Paul’s Fellow Workers—Who Were They?
IN THE Bible book of Acts and in the letters of Paul are mentioned some one hundred individuals, members of the first-century Christian congregation who had contact with the “apostle to the nations.” (Romans 11:13) A lot is known about a number of them. Likely you are familiar with the activities of Apollos, Barnabas, and Silas. On the other hand, you would probably find it more difficult to say much about Archippus, Claudia, Damaris, Linus, Persis, Pudens, and Sopater.
In different periods and under varying circumstances, many individuals played an active role in supporting Paul’s ministry. Certain ones like Aristarchus, Luke, and Timothy served by the apostle’s side for many years. Some were with him when he was in prison or while he was on the move, either as traveling companions or as hosts and hostesses. Sadly, others, such as Alexander, Demas, Hermogenes, and Phygelus, did not persevere in the Christian faith.
When it comes to several of Paul’s other friends, like Asyncritus, Hermas, Julia, or Philologus to mention just a few, we know little more about them than their names. In the case of Nereus’ sister or Rufus’ mother or those of the house of Chloe, we do not know even that much. (Romans 16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 1:11) Nonetheless, an examination of what little information we do possess about these hundred or so individuals throws light on the way the apostle Paul worked. It also teaches us something about the benefits of being surrounded by a large number of fellow believers and working closely with them.
Traveling Companions, Hosts, and Hostesses
The apostle Paul’s ministry involved a great deal of traveling. One writer calculates that the distance he covered on land and sea as recorded in Acts alone approached some 10,000 miles [16,000 km]. Travel back then was not only fatiguing but also dangerous. Among the various perils he faced were shipwreck, dangers from rivers and from highwaymen, dangers in the wilderness, and dangers at sea. (2 Corinthians 11:25, 26) Appropriately, Paul was rarely alone in his movements from one place to another.
Those who accompanied Paul would be a source of companionship, encouragement, and practical assistance in the ministry. On occasion, Paul left them behind so that they could care for the spiritual needs of new believers. (Acts 17:14; Titus 1:5) But the presence of companions was likely essential for safety and for support in dealing with the rigors of the journey. So such individuals as Sopater, Secundus, Gaius, and Trophimus, whom we know to have been among Paul’s traveling companions, may have fulfilled an important role in the success of his ministry.—Acts 20:4.
No less welcome was the help offered by hosts and hostesses. When Paul arrived in a city where he intended to conduct a preaching campaign or simply to stop overnight, a priority would be to find a place to stay. Anyone who traveled as widely as Paul did would by necessity have to sleep in literally scores of different beds. He could always stay at an inn, but these are described by historians as “dangerous and unsavoury places,” so, where possible, Paul probably stayed with fellow believers.
We know the names of some of Paul’s hosts and hostesses—Aquila and Prisca, Gaius, Jason, Lydia, Mnason, Philemon, and Philip. (Acts 16:14, 15; 17:7; 18:2, 3; 21:8, 16; Romans 16:23; Philemon 1, 22) In Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, such accommodations provided Paul with a base from which he could organize his missionary activities. In Corinth, Titius Justus also opened his home to provide the apostle with a place from which he could carry on his preaching.—Acts 18:7.
A Multitude of Friends
As may be expected, Paul’s acquaintances were remembered in different ways because of the differing circumstances under which he met them. Mary, Persis, Phoebe, Tryphaena, and Tryphosa, for example, were all female fellow believers who were commended for their labors and hard work. (Romans 16:1, 2, 6, 12) Paul baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. Dionysius and Damaris accepted the message of truth from him in Athens. (Acts 17:34; 1 Corinthians 1:14, 16) Andronicus and Junias, “men of note among the apostles” who had been believers longer than Paul, are called his “fellow captives.” Perhaps they had been in prison with him on some occasion. These two, like Herodion, Jason, Lucius, and Sosipater, were also spoken of by Paul as his “relatives.” (Romans 16:7, 11, 21) While the Greek word used here can mean “fellow-countrymen,” the primary meaning of it is “blood relatives of the same generation.”
Many of Paul’s friends traveled for the sake of the good news. Besides his better-known companions, there are also Achaicus, Fortunatus, and Stephanas, who journeyed from Corinth to Ephesus to confer with Paul about the spiritual condition of their congregation. Artemas and Tychicus were ready to travel to meet up with Titus, who was serving on the island of Crete, and Zenas was to undertake a trip with Apollos.—1 Corinthians 16:17; Titus 3:12, 13.
