Polycarp? Your Name Is What?


January 25, 2018

Aren’t you glad your parents did not name you Polycarp? There is not much of a ring to being called “Many Trash Fish”, is there?

It actually doesn’t translate that way, as it would seem, in English. To the Greeks, the meaning was elegant: “fruitful, rich in fruit”. Much better.

We need Polycarps today.

My attention recently turned to this man. If only I would live like he did. His character, integrity, firmness with love, clear-mindedness, and eternal perspective are what our world needs now. We have lost our way.

Really, who of us could make such a statement as this?

“He who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.”

“Grants me to endure the fire?”

Like it’s a privilege? That is not how we look at such brutality that might be directed toward us today.

A fuller quote from the article cited above describes the moments leading to the Roman execution of the 86-year-old-man:

He was escorted to the local proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who interrogated him in front of a crowd of curious onlookers. Polycarp seemed unfazed by the interrogation; he carried on a witty dialogue with Quadratus until Quadratus lost his temper and threatened Polycarp: he’d be thrown to wild beasts, he’d be burned at the stake, and so on. Polycarp just told Quadratus that while the proconsul’s fire lasts but a little while, the fires of judgment (“reserved for the ungodly,” he slyly added) cannot be quenched. Polycarp concluded, “But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.”

Soldiers then grabbed him to nail him to a stake, but Polycarp stopped them: “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” He prayed aloud, the fire was lit, and his flesh was consumed. The chronicler of this martyrdom said it was “not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”

Here is the full article, if you want more about this man.

Recently my wife and I watched a movie of Polycarp’s life. How courageous, while lacking much formal education. He wrote one pastoral letter to the believers at Philippi, which revealed him to be unpretentious, humble, and direct.

This sounds like Jesus the Messiah.

The image of God has been planted in each of us. That is why you see so much good in human beings. But the image has been smeared. Evil is also planted in the heart of each of us, and it will overcome without intentional intervention, and that not just of ourselves.

Polycarp’s life is an example of intentionality and thorough, daily submission to Almighty God, whatever difficulties it might bring.

We have at least two problems with submission:

  • We don’t want to give it
  • We demand it

When we live as unto ourselves, we do not give submission to others, but sure want it from them.

  • Others must submit to our ideas and our choices, and the ways we choose to live.
  • Everybody must submit to the majority.

That value is not biblical nor is it American. (Just so you know, I do not equate those two.)

It is self-centered.

Polycarp was an utterly submitted man, and according to my readings, even pagans honored his integrity, for which he was well-known. We persist in thinking arrogance and pride will get us somewhere.

Polycarp, and others like him with less strange names, demonstrate regularly the opposite is true. More lasting and beneficial results come from humility and submission.

Here is another good summary of his life and particularly his last hours.

You may not wish you had such a name, but who would not desire to live the faith of simplicity and genuineness which he did?

Integrity is one of the most profoundly significant characteristics anyone can have.

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