If you haven’t been following this series, it begins with Ignatius’ introduction 3 or 4 posts ago on June 28.
The Text of Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians 2
We’re on chapter 2 today. It reads as follows:
As to my fellow-servant Burrhus, your most blessed deacon in all things pertaining to God, I
plead with you to let him stay longer, both for your honor and your bishop’s. Also, Crocus—who is worthy of both God and you and whom I have received as a sign of your love—has refreshed me in every way, just as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will also refresh him together with Onesimus [the bishop mentioned in chapter 1], Burrhus, Euplus, and Fronto. Through them I have beheld all your love.
May I always have joy from you, if I am truly worthy of it. Therefore, it is fitting that you should glorify Jesus Christ in every way, for he has also glorified you. Glorify him so that by a unanimous obedience "you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, in the same judgment, and may all speak the same things concerning the same thing" [1 Cor. 1:10]. Be subject to the bishop and the elders so that you may be sanctified in every way.
My blogs are always way too long. We’re going to keep them shorter and spend several days on chapter 2, so that we can cover deacons in this post, elders and bishops in another, unity in a third, and maybe a couple others like glorifying Jesus Christ through obedience.
But for today, let’s stick to just deacons.
Ranting About Deacons
Deacons are a pet peeve of mine because there’s no such thing.
Let me explain.
The German word for table is tisch. If I were translating a German document, wherever I came across the word tisch, I would write "table."
But let’s say that I was translating a religious document, and the table being talked about was the table of show-bread in the temple. Let’s also say that because I thought that table was exceptionally holy, I didn’t want to call it a table like all other tables. Not knowing what to do, I choose to simply leave the German word tisch untranslated, and I call this one table a "tish."
Over time, as everyone came to call that table a tish, they could easily end up thinking that the document I translated had a special word for table—that it didn’t use the ordinary word for table but some special word.
That is what has happened with the word deacon.
The Greek word diakonos is found in the New Testament 29 times. The word diakoneo is found 32 times. Diakonos is almost exclusively translated "servant" in modern translations and "minister" or "servant" in the KJV. Similarly, diakoneo is translated "serve" almost exclusively.
The exception is 1 Timothy 3, where translators have decided that because it is an "office" of the church, it ought not to be translated servant.
So they left diakanos untranslated as "deacon" twice and diakoneo as "serve as deacon" or "use the office of deacon" three times.
I think that’s wrong, and I really don’t think it’s honest, either.
The Office of Servant
There was an office in the church called "servant," and you had to qualify to be one.
Do you want to bring food to the sick? You had to qualify. Did you want to be on the finance committee, collecting money from the saints and spending it to feed the poor, the widows, and some of the church leaders? You had to qualify. You had to be noted for your walk with the Lord in order to serve in such a position.
Qualifying to Serve
In Acts chapter six we read that there was some conflict in the church about the support of the widows. The apostles didn’t have time to handle it, so they asked the church to pick out seven men that they could put in charge of feeding the widows.
What qualifications did they ask for?
Was it a good business sense? A feel for diplomacy? Compassion for widows? A desire for ministry? A soft heart?
None of those things. Instead they asked for …
- A good reputation
- Filled with the Spirit
- Filled with wisdom
Obviously, Paul felt the same way. If you wanted to be a servant in Ephesus (where Timothy was receiving Paul’s letter), then you needed to be serious, straightforward, not greedy, pure in conscience, and understanding the mystery that is our faith. And you had to have enough experience in Christ to have a "blameless" reputation.
And this was to qualify to serve on the finance committee or to feed widows and orphans.
God takes his service seriously.
To be a servant, you have to meet the qualifications given above.
To be a widow, you had to meet qualifications as well.
In the early church, the widows and virgins were a force for God. They performed all sorts of services for the church. In return, they were supported—read fed and sheltered—by the church.
Some of their service is mentioned. She "trusts in God," "continues in supplications and prayers night and day," "washed the saints’ feet," and "relieved the afflicted."
In fact, if she wasn’t known for good works prior to being widowed, she wasn’t allowed to be brought on the church’s roll.
Having Standards Higher than God’s
This is completely off the subject of this post, but since we’ve wandered close to it, I want to address it.
I’ve have a lot of interaction with Mennonite or Mennonite-influence Evangelicals (I like to call them half-Mennonites) over the last 20 years. Their churches—as well as other descendants of the Anabaptists like the Amish, German Brethren, and Hutterites—usually have what they call "standards."
I remember talking to a bishop of a Christian community here in Tennessee. He was from an Amish background, and his community had Amish-style standards. One of them was that belts were not allowed; suspenders had to be worn to keep the pants up.
This particular bishop was a truly great man and great Christian, an unusually godly, kind, and wise man, so he was very open and friendly talking to me, even though there was no other reason than friendship for him to let me question him.
I asked him whether he really would refuse to break bread with and fellowship with someone just because he wore a belt. Does God really care about such things?
He told me that it’s a simple fact among Anabaptist communities that if you start letting standards go, the whole community begins wandering away from God … usually very quickly.
While I have the utmost respect for this bishop, who has since died, and while I understand his difficult position, I can’t agree with him. If the community is going to backslide because they enter into fellowship with people who wear belts, then they are not being made holy by God. They’re being made holy by rules, and by rules that are not instituted by God nor by Jesus Christ, Lord and Head of the Church.
I talked to another man just a couple days ago whose church requires their pastors to believe and teach a pre-trib rapture.
Is it any wonder that Christians are split into tens of thousands of denominations?
We have no idea of the importance of unity. Today, we have forgotten it.
Obviously Ignatius hadn’t forgotten it back in A.D. 107. He mentions glorifying Jesus by a unanimous obedience that causes us to have the same judgment and say the same things.
Unity, according to our Lord—think about it, our Lord, and thus our Commander—Jesus Christ, is what will cause the world to believe that he’s really from God …
Nor do I pray for these alone, but also for those who shall believe in me through their Word, that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. (Jn. 17:20-21)
Together we can know the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:16), and we need to know the mind of God. It is only in Christ’s mind that we can be united. We will never be able to be brought together around the traditions of men.
More later when we get to the end of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, chapter two.