Paul’s Ministry Team
The apostle Paul is a big deal in Christianity. He was hand-selected by Jesus to be an apostle to the Gentiles, wrote 13 books of the Bible, and is credited as being the most prolific missionary in the history of the Church. The only thing that seemed to match his productivity and zeal for the gospel was the amount of suffering he endured as a minister of the Word. It is right that we honour him and speak highly of his contribution to the faith.
At the same time, however, we should not go so far as to ascribe Paul with godlike attributes. That was the fault of the people in Lystra, who believed he was a god and tried to worship him as such (Acts 14). Some modern day Christians, though they would never call Paul a god, can also be guilty of overemphasizing his role or power or prestige. But the truth is that Paul was just an ordinary man whom God used in mighty ways as part of his divine plan for the kickstart of the Church.
While almost every Christian knows who the apostle Paul is, not very many have considered how much help he had along his various missionary journeys. The gospel simply would not have spread as it did if Paul was working on his own. God provided for him countless brothers and sisters in the faith who played a key part in his ministry, helping to extend his influence all over the Eastern world.
The reality is that behind every Paul is a network of helpers and supporters who make a ministry go. This was true back then, and it is still true today. In fact, I spent some time studying Paul’s ministry team and counted at least 76 people he mentions by name in the New Testament. This does not include the additional hundreds that aided him in the form of local churches and other passerby’s that are never mentioned in Scripture. Here’s what the list looks like:
- Barnabas (Acts 15:22)
- Judas/Barsabbas (Acts 15:22)
- Timothy (Acts 16:3, Philippians 2:19, 1 Timothy 1:2)
- Lydia (Acts 16:14)
- Dionysius and Damarius (Acts 16:34)
- Apollos (Acts 19:1)
- Sopater, Secundas, and Gaius (Acts 20:4)
- Philip (Acts 21:8)
- Mnason (Acts 21:16)
- Julius (Acts 27:3)
- Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25)
- Phoebe, a servant of the church (Romans 16:1)
- Priscilla and Aquila ( Acts 18:1, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19)
- Epaenetus (Romans 16:5)
- Mary (Romans 16:6)
- Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7)
- Ampliatus (Romans 16:8)
- Urbanus and Stachys (Romans 16:9)
- Apelles and Aristobulus (Romans 16:10)
- Herodion and Narcissus (Romans 16:11)
- Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans 16:12)
- Rufus and his mother (Romans 16:13)
- Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas (Romans 16:14)
- Philologus, Julia, Nereus, his sister, and Olympas (Romans 16:15)
- Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater (Romans 16:21)
- Tertius (Romans 16:22)
- Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus (Romans 16:23)
- Titus (Titus 1:4)
- Artemas (Titus 3:12)
- Zenas the lawyer (Titus 3:13)
- Apollos (Titus 3:13)
- Epaphras (Colossians 1:7, Philemon 1:23))
- Tychicus (Colossians 4:7, Ephesians 6:21, Titus 3:12)
- Onesimus (Colossians 4:9, Philemon 1:10)
- Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus (Colossians 4:10-11)
- Luke and Demas (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:24)
- Nympha (Colossians 4:15)
- Archippus (Colossians 4:17, Philemon 1:1)
- Silas/Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 1:1, Acts 15:22)
- Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:6)
- Crescens (2 Timothy 4:10)
- Carpus (2 Timothy 4:13)
- Erastus and Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20)
- Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia (2 Timothy 4:21)
- Philemon and Apphia (Philemon 1:1)
Out of all these people, the avid Bible reader would probably only recognize a handful of names from memory. Yet it is quite shocking and sobering to think just how many people God brought into the work of this apostle. Each one of them aided in one form or another the crucial work of spreading the gospel to the ancient world. While certainly some had more significant parts to play than others, the point is that each person still made a contribution to the mission in their own way and with whatever resources they had. It might not have seemed like much at the time, but just as a great cook can throw a bunch of random ingredients into a pot and stir up something great, so God can use our small parts to make something bigger and more wonderful than we could have accomplished individually.
Here’s the take-home lesson: For every Paul there is a Lydia, a Zenas, an Onesiphorus, and a hundred other less-noteworthy people who still have a part to play in God’s big story. Those of us who are just no-name Christians in the world tend to think we have little to contribute, that the big-time Christians are the real influencers and the ones that God is counting on to get the job done. But this is not Scriptural thinking. God uses ordinary folk like you and I to do big things too. We may not have much to offer, but collectively we have all the resources we need for Christ’s Church to succeed at the mission of reaching the world. Jesus did not leave his people unequipped for the task. He’s given us all the necessary tools, but it is our responsibility to add to the mix what we can and let God use it how he sees fit. We might be tempted to think that nothing will be lost without our help, but who knows what disaster might have befallen Paul if even one person had had that mentality? Each of us is like a brick in the wall, together building a strong tower that can be a lighthouse to the world, shining the light and love of God into a dark world desperate for good news.
So listen up, fellow Christian! You have a part to play. You have something to contribute. God’s plan doesn’t include sideline benches. We all need to get in the game. You may not feel like you have much to give. You might not believe that your part matters very much. But the team behind the apostle Paul proves otherwise. Even though many of those people are forgotten to history, they are not forgotten to God. They have received their eternal reward for their service to Christ’s Church, and so will we, if we do not grow weary in doing good. Don’t worry about your talent, don’t worry about your fame, don’t worry about your legacy. Just find the opportunities that God puts in front of you and jump into action. It might not seem like much, but a little in the hands of Jesus can go a long way. Just ask the boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish!
Paul might be the household name, but every person in his network mattered. God saw their work for him, and he honoured it. He will do the same for you. Remember that God has a different perspective than we do. He can see how all the parts fit together, how every small act has an effect down the road that is leading to the fulfillment of his plan. Even though we may not see the bigger picture, we need to trust that there is one and live by faith and not by sight. God isn’t looking for world-shakers, just ordinary Christians who faithfully serve right where they are. That kind of boring, simple strategy is what allowed Paul to make the gospel reach the ends of the known world, and the very same thing is what will happen today if every believer will be faithful with their tiny part in the kingdom. Offer what you can, God will take care of the rest.