In The Shadow of Saints

Background Passages: Acts 20:4; Romans 15:25-26; Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8; Philemon 1; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12

Hero worship is not the term I want to use. There is a connotation to the phrase that rankles and suggests blind admiration, unbridled trust and unthinking obedience. Susane Curchod Necker, an 18th century French writer, wrote that we should “worship your heroes from afar for contact withers them.” Though we all have heroes in our lives, blind adoration leads inevitably to disappointment. I’m not much for hero worship.

That being said, there are men and women throughout history whose influence changed the world for the better. These folks merit our respect. They have earned a measure of respect and admiration, from whom we can learn much. I suspect if I asked you to create a list of the five most influential people in history, there would be great commonality in our lists.

A social website called, recently published an article as a follow up to a survey they conducting asking people to rank in order history’s most influential people. In order among the top five selected were such notables as Jesus Christ, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leonardo di Vinci and Aristotle. Though you might include others, it would be hard to argue that assessment.

Look at it from your eyes of faith. If I asked you to list five men and women of faith who changed the world for Christ, I wonder who might fall on your list other than Jesus Christ himself? Whom would you peg as the most influential men and women of faith? Peter? Paul? James? John? As we read through the Bible, we find countless men and women whose acts of faith and witness stand worthy of our respect and admiration. Worthy of matching our actions to theirs. They are men and women from whom we can learn much about a life of service and commitment to the cause of Christ.

I can certainly create a list of godly men and women, but I find myself drawn to those who walk in the shadow of the saints. Outside the limelight, these men and women worked tirelessly to further the kingdom of God. I am convinced that the work of Peter, Paul, James and John would have struggled to find a solid foothold during that first century were it not for a faithful supporting cast.

He’s mentioned five times. Eight verses devoted to his life. Less than 100 words describe him and define his contribution to the spread of the gospel. I ask you to consider the influence of a man who Paul described as a “dear brother” and a “faithful servant.” Consider Tychicus.

From the province of Asia (modern day Turkey), Tychicus is first mentioned in Acts as a companion to Paul on his way back through Macedonia after the near riot in Ephesus caused by the shop owners who felt threatened by Paul and his teaching. Though scripture does not reveal it, I suspect Tychicus and others were equally targeted for sharing the gospel to the residents of Ephesus. Yet, such threats did little to deter his commitment to Christ and his willingness to follow Paul wherever he went.

Putting two and two together, given Tychicus’ service with Paul in Rome, allows us to assume he also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem to deliver the offering gathered among the Macedonian churches for the persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Given what we learn later about Tychicus, I suspect his presence encouraged the Jerusalem believers in their dark hours. He seemed to have that gift.

This “faithful servant” stayed with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome, continuing to minister to the apostle, meeting his personal, physical and spiritual needs. His day to day encouragement blessed Paul deeply. So much so that he regarded Tychicus with deep affection as a brother. Through the difficult days, Paul developed an abiding trust in Tychicus and his ability to do the hard work that needed to be done. His ability to handle the more sensitive assignments in leading and correcting a troubled church. Tychicus’ unassuming nature made him Paul’s perfect representative to the churches Paul established prior to his time in prison.

Two additional references to Tychicus find that Paul, desiring time with two young pastors while in Rome, sends his brother to Ephesus and Crete to relieve Timothy and Titus of their pastoral duties so they could visit the apostle in Rome. Paul trusted Tychicus to step in and serve as an interim pastor among two important congregations.

At one point, Tychicus left Rome at Paul’s request to deliver three important letters, two to the churches in Colossae and Ephesus. These early churches struggled in certain aspects of their faith and worried that the spread of the gospel would suffer as Paul languished in jail. Paul closes his letters in Colossians and Ephesians with subtle praise of Tychicus and his honesty and his ability to encourage those whose hearts were troubled.

“Tychicus, our dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so you also may now how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage you.”

The final mention of Tychicus may be his most difficult assignment. He did not make the journey to Corinth and Ephesus by himself. His companion along the way was a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus stole money from his master and ran away to Rome where he had a chance encountered Paul. The former slave heard the gospel proclaimed and received Christ as his savior. His love for Paul and his devotion to learning all he could learn about the teachings of Christ, endeared him to the apostle. I also suspect Tychicus served as a mentor to the young man.

Determine to set things right, Onesimus decided to return to his master knowing that his crime merited a death sentence. This was the third letter Tychicus carried in his pouch. Paul wrote the letter to the slave’s former owner, a Christian brother named Philemon, entrusting the inevitable conversation to Tychicus. One can read between the lines and see the encouragement and influence of Tychicus in turning a broken relationship between slave and master into a restored relationship in which the former slave could be regarded as someone who is “very dear to me (Paul) but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.”

Few of us will measure our influence on the faith to the level of Billy Sunday or Billy Graham. Few of us will pastor or serve in the country’s largest churches. That we demonstrate our faith in the shadows of faithful giants, or the shadow of a beloved pastor, is a marvelous tribute to the work of Christ in our lives. For if we left the spread of the gospel and the ministry of Christ to the mega-revivalists and the mega-churches, God’s word would fade into the annals of history.

Consider those like Tychicus who see the hungry and give them food; who see the thirsty and give them something to drink; who see the stranger and invite them in; who see the naked and find them clothes; who see the sick and care for them; who see those in prison and visit them; these are the day to day heroes that find a way to encourage those whom Jesus loves. Consider living a life like Tychicus.

