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Real People

"We’re called to follow God, but how can we do that if we don’t know much about him?"

2 Timothy 4:9-22

One of the joys of regular Bible reading as a part of your Christian life, apart from the obvious one of getting to know our Scriptures and have them speak to us, is that you find that it starts to come alive, the characters in it become real people, not just characters in a book, and you begin to want to delve a little deeper, know a little more about them, about what motivated them, what gave so many of them the strength to die for what they believed and who they followed.

If you are not used to a regular habit of reading the Bible, then I would encourage you to start now. There are plenty of daily Bible notes around – Scripture Union do one, we have A Light for our Path at home. Find one that fits your needs, use one.

This passage is a real case in point. I mean, it’s just a list of names and a "to do" list, isn’t it? Paul just finishing off his letter to Timothy with a bit of a moan about a couple of folk, praising one or two and passing on a greeting from some people we’ve never heard of before.

And so it would be if we didn’t stop and look at the people that Paul mentions, and do a little detective work.

Just to put this letter in context, Paul was in prison awaiting trial in Rome, but he still had great concern for the churches he had established and the people to whom he had entrusted them. The early church was a still a child growing into maturity. It hadn’t yet fully come to terms with the nature of Jesus and the full significance of the Cross and resurrection – it was a time of learning and growth, and Paul was concerned that what they believed wasn’t contaminated by the surrounding culture or society, or indeed false teachings from within.

So here he is, writing to his dear friend Timothy with some pastoral advice, and at the end of this letter his thoughts centre on some of the people they both know.

And that’s where it gets interesting! Let’s have a look at one or two of these characters and try and flesh out their story a little. I think we’ll find that they’re very much like us – or to put it another way nothing changes!

First off there’s Demas, who according to Paul "because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica."

We don’t know a lot about Demas, just three mentions in the New Testament. In the very short letter to Philemon we find him listed as a good chap, one of Paul’s fellow workers, in Colossians he just gets a mention in passing, and here we find him as a deserter who loved the world too much.

I wonder if there’s a progression here – and this is pure speculation – in that Demas was like a lot of people who commit themselves to Christ without really thinking through the cost of that commitment? He started off full of enthusiasm, gave up whatever filled his life previously and became one of Paul’s missionary team – he was a church worker, building up and organizing new congregations, working among the local population wherever Paul and his team were, spreading the Good News of the Gospel.

And he did this enthusiastically for a while. But then maybe there was a bit of a collision between Demas’ new life and his old, maybe he missed his old friends, his drinking buddies, the things he used to enjoy doing. Or maybe he just got weary of the hard work, his initial love for God’s work gradually worn down – the thrill was gone.

Maybe when Paul tells Timothy that Demas loved the world it just meant that he loved the comfortable life more than he loved the Christian life.

You have to feel a touch of sympathy for Demas because he’s like so many of us – there’s always the temptation to underachieve as a Christian because we don’t want to compromise our worldly comforts.

We don’t hear any more about him. Well, not exactly. Demas is a shortened form of Demetrius, and in the 3rd letter of John we hear about a Demetrius

"Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true."

It would be nice to think that Paul’s sadness in Demas’ desertion was not the end of the story – but we’ll never know!

So much for Demas, a real person, and an interesting person I think!

Passing on from Demas, Paul says "Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia."

Crescens is a mystery, we know nothing at all about this member of Paul’s entourage which is a shame. Titus though was one of his most faithful lieutenants. In the letter we know as Titus, Paul addresses it "To Titus, my true son in our common faith" and this man had been one of the people Paul trusted to try and sort out the church in Corinth when it was struggling.

Paul’s evident love of Titus possibly means that he was one of Paul’s converts. When Paul had a difficult journey to make to the church in Jerusalem (where he wasn’t well liked) he took along with him his trusty sidekick Titus and Barnabas. Titus was someone you could rely on in a difficult situation, a good administrator, tough and practical. The church needs people like Titus.

In verse 11 Paul says "Only Luke is with me…"

Luke accompanied Paul on his last journey to Rome and to prison. This is the Luke who wrote the Book of Acts, and in chapter 27 he writes in the first person describing Paul setting out under arrest for Rome – That’s why we know that Luke was there right at the end of Paul’s ministry and indeed his life, such was his devotion.

