our word for Planets. The early astronomers watched the sky and notices that each star carved its assigned arc through the sky. There were, however, a handful of other luminaries that would not keep to their assigned arc. Their traversal was erratic  out of line, departing from the way. These were called planets because they wandered from the truth. The goal of all deception is to get us to wander from the truth, to wander from truth into error. 

Paul's warns us that we might become mature in our thinking; that we might guard against such deception and keep ourselves in the right way. However, such maturity of thought does not come overnight nor without effort, discipline, and practice. The writer of Hebrews reminds us,
"Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Again, Darby renders it "solid food belongs to full-grown men." Becoming a man or woman of knowledge does not just happen, it takes concerted effort and time to develop the faculties of our mind to receive and understand the "solid food" of the gospel. Notice that the writer says first that developing our minds takes practice, or literally, use or habit. It is something that we must commit to. Knowledge rarely comes through serendipity  but rather is sought out, forged, and is the result of much work. We must also train our senses, that part of our mind where we form perceptions and judgments. The word for "train" is the Greek word from which we get our word "gymnasium" and latterly means to practice naked. We must exercise and train our minds towards righteousness; to discerning or judging between good and evil; we must practice thinking. Finally, notice that the entire context is in regards to the "word of righteousness." In the very next verse the writer says, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity." (Hebrews 6:1) again with a reference back to the word of righteousness and the teaching of the Christ. It is through this pursuit of knowledge and the training of our mind that we grow in our abilities and help to make ourselves mature that we might begin to partake of "solid food" and not just "milk".

One final thought, I've used the term knowledge meaning more than just static information, but rather knowledge that is made comparable with behavior, character, and thought. It is not enough to know truth, but we must live the truth for the truth to have any power and effect in our lives. Jesus, speaking of laying a foundation of truth in our lives says,
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall." (Matthew 7:24-27)
Notice that the only difference between the two groups of people was not what they heard but what they did with what they heard. Laying a foundation is not found in hearing truth but rather in living truth. True knowledge cannot exist outside of obedience. Knowledge, without incorporating that knowledge into our lives, is dead; it has not the power to change, equip, or strengthen us; it has become powerless in our lives. As we pursue knowledge let us always remember that we are pursuing more than just information, we are pursuing knowledge that we might live in the ways of truth.

David Robison

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Full-Grown Man - Introduction

Paul reminds us to "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. " (Ephesians 4:24) When we come to Christ we are made new; our old self passes away and all things become new. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Apostle John, in the apocalypse, also quotes Jesus as saying, "Behold, I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5 NKJV) As believers we are new creatures in Christ, yet Paul encourages us further to,
"Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." (Colossians 3:10)
So here's the question, if we have been made "new" then why do we need to be "renewed"? Why did God give us something new that was lacking and required to be renewed? If our new man was created in righteousness and holiness, then what more renewing must be required? What more must we be lacking? The answer is found in what it means to be made new and to be renewed.

The Greek word used in Colossians for "new" means to be recently born, young, or youthful. The word used for renew can also mean to cause to grow up. The understanding is that we are made new in Christ as babes; born again as babes that still need to grow up into the things of God. At our conversion, our new man is created in righteousness and holiness, yet is still remains for us to grow up into those things; to see them become realities, not just potentialities, in our lives. We can squander the gifts of righteousness and holiness given to us and remain babies all our lives, or we can grow up into the men and women God always intended us to be. We have been made new, yet Jesus still wants us to grow up.

The hope of Christ is that we would not always remain babes. Paul, speaking of the equipping ministries that God has given to the church, says that their ministry is to this end,
"For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12-13)
Darby translates this as, "until we arrive... at the full-grown man". God wants us all to be full-grow men and women of God; fully grown "to a true knowledge" of Him. So what does it mean to be a "full-grown man" or a "full-grown woman" of God. Over the next several posts we will look at what this means.

David Robison

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

This is the conclusion 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.

Following the death of Polycarp, a letter was circulated among  the churches detailing his death and the glory and grace of God that was displayed as he died. This eyewitness account details some of the miraculous signs that were performed by God on behalf of His servant Polycarp. I offer a brief synopses of this letter as a tribute to the man who was loved throughout the early church. I hope is is a blessing to you and an honor to God.

