Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ignatius to the Philadelphians - Greetings

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 opens his letter to the Philadelphians by greeting them in the Lord and by introducing one of his favorite subject; unity.
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which is at Philadelphia, in Asia, which has obtained mercy, and is established in the harmony of God, and rejoiceth unceasingly in the passion of our Lord, and is filled with all mercy through his resurrection; which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if [men] are in unity with the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Greetings)
Ignatius reminds the church at Philadelphia that those who have authority in the church are appointed by the will of God and of His Holy Spirit. The bishop, presbytery  and deacons, while appointed my men, are appointed by those who sought the wisdom, counsel, and will of God in their selection. They were not, or at least should  not have been, selected for personal or political reasons but rather only in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Such men, not only are appointed according to the mind of Christ, are also confirmed, aided, and established in their appointment by God's grace and power. Such an appointment was the bishop of Philadelphia.
"Which bishop, I know, obtained the ministry which pertains to the common [weal], not of himself, neither by men, nor through vainglory, but by the love of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ;" (Ignatius to the Philadelphians  Chapter 1)
The role of the bishop was not to do the "work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12 NKJV) but to serve for the common welfare of the church. Such was the service of the bishop of Philadelphia, but what is most interesting about him was not what he did but who he was.
"at whose meekness I am struck with admiration, and who by his silence is able to accomplish more than those who vainly talk. For he is in harmony with the commandments [of God], even as the harp is with its strings. Wherefore my soul declares his mind towards God a happy one, knowing it to be virtuous and perfect, and that his stability as well as freedom from all anger is after the example of the infinite meekness of the living God." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 1)
Ignatius knew the bishop and admired him for his character and the strength of his example. The bishops were to teach the apostolic truths, the "apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:24 NKJV), but the bishop of Philadelphia taught them, not only with words, but also by examples. His life taught the apostolic truths and the message of Christ even when his lips were silent. What most eminently qualified him for the bishopric was not how well he taught, not how well he quoted scriptures, not his personality, and not even his leadership skills, but it was his character; it was his likeness to Christ.

It is unfortunate today that we often look on the outward appearances of a man to discern his calling; his "polish", his energy for "service", his leadership skills, his personality, his ability to "get-the-job-done". However, what is of real importance is what is on the inside, their conversion to Christ and their inward "harmony with the commandments of God." These are the things we should consider first. These are the things that make a man and/or woman of God.

David Robison


  1. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I enjoyed the journey through the Letter to the Romans and anticipate your comments on Philadelphia. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. While we may not agree on all points I always value your comments and thoughts. David