Question: "What is Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians?"
Answer: Polycarp was an early church leader, the bishop of Smyrna, and a disciple of the apostle John. Since he had direct contact with one of the apostles, he is considered an Apostolic Father—a church leader who was trained by and immediately followed the apostles.
Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians is actually a cover letter for a group of Ignatius’ writings, which the church at Philippi had requested that Polycarp send to them. This is the only existing example of Polycarp’s writings, although he is mentioned in other writings. The letter is about 2,200 words long, about the same length as Galatians or 1 John.
The Letter of Polycarp is a general amalgamation of biblical teachings with many quotes and allusions to Paul’s epistles, mainly the Pastoral Epistles, but there are also quotes and allusions to Ephesians, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Matthew. Polycarp was steeped in the apostolic writings, even if they were not yet recognized as “the New Testament.” He does not speak on his own authority as the apostles did, but he applies the words of the apostles to the church in Philippi.
Toward the end of the letter, Polycarp addresses issues with some specific people in the church, but most of the letter is simply reminding the church of biblical truth. In just a few pages, Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians contains many times more Scripture than is in the average sermon today.
What follows is J. B. Lightfoot’s translation with chapter but no verse divisions. Some of the archaic tenses and words have been updated. New Testament quotes are in italics.
THE EPISTLE OF POLYCARP
[Prologue] Polycarp and the presbyters that are with him unto the Church of God which sojourns at Philippi; mercy unto you and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Savior be multiplied.
1) I rejoiced with you greatly in our Lord Jesus Christ, for that you received the followers of the true Love and escorted them on their way, as befitted you—those men encircled in saintly bonds which are the diadems of them that are truly chosen of God and our Lord; and that the steadfast root of your faith which was famed from primitive times abides until now and bears fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured to face even death for our sins, whom God raised, having loosed the pangs of Hades; on whom, though you saw Him not, you believe with joy unutterable and full of glory; unto which joy many desire to enter in; forasmuch as you know that it is by grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.
2) Wherefore gird up your loins and serve God in fear and truth, forsaking the vain and empty talking and the error of the many, for that you have believed on Him that raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and gave unto him glory and a throne on His right hand; unto whom all things were made subject that are in heaven and that are on the earth; to whom every creature that hath breath doeth service; who cometh as judge of quick and dead; whose blood God will require of them that are disobedient unto Him.
Now He that raised Him from the dead will raise us also; if we do His will and walk in His commandments and love the things which He loved, abstaining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; not rendering evil for evil or railing for railing or blow for blow or cursing for cursing; but remembering the words which the Lord spoke, as He taught; Judge not that you be not judged. Forgive, and it shall be forgiven to you. Have mercy that you may receive mercy. With what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you again; and again Blessed are the poor and they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
3) These things, brethren, I write unto you concerning righteousness, not because I laid this charge upon myself, but because you invited me. For neither am I, nor is any other like unto me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he came among you taught face to face with the men of that day the word which concerns truth carefully and surely; who also, when he was absent, wrote a letter unto you, into the which if you look diligently, you shall be able to be built up unto the faith given to you, which is the mother of us all, while hope follows after and love, goes before—love toward God and Christ and toward our neighbor. For if any man be occupied with these, he hath fulfilled the commandment of righteousness; for he that hath love is far from all sin.
4) But the love of money is the beginning of all troubles. Knowing therefore that we brought nothing into the world neither can we carry anything out, let us arm ourselves with the armor of righteousness, and let us teach ourselves first to walk in the commandment of the Lord; and then our wives also, to walk in the faith that hath been given unto them and in love and purity, cherishing their own husbands in all truth and loving all men equally in all chastity, and to train their children in the training of the fear of God.
Our widows must be sober-minded as touching the faith of the Lord, making intercession without ceasing for all men, abstaining from all calumny, evil speaking, false witness, love of money, and every evil thing, knowing that they are God’s altar, and that all sacrifices are carefully inspected, and nothing escapes Him either of their thoughts or intents or any of the secret things of the heart.