Philip Schaff, who translated this letter from Polycarp in the late seventeenth century, comments that, "Martyrdom was the habitual end of Christ’s soldiers" and Polycarp was no exception. The persecution of Christians was burning throughout the Roman empire and, with each new death, the blood lust of the Romans grew hotter and hotter. After the death of Germanicus, the people rose up and shouted for more.
"But upon this the whole multitude, marvelling at the nobility of mind displayed by the devout and godly race of Christians, cried out, 'Away with the Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out!' " (Martyrdom 3)
However, Polycarp was undisturbed and continued to remain in the city where he was. One night he had a dream that he believed to be a prophetic dream indicating that he too would one day be among the martyrs.

"There he stayed with a few [friends], engaged in nothing else night and day than praying for all men, and for the Churches throughout the world, according to his usual custom. And while he was praying, a vision presented itself to him three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he said to them prophetically, 'I must be burntalive.' " (Martyrdom 5)
It wasn't long before Polycarp was betrayed by a servant and his location found out. However, even when he knew that his time had come, he remained calm and at peace and even offered his captors a meal as he finished his prayers before continuing on to his death.
"So when he heard that they were come, he went down and spake with them. And as those that were present marvelled at his age and constancy, some of them said. 'Was so much effort made to capture such a venerable man?' Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they cared for, while he besought them to allow him an hour to pray without disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed, being full of the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours, to the astonishment of them that heard him, insomuch thatmany began to repent that they had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man." (Martyrdom 7)
It is hard for me to imagine what I might do if I were in Polycarp's place. However, it is often said that grace is given in the time it is needed. So it was with Polycarp. As he entered the stadium  the God he loved spoke to him from heaven.
"Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, 'Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!' No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice." (Martyrdom 9)
Polycarp was given many opportunities to renounce his Lord and to save himself, but he could not be dissuaded from his belief, loyalty, and love for God.
"Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, 'Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;' Polycarp declared, 'Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?'" (Martyrdom 9)
For eighty six years Polycarp had walked with and served his Lord. It was now his honor to die for Him. Polycarp ensured then that there was no need for them to secure him to the post with nails as his God would give him strength to endure the flames.
"But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said, 'Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.' " (Martyrdom 13)
The fire was lit and the people were amazed. In stead of burning, he was being baked; he was as gold glowing in a furnace. More than that, the smell of incense filled the stadium. He was truly an offering, a sweet smelling fragrance, to the Lord.
"For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour [coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there." (Martyrdom 15)
To the astonishment of his executioners, the flames could not harm him. However, instead of realizing that this was from God and repenting of their actions, they simply tried harder to dispatch this one called Polycarp.
"At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth ... a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished." (Martyrdom 16)
What quantity of life and love poured forth from his body, enough to vanquish the flames lit against him. What glory was given to God as the people saw the difference between their own lives and the lives of those that had been lived in submission to God; God making a difference between the believer and the unbeliever as he had also done so long ago between the Egyptians and the Land of Goshen.

The writer of this account of Polycarp's martyrdom concludes with this tribute to the  beloved Polycarp,
"He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as having been altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ. For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world." (Martyrdom 19)
May the life of Polycarp encourage us in our daily walk with God.

David Robison

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Polycarp 13 to 14 - Imagine no Scriptures

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.

Imagine being a church in need of some help and not having any scriptures to turn to. When these early writers spoke of "scriptures" they were referring to a loose collection of "Old Testament" writings. There were, at that time, no "New Testament," just a series of letters and memoirs that were circulated among the different churches.
"Both you and Ignatius wrote to me, that if any one went [from this] into Syria, he should carry your letter with him; which request I will attend to if I find a fitting opportunity, either personally, or through some other acting for me, that your desire may be fulfilled. The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord. Any more certain information you may have obtained respecting both Ignatius himself, and those that were with him, have the goodness to make known to us." (Polycarp 13)
It is a bit hard to understand what Polycarp meant when he said he would meet their request if he found an "opportunity" while at the same time meeting their request with the letter he was sending. My best guess is that Polycarp was saying that he was always willing to meet their requests for anything that would be helpful to them with the soonest fitting opportunity, such as he was with this letter and the others that are attached with it.

For the first several centuries, help for churches in need was provided by letter written by the Apostles and/or Bishops of that time. These letters were not seen as "scripture" but rather the kind help and wisdom of those whom were entrusted with the gospel. There was something very personal and relational in the interchange between the churches of this age.

In the last sentence, Polycarp asks for any additional information regarding his friend Ignatius. He, by this time, knew of his martyrdom but did not know any of the specific. He was obvious interested in knowing the particulars of his friend's final confession and the grace that was evident in his live as he was martyred for his faith; a touching tribute to his long time friend.

