Left Behind

John LathropBlog

In the last chapter of the book of Colossians, the apostle Paul wrote about two men who would be leaving him and going to the church in Colossae. These two men were Tychicus and Onesimus (Col. 4:7-9). Tychicus is mentioned in other places in Scripture. At one time he accompanied Paul in his travels (Acts 20:4) and at other times Paul sent him to minister or serve as his messenger (Eph. 6:21-22; 2 Tim. 4:12). He was a valued coworker, in Ephesians 6:21 Paul referred to him as “the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord” (NIV). He makes a similar statement about him in Colossians 4:7. Onesimus, is only mentioned twice in Scripture in Colossians 4:9 and in the book of Philemon. In Philemon we are given some of the details of his story and how he came to be associated with Paul. Paul had great love for this man, we know this because in Philemon he referred to Onesimus as “him-who is my very heart” (v.12 NIV).

When Paul wrote Colossians he was in prison, this is clear from some of his statements in the letter. In Colossians 4:18 he made reference to his chains and earlier in the same chapter mentioned a fellow prisoner (which indicates he was also a prisoner). In addition to Tychicus and Onesimus, Paul had other company with him as well. Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus who was called Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas were also with him (Col. 4:10-15). I am sure that their company was a great encouragement to him. In fact, speaking of some of the men who are mentioned in the text Paul specifically says that they were a comfort to him (Col. 4:11).

Paul generally seems to have been a very positive individual. In Colossians he thanks God for the faith and love of the Colossian believers (Col. 1:3-4). He also wrote that he rejoiced in his service for them, even though it involved suffering (Col. 1:24). This same positive outlook can be found in the book of Philippians which was also written from prison. As Paul wrote to this congregation he again demonstrated his ability to find positive things to focus on in the midst of negative circumstances (Phil. 1:12-19).

The Scriptures do not say what I am about to suggest, so this may be a bit of a stretch, but please bear with me for a moment. When Paul sent Tychicus and Onesimus to Colossae I wonder if he felt a bit of sadness; I wonder if he felt as though he had been left behind. Though he was a great man of God he was also a human being, subject to the same thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we all experience. He was in Rome in prison. He was there because of a decision that he had made. When he appeared before Festus in Acts 25 he appealed to Caesar. That decision brought him to Rome. While he was there he engaged in ministry. He wrote letters, the ones we call his “prison epistles” and ministered to the people who came to visit him (see Acts 28:30-31). But he was not free to travel and minister wherever he wanted, and this was a long term situation, he was there for two years. He had some liberty, in that he stayed in a rented house (Acts 28:30), but he was bound with a chain (Acts 28:20).

If you are in ministry I have a question for you. Have you ever felt as through you have been left behind? It is not that you are not doing ministry, you are, in fact you may be very busy, but you do not seem to have the opportunities or freedom that others have. You feel restricted (you may, like Paul, actually be restricted in some way). You are faithfully doing what you can but it is not satisfying to you; you want more. There is a dissatisfaction that you feel. You are largely out of sight and you feel also out of mind. Your circumstances do not seem to be conducive to the kind of ministry that you envisioned or hoped for. Others have the liberty to come and go as they please and they have ministry opportunities that you do not. I suspect that many ministers have felt this way at times. There is a sense of isolation or alienation.

How does a minister get to this place? There are a lot of factors that can be involved, but it frequently happens when a minister begins to compare his or her life or ministry with others. When such comparisons are made and dwelled on them they can take their toll. They will very often have a negative effect on the minister (something the enemy most certainly enjoys). We can always find someone that we think is doing better than us in ministry. It is good to evaluate ourselves in ministry but it is not always good to compare ourselves to others. Jesus seems to be against such comparisons. In John 21, Peter asked Jesus about the apostle John Jesus’ response to him was “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22 NIV). Please note that He was speaking to those who were going to be ministers/leaders in the Christian church. What Jesus said to them is true for all of us, we must all follow Him and accomplish what He has given us to do.

We do not know all of Paul’s thoughts when he was in prison or the things that he felt, because he does not tell us. He may have had no sadness while he was chained in Rome or he may have periodically had to deal with sadness and dissatisfaction. We cannot be sure. What we can be sure of is what he did. He served the Lord faithfully and wholeheartedly wherever he was. That is what all of us are called to do. We can pray for our circumstances to change, and ask others to do the same, but we need to stay engaged in the work. The fact that we have ministry that we are working for the Lord, shows us that we are really not left behind. Let us be encouraged in that.

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.