5) Knowing then that God is not mocked, we ought to walk worthily of His commandment and His glory. In like manner deacons should be blameless in the presence of His righteousness, as deacons of God and Christ and not of men; not calumniators, not double-tongued, not lovers of money, temperate in all things, compassionate, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord who became a minister [deacon] of all. For if we be well pleasing unto Him in this present world, we shall receive the future world also, according as He promised us to raise us from the dead, and that if we conduct ourselves worthily of Him we shall also reign with Him, if indeed we have faith.
In like manner also the younger men must be blameless in all things, caring for purity before everything and curbing themselves from every evil. For it is a good thing to refrain from lusts in the world, for every lust wars against the Spirit, and neither whoremongers nor effeminate persons nor defilers of themselves with men shall inherit the kingdom of God, neither they that do untoward things. Wherefore it is right to abstain from all these things, submitting yourselves to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The virgins must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.
6) And the presbyters also must be compassionate, merciful towards all men, turning back the sheep that are gone astray, visiting all the infirm, not neglecting a widow or an orphan or a poor man: but providing always for that which is honorable in the sight of God and of men, abstaining from all anger, respect of persons, unrighteous judgment, being far from all love of money, not quick to believe anything against any man, not hasty in judgment, knowing that we all are debtors of sin.
If then we entreat the Lord that He would forgive us, we also ought to forgive: for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and each man must give an account of himself.
Let us therefore so serve Him with fear and all reverence, as He himself gave commandment and the Apostles who preached the Gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord; being zealous as touching that which is good, abstaining from offenses and from the false brethren and from them that bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who lead foolish men astray.
7) For everyone who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist: and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan.
Wherefore let us forsake the vain doing of the many and their false teachings, and turn unto the word which was delivered unto us from the beginning, being sober unto prayer and constant in fasting, entreating the all-seeing God with supplications that He bring us not into temptation, according as the Lord said, The Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.
8) Let us therefore without ceasing hold fast by our hope and by the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ who took up our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him.
Let us therefore become imitators of His 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, and we believed this.
9) I exhort you all therefore to be obedient unto the word of righteousness and to practice all endurance, which also you saw with your own eyes in the blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus, yes and in others also who came from among yourselves, as well as in Paul himself and the rest of the Apostles; being persuaded that all these ran not in vain but in faith and righteousness, and that they are in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not the present world, but Him that died for our sakes and was raised by God for us.
10) Stand fast therefore in these things and follow the example of the Lord, being firm in the faith and immovable, in love of the brotherhood kindly affectioned one to another, partners with the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you are able to do good, defer it not, for Pitifulness delivered from death. Be you all subject one to another, having your conversation unblamable among the gentiles, that your good works both you may receive praise and the Lord may not be blasphemed in you. But woe to him through whom the name of the Lord be blasphemed. Therefore teach all men soberness, in which you yourselves also walk.
11) I was exceedingly grieved for Valens, who aforetime was a presbyter among you, because he is so ignorant of the office which was given unto him. I warn you therefore that you refrain from covetousness, and that you be pure and truthful. Refrain from all evil.
But he who cannot govern himself in these things, how doth he enjoin this upon another? If a man refrain not from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the Gentiles who know not the judgment of the Lord, Nay, know we not, that the saints shall judge the world, as Paul teaches?
But I have not found any such thing in you, neither have heard thereof, among whom the blessed Paul labored, who were his letters in the beginning. For he boasts of you in all those churches which alone at that time knew God; for we knew Him not as yet.
Therefore I am exceedingly grieved for him and for his wife, unto whom may the Lord grant true repentance. Be you therefore yourselves also sober herein, and hold not such as enemies but restore them as frail and erring members, that you may save the whole body of you. For so doing, you do edify one another.
12) For I am persuaded that you are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you. But to myself this is not granted. Only, as it is said in these scriptures, Be you angry and sin not, and Let not the sun set on your wrath. Blessed is he that remembers this; and I trust that this is in you.
Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High-priest Himself the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness and in all avoidance of wrath and in forbearance and long suffering and in patient endurance and in purity; and may He grant unto you a lot and portion among His saints, and to us with you, and to all that are under heaven, who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father that raised him from the dead.
Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings and powers and princes and for them that persecute and hate you and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest among all men, that you may be perfect in Him.