Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ignatius to the Ephesians - I'm like you

This is a continuation of my series on Ignatius and the seven letters he wrote while on his way to be martyred in Rome. If you are unfamiliar with Ignatius, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.

Ignatius always wrote in a self-effacing way.
"I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person. For though I am bound for the name [of Christ], I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I begin to be a disciple, and I speak to you as fellow-disciples with me." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 2)
Sometimes it seems that, in reference to himself, Ignatius writes as if he were a new believer, saying such things as "now I begin to be a disciple." However, we know he was a bishop which ensures us that he was not a novice but rather someone who had walked with God admirably for many years. We can justly assume that he was a man of great obedience to God, had great love for the brethren, and exemplified Christ to all he met. However, when he saw others he did not see himself as superior to them or lifted up above them in some way. Though he was a bishop, he did not use his position to "lord it over them." (Matthew 20:25) While he could have commanded then, he chose to speak to them as their brother.

Ignatius was also a man whom had given every thing to Christ; his obedience, his love, and his worship. However, he seems to have know that there was one thing missing, one thing he yet needed to offer up to God, and that was his breath. I think this is why he speaks of "beginning to be a disciple." He had reached the point in his life where all had been given to Christ and all that remained was for him to give his life as well. He was beginning a new phase of his life; he was beginning to become like his master in the final acts of his life; he was beginning to follow his Master to a like similar death as His. He was beginning to be a disciple. And in this new journey of his life he was thankful for the Ephesians.
"For it was needful for me to have been stirred up by you in faith, exhortation, patience, and long-suffering." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 2)
It was not that God's grace was insufficient, but rather that the Ephesians had been a part of God's grace, that God had used them to minister His grace to Ignatius in his time of need.

Finally, he reminds them that, though he could command them, yet he chooses to instruct them out of his love for them.
"But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that ye would all run together in accordance with the will of God." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 2)
Those who have come to know and understand who they are in Christ have no compulsion to order others around, as if they are their boss or their lord (with a small "l") and Ignatius was one of those men. His counsel and wish is that we would "run together" in accordance to the will of God. That will may be different for each of us, we may not all run the same race, but as we all "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1) then we will find ourselves running together in unity.

David Robison


  1. Anonymous10:56 PM

    I have not read Ignatius in a long time, so I am reading with you passage by passage without reading ahead. I appreciate his personal humility, but he still seems to establish the authority of the bishops as they said to be settled everywhere as bishops by the will of God.

    At least he can be so read by later readers. ~Tim Chastain

  2. Yes he places a lot of authority on the Bishops. Some things to remember, however, is that in that day the church was not homogeneous. You had the eastern church, the western church, and the Jewish church. Each was a little different based on the Apostles who established the church, and I think this includes the authority of the Bishop as well. I also think that the Bishop's authority as based on his consistency with the apostolic traditions and teachings. There were many threats to the early church and the Bishop represented an extension of the apostles. He taught and lived the things the apostles had taught him. His role was to stand and the final arbiter of what was apostolic and what was heresy. I don't think that they "lead" the church as we would consider today but were the ones entrusted by the apostles (or previous Bishops) to ensure that the apostolic teachings were preserved and communicated to the rest of the church.

    I would be interested to hear if you and any further thoughts.