On Being Forgotten
Last spring, I was asked to speak at a local Christian high school’s graduation ceremony. I felt sorry for the graduating class because a rival high school in the area had invited US Sen. Ben Sasse to be their graduation speaker. These poor kids got stuck with me. But it seemed to fit. Instead of speaking to this graduating class about choosing the road less traveled, making a difference, following your dreams, being a radical Christian, or some other schmaltzy and over-used cliché about graduation, I told the class to plan on ending up living a boring and ordinary life. It might not be inspiring, but it is what the church needs. I think we need a lot more boring, ordinary Christians--not only in the pews but in the pulpit. We need more Christians who strive to be utterly forgettable. We need more people like Tychicus.
There is a good chance that you don’t know who Tychicus is. Perhaps you’ve heard the name before. If you’ve read the New Testament, then you’ve seen his name. But you’ve likely read it and moved on without a second thought.
Who was Tychicus? He is mentioned only five times in the New Testament (Acts 20:4, Eph 6:21, Col 4:7, 2 Tim 4:12, Titus 3:12). They are brief mentions, but we can learn quite a bit about who he was and what he did. Tychicus appeared near the end of Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus. He was possibly a convert from Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. If this is true, then Tychicus would have probably witnessed the controversy that erupted when Demetrius the silversmith started a riot because Paul’s evangelism was so successful it was cutting into Demetrius’ financial bottom line making silver idols (Acts 20).
Shortly after this, Tychicus returned with Paul to Jerusalem. He carried the letter to the Ephesians back to Ephesus. He also carried the letter to the Colossians. And if the letter to the Laodiceans was a different letter from Ephesians, then he would have carried it too. Tychicus accompanied Onesimus, the former run-away slave who had been converted, when they went back to Colossae. Tychicus probably carried Paul’s letter to Philemon. Paul entrusted Onesimus, someone he referred to as “his child,” to Tychicus when he returned him to his master, Philemon. Paul must have had a tremendous amount of faith in Tychicus to handle that potentially difficult situation.
It is possible that Tychicus was the one who carried the collection to Jerusalem (2 Cor 8-9). This was the collection that Paul had amassed to care for the poor in Jerusalem. Calvin commented that “nothing is more apt to give rise to unfavourable surmises, than the management of public money.”1. Paul avoided every appearance of evil with the collection by entrusting it to men like Tychicus.
It is likely the Tychicus was Paul’s scribe for the letter to the Ephesians and Colossians. Paul would have dictated that letter to him. Perhaps Paul would sit and explain portions of that letter to him. Perhaps they talked through the Trinitarian doctrine or the application of it. Then Tychicus took the letter to Ephesus and delivered it to the church. Tychicus was probably the first person to ever preach the book of Ephesians.
Tychicus was clearly a trusted and faithful servant who was at the center of much of the history of the New Testament. It seems like Tychicus was right there in the background for every significant event of the second half of Paul’s ministry. And you’ve likely never heard of him or thought about him. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the most important people in the history of the most important institution in world, and he’s nearly completely anonymous. The British New Testament scholar EK Simpson wrote, “that we don’t know much about Tychicus speaks to his desire to make the Gospel known more than himself.”2.
We live in a culture where entertainers are valued more than thinkers. Those who can control the path of a ball or who can convincingly deliver a line are valued more than people who can speak to the real meaning of life. We tend to appreciate people who can entertain us more than people who call us to holiness. Fame is sought for the sake of fame. Even in the church we seek celebrities more than faithful servants. Some pastors become too big to fail. They are kept in the pulpit or put back in the pulpit when they have clearly disqualified themselves by their behavior. In the end, it is the church who suffers because of our preoccupation with fame.
We live in a dangerous day and age. Blogs, social media, and podcasts have the ability to create micro-celebrities. Write enough provocative posts, garner enough followers and just about anyone can have an audience or platform. The quest for fame is seductive. Very subtly we can become enamored with our own voice and forget the voice of the one we have been called to proclaim. But the church needs people who are utterly forgettable, people who desire to make the Gospel known more than themselves. The church needs more people like Tychicus. The church needs faithful servants who don’t care about being recognized or becoming famous. The church needs faithful Christians want to make the Gospel known and don’t care if they ever are. Be like Tychicus. Be boring. Be ordinary. Be forgettable.
1. John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 301–302.
2. E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, 1st Edition edition (Eerdmans, 1957).