Philemon: Paul’s Co-Campaigners


Enfolding you in warm greetings: Epaphras, co-captive with me in Christ Jesus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, companions in labor with me.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [be] with the spirit of all of you.

Philemon 1:23-25 (my translation)

In closing his letter with the warm embrace of greeting, Paul referenced Epaphras, originally from Colossae and now part of Paul’s evangelism team. Epaphras had often brought reports of the assemblies in Colossae to Paul, reassuring Paul of their love and spiritual growth. Now, Epaphras was in prison with Paul for the sake of Christ and the His gospel.

Paul’s note to Philemon had acted as a cover letter for the apostle’s epistle to all the believers in Philemon’s city, Colossae. In that letter, Paul had sent personal words of greeting to those in Laodicea—many of whom he had never met—naming Nymphas and the church that met in her household. The apostle had also asked that his open letter to the Colossians be taken the eleven miles west to the city of Laodicea to be read there as well, to encourage the saints over whom he and Epaphras were both continuously praying.

Four Companions in Labor With Paul

These were the team Tychicus and Onesimus had only recently left in order to courier Paul’s missives to the region of Phrygia. Epaphras, named first, was from Colossae and well-known there as both evangelist and teacher. Paul had already introduced Timothy at the beginning of his note. Now, Paul spoke of four more stalwart co-campaigners, weathered and seasoned in the work of the Lord.

John Mark (for scripture references, click on his name)

Mark had been a student of Jesus, as had his mother, and it was in her home the disciples and Jesus had eaten their Last Supper. Later, after Jesus had risen into heaven, Jesus’ close followers and supporters, a hundred and twenty in all, had met for ten days to watch, wait, and pray. It is here, described in Acts 2, where the Holy Spirit came upon them in tongues of flame and roaring wind, filling them with prophetic power. The saints continued to meet in the home of John Mark and his mother, as the church in Jerusalem grew.

We learn, farther along in the Book of Acts, that John was a cousin of the beloved Barnabas, and accompanied both Paul and Barnabas on their inaugural missionary journey. However, something happened early on which caused Mark’s abrupt return home. Afterwards, Paul refused to give the young man a second chance, causing Barnabas and Paul to part ways. God’s hand is seen in the raising up of young Timothy as Paul’s new student, and the shepherding of Mark within his older cousin’s gentle care.

Despite this early setback with the passionate evangelist, Mark’s growth in maturity as a faithful worker in Christ later won Paul’s approbation, and Mark’s name is seen in several of the apostle’s letters.

Eventually, Mark became the student and close companion of Apostle Peter, penning at least one of Peter’s letters for him, and publishing Peter’s gospel after the apostle was martyred.

Aristarchus

The first mention of this faithful brother is found in the turmoil surging through Ephesus, the riot incited by silversmiths apprehensive the gospel would undermine their robust trade in idols. Ephesus, renowned for its temple to Artemis, drew year-round pilgrims from all over the known world. Once it was suggested this main avenue of revenue might dry up,

they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together.

Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him.  Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

Acts 19:28-31 (NIV)

After about three months, because it was no longer safe for him to stay, Paul gathered his team, representatives from many of the Greek churches that had been planted during his missionary travels, and began his way back to Macedonia.

[Paul] was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.

Acts 20:4 (NIV)

A number of years later, we find Paul in chains, on his way to be tried in Rome. Luke was with him, but also, surprisingly, was Aristarchus.

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 

We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

Acts 27:1-2 (NIV)

Paul’s reference to Aristarchus in his letter to the Colossian Christians names him “my fellow prisoner,” which seems to indicate Aristarchus was also in chains with Paul and Epaphras.

Demas

The story on Demas is a bit scantier, and a bit sadder. When Paul wrote his letters to Philemon and the believers in Colossae, Demas was bonded with Paul’s band of brothers. It may be that Luke and Demas were close, for in both letters their names are listed side by side. But, just a few years later, Paul was left bereft and abandoned by him.

I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. 

Crescens has gone to Galatia, and

Titus to Dalmatia.

Only Luke is with me

Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

2 Timothy 4:6-13 (NIV)

Luke

The writer of both a gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke is probably the most well-known of the companions Paul listed. Paul introduced him to the assemblies in Colossae as my dear friend, and indeed few were as close or as faithful to the apostle as Luke.

It is possible Luke was a Greek by birth, since he was uncircumcised, with a Greco‑Syrian heritage, well educated in the Greek culture and a physician by profession. Other scholars think there is room to consider Luke a Hellenistic Jew. Luke’s home was in the Greek city of Antioch in Ancient Syria, but he was living in Troas, which included the ancient ruins of Troy, when the apostle Paul came through during his first missionary journey.

Luke joined with Paul for most of the rest of his missionary journeys. However, when they first came to Philippi, Luke stayed behind for a while, and then rejoined with Paul when Paul visited Philippi on his second, follow-up trip. Luke remained Paul’s close associate and fellow missionary for many years, starting the first medical mission on the island of Malta.

According to Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 310-403), Luke was quite possibly one of the seventy disciples Jesus sent out on an evangelism tour (Panarion 51.11), and some commentators claim he was one of the two disciples who met with Jesus on their way home to Emmaus, after Jesus’ resurrection (since Luke is the only gospel writer to tell that story).

The most ancient record of Luke’s life, Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke, a document dated somewhere between the second and fourth centuries, states Luke

Served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit; he died at the age of 84 years.

Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke, second to fourth century document

And with the naming of his close companions and fellow prisoners for the sake of Christ, Paul closed his personal plea to Philemon.


[Gustave Doré’s St. Paul Preaching to the Thessalonians | By Gustave Doré – http://www.pitts.emory.edu/woodcuts/1872HolyV2/00016829.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49736573%5D

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