180710Odds and Ends

Tychicus and other unknown servants of Christ

A sermon on Ephesians 6:21-22.

As I was reflecting on Paul’s benediction here in Ephesians this week, an old Bill Withers song came to mind. “Lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.”

Paul mentions his friend and brother in the ministry, Tychicus (Eph 6:21). We don’t know a great deal about this man, but we know enough to say he was important to Paul. The Bible only mentions him five times, but that’s plenty to get a sense of who he was and the role he played particularly in Paul’s life.

He first appears in Acts 20 when Paul is at the end of his missionary work in Ephesus. He was a native of the region and likely grew up not far from Ephesus. He may have been in Ephesus with Paul when the riot broke out over people turning away from false gods, causing the silversmiths to loose a chunk of their idol-making business (Ac 19:21-41).

If I had to guess, I’d say Tychicus was one of Paul’s converts, and it seems he stayed with Paul even through his arrest. He traveled right alongside of Paul, Luke, sometimes Timothy, as well as others all the way to Jerusalem, then Rome. Paul later described the experience this way:

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:25-28)

Tychicus wasn’t with him for all of that, of course, but he was there for much of it. He suffered right along with Paul. Evidently, he was still with Paul as Paul writes this letter from his Roman imprisonment. In other words, he never pulled a John Mark (Ac 13:13). He never ran away from the pressure and difficulties of missionary work. He never abandoned Paul, his friend and brother. He stuck with Paul despite the risk to his life.

You can imagine the bond that forms between two men who not only share the same strong convictions, but also endure intense trials together. I’m not surprised at all to see Paul refer to Tychicus as the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord (Eph 6:21). I suspect these words were not meant to flatter Tychicus. I think Paul was as sincere as one can be. He loved this man. They went through God knows what together.

To be clear, Tychicus didn’t expose himself to danger to merely spend time with his friend, Paul. He was a faithful minister in the Lord (Eph 6:21). He followed Paul through all kinds of peril to serve Christ before all else. Chances are, Paul sent this letter at the same he sent his letter to the Colossians. He mentions Tychicus in that letter as well, saying, “He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” (Col 4:7). He removes all doubt with that description. Tychicus was a fellow servant in the Lord.

He was still serving at the end of Paul’s life. When Paul says his final goodbyes to Timothy, knowing his life will soon be over, he mentions Tychicus again. He writes, “Luke alone is with me. … Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (2Ti 4:11-12).

Again, the Bible doesn’t say much about this man, but it’s not too difficult to fill in the gaps. I can think of several adjectives to describe him: brave, loyal to both the Lord and his church, fiercely dedicated, faithful.

I suppose we should add encouraging to this list as well. Paul tells the Ephesians, “I have sent Tychicus to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts (Eph 6:22). More than a traveling companion or even an evangelist, Tychicus was an encouragement to the church. Paul likely chose him to carry these letters to the various churches because he possessed a special gift for lifting spirits and building up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12).

Even so, we rarely hear this man mentioned. How many sermons on Tychicus have you heard? Some of us are just now learning how to pronounce his name. He didn’t write any books that we know of, though he may have transcribed a couple of Paul’s letters. He isn’t talked about at length anywhere in the Bible. Why, then, would I spend this much time talking about him?

I believe church history is full of unsung heroes. Not everyone can be a Paul, John, Peter, Abraham, Moses, or David. Most of the body of Christ will never achieve a legacy beyond obscurity. We’ll serve in our small ways in our small corner of the kingdom, then we’ll fade away, never to have anyone write our biographies or remember us for generations to come.

If that sounds depressing to you, then you have a different perspective than I do. The legacy you leave on earth may be nothing to speak of, but eternity is another matter altogether.

I don’t know who first wrote it, but I’d like to read for you a brief proverb or poem which illustrates the main point I hope to make.

For the loss of a nail, lose a horseshoe;

for the loss of a horseshoe, lose a horse;

for the loss of a horse, lose a soldier;

for the loss of a soldier, lose a battle;

for the loss of a battle, lose a kingdom.

