Paul: Marked by a Wealth of Friendships
“I have called you friends.” Jesus in John 15:15
An obvious qualifying mark of the godly person is the beautiful, spiritual fellowship one enjoys among dear friends. The godly are always a part of a group greater than the lone individual. They connect to a band of brothers, a ministry team, a corps of Christian soldiers. Our own English word “fellowship” is a compound of two words describing “fellows of the ship” or crew members. Never Lone Rangers!
It is a paradox of the Apostle Paul’s life that he has so many dear friends. It was not always so. When he was Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee of Pharisees, he had only a handful of acquaintances. Even after his Damascus Road conversion, he still was bereft of true companions. Yet after years of his campaigns for Christ, his shipwrecks, his imprisonments, his beatings, he could list well over 100 close relationships. They were all noteworthy of mention in his epistles, especially his prison letters.
Never too formal to reference affections, Paul concludes his gospel—Romans—with a lengthy list of friends to be greeted and commended. This indicates the depth and breadth of his alliance of relationships. He is here a dear friend, a brother, and a spiritual father. The Book of Acts confirms this narrative. Whole groups emotionally weep over Paul when he departs their company. Who were they? What were their names? We see many companion groups in Acts who dearly love Paul. We are not always given their name and specifics. In Romans 16, Paul commends Phoebe. But we are left wondering who is this Rufus (vs. 13) on his “please greet” list? “Greet Rufus,” Paul directs, “and his mother and mine.” Is this the same Rufus the gospel writer Mark assumes we should already know? In Mark 15:21 a Rufus is mentioned along with his brother, Alexander, because their father Simon, a Cyrenian, was compelled by soldiers to carry our Lord’s cross.
Mark merely mentions this Rufus quite matter-of-factly, whose father is obviously a “you know who” personality.
When we look beyond what Paul did and look at who the man, the anointed human being was, we see a relational person. He had friends both well-known and unknown. High born and low born. Jew, gentile alike. Paul’s work was certainly miraculous. But above all, it was relational. He educated and discipled the family of God. Paul was marked as a man of many friends. Some of those friendships he worked diligently to maintain. He enjoyed a tenuous but loyal relationship with reputable apostles whom he esteemed as his overseers. (Galatians 2:1,2) He related to them all: evangelists, prophets, teachers, and pastors. A doctor was one of his closest companions. He regarded as dear a slave, a former jail warden, a lawyer, a North African, a public works official, a teaching Jewish married couple, and a brilliant editor Tertius (Romans 16:22) who helped craft the Roman letter. He felt comfortable in challenging all who were under his influence to high standards of holy living and righteous order. If they were discouraged and quitting the work, Paul would send them a personal note: “Tell Archippus to finish the work God gave him to do.” (Colossians 4:17)
If you had signed up like Silas to travel with the Apostle Paul, you would experience great adventure. Never boring! You might be thrown in jail or run out of town. But you would certainly enjoy good company among the very best of friends. Those friendships would mark your life—forever.
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