Monday, February 11, 2013

Ignatius to the Ephesians - Whats in a Name

Ignatius opens his letter with a greeting to the Ephesians,
"To the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled grace." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Prelude)
Ignatius reminds them of the source of their great blessing and happiness in God, that it flows from both the the greatness and fullness of the Father and the pain and suffering of the Son. The truth is that one leads to the other. God in His greatness sent His Son to endure the "true passion" of death that He might forgive us of our sins and that we might be reconciled back to God. God is great and merciful and just, but without the passion of Christ we would never have come to know Him in His greatness.

It appears that Ignatius never actually visited Ephesus, yet he had heard of them and of their faith in God.
"I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God, which ye have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Saviour." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 1)
The church at Ephesus was known among the other churches and had established a name for herself. Today, many of us want to establish names for our own churches. We try to do this through the quality of worship we provide, by the depth of the teaching we receive, or even by the degree of supernatural power in our midst. However, the Church at Ephesus achieved a name for themselves through the habit of righteousness. It was not based on anything the church did, anything they offered, or by any display of power, but their name was great among the other churches because of their surpassing righteousness which was theirs by habit and perpetual use. Would that this too would be the reason for our name being great among the churches of God.

The church at Ephesus, upon hearing that Ignatius was passing through on his way to be martyred, sent a delegation to him to encourage him by their love for him.
"Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you. For, on hearing that I came bound from Syria for the common name and hope, trusting through your prayers to be permitted to fight with beasts at Rome, that so by martyrdom I may indeed become the disciple of Him 'who gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God,' ye hastened to see me." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 1)
The world they lived in hated Christians in general and Ignatius in particular. However, instead of being ashamed of Ignatius, and instead of trying to distance themselves from Him and His type, the flew to his side, to comfort him, to love him, and to identify with him in the eyes of the world. When a christian is being maligned by the world it is not a time for us to cower and draw away; being afraid to stand up and to be counted with our brother or sister lest we too feel the wrath and hatred of the world. Rather it is time to be "imitators of God", which is what is literally meant by "followers of God", and to do the works of God and to love one another.

Along with the delegation was the venerable Bishop of Ephesus, a man named Onesimus.
"I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 1)
It is quite probable that this was the same Onesimus that was once, as a slave, useless to his master, but who became useful to Paul and traveled with him and learned from him. It is also evident that he was a man of great godly character as Ignatius notes of him that he was a man of "inexpressible love." What a statement of character, righteousness, and holiness. Oh that we could all be known as men and women of inexpressible love!

Ignatius has much to say about the roles of the bishop in the church, as we will see in the letters we will be studying but, for the moment, suffice it to say that here Ignatius presents us with our first insight into the role of the bishop. Notice that the bishop is given to the church, not the church to the bishop. The bishop is given to encourage, teach, and watch over the church, not the church to serve the bishop. I don't know when things changed but sometimes it seems that we expect the church to serve our leaders  We may not say that out loud, but its our leaders vision and mission that we are expected to serve. We expect loyalty and honor to be shown to leaders regardless of whether or not they have proven themselves worth of such loyalty and honor. Leaders are to serve not be serve, as even Jesus said of Himself, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)

David Robison


  1. Anonymous10:15 PM

    Hi David. Though I greatly anticipated your series on Ignatius after you announced it, it seems that I have come late to the party. As it happened, a huge, urgent, and unexpected project has taken almost all of my available time starting just as the series began.

    Tonight I enjoyed your first installment and I agree with your observaton that our church leaders often seem to expect to be served by the church rather than serving the church.

    We will see how far I am able to catch up to your posts! ~Tim Chastain

  2. Thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy the series. I also would be very interested in any thought you have as we go along. David