Friday, January 17, 2020

Aristarchus—A true friend and co-worker

The References 

Acts 20:4                     A native of Thessalonica 
Acts 19:29                   Beaten up at the riot in Ephesus
Acts 27:2                     On the ship with Paul to Rome where the apostle will be jailed
Colossians 4:10           With Paul in prison

The story that emerges:

After Paul crossed into Europe, his first stop was Philippi where he and Silas were jailed. From there he went on and spent three Sabbaths in Thessalonica. That means he was there somewhere between two and five weeks. 

Aristarchus was one of the Thessalonians who heard Paul and became a believer in Christ. Paul was there long enough to spot spiritually mature leaders and appoint elders. At that point Aristarchus disappears from the story until he reappears with Paul and others in Ephesus. Legend has it that Aristarchus became the first bishop of Thessalonica. That is quite plausible with the spiritual depth and courage he showed later. 

Not long after leaving the city, Paul wrote two letters back to that congregation. These are invaluable for students of the early church, since the issues are fresh  among his letters since they reflect issues in a brand new church plant. 

The next time Aristarchus appears is in Ephesus. Between Paul’s time in Thessalonica and Ephesus he went further down the Macedonian peninsula to Corinth, staying there over two years. While it is possible that Aristarchus accompanied Paul there, but it is more likely that he remained in Thessalonica, serving as that congregations in the demanding role as its first bishop. 

Paul, meantime, left Corinth and set sail for his home base in Syria. En routehe stopped over in Ephesus. This major seaport was a logical place for Paul to appraise for future ministry. He did not remain long but continued on to Syria. He vowed to the Christians there to return,  but not before adding, “God willing.” These trips are all covered in the brief verses of Acts 18:18-21.

Paul returned to Ephesus and ministered to the small group of Christians there. He also sent Timothy and Erastus over to Macedonia. These two probably revisited the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica. It was this visit that Aristarchus learned of Paul being in Ephesus, and he traveled there when Timothy and Erastus returned. 

Paul did not work solo. He always sought out companions whom he referred to as his “co-workers.” One of these was Aristarchus. 
The work in Ephesus was so successful that it brought on a riot. Luke describes the riot in Acts 21. Ostensibly the cause was a threat to the local deity, Artemis. The real reason, however, was a threat to commerce, specifically the idol industry of one Demetrius. Follow the money, then as now. Many Ephesians had no clue what the clamor was about (19:32), but a riot is a riot, and the city converged on the amphitheater. 

Paul had many friends who had rank and influence in the city. They prevailed on him not to go to the crowd. Instead the rowdy citizens grabbed two of his colleagues. One of these was Aristarchus. 

His next appearance was in a group of co-workers named in Acts 20:4 and 5. Each is named with his congregation. They appear to be representatives of the congregations who contributed to the offering that Paul was taking to the church in Jerusalem. 

The final time we see Aristarchus is leaving with Paul on the ship that took the apostle to his trial and jail term in Rome. That is no insignificant sighting. Luke went on the ship with Paul but the only other co-worker was Aristarchus. In his letter to the Colossians written from jail, Paul makes the final reference to him saying, “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you” (Col. 4:10). We see in the trip and confinement evidence of a close friendship and courageous solidarity of these two servants of Christ.

When I am sitting by Aristarchus on a bench in heaven, I will have a couple of questions for him:
How did you deal with the wounds from the amphitheater in Ephesus—the physical hurts and the scars of the persecution?
What was the most enjoyable aspect of Paul as friend and traveling companion?
OK, you went to Spain with Paul, but where did you go afterwards? North to Gaul? Or did you cross at Gibraltar and get among the Bedouin and Arabs of Morocco? 

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