I am Secundus

There’s Paul, sure. And Peter. There’s Mary the mother of Jesus, and even Mary Magdalene. There’s Abraham and Sarah, Priscilla & Aquila, Esther & her cousin Mordecai. The Bible is full of well-known names with well-known stories – people who pop off the pages of the Bible.

But then there are names not-so-well-known:

  • Like Seth (3rd son of Adam & Eve).
  • Or Gomer. No, not the one the prophet Hosea married; there’s another Gomer in the Bible. Apparently Gomer is such a great name, it works for boys and girls. (See Genesis 10.2.)
  • Or Tola – a judge, like Gideon and Samson, but with no heroic stories connected to him. Alas, he only gets 2 verses (Judges 10.1-2).

And there there is the Acts 20, a chapter full of names of folks we know next-to-nothing about. Names like Sopater, Aristarchus, Tychicus, and Trophimus. And Secundus.

Who are these guys? They are companions of Paul, the same Paul who, outside of Jesus, is easily the most recognizable and well-described figure in the New Testament. But these other guys; well, their partnership with Paul is about all we know about them.

For Aristarchus, we also know that he was in prison with Paul (Colossians 4.10). Tychicus is elsewhere called a dear brother and faithful servant (Ephesians 6.21, Colossians 4.7). And we learn that Trophimus got sick once (2 Timothy 4.20). Not the first thing you want mentioned about you in scripture, but hey, at least it’s something.

Which is more than we can say for Secundus. If it weren’t for Acts 20, we wouldn’t even know he exists – for this is the only place in scripture he gets a shout-out. He’s not Paul, he’s not Timothy, he’s not Titus. And apparently he doesn’t even get sick enough, like Trophimus, to get another mention.

But even though he doesn’t get a second mention, he is second. Literally. For that, in fact, is what his name translates to: Second.

Imagine getting to meet him when the roll is called up yonder. You walk up to him, and he says: I’m in the Bible. You might have missed me though. I’m only in one verse, in a list of a bunch of other names.

My name? My name is Second.

But even though he is second in ways literal and literary, I for one am glad he gets the one mention he does receive. It reminds me and you that we don’t have to be a Paul or an Esther, a Priscilla or an Aquila, to belong to the family of God. Whether many know our name, or just a few, does not matter. All that matters is that HE knows our name. And our True Father has no children who are second.

I talked recently to a friend who has served in ministry for nearly 25 years. He has faithfully served and loved people; he has silently but consistently led and pastored people in Jesus’ name. Even so, he recently had to downshift his position, moving from a lead role to more of a secondary position.

My friend is not someone who will speak before thousands. He’ll never write something that will sell books or garner attention. It’s very unlikely he’ll get even the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol says we all have coming to us.

And so, in a way, you can say my friend is a modern-day Secundus. Mostly unnoticed, sometimes unappreciated – but still he continues serving, seeking, and sharing. And I’m confident, that even though his name is ‘Second’, his life is anything-but. For Someone does notice. Someone does see.

And that Someone has many children – none of whom are second.

Faith: Not Certainty, but Humility

In his book, The Bible Jesus Read, Philip Yancey points out that the influential church reformer John Calvin preached 700 sermons. Of that total, 159 were based on the book of Job. In other words, John Calvin preached the equivalent of 3 years of Sundays on one of the most difficult books in the Bible.

In comparison, it makes the four sermons I’ve preached on Job seem puny in comparison. That’s true, but even four messages on Job can feel kind of, well, heavy. So much pain and agony and questions and doubts. Even so, the book of Job reminds us of the importance of honesty and transparency in our faith. And humility.

For at the end of the day, faith never brings certainty. It can’t; that’s why it’s called faith. The whole purpose of faith — the reason we need faith — is because we can’t see everything; we can’t know everything. Faith is about choosing something — Someone — to trust, precisely because a choice has to be made. If we waited until all the evidence was in before making a choice for the direction and purpose of our lives, we wouldn’t be able to move.

The preacher & writer John Ortberg puts it this way: “Faith is not a matter of certainty but humility.”

Job has to learn that lesson. Where he wants answers, he has to settle for wisdom. Where Job rails against God’s silence, eventually Job himself goes quiet. Where he wants to go toe-to-toe with God, he has to settle for falling on his knees.

Because ultimately, faith isn’t a matter of getting the answers we think we need, but getting a glimpse of God that we do need — a glimpse that won’t erase all our questions, but does erase our need for all our questions to have answers.

In light of Job and his life, let me suggest that what our world needs is not an answer to every question they ask. What those who are outside of faith need is to see people of faith doing just that — being people of faith. People who trust even when they cannot see.

The great 20th century writer C.S. Lewis wrote a book that imagined an ongoing dialogue between a senior demon (Screwtape) and his junior demon understudy (Wormwood). In the book, Screwtape writes letters describing how Wormwood must try to keep the human he is working on, John, from living out his newfound faith.

At one point, Screwtape, in response to difficulties John is facing, writes to Wormwood: “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s (God’s) will, looks round a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

In other words, we most powerfully live out our faith when we can’t see where our faith is taking us — or if it even makes sense. Faith lived out when it doesn’t make sense is a faith that shakes the foundation of the world.

I don’t plan to do 159 sermons on Job, or 59, or, frankly, even 9. But the message of that book has reverberated through humanity, and will continue to do so, because it is a call to faith when life is fuzzy and unclear. And life will remain fuzzy and unclear, at least in part, until the day when we no longer see as through a glass darkly.

Until that day, hold on to faith. And to the Author of Faith. For faith believes that He is there, no matter what I can see. Or can’t.