In response Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Tychicus sought no praise, no glory and I suspect would be just as happy if the Bible never mentioned his name. Yet, for me, he is a man who influenced the world one person at a time. That, my friends, is my definition of hero.

Author’s Note: This devotional thought is the first in a series of posts about some of the unsung heroes of the New Testament. These men and women, in many ways, carried the responsibility of the spread of the gospel in first 50 years after the ministry of Christ. By studying the words of Paul, we learn about these courageous men and women of faith. By putting together the limited biblical references to their work and filling in the gaps with a little imagination, we find ways in which we, as ordinary Christians, can a heart for ministry in the examples they set. Not all of us are called to the spotlight like Peter or Paul, but all of us can labor for the love of Christ in the shadow of those saints.


Faith Amid the Sorrow

Background Passages: Job 3:24-26; Romans 12:9-13

He sat on the ground covered in the dust, overwhelmed by all that occurred to him. He lost everything and faced rebuilding what remained of a shattered life. Shaken to the core by circumstances beyond his control, Job revealed the anguish in his heart.

“For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared most has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

When I offered my last devotional post two weeks ago, my family and my community braced for what our weather forecasters called a “major flood event.” I know enough to know that forecasting remains ever an inexact science with constantly changing variables and frequently reflects the worst case scenario. Their suggestion that rains brought by Tropical Storm Harvey might exceed 50 inches seemed outlandish. This time they pegged it. My neighborhood received in excess of 51 inches. Other areas of Houston experienced more.

My family and I remain thankful our homes did not flood, but many across our area and all of southeast Texas were not as fortunate. During the storm it seemed it would never stop raining. The waters rose and fell in the streets and yards, depending on the strength of the rain at that moment, until the rivers, creeks, bayous and drainage ditches spilled over their banks. Then, the waters just rose.

Some people faced imminent threat to the lives of their families. First responders and complete strangers went out in waves of high water vehicles and small boats to bring thousands trapped in their homes to the relative safety of hastily improvised shelters. Many more thousands huddled on furniture or upstairs as the waters climbed inside their homes. By the time the rains stopped, thousands of homes were flooded.

Those who experienced the flooding stand in a mess not of their making and face rebuilding what remains of their storm-shattered lives. You can read Job’s words etched in their bewildered faces, “For sighing has become my daily food.”

Surveying the damage, many of them feel uncertain as to where to begin the process of cleaning up. What items must be discarded? What can be saved? For those on fixed retirement incomes or those without flood insurance, they wonder how they will find the funds to rebuild what was destroyed or replace what was lost? In the midst of such uncertainty, they find no peace. No quietness. No rest. Only turmoil.

Two things impressed me in Harvey’s aftermath. First, the victims of the flood who I knew to be followers of Christ, though obviously struggling at times to hold it together, remained steadfast in their faith. You see, sorrow and faith are not mutually exclusive. Job’s distress ran deep, but so did his faith. His heart bore the burden of his grief at the same time it welcomed the hope borne of his faith. Our friends and neighbors showed the same faithful resolve while grieving over all that was lost. I found their strength inspiring.

My church, like so many other churches and organizations, like so many individuals, jumped in to provide resources and labor to help victims of the storm begin walking down the road to recovery. Many of our people worked the shelter and processed thousands of requests for supplies of clothing and food donated from across the country. Our “mud out” teams gathered each morning and went to homes in our community to help friends and neighbors clean up from the storm.

God taught another lesson in the two weeks since the storm. Christians do not hold a monopoly on caring. Across the area, there were people of every background helping others in need. Basic humanity compels us to reach out to those who hurt. The world responds to dramatic need out of a sense of community service and charity. However, for followers of Christ, the motivation to help ought to exceed obligations of social concern and benevolence.

The Christian response ought to be grounded in love. The Greek language of the New Testament used four unique words for “love.” There is God’s love (agape) for his creation and his children. There is a romantic or sexual love (eros) and the love for a friend (philia).

Paul offered another word used only this time in the New Testament. It is the word storge. It is a love derived from natural attachment. The love a mother feels the moment she sees her newborn baby for the first time. The love flows automatically because of the natural connection between them.

Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, said the Christian response of human need must surpass social concern or civic duty. When facing human need, followers of Christ ought to demonstrate God’s love to everyone for no other reason than he created them in his image just as he created those of us who call him Savior. It is not a love that can be faked.

Look at what Paul said in Romans 12:9-13.

“Love (storge) must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Throughout the week as teams went into homes to jump start the process of recovery from the storm, this passage manifested itself in the lives of the volunteers time and time again. Not just in the things that were being done, but through whispered words of encouragement. The hug or the arm around a sagging shoulder. The expressions of hope. The prayers voiced aloud and uttered in silence. The sharing of resources.

The countless acts of love demonstrated over the past two weeks did not end the anguish for those who suffered so much. It is my hope that each piece of sheetrock and insulation removed made recovery come a little quicker; a little easier.

As I spent my time at work, I could not help but see God’s love at work as his people put their love and faith in action. Amid the ugly devastation of the past two weeks, I find that beautiful.


Our prayers go out today for all of those in the Caribbean whose lives were forever changed by the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Irma. We pray for safety and comfort for the people of Florida who face the strength of the storm and the inevitable struggle for recovery in the coming days.