Your Christian Crew
Genuine friendships are forged in Christ–2 Timothy 4:9-12
I had a friend whose New Year’s resolution was to help all his friends gain ten pounds so he looked skinnier. The most dreaded comment you get from a girl you like, “I just want to be friends.” A friend is like a book–you don’t need to read all of them, just pick the best ones. And true friendship is walking into a person’s house and your WiFi connects automatically.
Biblically, a friend is someone you know well and regard with affection and trust. Proverbs 17:17a talks about the nature of a friend, “A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 18:24 warns of having too many friends. “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 27:6 describes the behavior of genuine friends, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
The Bible warns about the character of friends we hang out with in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘“Bad company corrupts good morals.’” The people you live with, work with, go to school with, minister with and hang out with are crucial to your spiritual life. And the people you consider friends, your crew reveals much about you–your heart, what you value, what you’re like and who you really are.
And it is the same with the Apostle Paul–the people who were a part of his crew were an amazing, eclectic group of servants whom God used to change the world for Christ. After Paul challenges Timothy to trust God’s Word and preach only God’s Word, Paul shares how the Lord allowed him to fulfill his ministry in verses 6 to 8.
As Paul’s life is now in the final stages, Paul tells Timothy the final moves he intends to make on the ministry chessboard. Paul is locked up in a dark prison cell in Rome and his crew, his closest friends will continue the ministry of teaching the Word and establishing the Church after Paul is gone. So now Paul shares with Timothy his plans for his crew.
Read verses 9 to 12, “Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. 12 But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.”
These verses contain two commands that are very telling–verse 9 directed at Timothy, “make every effort [then] to come” is a command. And verse 11, “bring [Mark] with you” is a command. Paul is thankful for friendship with brothers committed to the common cause of Christ. These commands tell us Paul wants to see Timothy and desires John Mark to come to serve alongside him in these final days of life.
Paul is talking about his fellow workers, his crew who are closest to him and ministering with him for Christ, for the Church, proclaiming the Gospel, and teaching God’s Word. These men are his team–these are Christ’s men who are making a difference. And Paul is networking and giving Timothy the details of what is happening, who is headed where and who is doing what.
Paul is describing his friends and foes, the faithful and the failures. These are the helpers and a few who hurt. They are mostly old friends, but there are a few new. They are his crew. Our Lord had three who were very close, twelve official disciples (one who betrayed Him), seventy He invested directly into, 120 who started things in the Upper Room, and 500 He gathered with after his resurrection. All of them were at different levels of intimacy, different levels of relationship and different levels of ministry capacity.
Paul too had some people who were faithful in service, and a few who were unfaithful. Some were always ready to volunteer, others could never be found. Some were willing to make any sacrifice for the Lord, others were more hesitant, and a few were unwilling. Most were saved, but some showed themselves over time to be unsaved.
These verses are pointed at each of you. You too will find you have friends and acquaintances who’ll be varied in their commitment to Christ, His Word, His Church, His work and to you. A few will be sold out to Christ, faithful to the end, ready to serve Jesus in any way and a loyal friend for life. Others will be a little less passionate and less loyal. Still others will be inconsistent and always a bit uncertain. Then there will be a few who’ll walk away from Christ, ultimately they’ll reject you and break your heart.
All the people in verses 9 to 12 were a part of Paul’s life and all played a role in his ministry in some measure. As Paul now faces the executioners axe, these men were on his mind. Think about it, Paul is passing the baton of ministry to Timothy, and as he does, he is bringing this young pastor up to speed on the spiritual condition, activities and whereabouts of the key players.
If possible, Paul wants Timothy to come to Rome for a face-to-face with him before he dies. Paul wants to discuss with Timothy the main ministers in the early churches of the 1st century. But this is not a Christmas card list. This is not an afterthought. This is crucial to the ministry of Christ and listed here intentionally in God’s Word so you will be impacted to desire the health of the local church, and embrace the importance of being a faithful servant for Christ’s work, and accept the weight of being a loyal friend to brothers and sisters of similar conviction.
Plus, to value loving Christ and His work together, the Lord wants you to know about these people in Paul’s life so you might learn from their faithfulness and their failures. Our Savior wants you to evaluate your crew–your closest friends are to be those who love Christ, pursue the sound doctrine from His Word, serve in His Church, and have Christ’s heart for the lost.
