I wonder who you feel you can count on? Who would you trust with your most important secrets or messages?
Think about it, we have an Olympic sport, a feat of astonishing endurance, named after the messenger Pheidippides who ran 26 miles to bring message of a great Athenian victory at Marathon. The Bletchley Park code breakers dramatically influenced the outcome of the second world war by cracking encrypted Nazi communications. And “Don’t shoot the messenger” is a well-known saying – presumably because people did!
Carrying messages has been vital throughout human history, and long before the advent of ‘fake news’ and hacked social media accounts, everyone knew that the integrity of the messenger was crucial.
This refection on a 'B-list' Bible hero focusses on the overlooked messenger who was so crucial to the ministry of the Apostle Paul; Tychicus.
He first appears as part of Paul’s ministry team in Acts 20. All we know is that he was ‘From Asia’ at this point, but verse 1-6 describe some of the tensions Paul’s ministry had caused; ‘uproar’ in Ephesus and death threats in Greece. Anyone willing to travel with him knew they were walking into trouble – not a job for wusses (as my mum would say!)
He is then mentioned in the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. It’s clear he was carrying both letters and instructed to tell the believers there all that was going on with Paul and to encourage them. The Apostle calls him, “Dear brother and faithful minister in the Lord.” (Eph 6.21) and, “Beloved brother, faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (Col 4.7).
Travellers journeyed in convoy, sometimes hiring soldiers to protect them from robbers who preyed on the unsuspecting. Roman roads made things somewhat easier but still, walking, perhaps hiring a donkey or paying for passage on a merchant’s ship… Travel was for the brave and the strong.
We also know from Colossians 4 that he was accompanying the returning runaway slave Onesimus. That in itself was not an easy gig! Onesimus had come to faith after absconding from the household of Philemon. Now on his way back to face the potentially VERY serious music, Tychicus must have spent many a long hour encouraging, exhorting and praying with Onesimus. And who knows how much persuading he had to do to encourage Philemon to accept Paul’s instructions on forgiveness?
Someone who no doubt had the dubious privilege of answering the questions churches had when they read Paul’s letters and must therefore have been trusted by the apostle to understand and communicate that teaching well.
The final mentions for Tychicus are in Paul’s later letters. In Titus 3.12, Tychicus is one of the candidates Paul is intending to send to relieve Titus on Crete. Later, as Paul faced death, he sent him to Ephesus to support the church there. He’d been with the Apostle through almost his entire ministry – a faithful friend and devoted disciple of Jesus.
I don’t know how you respond to the picture we have of this man we so often just skip over as a name in a list?
Two things strike me.
Not the Apostle, but his right-hand man. It must have been such a joy to have him arrive, weary, dirty – but delighted to finally be there; genuinely concerned for your well-being. Carrying messages of hope and teaching about how to live well for Jesus. To have this wise, kind man sit and talk about Jesus over dinner, about the signs and wonders he’d seen, about the challenges and hardships he’d faced must have been so inspiring!
Who brings joy to your heart because you know they are wise, you know they care, you know they have gone more than the extra mile for you? If they are a Tychicus they are probably not a celebrity, not a great theologian or mighty preacher. They are probably one of those older ‘pillars of the church’. I can think of several – both men and women who are a bit like him.
In a time when younger generations are encouraged to retort “Ok Boomer” to their elders and are disparaged as ‘Generation snowflake’, the example of Tychicus – probably middle aged, grey and grizzled from all that time on the road, is one we might take to heart.
He can also be a role model to us of what mature and trustworthy looks like. People are so sceptical of so much, including religious leaders – and often with good cause. But the gospel message we carry is SUCH good news in a struggling world. We need to be those that others are able to trust; messengers whose character gives the message credence. Tychicus demonstrated that integrity, kindness, wisdom and faithfulness to the early church, its our turn to model that now in our generation.
© Ruth Perrin 2021. Last revised on 25 February 2021