Polycarp ends his letter with a final closing.
"These things I have written to you by Crescens, whom up to the present time I have recommended unto you, and do now recommend. For he has acted blamelessly among us, and I believe also among you. Moreover, ye will hold his sister in esteem when she comes to you. Be ye safe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with you all.Amen." (Polycarp 14)
Without the pervasive means of communications that we enjoy, people traded on relationships and recommendations, and so it was with those whom Polycarp sent. With many of the impersonal helps available to us, it is easy for us to lose the relational aspects between ourselves and between our churches. However, it is my opinion that in this lose, we too suffer lose.

David Robison

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Polycarp 12 - The Privilege of the Scriptures

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 reminds the Philippian church to be remember the scriptures when faced with adversity.

"For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, 'Be ye angry, and sin not,' and, 'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.' Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you." (Polycarp 12)
It is unclear exactly what he means by the privilege "not yet granted" to him. My guess is that he is referring to the persecution that was occurring in the Philippian church and their privilege of taking their stand against it by the scriptures; "be angry and sin not," a persecution and a privilege that he was not presently experiencing.

Polycarp begins by acknowledging the importance of us being "well versed" in the scriptures. Here, specifically, Polycarp was referring to what we would call the Old Testament as it would be several hundred years before the writings and memoirs of the Apostles would be called "scripture." Paul also wrote of our need for the scriptures, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. " (1 Corinthians 10:11) and of the benefit the scriptures bring to our lives, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The role and benefit of the scriptures goes so much further beyond the simple formation of church dogma; it gives us wisdom and strength to live our lives and to overcome any adversity. John writes of the young men and women in the faith saying, "and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:14) I think there is a direct correlation between our working knowledge of the scriptures and our ability to overcome evil. We must all be "well versed" in the scriptures!

Polycarp continues by exhorting us to "Pray for all the saints." (Polycarp 12), but what should we pray for each other?
"But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, longsuffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who 'raised Him from the dead.' " (Polycarp 12)
He also exhorts us to pray for those in authority and for those who persecute us.
"Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that ye may be perfect in Him." (Polycarp 12)
The fruit he is referring to is the fruit of meekness, patience, and peace in the face of any adversity. Prayer and the Word of God, that is Polycarp's remedy for anything that might face us. It does not get any simpler than that.

David Robison

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Polycarp 11 - Those who stray

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 writes concerning a couple that used to be presbyters (or overseers) in the Philippian church.
"I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]. I exhort you, therefore, that ye abstain from covetousness, and that ye be chaste and truthful. 'Abstain from every form of evil.' For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen." (Polycarp 11)
It is unclear exactly what his sin was but many believe that is was incontinence  which is a polite way of saying sexual immorality. This could be why Polycarp urges the rest of the church to remain "chaste" and "truthful." It appears that, because of his sin, he was no longer in fellowship with the church and was subject to the judgments of those who were "outside". Polycarp goes on to affirm that such a stain of sin was not cast over the entire church but rather just upon one member.
"I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we [of Smyrna] had not yet known Him." (Polycarp 11)
It is important that the church be pure, that there be a contrast between then holy and the profane. If sin pervades the church then how will the sins of others stand in contrast to the purity of the rest. If the church is just like the world then how will separation from the church testify of the sinfulness of the one excluded? Separation from the church should be a visible representation of the separation from the truth that the sinner has chosen for themselves. While "we all stumble in many ways," (James 3:2) the church must never become a place where we shelter the practice of habitual sin.

Finally, Polycarp encourages the church not to be too harsh on the one who had sinned and to be willing to receive them back should they repent.
"I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be ye then moderate in regard to this matter, and 'do not count such as enemies,' but call them back as suffering and straying members, that ye may save your whole body. For by so acting ye shall edify yourselves." (Polycarp 11)
Our goal in the church should be that all should be saved and that none should be lost. Should someone stray from the truth, we should not "write them off" but rather continue to love them, pray for them, and call them back to the truth. Even if they should sin, they are still our family, our brothers and sisters, and we should rather that they return in repentance then be lost in their sins. We must let our compassion rule over our desire for judgment, desiring their restoration more than the receiving of their just deserts.

David Robison

Monday, January 21, 2013

Polycarp 10 - Love the Brotherhood

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.