Turn your focus to these rich verses and as you do, ask yourself these two questions. 1) Am I a loyal friend to Christ, committed to His Word and to His work in the Church? And, 2) are my closest friends those who are committed to Christ and his ministry? Your crew is crucial to your commitment to Christ and ministry for Christ. Paul’s crew was made up of . . .
#1 The loyal DISCIPLE Timothy
Look what Paul says to Timothy in verse 9, “Make every effort to come to me soon.” Paul speaks first to his beloved disciple. At the beginning of his first letter to Timothy, the apostle addresses him in 1:2 as “my true child in the faith” and in this second letter (1:2) as “my beloved son”. Paul had no other earthly friend who was as close and treasured as Timothy. Nor did he have a co-worker who was more dependable.
He tells the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 4:16 to 17, “I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ.” In Philippians 2:19 to 20, the apostle told the church at Philippi, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly …. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.”
I love it, because Timothy not only followed Paul’s doctrine, but also his example. Their trust and respect was mutual. In 2 Timothy 1:3 to 4, the apostle says to Timothy, “I thank God … as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.”
And now at the end, Paul says in verse 9, “Make every effort to come to me soon.” Paul definitely wants to see Timothy face-to-face. Paul desires to communicate intimately with his main disciple–you know this because Paul commands Timothy to literally be eager to get to him. Timothy, I’m commanding you to be zealous to visit me in my jail in Rome.
The command, “make every effort“, is a big deal. This is a 1,456-mile trip. If you were flying, it would take about three hours. If you were driving, it would be 32.5 straight hours. If you walk the mostly land route, it will be 450 hours (or nineteen 24-hour days) with no delays–so in reality, it is about forty days of walking just one way to Rome.
This is no small request, no little desire, no small command, no small plea. Why? Added to the difficulty of travel is the current climate. Nero is persecuting believers and Timothy is a prime target. Just as believers in Rome are scrambling to get out of town because Nero is on the warpath, Paul commands Timothy, “Come to Rome.”
Nero was born into a family who murdered each other. He became emperor at 17 after a younger life of perversion. Early on, he tried to drown his own mother, and when that failed he had her stabbed to death. Nero loathed his wife, so he banished her, then had her killed. Then he married one of his mistresses, whom he stole from a senator. Later, Nero kicked her to death. He then married Messalina after having her husband murdered. To arouse Nero’s dislike or suspicion was as good as writing your own death warrant.
So in A.D. 64, when fire broke out in the poor section of Rome where most of the buildings were built of wood, it was widely believed that Nero had ordered the fire himself in order to reconstruct the city in a Greek style and build himself a fabulous golden house. When the citizens discovered it was Nero who set the week-long fire, Nero blamed the fire on Christians. He charged them with the crime of arson and launched a fierce, widespread, demonic reign of terror against Christianity. Christians were hunted down and savagely executed. They were burned alive as torches to light Nero’s midnight orgies–they were sewn up in skins and thrown to wild beasts in the arena. This terror spread to the entire Roman Empire.
And it was at this time–this moment, Paul commands Timothy to come Rome. Hopefully, part of your crew are loyal disciples, even made up of those who discipled you. Man to man or woman to woman–discipleship means to develop intentional relationships for the purpose of growth in Christ and ministry for Christ. Your crew is crucial to your commitment to Christ, because even the best of you may have to deal with . . .
#2 The DESERTER Demas
Read verse 10a, “for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Paul moves from describing the most faithful to the most unfaithful. Demas was valuable to Paul and might have been significant to the ministry in Rome. That might be why the apostle wanted Timothy to come soon in order to pick up the work Demas had abandoned. It makes sense when you read verses 9 and 10 together.
“Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Demas is first mentioned by Paul in Colossians 4, written some five years before 2 Timothy, during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. At that time, Demas, along with Luke and Epaphras, was one of the apostle’s closest associates.
Demas was a spiritual man of substance. Demas was included as one who sends greetings. Demas wasn’t a lightweight, and he’d been with Paul through many ministry ups and downs. In the book of Philemon verse 24, written about the same time as Colossians, Paul sent greetings on behalf of Demas, one of his “fellow workers”. Because he is mentioned in this manner, it is not a stretch to assume Paul had invested time and effort in the careful training of Demas with the hope he’d help carry on the ministry.
