As was stated in a previous article (Dec. 1, 2019), the effectiveness of the apostle Paul was aided by a network of individuals who were a support to him in the spread of the gospel. In addition to the equipping of Paul, God also equipped many other “behind-the-scenes” men and women who demonstrated courage, commitment, and faithfulness in establishing, developing, and maintaining the churches of the first century AD.
Tychicus was a man who was given many responsibilities, and who also served as one of the most highly regarded of Paul’s friends. Paul gave him much work to do, and he did this work with faithfulness, having only the interest of the early church in mind. As this article will demonstrate, Tychicus was clearly a man with a mission—a mission not of his own personal desires, but one that had the spread of the gospel in mind. His work alongside Paul reveals his dedication and self-denial in his pursuit of missionary work in the Roman Empire.
A study of the chronology of Paul’s epistles helps give us an advantage in understanding the full breadth of Tychicus’ workload. It is estimated that the apostle Paul traveled more than 17,000 miles during his lifetime, and Tychicus too traveled many miles in his support of the gospel. Likely a Gentile convert of Paul during his three-year stay in Ephesus on the third missionary journey (AD 55–57), Tychicus soon became one of his most reliable companions. In that connection, the chronology demonstrates a possible sequence of events in the life of Tychicus and the many trips that carried him to different Christian communities (cf. map on next page).
The first mention of Tychicus comes in Acts 20:4, where he is listed as a delegate of Asia Minor traveling with Paul and several others to Jerusalem at the conclusion of Paul’s third missionary journey around AD 57. Paul had a desire to go to Rome (Acts 19:21), but the Lord’s will was not for him to go at that time. His plan was for Paul to return to Jerusalem, particularly to bring the collections from the newly established churches to the poor in Jerusalem. This trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Jerusalem was one of foreboding, for Paul would certainly face Jewish resistance in Judea. Tychicus, along with the other delegates, served as support to Paul as he anticipated the unknown that would soon come next.
At his arrival in Jerusalem, the Jews accused Paul (a Jew himself) of promoting the idea that Jews should forsake their customs (Acts 21:19), for Paul had carried out the great commission in distant lands to many Gentiles. To solidify their claims, the Jews framed Paul for a crime, stating that he had brought Gentiles into the inner court of the temple (Acts 21:29), an act punishable by death. Tychicus, along with his fellow delegate Trophimus (Acts 21:29), would have been one of these Gentiles, and was right in the middle of the chaos that ensued, culminating in prison experiences that finally brought Paul to Rome after he appealed to Caesar around the year AD 60.
The next Tychicus reference is found in Ephesians, one of the prison epistles Paul wrote from Rome during his two-year house arrest in the early 60s (Eph. 6:21). This reference is similar to the one found in Colossians 4:7, revealing that Tychicus is with Paul in Rome. We cannot be certain whether Tychicus was with Paul on the long trip to Rome, which included a two-week shipwreck, but it is clear that he is by Paul’s side in Rome, ready to be the letter-carrier of three of Paul’s prison epistles.
All of these technical details may not seem that important, but they help to piece the puzzle together, leading to the next significant aspect of Tychicus’ mission: to be a letter-carrier. The last chapters of both Ephesians and Colossians indicate that he will deliver these letters. In addition to these two letters, also Paul’s letter to Philemon was carried by Tychicus, for Philemon was a resident of Colossae.
Here is where the mission of Tychicus becomes complex; he is more than a mere letter-carrier, because there are many tasks given to him by Paul. The most compelling of these involves Onesimus, the run-away slave of Philemon. This broken relationship between Onesimus and Philemon is the main subject in the letter to Philemon, but Tychicus plays an important role in the restoration process for Onesimus. In the providence of God, Onesimus’ sinful flight had led him to Paul in Rome, where he was converted. The previous article explained the trip of Epaphras to Rome to seek advice on a heresy in Colossae. It is interesting to consider whether Epaphras may have been able to identify the run-away slave Onesimus, for they were both from Colossae.
