“Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments….At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them…Greet Prisca and Aquilla, and the household of Onesiphorus… Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends his greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.” II Timothy 4:9-21
As with almost all of his letters, Paul ends his second letter to Timothy with a long list of names, sending greetings to those who are not with him and sending word of those who are or recently were. The reading of these lists and the corresponding roles Paul attributes to these people in his life and ministry (most often for good but sometimes for ill) demonstrate clearly that Paul was no “Lone Ranger”. In fact a good case can be made that without them his life and ministry would have been far less successful. They were his emotional support, his fellow travellers, his emissaries, his hosts and hostesses, his friends, and his partners who worked side by side with him. They were, to use his terminology, synergos, his “fellow workers”. One might say from this, “It takes a village to make an apostle”, but even more it would be right to say that his apostleship was a team effort all the way.
If this is not something for us to learn, I don’t know what is. We live in an age of individualism and Lone Rangerism . The gospel, though, knows nothing of that. Rather it is as the Church that we minister; it is as the Church that we serve. We serve always as synergos, fellow workers, needing each other, supporting each other, standing up for each other, complementing each other, encouraging each other, and praying for each other’s success.
Of course this is the ideal, but unfortunately we often we find ourselves let down by our “fellow workers”. Sometimes we let others down as well. In this very passage Paul mentions two downright betrayals: Demas and “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm.” Paul also mentions a mass desertion of his friends at his trial (so clearly a parallel to the disciples’ desertion of Jesus at his trial!). Nevertheless, Paul does not let these human failures which will always occur cause him to withdraw from his trust and dependence on others. And neither should we. Here he still depends on Timothy, is counting on Mark, and one might guess, is still leaning on those who deserted him from fear and may now be ashamed. Was Luke one of them? Paul did say “all deserted me”. But now Luke was by his side. Jesus didn’t give up on his disciples, did he?
Mark is a special case in point. At one time Paul felt somewhat betrayed by him. Mark had abandoned Paul and Barnabas in the middle of their first missionary journey. When time came for a second journey, Paul refused to allow Mark to go. Now, years later, in three different letters, Paul mentions Mark and he is clear he wants him to come: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry.” The memory of desertion is over and they are once again fellow workers.
However, from Mark’s point of view it might have been Paul who was the betrayer. Yes, Mark had failed, but then Paul refused to give him a chance to redeem himself. His cousin, Barnabas gave him that chance and carried him on his own journey, but Paul would not. Nevertheless, Mark has not only now forgiven Paul, but Paul can assume that Mark is willing to go where Paul is and risk being with Paul in prison, just to be useful to Paul and his ministry. That is remarkable.
At the heart of the gospel is the great affirmation that “we are members of the body of Christ and individually members one of another”. That is, as the Three Musketeers would say, it is “All for one and one for all”. This is how we are to live and this is how we are to serve. The fact that we all let each other down in this, sometimes severely, does not change this fact at all. That is why the foundational ideals of the church are love, loyalty, and mutual service but the practical virtues that express this are patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. (Just check out how many times these three are enjoined in Scripture).
May we stay faithful to the commitment that there are no “Lone Ranger” Christians or ministries. May we stay faithful in our own commitment to be there for others. May we rejoice and be thankful in the help and fellowship of others. May we forbear and forgive when we are failed by others, and may we have a sure hope that others will do the same for us when we fail them. We are not to go it alone. We are synergos, fellow workers, for our one Lord and His one gospel.
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.