Tychicus and Onesimus
Colossians 4:7-9 7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
When we finish writing a letter to someone, we often finish with our most personal remarks. That’s what the apostle Paul did when he wrote his epistles. Paul’s closing remarks to the Colossians run from verses 7-18.
In these verses, Paul gives us a list of some of those people who had helped him in ministry. It is easy to miss how important people are that get mentioned at the end of Paul’s epistles. It may just seem to be a custom, something normally done at the end of a letter, but for Paul, I think it was more than that. This list tells us that Paul was not working alone. There were many helpers who worked with Paul, who were very important to Paul’s ministry. Paul recognizes their importance in his ministry, so he includes them in his final remarks.
Colossians 4:7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
Most of the names mentioned in verses 7-18 are not well known. Barnabas, Mark, and Luke are familiar to us, but the rest of the names are not as well known. Tychicus, who is the messenger for this letter, is one of those who are not so well known.
Five times in the New Testament we see the name of Tychicus appears (Acts 20:4, Eph. 6:21, Col. 4:7, 2 Tim 4:12 and Titus 3:12), and, unlike other names which appear multiple times, there is little doubt that the individuals mentioned in all these passages are one and the same person.
Tychicus traveled all around with the apostle Paul. He was with him from Ephesus to Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey (Acts 20:4). He joined Paul and others on the final visit to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4-5; cf. I Cor. 16:1-4; cf. II Cor 8:19ff). He was with Paul in his first Roman imprisonment and carried the epistle of Colossians from Rome to the believers in Colossae. And He was from the Roman province of Asia (Acts 20:4).
Tychicus certainly had a servant’s heart. He was willing to travel with Paul to Jerusalem. That journey was no trivial thing. Travel during that time was far more difficult and dangerous than in our day. The trip was difficult and would also take Tychicus away from his family, friends, and church for an extended period of time. Along the way, Paul was repeatedly warned that trouble awaited him in Jerusalem. I’m sure that Tychicus heard those warnings also, but he stayed with Paul.
Near the end of his life, Paul sent Tychicus with Trophimus on a missionary journey to Ephesus to replace Timothy (Tit. 3:12; II Tim. 4:12). During Paul’s 2nd Roman imprisonment, Tychicus was sent to Ephesus (II Tim. 4:12). That was done so that Timothy could rejoin Paul who wanted to see him before his expected execution in Rome. (II Tim. 4:9,21). Tychicus may have also been sent to relieve Titus in the oversight of the churches on Crete as well (Titus 3:12).
Tychicus was one of those seemingly insignificant servants of God in the New Testament who did a lot for the cause of Christ. He carried both the epistles of Colossians and Ephesians to their destinations (4:7-9; Eph. 6:21-22). The trip from Rome to Colossae was a difficult one. He had to cross part of Italy on foot, then sail across the Adriatic Sea on the east side of Italy. Then he would cross Greece on foot, and sail across the Aegean Sea to the coast of Asia Minor. After all that, he still had a one hundred trip on foot to get to Colossae. Paul trusted him to carry his letters on that journey, so that certainly tells us something about the character of this man.
In our text, Paul used three different statements when speaking of Tychicus. He was “our beloved brother” – the literal Greek here reads: “the beloved brother”; he was not “a” beloved brother”, he was “the” beloved brother. He was well known to the church, by his service for Jesus Christ.
He was also very dependable, so he is called “faithful servant.” The word servant is from the Greek diakonos, which means: “a waiter, servant; then of any one who performs any service, an administrator.” When one is a servant, they set aside their own needs and concerns, and make it their desire to serve another. In this case, Tychicus served the Lord, by being a loyal servant of the apostle Paul.
Did you know that in order to serve God, we don’t need to be scholars, we don’t need some special gimmick, we don’t need to drive a flashy car, we don’t need to be famous? And did you know that in order to serve God, you don’t need to be successful? But one thing God does expect from us is that we be faithful.
1 Corinthians 4:1-2 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
Being trustworthy and dependable is not a common thing today. But Paul depended on Tychicus, because he was a faithful servant.
Today it seems that the idea of being faithful in ministry is some relic from the past. We hear all the time about how people who were supposed to be serving the Lord in ministry were just serving themselves and their own interests. And that is true for many who call themselves Christians today. With their lips they claim to be serving the Lord, but in their hearts and lives it appears that they serve their own desires more.
Tychicus not only delivered Paul’s letters to the churches, but he also was a messenger to the churches to tell them about those things which had happened to Paul, so that Paul didn’t need to put all those things in writing. Now I would have liked to hear about all the things that Paul had to endure, but I am thankful that we have the epistles to the Colossians and the Epistle to the Ephesians. In Eph 6:21 and Col 4:7-8, it says that Tychicus would tell the churches about all those things which had happened to Paul.
The last title Paul call him is “fellow bond-servant in the Lord” – this is from the Greek sundoulos, which means: “a co-slave.” This reveals the strong relationship that Paul had in the Lord with this man as he wrote from his prison cell. Tychicus labored as a slave of Jesus Christ, and he shared in both the suffering and the joys of Christian ministry. Tychicus was not just a personal mailman for the apostle Paul. He served the Lord from his heart, and sacrificed greatly to be involved in ministry with the apostle Paul.