But this is also where Tychicus comes in. As Paul was preparing Tychicus to deliver to Asia Minor the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, God was preparing Tychicus to be a spiritual comfort to Onesimus as he needed to return to his master Philemon to seek forgiveness and restoration (Col. 4:9). Onesimus had received the full forgiveness from the Father, yet needed to go back and face Philemon, and Tychicus would have provided spiritual support the entire journey back to Asia Minor. What an important work! Tychicus was providing comfort and assurance to an uneasy runaway slave who soon had to face his master after theft and escape (Philemon 18). The common refrain by the Romans was that “a run-away slave only ran away once,” but Philemon was not your average master; rather, he was a follower of Christ. Therefore, Tychicus had the same hope as Paul: to see this new convert restored by Philemon, Onesimus’ brother in Christ (Philemon 16).
Alongside his work of carrying letters and supporting Onesimus on the trip to Asia Minor, Tychicus’ many other responsibilities that are part of his mission are cited in Paul’s epistles. Much of his work to the churches of Asia Minor during the early 60s involved communication on behalf of Paul, who remained under house arrest, hoping to be released soon (Phil. 2:24). Specifically in regards to the Colossians, Tychicus is instructed by Paul to give them an update on Paul’s state and affairs (Col. 4:7), to comfort them (4:8), and to oversee the delivery of the Colossian letter to the nearby city of Laodicea (4:16). In addition, Tychicus was instructed to encourage a young man named Archippus, son of Philemon (Philemon 2), who became the leading pastor in Colossae in the absence of Epaphras (Col. 4:17; Philemon 23).
Space does not permit me to expand on the significance of letter-carriers of New Testament epistles; however, it should be abundantly clear from the case of Tychicus that much was expected of these messengers as they brought particular letters to specific church communities.
And yet the mission of Tychicus continues. Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy indicate more work to be done. Paul had been released from house arrest by Nero around AD 63, given one last opportunity for freedom to contact and revisit many of the church communities he knew so well, and perhaps had even ventured into Spain for new labors (Rom. 15:24). During this time of freedom or earlier, Paul had sent Titus to organize the church on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5; Acts 2:11). This work was so important that it required a time for Paul and Titus to meet for a season at Nicopolis (western Greece) in order that Titus give an update on the work and receive advice from Paul. As Paul made these preparations, he mentions Tychicus as a possible replacement for Titus for the time being (Titus 3:12). Therefore, contact with the Christian community at Crete became another aspect of his mission. It is striking that once again Tychicus is mentioned as being sent to continue the development of the early church. How capable and gifted this man must have been!
The final testimony concerning Tychicus that the Holy Spirit gives to us is at the end of Paul’s life. After a few years of freedom during the mid-60s, Paul was once again arrested and brought to Rome, this time accused of being a criminal in the Roman Empire. This imprisonment would be brief and severe, and would certainly lead to his death (2 Tim. 4:6). With a changing atmosphere and attitude towards Christianity under the reign of Nero, many began to distance themselves from Paul, even forsaking him (2 Tim. 4:10). Yet Tychicus stood by his side to the end, receiving instruction from Paul, as evidenced from his final penned chapter in 2 Timothy 4:12, “And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.” This final work would have released Timothy from Ephesus, for Paul so desired to see him, as he mentioned this desire twice (2 Tim. 4:9, 21). Therefore, the final task of Tychicus was to go to Asia Minor once again, where it all began, to help in the pastoring of the Ephesian church.
In light of all these details surrounding the minor characters of the New Testament, it is striking to consider the form of training that Tychicus and others received. Thanks be to God for the diligent work in the Protestant Reformed Seminary—a thorough training that involves the well-rounded equipping of young men for the ministry. Men like Tychicus, however, received training at the feet of Paul, a training that was in a way an extended internship without the formal education that preceded it, and often without the presence of the mentor minister too! Tychicus would have needed to listen carefully to Paul’s instruction and then go off by himself, certainly needing to face difficult situations that would arise.
As we testify as churches today to the powerful work of the Spirit in the lives of our young men who take up their place as pastors in our churches, how remarkable was the grace of God in the lives of Tychicus and others like him, who through “on-the-job” training, were used mightily in establishing, developing, and maintaining the
churches of the first century and beyond. As we have examined Tychicus’ mission, Paul’s description of him in Colossians 4:7 has even more meaning: “beloved brother, and faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord.” God truly worked a mission in the heart of Tychicus, and his reward is to experience now the full glory of Jesus Christ, the One whose name and work he so faithfully proclaimed.