But now as Paul says, “Demas having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica“–hearing these words allows you to feel the pressure of persecution. As Paul writes this, any co-worker of Paul risked sharing persecution and prison with him. As the risk increased, Demas’s resolve collapsed, because he loved this present world more than he loved the Lord or His work.
Demas, as a believer, may have collapsed under the possibility of torture and death–or Demas may not have been a true believer at all, since you know what 1 John 2:15 says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Demas’s heart may have been a rocky place of Matthew 13, covered by just enough soil to superficially accept the seed of the Gospel, but not enough to bring genuine salvation. When the heat of the world’s persecution became too fierce, he withered and fell away. Either way, Demas’s reaction to the difficulties he faced in his physical life, exposed the deficiencies of his spiritual life before God.
Demas’s cowardice was greater than his commitment, and Paul says, “He deserted me.” Deserted means “to leave one in the lurch, to let one down, to desert, to abandon.” Paul is deeply disappointed with Demas. In Matthew 27:46, the Lord used the same word to describe His feelings of utter abandonment on the cross.
Was it the loss of comforts, loss of freedom or potential death? We don’t know, but it became too high a price for Demas. He became a fair-weather disciple who had not counted the cost of genuine commitment to Christ. Paul attributed the defection of Demas to a love of this world–verse 10a, “having loved this present world.” Demas left because he loved this present age–the “world” on this side of the grave, this transitory era which, in spite of all its pleasures and treasures, will soon be past.
“This present world” is a danger each of you face. You have to decide which world you are going to live for–this world or the world to come. This world is our enemy. The word world is used in the Bible to symbolize human life and society with God left out. Do you know how worldly you are? Evaluate, just how much of your life is lived with God left out–then you will know how much of your life is worldly. The world is the devil’s lair for sinners, and his lure for saints.
We do not know why Demas went to Thessalonica. Perhaps it was his hometown. Perhaps he had a job or family there. Perhaps he simply wanted to be safer–to put distance between himself and the madman who was running Rome. Sadly, we don’t know if Demas ever repented or was restored. Sometimes you will have a Demas on your crew, or even more painful, in your family. Nothing hurts more than having a traitor in your camp, a defector in your crew.
Think biblically about those who walk away from standing for Christ for greater ease, and pray for their obedience. And if they remain unwilling, pray for their salvation. Only sound theology and biblical thinking about a deserter will allow their unfaithfulness to be used of God to make you more faithful to Christ. Your crew is crucial to your commitment to Christ and ministry for Christ. Next . . .
#3 The DEDICATED Crescens and Titus
Verse 10b, “Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” Two more friends came to the apostle’s mind. Verse 10b, Crescens (Paul’s named friend) had departed for Galatia, and Titus (Paul’s famed friend) had departed for Dalmatia. None of the stigma attached to Demas is attached to their names.
We know nothing about Crescens. He set out for Galatia with Paul’s consent. He did not sneak away like Demas. Galatia, of course, was far away from Rome and Nero, but no place in the Roman world was currently safe for a Christian. There were many strong churches in Galatia, and many had been founded by the apostle himself. Paul had ministered in Galatia on all three missionary journeys, and believers there held a dear place in his heart.
Paul would not have sent just anyone to Galatia–Paul certainly had confidence in Crescens. He was a dedicated leader sent to dedicated churches. Crescens is in a unique Early Church category. He is among the army of faithful men and women who were known by the Early Church, but are unknown to believers today. But one day, you and I will meet these faithful saints. Like your life, his life and ministry are an open book to the Lord, and you can be sure he will be rewarded in full for his faithful labors.
Titus, on the other hand, was both known and faithful. Paul’s letter to him was written about a year before 2 Timothy. Besides here and in the book that carries his name, Titus is mentioned by the apostle Paul–nine times in 2 Corinthians and twice in Galatians. Titus was a builder, equipper and a trainer. Titus was a man the apostle Paul fully trusted to teach and pastor struggling churches. Think about what Titus did.
Paul had used Titus in connection with the Corinthian crisis years earlier and had left him on the island of Crete to bring order to the churches there. About the same time Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he wrote a similar letter of instruction to Titus. Titus was made of tough fiber. We can’t imagine Titus leaving Paul in the lurch.
