Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ignatius to Polycarp - The times call for you

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 reminds Polycarp that, while we will not always be loved by all men, we are called to love all men.
"If thou lovest the good disciples, no thanks are due to thee on that account; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome. Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster. Mitigate violent attacks [of disease] by gentle applications. Be in all things 'wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.' For this purpose thou art composed f both flesh and spirit, that thou mayest deal tenderly with those [evils] that present themselves visibly before thee. And as respects those that are not seen, pray that [God] would reveal them unto thee, in order that thou mayest be wanting in nothing, but mayest abound in every gift." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 2)
It is easy to love those who love us, it is harder to love those who hate us. It is easy to love the lovely, it is harder to love the unlovely. Anyone can love their friend, but true love is measured by the degree to which we can love all people, even those who reject us and stand in opposition to us. As believers we are called to love all people, even those whom it may be difficult to love.

Ignatius also reminds Polycarp that people are different. The remedy suitable for one may not be appropriate for another. For one, gentleness may be in order, but for another, open rebuke. In each case wisdom from God is needed to know how to love each one back to God and back to the good order that is beneficial for their relationships with God and mankind.

Finally, Ignatius reminds Polycarp that not everything is as it seems. "The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after." (1 Timothy 5:24) We must be watchful in prayer that we might know the truth of things and not just their appearance.

Ignatius also exhorts Polycarp that this was his time.
"The times call for thee, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both thou [and those under thy care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before thee is immortality and eternal life, of which thou art also persuaded. In all things may my soul be for thine, and my bonds also, which thou hast loved." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 2)
None of us live by chance, rather we have been appointed to this time by God and it is incumbent upon us to find out for what purpose we have been placed here and in this time. It was said of King David, "David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers." (Acts 13:36) May the same be said of us, that, having fulfilled what God placed us here to do that we then departed to our reward in heaven. However, first the fulfillment, then the reward. This is not always easy and, at times, may even be painful, yet it yields great rewards.
"Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill thee with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 3)
God never promised that we would not suffer, in fact, we should expect it. "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:21) Discipline, labor, and suffering are all part of the Christian's walk, yet along with it there is grace, love, and communion with God. We must simply accept it, stand courageously in the face of it, and allow it to have its perfect work in our lives, working that which God desires to work in us.

The key to accepting and enduring the difficult times in life is remembering for whom's sake we are suffering.
"Be ever becoming more zealous than what thou art. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 3)
We were never meant to live this christian walk on our own but to be strengthened by the indwelling of God by His Spirit within us. It is God who is our strength and our joy and our delight. We can trust Him to become all thing to us according to our need and to carry us by His power and strength through what ever and where ever He leads us. Our hope and confidence in Him will never be disappointed.

David Robison

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