Thursday, April 3, 2014

Polycarp - The Disciple

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of the Apostle John. We have this from Irenaeus, who studied under Polycarp in Polycarp's later life. We have only one letter from Polycarp, though we have a letter to him by Ignatius (Lord willing, the subject of a future post). Polycarp's letter is steeped in Scripture, particularly the New Testament. In fact, one of the frustrating things about Polycarp is that he alludes to Scripture so frequently that it is hard to get a good feel for his own personality. His letter is to the Philippians and is a general encouragement to live as we should as Christians. But it also clearly mentions Jesus as the One who came in the flesh to save us from sin and rise again from the dead and who will one day resurrect those who believe in Him. He mentions Paul and his letter to the Philippians and the letters of Ignatius, his contemporary. Even more than Clement, he has no particular axe to grind and makes sense as a real witness to his time. According to Irenaeus, he argued for charity and acceptance in the dispute over the day of Easter. He also passed on to Irenaeus some stories of the Apostle John in later life. There is an early account of his martyrdom at an old age and how he stood firm until death.

The thing Polycarp exemplifies is faithfulness. He is important because of his early relation to the apostles. He does not seem to have introduced any new or unusual idea. But he was a faithful servant of God, faithful even to death. He was an early witness to what Christianity was from the very beginning. And he is an example for us of a faithful pastor who did his job well and, as a result of that, left us a legacy. Such  men are the backbone of the church in any age, the faithful, though, in many cases, unnoticed pastors who faithfully shepherd the flock of God.

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