Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ignatius to the Philadelphians - Reject the Jewish Law

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 new his own weaknesses and the areas where he needed God's grace that he might complete his appointed task and, to this end, he asks for the prayers of the saints at Philadelphia.
"My brethren, I am greatly enlarged in loving you; and rejoicing exceedingly [over you], I seek to secure your safety. Yet it is not I, but Jesus Christ, for whose sake being bound I fear the more, inasmuch as I am not yet perfect. But your prayer to God shall make me perfect, that I may attain to that portion which through mercy has been allotted me, while I flee to the Gospel as to the flesh of Jesus, and to the apostles as to the presbytery of the Church. And let us also love the prophets, because they too have proclaimed the Gospel, and placed their hope in Him, and waited for Him; in whom also believing, they were saved, through union to Jesus Christ, being holy men, worthy of love and admiration, having had witness borne to them by Jesus Christ, and being reckoned along with [us] in the Gospel of the common hope." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 5)
In his fight with weakness, he turned to the same sources of strength that we turn to today; the words of Jesus, the teachings of the Apostles, and the prophesies of the prophets. For thousands of years, these truths passed down to us have served to strengthen millions of weary sojourners.

Ignatius also encourages them to reject the Jewish law in favor of Christian doctrine.
"But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 6)
There were those who, in Ignatius' day, sought to bring Christian believers back under the yoke of Judaism;  to the obedience of the law and the observance of days and seasons. However, Ignatius understood that, through the Gospel, we were called to be "Christian" not "Jewish". Worse yet, such teaching, and pressuring people to return to Jewish traditions, could only serve to divide, not unite, the church.
"Flee therefore the wicked devices and snares of the prince of this world, lest at any time being conquered by his artifices, ye grow weak in your love. But be ye all joined together with an undivided heart. And I thank my God that I have a good conscience in respect to you, and that no one has it in his power to boast, either privately or publicly, that I have burdened any one either in much or in little. And I wish for all among whom I have spoken, that they may not possess that for a testimony against them." (Ignatius to the Philadelpihians, Chapter 6)
In previous visit to Philadelphia, not knowing the division that remained hidden beneath the surface, Ignatius exhorted them to unity, the very thing that would prove to be the remedy to their problem.
"For though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit, as being from God, is not deceived. For it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and detects the secrets [of the heart]. For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I got no intelligence from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father." (Ignatius tom the Philadelphians, Chapter 7)
Some accused Ignatius of knowing in advance what was going on and preaching directly to the subverters, but in reality, it was just the Holy Spirit intervening to prevent harm to His church. God desires unity in His church and is grieved at our divisions. Something that must still greatly grieve His heart today.

David Robison

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