So Paul tells Timothy, Titus has gone to Dalmatia–“Titus to Dalmatia“. Whenever away from Paul, Titus was on a ministry mission. Being able, courageous, and consecrated, Titus knew how to handle the quarrelsome Corinthians, the deceitful Cretans, and the reputedly pugnacious Dalmatians. In contrast with Demas, who had deserted Paul, it is best to view both Crescens and Titus going to where ministry called them by their Lord. Your crew is crucial to your commitment to Christ and ministry for Christ.
#4 The DEPENDABLE Luke
Verse 11 states, “Only Luke is with me.” Here is a friend who is a comfort to Paul relationally, and physically as a doctor. Luke is mentioned by name only three times in the New Testament. Yet he wrote the longest of the four gospels, as well as the lengthy book of Acts. And he is the only Gentile author. Paul elsewhere refers to this man as “Luke, the beloved physician” and as one of his “fellow workers”. Because of his literary skills, it seems probable Luke functioned sometimes as Paul’s amanuensis–Paul would dictate and Luke would write.
From the gospel of Luke, we know the doctor as an evangelist, and from the book of Acts we know Luke as a capable historian. He was uniquely used by the Holy Spirit to chronicle both the life of Christ and the early life of the body of Christ. Yet, as a humble servant of the Lord, he carefully kept himself in the background. In fact, Luke’s presence with Paul in Acts is only indicated by the use of the personal pronoun we.
Luke accompanied Paul even on his voyage to Rome, where they were both shipwrecked–now that’s a bonding experience. And Luke seems to have remained with Paul during his first two-year Roman imprisonment, while Paul was under house arrest. During that time, Luke likely wrote the book of Acts. We know from New Testament letters, that Luke was with Paul when the apostle wrote Colossians and Philemon from prison in Rome.
Luke might have even remained with Paul during the period between his release from prison and his re-arrest. Paul had severe infirmities, many caused by his many beatings and hardships he suffered in the cause of Christ. Luke was most likely Paul’s needed and appreciated personal physician, fellow minister and friend. Luke and Paul had much in common. Both were educated men and men of culture. Both were big-hearted and committed. Above all, both were believers and passionate missionaries.
Now if Luke was such a wonderful friend, why does Paul say, “Only Luke is with me“? Two suggestions–1) The very presence of no one else besides Luke made the absence of all the others all the more conspicuous, especially in contrast with Paul’s circumstances during the first imprisonment, when he was permitted to receive all who came to him.
Also, 2) There is probably more here than an expression of loneliness. It is possible the apostle also wishes to stress he is short on help. There were not enough servants, perhaps not even a sufficient number to provide adequate spiritual care of the believers who were still in Rome during this persecution.
This beloved physician remained. Luke was a tough friend for tough times and I am certain Paul thanked God for this man of God who stood beside him. Put yourself in Paul’s place–he’s 62 to 68 years old, in a dark cell, the shadow of the executioner’s axe is already silhouetted on the wall. You can feel the emotion in these words–“only Luke is with me.” Of all of the hundreds of people Paul had led to Christ and Paul had ministered too–only Luke remained. Only Luke was Paul’s faithful friend.
Paul is being direct. Timothy must come running from Asia–an intercontinental sprint. His arrival will form the heart of a tough team for the apostle’s final days on earth. Paul knows what he needs and He is not afraid to voice it. Lord willing, your crew includes dependable friends and faithful servants of Christ who will serve you in your need and Christ in all things. Your crew will probably also include . . .
#5 The DEVELOPED Mark
Verse 11b, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” This is the sweetest mention of all. Some of your friends will fail you, bail on you, hurt you, disappoint you, even do damage to you and to the cause of Christ–yet, like you and like me, they can be restored, reconciled and made a part of your crew again.
They learned from their mistakes, they repented, they grew up and now they can be used in a great way, and Mark is their hope, their model. Timothy, as you head my way–“pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” We do not know where Mark was at this time, but it seems evident he lived somewhere on the route Timothy would take from Ephesus to Rome. He probably would have traveled by land and ship to Italy’s east coast then continued to Rome.
Mark, who sometimes was called John or John Mark, was a native of Jerusalem, and one of the first congregations of the Early Church met at his house. Paul and Mark had a stormy history. When Paul and Barnabas embarked on their first missionary journey in Acts 12 and 13, Mark tagged along as their servant. Sadly, Mark deserted them when faced with the perils that loomed ahead.
