Christians You Should Know: Polycarp February 15, 2023

Polycarp teacher, Polycarp defended the truth

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” – Jude 3

A Snapshot of the Life of Polycarp:

Born: 68 (or before); Smyrna (Izmir), Asia Minor (Turkey)
Died: Feb. 23, 155; Smyrna (Izmir), Asia Minor (Turkey)
Apostolic Father and martyred Greek bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp was believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John, who appointed him bishop. Polycarp’s sanctity of life and attacks on heresies made him a very influential figure. He visited Rome, disagreeing with Bishop Anicetus over the correct date to celebrate Easter. One of his epistles survived, the Epistle to the Philippians (150 or earlier), in which he quotes from 19 NT books. He also compiled and preserved the Epistles of Ignatius. He contributed greatly to the development of the church and the formation of the Canon of the New Testament. Polycarp defended Christianity against the following: Marcionism (rejected OT, incarnation, resurrection), calling Marcion (wealthy ship owner snubbed by orthodoxy), “the first born of Satan;” the Valentinians (Valentinus: Gnostic philosopher); and the Gnostics (salvation through knowledge, rather than faith; believed they had secret knowledge of religious mysteries, “lodge” mentality). Polycarp was arrested during the tenure of Emperor Antonius Pius I in Smyrna, tried and condemned by an angry mob, and burned to death for his faith. His dying statement immortalized him, “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He hath done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of (blaspheme) my King?” – (Excerpt taken from the Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Used by permission.)

A Spiritual Application for Our Lives:

The almost-forgotten life and testimony of this faithful pastor must be learned and recounted for this generation. Polycarp’s life is a stirring reminder to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Interestingly, Polycarp was invested in by the Apostles themselves, he was taught by the Apostle John. However, Polycarp did not merely receive this investment; he engaged in the battle over truth and invested himself in the lives of others. Today, the same war on truth is raging on. Will you engage in the spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-18) that is going on all around you?

Further study of Polycarp reveals an unwavering commitment to God’s Word. He not only defended the doctrine contained in it, but he also taught it to others. The only writings from Polycarp that we have today are in his letter to the Philippians. In it, he does not share his own (authoritative) opinion. Instead, Polycarp gave them the truth of the Word of God. He contended for the truth to another generation of Christians (Paul wrote to the same church 80-100 years previous). Note how diligently he must have labored to know and apply the New Testament – this was centuries before any form of a completed Bible was circulated. Likewise, we ought to contend for the truth of God’s Word in our generation. Those around us do not need more of us; they need more of the unchanging Word of God.

Lastly, Polycarp leaves a legacy of determined commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. His dying words have become immortal: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Only true conviction and courage would result in such boldness. Before that day came, he prophetically wrote, “Let us, therefore, become imitators of His [Christ] endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person…”  May we also be willing to pursue the Lord Jesus, even to death. Let your highest ambition be to glorify Jesus Christ.

A Suggestion for Further Reading…

A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature – William Smith, 1911

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – John Fox, 1563

The Epistle of Polycarp – Polycarp; translated by J.B. Lightfoot.

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