Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ignatius to the Ephesians - Sick men of sick faith

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 warns the Ephesian church of those who would lead them astray; of those who were teaching a counterfeit gospel.
"For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom ye must flee as ye would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom ye must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 7)
There were many in that day that were preaching an alternative gospel. They had their own bishops, their own meetings, and even their own love (agape) feasts, yet when you looked closely at their lives they were still enslaved to sin and the deprivation of the flesh. Worse yet, some of them even incorporated their vile lusts into their doctrines; giving them religious cover as if such acts were pleasing and acceptable, or at least indifferent, to God. Such men were not only sick in their faith but also sick within themselves; they were sick in their hearts. However, Ignatius goes on to remind the Ephesians that, even thought we were once like them, we do have a physician that heals.
"There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible,— even Jesus Christ our Lord." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 7)
The words Ignatius chooses to describe our eternal physician were not only meant to be beautiful and inspiring but also to refute those who claimed another Jesus; one who was not human, did not have a physical body, could not suffer, and was not born of man. He was truly "God existing in flesh!"

While some churches were struggling with these apostles of darkness and their teachings, Ignatius was confident of the Ephesians.
"Let not then any one deceive you, as indeed ye are not deceived, inasmuch as ye are wholly devoted to God. For since there is no strife raging among you which might distress you, ye are certainly living in accordance with God’s will." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 8)
Ignatius' confidence in the Ephesians, and their ability to resist the trouble of the false teachers, was based on the harmony and unity that existed in the Ephesian church. Ignatius knew what James wrote, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." (James 3:16) The doctrine of God is peaceable, but when false doctrine is admitted into the church, there is disorder, strife, envy  and every evil thing.

Finally, Ignatius reminds them that the things of the spirit can only be accomplished by those who are of the spirit.
"They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But even those things which ye do according to the flesh are spiritual; for ye do all things in Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 8)
Those who are in the flesh can only act according to the flesh, however, those who are in the spirit, even what they do in the flesh is done in the spirit. Those in the flesh cannot do the things of the spirit, but those in the spirit, everything they do is spiritual. Our whole life is spiritual. Even our jobs and our responsibilities, when done in Jesus Christ, are no longer mere maters of the flesh but are truly spiritual and acceptable to God. Nothing we do is any longer carnal but all things are spiritual.

David Robison


  1. Anonymous4:08 PM

    If you mean that Ignatius was referring to early gnostics, that is likely since, after all, he was writing to Ephesus.

    The gnostics had mistaken ideas about Jesus, and I do not believe they had access to secret teachings passed on from Jesus, but I also do not believe they were as evil as Ingatius suggests. They were, at least some of them, genuine bleivers in Jesus. Some of the issues that concerned them, such as the angry, violent god of the OT, were legitimate, though their solutions were not satisfactory.

    Another thing that horrified them, especially a bit later, was the way that orthodox bishops encouraged people to give themselves unnecessarily up for martyrdom, of which Ignatius is a prime model.

  2. I would be interested in understanding what you think of the "angry, violent god" of the OT and what solution you would propose. The Gnostic's solution was to declare a new god; the god of the New Testament; something contrary to the scriptures and teachings of the apostles.

    Also, the nothing in the early writings would suggest that anyone encouraged believers to give themselves up unnecessarily to martyrdom. However, the Gnostics felt it was OK to deny their faith if necessary to spare themselves form death, something a true Christian would not do.

  3. Anonymous1:57 PM

    Early Christians did come to glorify martyrdom, and the Bishops and those who promoted a culture of martyr stories were a big part of it. I agree with those who were dismayed that Christians were encouraged to seek opportunities for martydom.

    Regarding the angry, violent God of the Old Testament, I have a post at that addresses this issue if you wish to read it. I would be interested in your response.