Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ignatius to the Smyrneans - A motto to live by

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 begins his goodbyes.
"Ye have done well in receiving Philo and Rheus Agathopus as servants of Christ our God, who have followed me for the sake of God, and who give thanks to the Lord in your behalf, because ye have in every way refreshed them. None of these things shall be lost to you. May my spirit be for you, and my bonds, which ye have not despised or been ashamed of; nor shall Jesus Christ, our perfect hope, be ashamed of you." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 10)
Ignatius thanks the Smyrneans for receiving his friends that came to them in that they "refreshed" then in every way. When you've had a hard day, week, year, or life, where do you go to for comfort and refreshment?  Where do you go for love, understanding, and encouragement? Certainly we turn to our families and, hopefully, the Lord, but where else? Many who don't know the Lord may turn to their favorite bar, coffee shop, of illicit relationship, but as Christians, do we ever turn to the church? Unfortunately, for many, the church has ceased to be a place of refreshment. Far too often our churches have become simply a place to dispatch our weekly obligation or a dispensary for teaching and preaching. In becoming so we have lost hold of the human touch and the sharing of our lives together and the church, as a place of refreshing, has ceased to exist. We must remember that the church was created for us, not for God. God does not need a church to accomplish His will but we do. We need each other and the joy, love, and refreshment that flows from our relationship as believers in Christ. Our churches need to once again become a place for human interaction and refreshment.

Ignatius thanks the Smyrneans for their prayers; both for himself and the church he left behind.
"Your prayer has reached to the Church which is at Antioch in Syria. Coming from that place bound with chains, most acceptable to God, I salute all; I who am not worthy to be styled from thence, inasmuch as I am the least of them. Nevertheless, according to the will of God, I have been thought worthy [of this honour], not that I have any sense [of having deserved it], but by the grace of God, which I wish may be perfectly given to me, that through your prayers I may attain to God." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 11)
However, Ignatius'  thoughts are more for the church than for himself. He encourages the Smyrneans to send a delegation to Smyrna to rejoice with them over the peace that had come to them.
"In order, therefore, that your work may be complete both on earth and in heaven, it is fitting that, for the honour of God, your Church should elect some worthy delegate; so that he, journeying into Syria, may congratulate them that they are [now] at peace, and are restored to their proper greatness, and that their proper constitution has been re-established among them. It seems then to me a becoming thing, that you should send some one of your number with an epistle, so that, in company with them, he may rejoice over the tranquility which, according to the will of God, they have obtained, and because that, through your prayers, they have now reached the harbour." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 11)
As the church, not only are we given opportunities to refresh one another but also, from time-to-time, to refresh other churches as well. It is time we loose our denominational labels that only serve to separate us one from another. We are not Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, or Charismatics rather we are all Christians and brothers and sisters of one another. We may attend an Episcopal church but we are not Episcopalians but simply Christians. Only when we have removed what separates us can we begin to reach out and refresh each other, even church-to-church.

Ignatius leaves them this motto to live by.
"As persons who are perfect, ye should also aim at those things which are perfect. For when ye are desirous to do well, God is also ready to assist you." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 11)
It is time to put away smaller pursuits and to pursue the things of God, the things that are good, and the things that are perfect. If we want to be perfect, pursue the things that are perfect. If we want to be good, pursue the things that are good. If we want to be mediocre then pursue the mediocre.  The choice is our.

Finally, Ignatius solutes them goodbye.
"The love of the brethren at Troas salutes you; whence also I write to you by Burrhus, whom ye sent with me, together with the Ephesians, your brethren, and who has in all things refreshed me. And I would that all may imitate him, as being a pattern of a minister of God. Grace will reward him in all things. I salute your most worthy bishop, and your very venerable presbytery, and your deacons, my fellow-servants, and all of you individually, as well as generally, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in His flesh and blood, in His passion and resurrection, both corporeal and spiritual, in union with God and you. Grace, mercy, peace, and patience, be with you for evermore!" (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 12)
Ignatius encourages the Smyrneans to imitate those who have ministered (or served) well and to follow their example. We should learn to first look for "spiritual heroes" from among those around us.It is easy to be enamored by the ministry of some great man or woman somewhere else, but God has placed examples of godly men and women in our midst; these are the examples we should follow and seek to emulate.

Finally, he salutes a few close friends by name.
"I salute the families of my brethren, with their wives and children, and the virgins who are called widows. Be ye strong, I pray, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Philo, who is with me, greets you. I salute the house of Tavias, and pray that it may be confirmed in faith and love, both corporeal and spiritual. I salute Alce, my well-beloved, and the incomparable Daphnus, and Eutecnus, and all by name. Fare ye well in the grace of God." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 13)
Some believe that the reference to the "virgins" who were called "widows" refers to the deaconesses in the church. Great was the heart of Ignatius for the churches and the people who made up the churches.

This ends Ignatius' letter to the Smyrneans.

David Robison

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