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Christianity Life Theology

Thursday Patristics.

We are continuing with Polycarp. I’m quoting from a blog that is a commentary on his letter, particularly about Valens, an elder in the church, who hs fallen away. This could have been for economic or social reasons.

Members of the Philippian church met with Ignatius. The citizens of Philippi had previously been viewing the Christians as odd and socially different, but they weren’t concerned about it as long as they were good citizens. After, however, seeing their joyous association with and great respect for an anti-Roman prisoner who had been sentenced to death, public opinion of Christians in Philippi took a nose dive, especially among the Roman elite. Ignatius left Philippi, accompanied by a few members of the Philippian church for the next ten days. Before they parted, Ignatius dictated a second letter to Polycarp. The members of the Philippian church returned to Philippi on September 23.

In the weeks following Ignatius’ visit, Valens received serious social pressure to stop associating with the Christians. Valens and his wife gave in to the pressure and denied the faith in order to preserve their wealth and social status. Other Christians in Philippi also faced economic consequences during these weeks. Some would have been merchants, just like Lydia, the first Philippian Christian. It was not economically profitable to be identified as a Christian in the Philippian marketplace. Some were facing the same temptation as Valens, to deny Christ in order to stay in business. Others may have feared that worse persecution was on the horizon.

This is the situation that the church in Philippi was facing when it wrote to Polycarp. Since Ignatius passed through town, Christians in Philippi were suffering economically. The Philippian church wrote to Polycarp, informing him of this situation and asking him for advice: “What does righteousness look like in our situation?”

As someone who has been criticised and called unfit to hold my job because of my faith, this resonates. But you can always get new friends and a new job. You cannot find a new saviour. There is but one.

Chapter 11.
I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]. I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful. Abstain from every form of evil. For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgement of the Lord? Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world? as Paul teaches. But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we [of Smyrna] had not yet known Him. I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be then moderate in regard to this matter, and do not count such as enemies, but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body. For by so acting you shall edify yourselves.

Chapter 12.
For I trust that you are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, Be angry, and sin not, and, Let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who raised Him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that you may be perfect in Him.

Polycarp, letter to the Phillipians