Paul didn’t exaggerate the accomplishments of his servants in the Lord, but he did give them credit for what they did, and what they meant to him. He knew what they were capable of, and where their hearts were. And that was very true for Tychicus. He was not just a brother, he was a beloved brother. He not only was a brother, and a minister, and a servant, but he was a “beloved brother”, and a “faithful minister” and a “fellow servant”. Do you think that would describe us, in our Christian walk?
Colossians 4:8 For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts;
Paul sent Tychicus with this letter to the church at Colossae for two main purposes. He wanted to give them additional information about himself and what was going on in his ministry in Rome, and for some reason he didn’t want all that recorded in his letter. But he also wanted to encourage the Colossians. The news that Tychicus would bring to them about what God was doing through Paul in Rome would be a comfort and encouragement to them.
Colossians 4:9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.
The name “Onesimus” only occurs twice in the New Testament, and, in both places it refers to the same person. All we learn here about Onesimus is that he was a faithful and beloved brother. And that he was originally from Colossae, by the phrase “who is one of your number.”
Now if that was all we were told about Onesimus, that would be satisfactory for us. Why would we need to know any more? But it turns out that we do know quite a bit more about him. The epistle to Philemon tells us a great deal about Onesimus.
The book was written about A.D. 62 during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome and carried by Onesimus and Tychicus at the same time that they delivered the Colossian and Ephesian letters.
Philemon was most likely a wealthy Colossian who owned slaves, as did most of the rich in his day. He evidently came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s influence (v. 19). Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves. He had run away, and he wound up in Rome. You could certainly blend in, in a city that size. And then just by chance, he ran into Paul there. Actually I’m sure that Paul wouldn’t call it chance. You don’t find that word in the New Covenant writings. So it was by God’s doing (or by divine providence) that Onesimus came to know Paul.
Both Paul and Onesimus knew how dangerous it could be for a slave who returned to his master. Remember that slave owners by Roman law, had absolute authority over their slaves and would often treated them as property rather than as people. So the purpose of the letter to Philemon was just this: to allow Onesimus to return to Philemon and to ask Philemon to forgive Onesimus for however he wronged Philemon. And this appeal to Philemon was based on his faith and love and grace that he had in his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Philemon 1:1 (NASB) Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker,
Paul calls himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” – the word “prisoner” means “a captive, in bonds.” He repeats this fact three times (verses 9, 13, 23), so saying this was important to Paul’s purpose in writing. He was in prison because he served Christ. So as a captive, he is pleading the case for another captive, Onesimus.
Do you know what is interesting about this Philemon letter? In Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and others, Paul makes mention of his authority as an apostle. And in all those books, Paul’s authority, under Christ is the basis for the commands he gives to his readers. But here in the letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t make anything of his apostleship, but rather he refers to his bondage, and his beloved brother in the Lord.
And I think what it tells us, is although Paul could have used his authority to insist that Philemon take back his servant and treat him fairly, as a brother in the Lord, he doesn’t do that. Instead he is very tactful, sensitive,gentle, and loving in the way he write to Philemon about Onesimus.
It is significant that Paul calls Philemon “our beloved brother and fellow worker.” Paul considered him a co-laborer in the gospel ministry.
Starting at vs. 13, Paul writes about Onesimus…
Philemon 1:13-14 whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will.
15 For perhaps he was for this reason parted from you for a while, that you should have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Paul wished to keep Onesimus with him because he was such a benefit to Paul in his ministry, not as a slave, but as a “minister.” Of course he would not do that without Philemon’s permission.
Paul also says that Onesimus departed Philemon “for a while,” so that could have him back forever. So in the flesh, Philemon has a brother in the Lord who is his slave. But he also has a brother in the Lord for eternity. Paul implies that this was God’s purpose for the whole episode, that Onesimus might come to know and believe in Jesus Christ. Paul’s plea to Philemon is that he would accept Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, just as he accepts Paul as a brother in the Lord.
Philemon 1:17 If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.
The word Paul uses for partner is not just some casual word for friend. The word in the Greek is (koinonos) and that’s essentially the same word as koinoneia. It means “someone who mutually belongs and shares fellowship;”
Paul continues on a bit more in Philemon, but we don’t have time to look at it now. But what an incredible message that in Christ, one who was a slave and a thief becomes a brother in the Lord by the blood of Jesus Christ. What a message that we who were sinners can become children of God by the blood of Jesus Christ. How Paul wanted Philemon to treat Onesimus, is the same way God treats us. We were sinners but in Christ we are made children of God. Our sons are not counted against us, because they were already paid for. Our death sentence was commuted, and instead of a death sentence, we received an eternal life reward. One word describes all this, and it is Grace. Simply grace. There is a song we all know called Rock of Ages, and One verse says “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;” That describes knowing Jesus Christ, doesn’t it?