This summer, when churches in my area resumed having in-person services, I visited a small congregation where my friend is the pastor. He was finishing a series on Ephesians, and he read some of Paul’s final words as he wrapped up the letter: In order that you know how I am – what I’m doing – Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful servant in the Lord – he’ll make sure you know everything. I’ve sent him to you for this reason, so that you might know about us, and your hearts might be encouraged (Ephesians 6.21-22).
After he read this scripture, it got me thinking: I’ve heard the name Tychicus, but I don’t really know anything about this guy. So, confession: as my friend continued to preach, I listened, but I also searched “Tychicus” on my Bible app. Turns out, he’s mentioned 4 other times in the NT.
In Acts 20, he’s listed with a bunch of Paul’s traveling companions. In 2 Timothy 4.12, we have another reference to Paul sending him to Ephesus. In Colossians 4.7, we read basically the same description of him that we see in Ephesians – pretty much word-for-word. In Titus 3.12, Paul is considering sending Tychicus to Crete. Even though we know very little about him, it appears that Tychicus was one of Paul’s most trusted emissaries; if someone needed to go and share with a congregation in need, Tychicus was one of Paul’s first choices.
This got me to thinking how the Bible is full of plenty of names we know, and rightly so. Names that readily come to mind, like Ruth, Abraham, David, Isaiah, Esther, Elijah, Moses. Peter, James, & John. Timothy and Titus. Or pick your favorite Mary.
Each name we know. Each one has a story to tell. But what about the Tychicuses of the Bible? (Or would that be Tychici?) What about them? What stories do they have?
I think it matters, because they matter. If we believe that every person has value – then every name counts, right? Every person – EVERY person – has a name, a place, and a story.
Like Onesimus, for example – the slave who’s at the center of the Letter to Philemon. His name means Useful – likely named that way so that, as a slave, he would live up to that name.
In Colossians 4.9, we read that, along with Tychicus, Paul has sent Onesimus to the Colossian church. He’s one of yours, Paul says. And Paul calls him “the faithful and beloved brother.”
Don’t miss this. A slave, being sent back to his home city, but now his enslaved status is no longer his primary identity. His “usefulness” has nothing to do with worldly status; instead, Paul says, he’s our brother, loved and faithful to our God. In fact, in verse 10 of Philemon, Paul calls him “my child” – and literally says, I birthed him while I was in prison.
But Paul isn’t finished. There are more people he wants to mention. And so, as he is wrapping up Colossians, he says in 4.10: Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas – you’re received instruction about him. If he comes to you, receive him.
Not only was Aristarchus a prisoner with Paul, Acts 27 tells us that he had been on the ship Paul took to Rome as a prisoner – and so, would have been shipwrecked with him. We don’t even know this guy; but can you imagine how important he was to Paul? Could Paul have been Paul without this guy we know nothing about?
And then there’s Mark. He’s the guy whose name is behind one of our 4 gospels. He’s also the one who came between Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 15, as the two are about to set out on a missionary trip, Barny wants to take Mark, but Paul remembers that Mark left them on a previous trip. Paul says no. Barny says yes. Paul says No Way. Barny says Yes way. And then they part ways – over Mark.
But here we are, in Colossians 4.10, and who is Paul speaking up for? It’s Mark. Somehow, the two came back together. Maybe there were tears of confession, owning up to impatience on the one hand, and immaturity on the other. Surely there was a heart-to-heart – with forgiveness offered, and received. Something clearly happened, for here Paul is, standing with Mark. Together, again.
How about verse 15? Paul greets Nympha – and the church that meets at her house. This is the only mention of Nympha in scripture; she’s what we might call a biblical “one-hit wonder.” Even so, she’s an important part of the church, and Paul doesn’t want to overlook her. For when the NT talks about those who have church at their home, it’s usually not simply referring to the hostess. It’s a reference to one who leads and shepherds those who gather there. And Nympha is among them.
So, here in Colossians 4, in just a few verses, we get just a few names from Paul. We’d love to know more. But what we do know, speaks volumes.
If a slave and a woman and a Gentile can be so vitally important to the mission of a man who was a Pharisee, zealous for the law – if these people are life and breath to Paul – then we should be sure not to miss the message here. And the relationships Paul has formed with these folk is simply a living-out of what he describes in Galatians 3.26-28: For we are ALL sons (and daughters) of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. For whoever has been baptized into Christ, has put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not man and woman. For ALL of YOU are One in Christ Jesus.
That’s the message we need to live as the Church. This is who we are. This is who we are becoming. And every time Paul points to some unknown Gentile, or woman, or slave – and says, Here is a brother or sister – he is pointing to the new family God has made through Jesus; a family that includes each person who wears his name.
And every time Paul does that, he is breaking new ground – where the Church is forming a new culture, one where we all are one – where everyone has a seat at the table – because at the center of that table is the cross. And seated at the Head of that table is the resurrected Jesus, whose resurrection defeats our disunity, our discord – forming a brand-new, resurrected family. A family for all of us – for those who are well-connected, and those un-connected. For those with status, and those with no status. For those who feel wanted, and those who don’t.
And isn’t that exactly what our worlds need today?
Maybe you’ve heard of the ancient Roman practice of “infant exposure” – where an unwanted newborn would be left on a trash heap or other abandoned place – to die or be gathered up by someone. Often, those who came by and “saved babies from dying” did so in order to raise the child for sale into slavery. NT historian Larry Hurtado says that by one estimate, the Roman empire needed 500,000 new slaves each year – of which 150,000 would have come from “discarded” babies.
Hurtado points to a letter from around the time of Jesus’ birth. It’s from a man named Hilarion, who was likely a soldier in the Roman army. In 1 BC, he writes to his wife, Alis. She is expecting, and Hilarion writes to her, “If it is a boy, let it be; if it is a girl, cast it out.” Hurtado notes that this was a common Roman practice – that basically, a newborn didn’t become a part of the family until it was accepted into the family.
Folk in the Roman world could pick and choose who belonged. How counter-cultural it must have been, then, to have this movement come along, and say: Everyone has a place. God chooses to welcome all who need a family.
ALL are welcome, for all of us have equal need of the grace and redemption from our Father that comes through our Brother Jesus. We don’t open our arms to people because they are useful to us or have the right status – or because they look like us, or agree with us. The Spirit invites into the family all who recognize our desperate need for Jesus – folk like slaves, who became brothers. Women, who became leaders. And Jews & Gentiles, who sat down at the same table, as one. It’s the original plan for the Church, and it still applies today.