Paul and his good friends: Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Luke

2 Timothy 4:8 Crown of Righteousness

Paul has many friends. Some are closer than others. Today we continue to read about Paul and how he values his relationship with his fellow combat soldiers in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Prior conversion to Christ, Saul (Paul) persecuted Christians with zeal at 31AD (Acts 8). But then he was called by the Lord and converted at 34AD (Acts 9). Barnabas went to Tarsus and looked for him at 42AD (Acts 11:25). Both were sent out on a mission journey at 48AD (Acts 13) by the Holy Spirit through the Syrian Antioch church. God provides him with several significant co-workers, namely, Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. Reading the Bible (book of Acts and Paul’s letters), it is clear that God arranges different important and faithful ministry partners/co-workers to work with Paul at different time for specific purposes. There is no mention of Paul’s family. These ministry workers are his friends and even family. When Paul wrote to Timothy his last letter (2 Timothy) at 67AD, he revealed a lot his inner feelings about true friendship in ministry. There is a depth of his knowledge of each of them despite the short span of time they each had with him in his ministry (42AD to 67AD).

Here is a summary of who they are and their relationship with Paul:

Barnabas (one who encourages/exhorts; pacification; consolation): An apostle, a wealthy Levite, who came from a Jewish-Cypriot priestly family, an early member of the Jerusalem church, and exemplary follower of Jesus. He became the important intermediary between the newly-converted Paul and the other Jewish disciples in Jerusalem. A good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. (Acts 11:24) He recruited Paul and was a chief companion in working with him for the ministry for a period of seven years (42AD to 49AD). It appears that Barnabas is considered more senior when they first team up, and he is listed first among the five “prophets and teachers” at Syrian Antioch church, with Saul appearing last. (Acts 13:1)

They were both commissioned by the Syrian Antioch church, and sent out together in Paul’s first missionary journey during which the leadership was passed to Paul subtly (48AD). They collaborated well and were able to preach Christ and started church planting in a number of predominantly Gentiles strategic places far into Asia Minor: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. After returning to Syrian Antioch, they were both sent to attend the Council at Jerusalem. (Acts 13-15)

Later, Paul proposes returning to the various cities where they have established congregations (Acts 15:36). Barnabas is determined to take John Mark (15:37), “but Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work”(15:38). The disagreement caused them to part company; Barnabas took Mark and sailed to his home country, Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord” (15:39-40). And that is the last passage on Barnabas in the book of Acts. The close working partnership was broken, but not the friendship. Whenever Paul mentions Barnabas he words imply sympathy and respect. (1 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 2:13)

John Mark: He is Barnabas’ young cousin, a Jerusalem Christian Jew with his mother, Mary, a Christian woman of wealth and position, who provides her big house as a gathering and prayer venue for Jesus and His disciples. As mentioned above, Paul and Barnabas disagreed over Mark’s suitability to go on a second mission trip with them. But Paul’s later testimonies of Mark would indicate that Mark had benefitted under Barnabas’ tutorship and became an accepted and significant co-worker to Paul. (2 Timothy 4:11) In Colossians he is with Paul, the prisoner. And in 2 Timothy 4:11 he is now with Timothy, possibly in Ephesus. The Gospel of Mark is attributed to have been compiled by John Mark, who had been in companionship with three great apostles: Barnabas, Paul, and Peter. When Paul wrote to Timothy and asked him to come to Paul and bring Mark with him because Mark is useful to him for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11), twenty year had gone by (48AD-67AD) and Mark has matured into a capable and dependable co-worker in Paul’s ministry!

Silas (Silvanus): We can read about his supportive role in Paul’s ministry in Acts 15-18. He is a leader at the Jerusalem church with prophetic gift (Acts 15:22). He was sent to the church at Antioch to welcome the Gentile Christians. There Paul took him as his ministry companion on the second mission journey. (15:36-41) Like Paul, Silas is a Roman citizen. (16:37-39) He is the right co-worker to accompany Paul as they go through important regions: Syria, Asia Minor, Macedonia and Thessalonica. He and Timothy also preach/teach the Corinth church together with Paul. (2 Corinthians 1:19) When Paul leaves Thessalonica, Silas stays behind with Timothy, and is thereafter associated mainly with him than with Paul (17:14, 17:15b, 18:5a).

Timothy: the son of a mixed marriage between a godly Christian Jewish woman, Eunice and a Greek man living in Lystra (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5). Paul called him, “my true son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2), perhaps having led him to faith in Christ during his first visit to Lystra. At the time of his second visit Paul invited young Timothy to join him on his subsequent missionary travels. From his two important ministry letters to Timothy, and the mentions of him in other letters, it is quite possible that Paul treated him as his disciple/student/potential successor. Timothy helped Paul evangelize Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 17:14-15; 18:5) and was with him during much of his long preaching/teaching ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:22). He traveled with him from Ephesus to Macedonia, to Corinth (Acts 20:3), back to Macedonia, and to Asia Minor (Acts 20:1-6). He may even have accompanied him all the way to Jerusalem (Acts 21). He was with Paul during the apostle’s first imprisonment (Phil.1:1; Col.1:1; Philem. 1).

He was first entrusted with a special commission to Thessalonica to encourage the persecuted Christians. He was later sent with Erastus on another important mission to Macedonia, to proceed to Corinth. (1 Corinthians 4:17). He also went with Paul to Jerusalem with the collection. (Acts 20:4-5).

Following Paul’s release (after Ac 28), Timothy again traveled with him but eventually Paul commissioned him to stay at Ephesus to deal with false teachers, supervise public worship and the appointment of church officials there (1 Timothy 1:3), while Paul went on to Macedonia. Paul’s closeness to and grooming of Timothy to be a leader are seen in Paul’s naming him as the co-sender of six of his letters (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1,2 Thessalonians and Philemon) and in his speaking highly of him to the Philippians (Phil. 2:19-22). At the end of Paul’s life, he requested Timothy to join him at Rome (2Tim. 4:9,21). According to Heb.13:23, Timothy himself was imprisoned and subsequently released.

Paul revealed a lot his inner feelings about true friendship in ministry in his letters. In his last letter to Timothy, he showed his need for close friends and he urged them to hasten come to him (he was re-arrested and on trial for his life). We can see the disappointment (pain and hurt) and yet hope in 2 Timothy 4 (the last chapter).

(Paul repeatedly urged Timothy), 4:9 Be diligent to come to me quickly;  21 Do your utmost to come before winter.

(The disappointment) 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia. Titus for Dalmatia. (Three ministry co-workers have left him to face the trial alone. One actually went back to the world) 16 At my last defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me…

(One consolation) 11a Only Luke is with me.

(Paul needs more human physical presence to stand with him in his final hours) 11b Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.

(One warning about the enemy’s work) 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm…15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.

 (Expression of hope, strength, and thankfulness) 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work…

Three persons have left Paul at this most difficult time. But he is still able to call three other friends to join him: Timothy, Mark, and Tychicus (an Asian). He also has Luke who sticks to him throughout. These friends stick with Paul through good and bad times, and that’s why he can write to them to come to stand with him with confidence that they would respond! He was executed soon after that (before Emperor Nero died in 68AD).

Above all, Paul has his closest friend, the Lord who has never left him. Why does he still want to see Timothy and the rest? Paul reveals his human side here. He knows this trial may be his last. And he is ready. 4:6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

He wants to say goodbye to those who remain his closest fellow combat soldiers in the advancement of the Kingdom of God —who are also his closest human friends in the last stage of his life on earth.

Kainotes, Sep 7, 2020 (To continue)