12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession. (1 Timothy 6:12-13)
“I am a Christian and cannot sacrifice to the gods. I heartily thank Almighty God who is pleased to set me free from the chains of this body.” With these bold words, spoken in front of hundreds of onlookers, on Sept. 14, 258 AD Cyprian faced execution under Roman Emperor Valerian. Eyewitnesses to his death said that many of the pagans standing by were deeply moved. Cyprian was well-known to them. As Bishop of Carthage, he was an eminent figure in North Africa. But even before becoming a church leader he had been a notable man.
Born into wealth around 200, Cyprian inherited a large estate. He was schooled at the finest universities in rhetoric and oratory. Curiously it was this training which brought him to Christ. Cyprian would often debate leading thinkers of the day on everything from politics to philosophy and religion. He even debated Christian apologists who argued for the validity of the Christian worldview. Cyprian disputed with one Christian elder named Coecilius and was so convinced by his arguments that soon after their showdown he repented of sin and confessed Christ as Lord.
Cyprian became a convert when he was about 45 years old writing, “A second birth created me a new man by means of the Spirit breathed from heaven.” With zeal, he gave away his wealth and devoted himself to poverty and preaching the Gospel. Because of his silk-tongue and powerful preaching, he was soon elected as Bishop of Carthage. One of his friends, Pontius, wrote an admiring biography telling how his countenance was joyous, and that he was a man to be both revered and loved.
When a fearsome plague erupted in 252 AD, everyone was abandoning the sick in the streets. People rushed about in terror. Cyprian instructed the Christians to care for the sick, including dying pagans. Believers obeyed, despite the fact the pagans blamed them for the disease.
A new wave of persecution slammed the church when Emperor Valerian ascended to power. Because the glory of Rome was fading the Emperor was convinced that the gods were angry. Barbarian armies were invading, plagues were afflicting the masses and an economic downturn caused hard times. Looking for a scapegoat, Valerian blamed the Christians and rehashed an old ploy to tighten the noose around the Church. Every Roman citizen was required to offer a sacrifice to the gods. Upon completing the sacrifice, citizens were issued a libellus, or certificate, as proof of their loyalty to Rome and the gods. Cyprian and many others refused.
Thus, he was beheaded, retaining his bold confession to the end. His last words “Deo Gratis!” (Latin for “Thanks be to God”) became a rallying cry for Christians afterward. Friend, I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than stand with the world and be judged by God. Don’t back up, fold up or shut up. Give the good confession.
 “Cyprian,” Church History Timeline <https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/cyprian-11629611.html>
 “Cyprian: Enemy of the Gods,” Voice of the Martyrs, March 2013, p. 13.