Summary: Philippians 2:17-30. The lives of three godly men are examined.
AGAIN I SAY REJOICE
HONOR SUCH MEN
- You might remember that during our look at Philippians 2:9-11 I told you that the paramount, or greatest confession of the early church was “Jesus Christ is Lord”. The supreme authority of the Creator and Master of the universe was of the utmost importance to early believers. And we noted, that Paul confidently claims through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is, in fact, Lord.
- Now keeping that emphasis on the Lordship of Jesus in mind, listen to the story of an early church father (or leader) named Polycarp. Some of you may be familiar with this account. Polycarp was born sometime in the second half of the first century A.D. and died in the middle of the second century. Historically, it is believed that he was a disciple of the Apostle John – the man who wrote the gospel so named, and the letters of 1-3 John.
- He was appointed by John as the bishop or pastor of the city of Smyrna; and he served faithfully in that capacity for many years. But by the time the middle of the second century rolled around Roman persecution of Christians was at its height. And sometime during the middle of that second century (anywhere between 155-167 A.D. depending upon who you read), Polycarp was arrested on charges that he was a Christian and taken to stand before the city’s proconsul.
- By this time, of course, he was an old man. While sympathy for Christians was probably as rare as a perfectly cut and clear diamond, apparently the Romans had some compassion on the old man because they offered to free him from the punishment he was about to endure if he would simply utter the phrase “Caesar is Lord” and offer a tiny bit of incense to him.
- It was, in actuality, a simple formality that would have given Polycarp his life back. Yet he refused to utter such a lie. His refusal infuriated the now angry mob and they dragged him to the arena to be executed. Once there he was given one last chance to renounce Jesus and bow to Caesar. He responded with some of the most famous words of any Christian martyr: “Eighty six years I have served Christ; and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
- At that response, Polycarp was burned alive while being tied to a stake. Some accounts state that for some miraculous reason the fire continually burned around Polycarp but did not burn him. So the Roman soldiers had to stab him to death. One way or the other, Polycarp was executed for his refusal to acknowledge anyone except Jesus the Messiah as Lord.
- Stories like that encourage our faith. Men and women throughout history who displayed faith and trust in Jesus Christ to that level inspire us during our times of weakness and despair. We cannot help but be motivated by hearing of the faithfulness of others. And today we are going to look at three more examples, in addition to Polycarp, of encouragement and motivation – this time from the inspired word of God.
- In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul is reminding his readers of the account of Moses and the Israelites written in the Old Testament and he writes this in vv.6-11: Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
- Those Old Testament accounts were written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that we might read them and avoid the same mistakes others have made before us. Our passage in Philippians 2 is just the opposite. What we find in vv.17-30 is the description of the lives of three men whom God used in his kingdom work. And just as we look to some of the Old Testament men and women as examples of failure (and often success as well), we will look to the lives of these men as examples of godliness.