Tertullian, in his writings against the heresy of Marcion, wrote this regarding the goodness of God.
"Here is another rule for him. All the properties of God ought to be as rational as they are natural. I require reason in His goodness, because nothing else can properly be accounted good than that which is rationally good; much less can goodness itself be detected in any irrationality. More easily will an evil thing which has something rational belonging to it be accounted good, than that a good thing bereft of all reasonable quality should escape being regarded as evil." (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 1, Chapter 23)
Tertullian contended that, not only was God good by nature, but He was also "rationally" good; that His goodness was displayed towards others as a result of His own purpose, plan, and will. His goodness had purpose and reason, it was not arbitrary or without an expected goal. As such, righteousness demands that God's goodness was extended to others in their proper order.
"But the due precedes the undue, as the principal quality, and more worthy of the other, for its attendant and companion. Since, therefore, the first step in the reasonableness of the divine goodness is that it displays itself on its proper object in righteousness, and only at its second stage on an alien object by a redundant righteousness over and above that of scribes and Pharisees." (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 1, Chapter 23)
Here Tertullian was speaking about then command of Christ to love our enemies. His contention was that, the righteousness of loving our enemies could only be properly shown after we first loved our friends and families; that it was a love that extended from the love we had for those to whom it was first due.

We often do not think of those to whom our love is first due, believing rather that we should love all equally, but we do see this idea expressed in the scriptures. Consider these following verses. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Timothy 5:8) "While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (Galatians 6:10) "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." (1 Peter 2:17)

It is clear that our love for the world should be an extension of our love for the brethren  If we love the world but neglect the love of the brethren, then our love has become unjust. Polycarp reminds us the always love the brotherhood and to live with each other in grace, mercy, and brotherly kindness.
"Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because 'alms delivers from death.' Be all of you subject one to another 'having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles,' that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct." (Polycarp 10)
When we love the world but neglect the brotherhood, the world takes notice and despises our love and blasphemes our God because of us. We must first practice love at home and then extend our arms outward to welcome others into the love we have for one another. Let us never neglect our brother or sister that is next to us as we reach out to extend that same love to the world.

David Robison

Friday, January 18, 2013

Polycarp 9 - Obedience and Patience

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's exhortation to the Philippians was to continue in obedience and patience.
"I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen [set] before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. [This do] in the assurance that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are [now] in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. (Polycarp 9)"
The writer of Hebrews put it this way, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:1) The Christian life can be difficult in that we are living for rewards that await us in heaven at the end of our lives; we are living for rewards that are far off in the future. Often the righteous choices that we make have no immediate reward, sometimes they may actually cause our lives to be more difficult in the moment, while we wait for a future reward of those choices. In striving for these rewards, faith is critical but is often not enough. The writer of Hebrews tells us to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12) Faith is often not enough to receive God's promises, sometimes it must be mingled with patience. It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises.

Along with patience, we must also understand that faith is not merely believing. Again the writer of Hebrews says, "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:18-19) He draws a direct link between unbelief and disobedience implying a similar link between faith and obedience. Obedience is the other side of the same coin that is faith. We can not have godly faith without also having obedience. Faith without obedience is dead faith; a faith that cannot lead us to inherit the promises of God.

The key to persisting in faith and patience is to find that which will motivate us over the long haul. Polycarp wrote of those who now compose the "great cloud of witnesses,"
"For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead." (Polycarp 9)
If we find motivation in this life we will be sorely disappointed. This world is temporal, fading away, and has nothing of everlasting value to offer us. Jesus, however, is eternal and His love for us was demonstrated in His willingness to die for us on the cross. If we set our hope, life, and desire on Christ we will never be disappointed and our love and gratitude towards Him will ever motivate us towards faith, patience, and even obedience.

David Robison

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Polycarp 8 - Our Hope of Righteousness

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 encourages us to continue in our hope of righteousness.
"Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, 'who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,' 'who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,' but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him." (Polycarp 8)
Some days we might not feel so righteous, and sometimes our righteousness seems so far away; we want to change but change seems to be taking much longer than we had hoped. In times like these we must persevere in hope, or as Paul put it, "do not grow weary of doing good." (2 Thessalonians 3:13) The reason for such overcoming hope is because our hope is not in ourselves; we are not trusting in our own strength, will, or desire. Our hope is not a reason but a person: Jesus Christ. We hope in righteousness because we trust in Jesus and we believe that He is "working in us that which is pleasing in His sight." (Hebrews 13:21)

This being the case, let us have patience.
"Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case." (Polycarp 8)
The suffering that was most pressing upon them was martyrdom and, while we might not face that on a daily basis, there are still other things that press down upon us; we all experience suffering in this life in our own way. Yet in all these things, because of our hope, we can have patience and still glorify God.