Paul had decided to go to Galatia, and the road through the mountains and the Cilician gates was infested with robbers. Mark quit–he abandoned them. Paul had no stomach for men who were lazy, cowardly, or uncommitted. He especially did not want fellow workers who would not carry their share of the load and who bailed out when it got tough.
Later, when Paul and Barnabas were planning their second missionary journey, they quarreled over Mark. Barnabas wanted to give his nephew Mark a second chance and take him along. Paul said, “No!” The disagreement that followed resulted in a parting of the ways in Acts 15. By the time of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, perhaps 20 years after the two had parted company, this young man had not only proved himself to Barnabas, but also to Paul.
During his first incarceration, the apostle asked the church at Colossae in Colossians 4 to welcome the now-faithful Mark if he visited them, and counted Mark among his devoted “fellow workers” in Philemon 24. We know from 1 Peter 5:13, Mark also spent time with Peter, which is how we were given the gospel of Mark. That gospel bears the fingerprints of Peter, but Peter didn’t write it. The gospel of Mark is fast-paced with a Gentile-Roman audience in mind, emphasizing the Lord Jesus as a servant.
In many ways, Mark had become a valued leader in the Early Church, so Paul asked Timothy to “pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” It is a great disappointment to see gifted servants of the Lord become disinterested in His work and shirk the demands of ministry. But it is a great joy to see such a person turn from his fears and selfish pursuits and return to the work of the kingdom.
Mark, who had failed as a servant and had fled from danger, was now an asset to the ministry and quite willing to court danger. Paul needed him and it would be best for Timothy to have company, rather than walking alone into the lions’ den of Rome. John Mark, the missionary dropout, became Saint Mark, the writer of the great action gospel that emphasizes the servanthood of Christ and now useful to Paul.
Be encouraged, family–past failure does not prevent present usability. You can come back from disgrace. You can become immensely useful to Christ. In a few months, Luke, Mark, and Timothy will be gathered together for Paul’s departure. That is a tough team for tough times. Mark had rocketed from uselessness to usefulness. Broken, now restored, fruitful people are the best people to have in your crew. Your crew is crucial to your commitment to Christ and ministry for Christ.
#6 The DISPATCHED Tychicus
Verse 12, “But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.” I love this–Paul makes certain that the ministry in Ephesus will continue strong. Tychicus will go to Ephesus and Timothy will leave Ephesus and go to Rome–most likely that Tychicus delivered the letter of 2 Timothy to Ephesus. Because Timothy would be leaving for Rome, it would be good for someone to take his place in Ephesus. So Paul dispatched his friend Tychicus. Ephesus might have been his hometown.
Tychicus had been a member of the delegation of Gentiles who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem to deliver the cash collection for the poor in Acts 20:4. Tychicus had also been with Paul in Rome when he wrote Colossians 4:7. It must have been another wrench in the apostle’s heart to see Tychicus go, because he was one of Paul’s best crew. “But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.”
We don’t know what abilities Tychicus had, but it seems likely the Holy Spirit had given him the gift of service. There is no evidence he was a teacher or pastor, but he was a useful tool, a trusted friend and part of Paul’s crew. Do you have the kind of crew who will be a tool for Christ and a friend to you? Your crew is crucial to your commitment to Christ and ministry for Christ.
Who do you hang with? Your crew should include believers who . . .
First Are COMMITTED Christians who pursue Christ with all their heart. Are you pursuing friends who fire up your life for Christ, or those who weigh you down?
Second CHOOSE Christ over you. If life is about you, all your friends will disappoint you. But if life is about Christ, then your friends should be those who love Christ first, and choose to please Christ over you. Do they?
Third Share common CONVICTIONS Your closest friends (not all your friends) need to be saved and share your convictions about doctrine, the Word, the Church, preaching, teaching and evangelism.
Fourth Enjoy CHRIST at the core of their relationships. You will never enjoy relationships the way God created them unless you know your Creator. You will never be fulfilled in ministry unless you are in union with Christ, ministering with others who are in Christ.
Have you turned from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith? Have you exchanged all that you are for all that He is? Is the most important, first and primary relationship Christ Himself? Ask the Lord to give you salvation, so you can be in relationship with God, and to be in proper relationship with your spouse, children, parents and friends. Let’s pray.