Monday, April 22, 2013

Ignatius to Polycarp - 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.

Polycarp was the younger friend of Ignatius and they has both been disciples of John the apostle. In a final letter to his friend, Ignatius pours out his heart to Polycarp and encourages him to stay the course and to finish strong in the Lord.
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrn├Žans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: [wishes] abundance of happiness." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Greetings)
Ignatius, in all his letters, always speaks of the bishops of the church in elevated terms. However, he understood that a true bishop had both the Father and the Son as his own bishop. It is dangerous to follow a man who is not following Christ, or to submit to human authority when that authority is not submitted to God. Polycarp's authority as a bishop did not come through apostolic succession but through his submission to God. It was because of this submission, and the gentle character of his christian life, that Polycarp was qualified and ordained as the bishop of Smyrna. Succession is never enough to legitimizes the ecclesiastical authority or anyone, they must also demonstrate that they possess the likeness of Christ.
"Having obtained good proof that thy mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock, I loudly glorify [His name] that I have been thought worthy [to behold] thy blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat thee, by the grace with which thou art clothed, to press forward in thy course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain thy position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity, than which nothing is better." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 1)
Ignatius loved his friend Polycarp and, while Ignatius' ministry was coming to its grand conclusion, Polycarp's was still ascending to greatness. One day he too would join Ignatius as a martyr for Christ, but for now his ministry was still growing and developing. Ignatius encouraged him to press on to the end even as his own ministry was coming to and end. He encouraged Polycarp to not loose heart as his own pending martyrdom  but to be fully committed to what God had called him to do and to fulfill his ministry on to the end. Ignatius reminds him that in maintaining his ministry he was contributing to the salvation of all who might be saved. His calling was not for himself, to exalt and bring glory to himself, but was for others, to support and encourage them on to salvation.

Ignatius continues by encouraging Polycarp to be active in his ministry and calling.
"Bear with all, even as the Lord does with thee. Support all in love, as also thou doest. Give thyself to prayer without ceasing. Implore additional understanding to what thou already hast. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to every man separately, as God enables thee. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labour is great, the gain is all the more." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 1)
Ignatius reminds him of two things. First, to treat others as Christ treats him. The one who is forgiven can forgive others. The one who has received mercy and forbearance from God can give it to his fellowman. Even when we are exhaled to places of ministry and authority, we are still no better than those we serve. We are still beset with weaknesses and temptations. The same mercy, forgiveness, and grace we receive from God for our weaknesses we must be willing to extend to others in their weaknesses. Secondly, he reminds him that all labor, while requiring effort and often sacrifice, produces gain and the more the labor the more the gain. King Solomon put it like this, "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox." (Proverbs 14:4) Where there is no labor there is no mess but there is also no gain. Many of the things in the Kingdom of God do not come to those who sit by and wait for them, they require faith, patience, and effort. What God had called Polycarp to achieve would take effort on his part and the same is true with us. We must learn to labor with God if we are to see the promises of God come to pass in our lives.

David Robison

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