Wednesday: Paul’s Fellow Workers

Acts 20:1-12 In this study we observe changes that take place at this point in Paul’s ministry.
Paul’s Fellow Workers

We are told at this point about a team of church workers that joined Paul to go together with him to Jerusalem. It was an impressive group of people: Sopater from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia; and Timothy.

Not a great deal is said about their mission, but we know from Paul’s letters that he had been traveling through the Gentile areas in order to take up an offering that he was going to bring to Jerusalem to help the Jerusalem Christians. Famine, followed by poverty, had come upon the church in Jerusalem, and Paul, although he does not say this in so many words, undoubtedly hoped by this tangible act of concern for the Jewish Christians to bridge the gap that had developed between the Jewish and Gentile branches of the church. Perhaps he would even be able to demonstrate something of the love of the Gentile Christians to all Jews. If they could see an act of love and compassion for Jews by Gentiles, it might be a step in winning some of them to Jesus Christ. 

It was the purpose of this traveling party to convey the offering to Jerusalem. Verse 4 lists those who went along. “These men,” Luke says, “went on ahead and waited for us at Troas” (v. 5). There is that plural pronoun again. It indicates that at this point Luke himself once more joined the company. It is worth reflecting on these men and their cities. 

Berea was the town where, we are told, they were “of more noble character than the Thessalonians” because they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:12). These were real Bible students. It was to be expected that out of people like that a strong church was established. One of their leaders was Sopater, and he accompanied Paul with their share of the offering for Jerusalem. 

Thessalonica was a city on the north Aegean coast. Today it is known as Salonika. It contributed Aristarchus and Secundus.

I do not know if this was intentional or not, but something important is suggested by that combination of names. Aristarchus means very much like what it seems to mean in English, “aristocrat” or “aristocracy.” The first part of it is a word meaning “best”; the second part means “rule.” So an aristocracy is a form of government in which rule is by the best possible people. (Of course, that generally means those who are in positions of power and who regard themselves as the best.) If the name means anything in this context, it would suggest that the person bearing it was from what we would call the upper levels of society. 

The second name is exactly the opposite, “Secundus.” It is a Latin word, and it means “second” or “number two.” Why would anybody be named “second”? Well, names like these were sometimes given to slaves who would not be called by their real names. Rather, in a prosperous Latin or Greek household, there would be a slave who was the Number One slave, in charge of all the other slaves. He would be called Primus, “Number One.” Then you would have his understudy, who worked for him and actually carried out many of Number One’s responsibilities. He would be called Secundus. 

If this was the case, then this great church at Thessalonica must have said, “Let’s send men with Paul who are truly representative of our church. Let’s send someone who can represent the upper classes, because we have a few like that here, and let’s send Secundus to represent those of our number who are slaves.” If this is an accurate picture, it is an illustration of the remarkable change that had come about in ancient culture as a result of the revolutionary impact of Christianity. 

Gaius represented Derbe, one of the cities of Galatia. Timothy we know about. He traveled with Paul. He was from Lystra. Then, from the province of Asia there were Tychicus and Trophimus. 

Some people who have considered this from the perspective of the geography involved ask, “If these were supposed to be representatives from all the great Gentile churches, where in this list are the representatives from Philippi (one of the strongest churches of Macedonia) and Corinth (where Paul spent a year and six months)?” That is a good question. Derbe and Lystra are represented, smaller towns in Galatia. Thessalonica represents Macedonia. Berea represents a lower section of Greece. Where is Philippi? Where is Corinth? 

Well, it may be, since at this point Luke indicates that he was present by using the word “we” rather than “they,” that Luke represented Philippi. He stayed behind to work there on one occasion. It would be characteristic of Luke not to mention that fact about himself. 

What about Corinth? One commentator suggests that we have a clue here that things had not worked out very well at Corinth. According to this view, Corinth was alienated from Paul. Paul had written about the offering, but the people had resisted his suggestions. Consequently, when the time came for them to send a representative and an offering, they had no offering and therefore sent no one. That may be possible. Yet to judge from Paul’s letters, particularly the encouragement he seems to have had from the resolution of the problems at Corinth, it is possible that something else happened. Paul had been among them that winter. So when the time came for him to leave and they were to send their offering, they might have said something like this: “Paul, why don’t you carry the offering from the church here in Corinth?” We do not know if this was the case, but it would account for what seems to have been a serious omission otherwise.

Study Questions
  1. List the men who traveled with Paul to Jerusalem. What is known about each one?
  2. Why was Paul taking up an offering?

Application: Have you been in a situation in which different groups of Christians did not get along? What was done to bridge the gap? What else could have been done?

Prayer: Pray for faithfulness and unity of your church, as well as for other Gospel-preaching churches.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “The Long Way Home.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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