This is the First Lessons From Dead Guys blog of the year. I have been slacking and for that I apologize! I have been working to line up the next several episodes for the podcast and have not given the time to keep this blog series up to my original goal. All that being said, starting next month this blog and podcast will be on a concrete schedule. There will be a new episode of the podcast on the first and third weeks of the month and a new blog post on the second and fourth weeks. This will give me the time to grow both platforms and allow them to become what I originally envisioned!
Now on to Saint Ignatius!
St. Ignatius(I wish my name was that cool) lived during the first century and was a student of the Apostle John. He lived a life completely devoted to Christ and to building up the Church. Interestingly tradition states that he was one of the small children Jesus hugged and blessed when teaching his disciples that they must become like little children in order to inherit the Kingdom of God(Mt. 18:3). He became the third Bishop of Antioch and was eventually sentenced to death by the Roman Emperor Trajan for refusing to sacrifice to idols in celebration of Rome’s military conquest over the Scythian’s. He wrote several letters that have been preserved, to various church’s which includes the church in Rome and Ephesus, that give us a good commentary on several areas of the early church.
As I was reading through his letter to the church in Ephesus one particular line stood out to me. Which is no surprise given that over the course of the last few years Holy Spirit has been opening my heart to the non-violent truth that is foundational to the Gospel and pivotal to how the early church lived in the face of war and violence.
“Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.”
-St. Ignatius (Epistle to the Ephesians)
So often in my life, and so many of the sermons I have heard, the concept of peace is minimized and contorted. The theme of peace is littered throughout the scriptures and especially in the New Testament. We preach the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15). We are called to seek and pursue peace (1 Peter 3:11). Harvests of righteousness are sown in Peace (James 3:18). We worship the Prince of Peace (Romans 15:33). The Fruit of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22). These verses are not just talking about some form of idiocentric inner peace. They are talking about a peace unlike that which the world gives. A peace that is so strong that it can beat swords into plows and tanks into tractors (Isaiah 2:4). A peace that is motivated by the pure love of God. A peace that brings ALL war to an end. Is that not amazing?
Right before the particular quote Ignatius is encouraging the church to always meet and build each other up in unity. It is this unity, founded in love, that shapes a people into the new society that Jesus inaugurated. It is this unity that creates a community of people who would rather die than leave the peaceable Kingdom of God behind. Ignatius gives us a look into the working of the early church that builds on the foundation of the Apostles and what it means to be Kingdom people. The powers of Hell and empire are dismantled before the unyielding love and unity of the Kingdom of God. All of this is set up by Ignatius reminding the church in Ephesus about how we must respond to the cruelty and violence of unbelievers;
“And pray without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be stedfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord (who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?), that so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but you may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit.”
St. Ignatius (Epistle to the Ephesians)
I could not have said it better myself! Ignatius appears to connect the “plant of the Devil” directly to the violent actions of unbelievers and that we must remain in holiness and sobriety from the blood drunk violent ways of the world. We are Kingdom people and the living peace of God dwells in our very being! We so desperately need to return to the roots of the Gospel and allow Holy Spirit to lead us down the narrow path of sowing peace that “brings all war to an end.”