Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp
Ignatius like Polycarp comprised part of the band of disciples after the apostles. They are known as the “Apostolic Fathers” the bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the apostle John
While Ignatius highly esteems Polycarp and feels privileged to behold him, nevertheless he commends and exhorts the bishop of Smyrna for many things. Polycarp is commended for his steadfastness in the faith and is exhorted to be constant in evangelism, diligent in intercessions, focused on church unity, winsome in his speech, sober as God’s athlete who awaits his eternal reward. Moreover, Polycarp is exhorted to consider the times and zealously contend for the faith, which is being challenged with false doctrine.
Polycarp now focuses on household codes. Concerning widows, they are to be nurtured, protected and befriended. Concerning slaves, both male and female are to be treated with dignity. If marriage is to honor God, it must be patterned after Christ’s relationship with his church, and the husband/wife union must have the bishop’s approval. To heed the bishop results in God heeding the flock, the goal of which is the unity of the body. Finally, Polycarp is exhorted to appoint a Messenger in Antioch for the work of the gospel.
This is definitely not business as usual. Note the preoccupation Ignatius reveals with eternal issues in correspondence to the Great Commission (MT. 28:18-20):
“18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
To accomplish Christ’s command, Ignatius understood the urgent need for Polycarp to practice the things exhorted (i.e., evangelism, intercessions, church unity, gracious speech, etc.)
It’s uncanny how relevant this letter was then and is so today. These exhortations are pointed, concise, and conspicuously God centered. Christians would do well to pattern their discipleship according to this brief powerful letter.