David Robison

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Polycarp 7 - Heresy and Orthodoxy

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.

Christians are not a monolithic group of people. While they share many beliefs and traditions in common, there are still several things in which they differed one from another. Some are a mater of preferences, for example, their choice of contemporary verses traditional styles of worship. Some are doctrinal issues, such as how and when they baptize people. However, with all these differences they are still "believers" and "Christians" and we would still call them brothers and sisters in Christ.

However, there are some things that are non-negotiable. Some beliefs that are so central to the Gospel that to deny them is to place yourselves out side of orthodoxy; to place yourself outside of Christianity. Polycarp identifies some of the central tenets of our belief.
" 'For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;' and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan." (Polycarp 7)
It is interesting that what Polycarp considers essential to our beliefs as Christians all relate to the person of Jesus. We can differ in many ways and even get many things wrong, but its important that our understanding and belief in the person of Jesus is sound and true.

Specifically, Polycarp mentions four truths about Jesus. First, He was born a man. He was not a phantom. He was not some spiritual aberration. He was fully man and fully God. He was God in human flesh. Secondly, He suffered and died on the cross for our sins. He was not insulated from the pain and suffering of His crucifixion nor did His "god-ness" escape just before His flesh died lest it too felt death. He suffered and died in our place; the righteous for the guilty so that the guilty may go free. Third, He was raised from the dead, not as a ghost, but bodily; He could be touched, held, and could eat. His resurrection gave proof of who he claimed to be, the Son of God, and gave us hope that we too will one day share in His resurrection. His resurrection also demonstrated the power that was within Him and that now also works in us to will and do His purpose. Forth, and finally, He will one day return to judge the living and the dead. We will all face judgement before His throne; some to everlasting life in His presence and some to everlasting judgement away from His presence.

Beyond this, most of the teachings of the Apostles are centered around how we should live towards one another and towards God. These are the central truths of the Gospel and Polycarp exhorts us to continue in them and in the things we have been taught.

"Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; 'watching unto prayer,' and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God 'not to lead us into temptation,' as the Lord has said: 'The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.' " (Polycarp 7)
Having believed, let us continue in God and in our pursuit of Him.

David Robison

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Polycarp 6 - A Good Work

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.

Paul, in writing of overseers, says, "The word [is] faithful: if any one aspires to exercise oversight, he desires a good work." (1 Timothy 3:1 Darby) In speaking of the characteristics that are befitting of overseers, Polycarp writes.
"And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always 'providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;' abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin." (Polycarp 6)
Polycarp is less concerned with the qualifications of a presbyter as he is with the character of a presbyter. The presbyters, or elders, were responsible for overseeing the church. However, instead of lording their authority over the church, they were called to serve the church. Jesus put it this way, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28) As servants of the church, they are to serve with compassion and mercy. They should also be slow to anger and free from hypocrisy. And in judgement they should to be just and gentle.

Polycarp also reminds us that, when facing someone else's sin, we should remember that we too are "under a debt of sin." As such, we must always remember to offer to others the same forgiveness we desire for ourselves.
"If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and 'we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself.' " (Polycarp 6)
Regardless of how we serve the Lord, we must serve Him with fear and reverence knowing that He sees all  and judges all; it is from Him that we shall receive the rewards of judgments of our service.
"Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]." (Polycarp 6)
We must remember that God will not be mocked; what we do in His name we should also do in His likeness. When we serve Him in a way that brings honor and glory to Him, we will be rewarded. However, if we serve Him in a way that dishonors His name and nature, then we shall receive His discipline.

The key to serving God with fear and reverence is to serve Him in the pursuit of what is Good.
"Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error." (Polycarp 6)
Pursue good, flea evil, and mark those who have not the love of the truth; these are the keys to serving God.

David Robison

Friday, January 11, 2013

Polycarp 5 - Mocking God with Unrighteousness

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.

Oftentimes, people learn of God by watching those who profess faith in God. This is why Polycarp wrote,
"Knowing, then, that 'God is not mocked,' we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory." (Polycarp 5)
To "mock" means not only to treat with contempt or ridicule, but also to imitate in a demeaning way, in a way that brings ridicule and derision to the one we are imitating. We are made in God's image and God Himself has said, "You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High." (Psalms 82:6) Our lives are meant to be an "imitation" of God; of His likeness and of His image. However, when we live our lives in unrighteousness and ingratitude, then our "imitation" is flawed and we bring ridicule to God. Our lives, instead of giving glory to God, serve only to mock Him.