There are those about whom Paul supplies some small and fascinating detail. We are informed, for example, that Epaenetus was “a firstfruits of Asia,” that Erastus was “the city steward” at Corinth, that Luke was a physician, that Lydia was a seller of purple, and that Tertius was the one Paul used to pen his letter to the Romans. (Romans 16:5, 22, 23; Acts 16:14; Colossians 4:14) For any who would like to know more about such individuals, these snippets of information are tantalizing in their brevity.
Others of Paul’s companions received personal messages, which are now recorded in the Bible. In his letter to the Colossians, for instance, Paul exhorted Archippus: “Keep watching the ministry which you accepted in the Lord, that you fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17) Euodia and Syntyche evidently had some personal conflict to resolve. Thus, Paul exhorted them through an unnamed “yokefellow” in Philippi “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2, 3) Surely, this is good counsel for all of us.
Loyal Support While Imprisoned
Paul was in prison several times. (2 Corinthians 11:23) On those occasions the local Christians, when there were any, must have tried to do all they could to make his experience more bearable. When Paul underwent his first imprisonment in Rome, he was allowed to rent his own house for two years and could be visited by his friends. (Acts 28:30) During that period, he wrote letters to the congregations in Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, as well as to Philemon. These sources tell us much about those who were close to Paul during his detention.
For example, we learn that Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, met up with Paul in Rome, as did Tychicus, who was to accompany Onesimus on his journey back to his master. (Colossians 4:7-9) There was also Epaphroditus, who made the long journey from Philippi with a gift from his congregation and who then fell sick. (Philippians 2:25; 4:18) Working closely with Paul in Rome were Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus who is called Justus, of whom Paul said: “Only these are my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and these very ones have become a strengthening aid to me.” (Colossians 4:10, 11) Along with all these faithful ones, there were the better-known Timothy and Luke, as well as Demas, who later, for love of the world, abandoned Paul.—Colossians 1:1; 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:10; Philemon 24.
Apparently, none of those were from Rome, yet they were there by Paul’s side. Perhaps some had gone specifically to assist him during his imprisonment. No doubt some ran errands for him, others were dispatched on distant missions, and to still others Paul dictated letters. What an eloquent testimony to the intensity of attachment and loyalty that all of these had for Paul and for God’s work!
From the conclusions of some of Paul’s letters, we perceive that he was probably surrounded by a large company of Christian brothers and sisters that go beyond the few names we know. On different occasions, he wrote: “All the holy ones send you their greetings” and, “All those with me send you their greetings.”—2 Corinthians 13:13; Titus 3:15; Philippians 4:22.
During Paul’s critical second imprisonment in Rome when martyrdom was looming, Paul’s fellow workers were very much in his thoughts. He was still active in supervising and coordinating the activities of at least some of them. Titus and Tychicus had been dispatched on missions, Crescens had gone to Galatia, Erastus had stayed in Corinth, Trophimus had been left sick at Miletus, but Mark and Timothy were to come to him. Luke, though, was by Paul’s side, and when the apostle wrote his second letter to Timothy, several other believers, including Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, were on hand to send their greetings. They were doubtless doing what they could to help Paul. At the same time, Paul himself sent greetings to Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Sadly, however, in that time of trouble, Demas forsook him, and Alexander did him many injuries.—2 Timothy 4:9-21.
“We Are God’s Fellow Workers”
Paul was seldom alone during his preaching activities. “The picture that emerges,” says commentator E. Earle Ellis, “is that of a missionary with a large number of associates. Indeed, Paul is scarcely ever found without companions.” Under the guidance of God’s holy spirit, Paul was able to mobilize many people and organize effective missionary campaigns. He was surrounded by close partners, temporary assistants, some strong personalities, and numerous humble servants. Yet, these were not just coworkers. Regardless of the extent to which they worked or associated with Paul, the bond of Christian love and personal friendship is unmistakable.
The apostle Paul had what has been called a “genius for friendship.” He did much to take the good news to the nations, but he did not try to do it alone. He cooperated with and made full use of the organized Christian congregation. Paul did not take any credit to himself for the results attained but humbly acknowledged that he was a slave and that all honor should go to God as the one responsible for the growth.—1 Corinthians 3:5-7; 9:16; Philippians 1:1.
Paul’s times were different from ours, but even so, no one in the Christian congregation today should think that he can be or needs to be independent. Rather, we should always work with God’s organization, with our local congregation, and with our fellow believers. We need their help, support, and comfort in good times and in troublesome times. We have the precious privilege of being part of an ‘entire association of brothers in the world.’ (1 Peter 5:9) If we faithfully and lovingly work side by side and in cooperation with all of them, then just like Paul, we too can say that “we are God’s fellow workers.”—1 Corinthians 3:9.
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