In the letter to the Colossians Luke is described as "The beloved physician" and as we know that Paul suffered from some mystery ailment, can we assume therefore that Luke was his personal physician? He doesn’t seem to have been an evangelist, but just as importantly he was someone who was prepared to serve, a kind and considerate person. And the church needs people like that, gracious, kind, eager to serve.

That’s Luke for you!

"Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry."
says Paul. Perhaps a better understanding of this phrase would be "Bring me Mark, he’s a useful chap to have about the place!"

Mark was young when the fledgling church began. It was to his mother’s house that Peter went to when he escaped from prison, and it was probably one the main meeting places for the Jerusalem congregation. Mark went with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, as an assistant – maybe it was an early mission apprenticeship. Exciting stuff for a young man! But it didn’t go according to plan, because when the going got tough Mark chickened out, left them and went home.

When it came to sorting out a team for Paul’s second missionary journey, he absolutely refused to have Mark with them after he had let them down once. Paul argued with and fell out with Barnabas over that decision!

We don’t really know what happened to Mark after that. Possibly he went to Egypt (there is a tradition that he started the Egyptian church), but he must have been working for the cause of the Gospel, and Paul must have been checking up on him because when Paul was in prison and writing to the Colossian church, who is there with him but Mark, and he commends the young man to the church at Colossae. The reconciliation is now complete, as facing trial and death he wants Timothy, Luke and Mark to be with him.

Mark was the one who failed in his duty when faced with danger, and yet picked himself up and became someone who was of great service to Paul and the church. He’s someone who, as he matured in the faith also gained courage to face whatever the world would throw at him. Christians are allowed to fail now and then, you know! We’re only human after all.

Who’s next? Now Paul mentions that "I sent Tychicus to Ephesus."And we can read that Paul sent Tychicus with letters to both the Colossian and Ephesian churches – he was another of Paul’s faithful fellow workers who were being used to help look after the growing number of Christian congregations meeting throughout that area. He was someone that was trustworthy, and someone who was willing to be used in service. We need more Tychicus’ in the church.

There’s a lovely little passage next. "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments"

We don’t know who Carpus was, but I guess that Paul stayed at his or her house sometime, and seems to have left his coat behind. The cloak was a bit like a poncho, and would have offered Paul some warmth in his prison cell. So Carpus, among his or her other virtues was someone who offered hospitality.

Then there’s the bad apple, Alexander the metalworker. "You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message."

We don’t know exactly what Alexander did to make himself such a nuisance to the church and to Paul, but chances are that, as well as rubbishing the message that was being preached, he was informing on Paul to the authorities, maybe saying false things against him that would later be used at his trial to convict him. There are quite often people within churches who seem somehow to be working against everyone else – They don’t have the best interests of the congregation at heart and you wonder why they are there in the first place.

Lots of people, different people with their own back stories, their differing journeys of faith and their different ways of service. Some are strong, others show weakness, but real people like you and I.

Then at the end of the letter there’s a sudden rush of names as Paul rounds up his message. Greetings to people from him and others.

"Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers."

There’s greetings to Priscilla and Aquila whose house was a meeting place for the church, and who in the past had risked their lives for Paul’s sake (Acts 18:2, Romans 16:3 and 1 Corinthians 16:19).

Greetings to Onesiphorus who we read had sought out Paul in prison in Rome, and may have paid for his loyalty later with his life. Erastus, another trusted worker, and Trophimus, who is an interesting character. Paul got into awful trouble for bringing him into the temple precincts, because he was a Gentile, and this landed Paul into prison.

Lastly there are greetings from Linus, Prudens and Claudia. Of these we’re fairly sure that Linus became the first bishop of Rome.

This passage is one that can so easily be skated over, simply because it seems to be just a list of names. But if we delve a little deeper we find that there are real people, real stories and not only that we can actually start to see people who are a little like us.

Some of them are strong, others weak. Some are faithful and steady, and others easily led astray. But each one had their part to play in the early church. Most were builders, working together to strengthen, unite and encourage. One or two were a disappointment, falling away or actively disrupting the fellowship. But they were real people!

Do we recognize ourselves in these descriptions?

More than anything, does an exercise like this make you want to look a little deeper into the Bible, get beneath the surface and see what it has to say to you? You don’t have to be a theologian to do what I’ve done, just have a good commentary!

We’re called to follow God, but how can we do that if we don’t know much about him. We can be challenged about our faith, about the relevance and truth of the Bible. If we don’t know it, how can we defend it?

Read it, let it talk to you!

 

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