In other words, the loss of a seemingly insignificant nail can bring down an entire kingdom.

For all we know, Paul’s ministry would have failed without Tychicus. Maybe he was an instrument in the hand of God to support Paul’s missionary work, a role no other man could have filled. And if Paul’s ministry didn’t succeed, where would we be? Perhaps prophecies would have been left unfulfilled because Paul didn’t reach the Gentiles. Maybe much of the New Testament would have been left unwritten. Who knows. Regardless, God used this obscure man to accomplish fantastic things for the church whether we know the details or not.

If a single nail is removed, an entire kingdom could fall.

As a pastor, there’s always unspoken pressure to be more popular, to build a bigger church. On TV and the Internet, we’re mostly exposed to famous preachers with far-reaching ministries and massive congregations, so the temptation is to assume every pastor should strive for the same. I strongly disagree. If you lined up every church in America by size and walked from the smallest toward the largest, you could walk past ninety percent of them, turn around, and every church behind you would have 350 people or less. If you walked even fifty percent of the way, every church behind you would have 75 people or less.

If half of the churches in America will likely never grow beyond 75 people, a pastor should never feel discontent because the church he serves is small. He shouldn’t envy the celebrity pastors he sees on TV or even strive to become them. That’s silly if not sinful. He’s possibly missing out on the joys and blessings of serving the people to whom God has called him to serve. Paul told the Ephesian elders, ”Pay careful attention … to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Ac 20:28). God put him where he is, and he should be satisfied with what God has given him.

Maybe you can relate in your own way. Perhaps we’d all like to accomplish bigger and better things. Maybe you’d like to be a towering Paul-like figure who turns the world upside down, leaving your mark on church history (Ac 17:6). The truth is, though, most of us are called to play a much seemingly smaller role. In the body of Christ, some of us are eyes while others are ears. Some are hands while others are feet. Paul goes as far as to say, “The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1Co 12:22). The kingdom can’t survive without the smallest nails.

Discouragement comes so easy for us. I hear it often enough to know that we occasionally feel we should be doing more. I want to lead a thousand people to Christ. I want to help the church double or triple in size. I want to feed every hungry person in a fifty-mile radius. With the very best of intentions, we desire ministries that move mountains. So when it seems we’re hardly kicking a pebble down the road, we get discouraged.

I don’t want you to feel that way. Your ministry is measured in heaven by quality, not quantity. Let me show you.

Matthew 26 tells the story of a woman—we know from John’s gospel the woman was Mary, sister of Lazarus—who offers a seemingly small sacrifice. She doesn’t reach thousands of people with the gospel. She doesn’t touch a hundred lives. From a purely human perspective, she doesn’t do much at all, yet her actions prove to be profound. Here’s what happened:

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.” (Matthew 26:6-12)

First of all, let’s talk about what she didn’t do. According to the apostles, and I suspect Judas Iscariot planted the seed, she didn’t sell this expensive perfume and give the proceeds to help the poor. It would seem she could have helped a lot of people. At least within her community, she could have made a name for herself. People would always remember her as the generous woman who gave away what was probably meant to be her wedding dowry to help the less fortunate. From a pragmatic standpoint, she could have elevated herself from nail to horseshoe if not a horse.

What did she do instead? In simple terms, she acted in faith. She sacrificed this expensive ointment for a reason. Jesus says, ”She has done it to prepare me for burial” (Mt 26:12). While the apostles are consumed with thoughts of Christ’s kingdom here on earth, Mary’s looking into the future. She has her mind on the upcoming crucifixion of Jesus. By faith, she knows her Messiah is about to die, so she takes what was likely her most prized and valuable possession and uses it to anoint his body. After all, there wouldn’t be sufficient time after his death. You may remember the Jews were anxious to get him in the grave before sundown.

In short, Mary acts in faith to give the very best she has to offer. In turn, Jesus tells his disciples, ”Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mt 26:13).

