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 Ranker.com, 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.