God has called us "to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) To live a life that testifies to the righteousness of God; to live a life that reflects of His nature. This is true for all believers and especially for those who represent Him through service in His name. Specifically, Polycarp addresses the deacons of the church.
"In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all." (Polycarp 5)
In the early church deacons assisted with serving during the agape feasts and, afterwords, in taking leftover food to those who could not attend, to the sick, disabled, and the shut-ins. In their service they were the arms of God reaching out to others as we too are when we serve anyone in the name of the Lord. Along with theirs lives, our lives should reflect His righteousness, realizing that we are servants of God and not of men.

Polycarp reminds us of the reward that awaits those who thus serve God in this life.
"If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, 'we shall also reign together with Him,' provided only we believe."(Polycarp 5)
Faith and belief require more than a simple acknowledgment or mental assent to the truth, they require obedience. It is not enough to know and even believe the truth, we must also obey the truth. To those who live the truth in their lives on this earth, an eternal life in heaven awaits them as their reward.

Polycarp further enjoins both young men and young women to embrace a life of holiness and to live righteously before God and man.
"In like manner, let the young men also be blameless in all things, being especially careful to preserve purity, and keeping themselves in, as with a bridle, from every kind of evil. For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since 'every lust warreth against the spirit;' and 'neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,' nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ. The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience." (Polycarp 5)
Purity of conscience begins with purity of body. Those who believe that they and their culture have become "enlightened" because they have cast off previous sexual mores and have become "liberated" in their bodies have failed to learn that licentiousness has existed in every age past. There is nothing new with our "sexual revolution" nor the problems it brings to both cultures and individuals.

Righteousness demands purity; purity of body and purity of mind. Oftentimes this cannot be achieved except through the rejection of the things of this world. We mist "bridle" our lives to the truth in obedience to it. Righteousness does not just happen, it happens when we choose to obey the truth, when we choose God's word and His Kingdom over the world and the things it has to offer, when we abstain from this life that we might receive the life to come.

David Robison

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Polycarp 4 - Training for Righteousness

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.

Each of us faces a decision in life, whether to pursue the world and the things of the world or to pursue the Kingdom of God and the things of the Kingdom. Polycarp expressed it this way.
" 'But the love of money is the root of all evils.' Knowing, therefore, that 'as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out,' let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness;" (Polycarp 4)
To pursue the world and the things of the world most often involves the pursuit of money while the pursuit of the Kingdom cannot be separated from the pursuit of righteousness. However, Polycarp understood that righteousness does not just happen, it is something we must condition our lives for. Our lives do not naturally take to righteousness; it is something we must teach ourselves, and others, to understand, apprehend, and obey.
"and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord. Next, [teach] your wives [to walk] in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all [others] equally in all chastity; and to train up their children in the knowledge and fear of God." (Polycarp 4)
Righteousness starts in our own lives. We cannot teach others what we first have not learned and participated in with our own lives. The training in righteousness begins with ourselves then radiates through our families to the world around us; our lives, our families, then the world.

We also cannot miss the relationship between righteousness and love. When we learn righteousness then we learn to love others. In Ephesians, Paul writes of the "breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14) yet in 1st Thessalonians he tells us of the "breastplate of faith and love." (1 Thessalonians 5:8) and in Galatians he reminds us that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6) What Paul is trying to tell us is that Righteousness is Faith working through Love.

Finally, Polycarp reminds us to teach righteousness to all, especially to those within the church.
"Teach the widows to be discreet as respects the faith of the Lord, praying continually for all, being far from all slandering, evil-speaking, false-witnessing, love of money, and every kind of evil; knowing that they are the altar of God, that He clearly perceives all things, and that nothing is hid from Him, neither reasonings, nor reflections, nor any one of the secret things of the heart." (Polycarp 4)
Our teaching of righteousness must go beyond commands and even theory, but must be practical and easily applicable to our lives. Teaching that we cannot readily respond to is of little use to our lives. However, when we learn righteousness and how to apply it to our lives, and when we learn to express our faith through our love for God and those around us, then we will have begun down the pathway to holiness and righteousness with God.

David Robison