The Story of Polycarp
Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelations 2:10
Growing up in church, we often celebrated stories of the martyrs – those who were killed for their faith. Even as a kid though, I wondered what I’d do if my life were threatened for my beliefs. In those stories, there’s often a moment where the Christian is given a chance to reject his (or her) faith and when he refuses, he’s killed in some horrible way. I’ve always wondered if I’d choose faith – and death. I always thought maybe I could just say the right words – rejecting Christ – without really meaning it. That way, at least, I’d be alive. I mean, if all the accusers wanted was to hear me say, I don’t believe, how bad could it be to tell them what they wanted to hear?
Thankfully, my life has never been threatened for my faith. I’m free to go to church on Sunday, and I write a blog about faith and recovery. In the context of today’s passage though, the church at the time faced violent persecution. In the passage, Christ asked the church in Smyrna to be faithful unto death. He commanded that even though they may lose their lives for their faith, they must still cling to it.
In the congregation, sat a well-known Christian named Polycarp, a leader of the early church. When arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake for his faith, the Romans gave Polycarp a chance to recant, reject Christ, and save himself. All he had to do was utter one little phrase – Caesar is Lord – and he could walk away. Polycarp is said to have responded, Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? Given the chance to save himself, Polycarp realized that God had already saved him. Ultimately, Polycarp had no power to avoid death and save himself. He’d experienced an authentic life of knowing God and so, he could not reject him, even when threatened with death. Polycarp knew that he would only delay his death a few years perhaps. He wanted to meet God with a clean conscience and so he did.
Would I be faithful unto death? Do I know that God has saved me and that I can do nothing to save myself? Do I have a faith that is worth dying for? All of those questions reveal the nature of my faith and my relationship with God. I may claim that my faith is the most important thing to me, but do I live that way? I may never have to die for my faith, but the question is – Will I live for it?