“From this day forward and forevermore,” Jesus says, “the world will be reminded of this simple Jewish woman living in the first century who gave her best in an act of faith.” She didn’t turn the world upside down or impact a thousand lives in that moment, but Christ speaks of what she did as though she had accomplished world peace. He says, “I want her name attached to my gospel. When people proclaim the gospel, I want them to remember Mary.”

I find it interesting, though, the text in Matthew doesn’t give her name. That tells me the example she left is not about her, that is, her person. It’s about what she did. It’s about the kind of person she was. Christ doesn’t want us to sing Mary’s praises. He wants us to learn from her. He wants us to emulate her. He wants us to be encouraged by her.

Again, your ministry in this life is not measured by quantity. In fact, if you evaluate your efforts pragmatically by the tangible results, you’re bound to be discouraged and discontent. Don’t do that to yourself. Measure your service by quality. Even the great apostle Paul admits he accomplished nothing on his own. Whatever positive results God blessed him to see were the product of the entire body of Christ working together, each member filling his or her God-ordained role.

Listen to what he says in 1 Corinthians 3:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:5-15)

What is Paul trying to say here?

First of all, he acknowledges the inability of anyone to do anything worthwhile apart from God. God … gives the growth (1Co 3:7). If we’re faithfully serving, using our gifts, doing what we know is right, looking for opportunities to do good wherever they present themselves, God will always be in control of the outcome. Take comfort in that thought. You’re not responsible for the end results. If you preach the gospel to a thousand people and only one believes, praise God! In Isaiah, God says, “My word … shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose (Isa 55:11).

The second thing we learn from 1 Corinthians 3 is that we’re not judged by how much we build. Is your ministry only successful if you reach a thousand people and serve a thousand more? God didn’t call you to erect the entire building yourself. Some of us may construct an entire wall in our lifetime or maybe God intends for us to only contribute a few bricks.

Lastly, you’ll notice Paul’s emphasis is on the materials we use to build. Some will build with gold, silver, or precious stones (1Co 3:12). Others will build with wood. Some will use hay and straw, which anyone who knows the story of the three little pigs can tell you is not ideal. The point is, we’re to do our best with what God gives us.

To be clear, that’s not an excuse to do as little as possible. Elsewhere, Paul says, “Earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1Co 12:31). He also said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:10). The Great Commission places a burden on us to go … and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).

I don’t want you to think, I’m merely a nail in the kingdom. I’ll never accomplish that much. Why even bother? You may be a nail for all I know, but you’re not merely a nail. “For the loss of a nail … lose a kingdom.” The kingdom needs every last nail. Plus, you may be more than a nail. You just don’t know it yet.

I often think about the passage at the end of Matthew 25. In the midst of a culture that prized religious pomp and show perhaps above all else, Jesus speaks of God’s people being ushered into eternal life not because of all of the great things they accomplished (Mt 25:46). Instead, he says God’s sheep are known by the most humble acts of kindness.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Think back over your life. I’m guessing you can remember a few times when someone said just the right thing at the right moment or lent a hand right when you needed it most. That person added a single brick to God’s building which probably gave you the strength to add a few of your own in other ways. Then, once you added your bricks, a few more people added theirs. You may not think you’re doing much in the kingdom of God, but God himself and probably those around you have a different perspective. If God has brought you into the body of Christ, he has made you invaluable.

I know I’ve strayed from the text itself here in Ephesians 6, but that’s where my mind went as I thought about Tychicus this week. Here’s a man recorded in Scripture for all of church history to read and consider, yet he’s so easy to overlook. Why? Is it because we know so little about him?

I think it’s because we can’t readily list his accomplishments. We can’t point to him as the spiritual father of countless Christians and churches. We can’t name all of the people he helped except maybe Paul. We skip right over the five mentions of him in the New Testament because he doesn’t have the lasting legacy or fame of someone like Paul.

But I hope we learn to appreciate the lesser-known servants of Christ like Tychicus, the so-called weaker parts of the body. I pray we learn to judge our own service in the kingdom not by tangible results, but by the service itself and our willingness to do it, whatever it happens to be.