Margins of Miraculous – New Testament Mailman

Mentioned only five times in the Biblical record, Tychicus is indirectly responsible for the availability of at least two—and likely three—books of the New Testament. Unlike Paul, whose exploits are well chronicled, and Luke, who assured his renown by authoring some of the most documented accounts of the early church, Tychicus has no such name recognition—although he accompanied these well-known figures on all or most of Paul’s last two missionary journeys.

Tychicus never met Jesus. His knowledge of Christ came the same way ours does: someone shared it with him. His contributions to God’s plan were directed second-hand.  He had what we would call a “supporting role” in Paul’s ministry, but this did not prevent Tychicus from providing significant contributions to something much larger than he could have ever imagined.

We first encounter Tychicus as one of Paul’s companions on the third missionary journey, from Ephesus back to Jerusalem via Macedonia (Acts 20). Tychicus—and fellow traveler Trophimus—were initially described as coming from a province of Asia (Asia Minor). Trophimus was later identified more specifically as being from Ephesus (Acts 21), lending some credence to the theory that Tychicus was also from that city. If so, he may have been one of the original disciples greeted by Paul upon his arrival (Acts 19). Most certainly, Tychicus would have spent significant time with Paul, a firsthand witness to his ministry and the resulting successes—and near disasters—that marked Paul’s multi-year stay in Ephesus.

Whether he returned with Paul all the way to Jerusalem is not explicitly stated, but Tychicus was definitely with him at Crete and Rome towards the end of Paul’s ministry and life, a partner in the ministry. Describing Tychicus, Paul uses terms such as “dear brother,” “faithful servant,” and “faithful minister,” and he was one of two people considered as a replacement for Titus at Crete, so that Titus could rejoin Paul at Nicopolis (Titus 3).

Most interesting to me is the near certainty that Tychicus was responsible for delivering Paul’s letters to the churches at Ephesus and Colosse. He was most likely the courier for the letter to Philemon as well, accompanying Onesimus on the journey back to his former master at Colosse.

In the Biblical account, these journeys are mentioned almost in passing. Paul writes that he is sending Tychicus to them, a brief notation in each book, with little fanfare, about a journey from Rome to two cities in what is now Turkey. It is effectively a postscript, an administrative update. But the journey this suggests was in no way an insignificant undertaking.

The trip would have been nearly 1,100 miles, requiring one or two sailings and approximately 500 miles of walking. Gordon Franz, in his article Tychicus: On the Road Again, provided this contemporary U.S. example:

“This trip would be like getting on a sailboat at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and sailing down to New York Harbor, and then walking from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio. In other words, go to the George Washington Bridge; get on Route 80 and head west on foot! (It would probably take about a month to do the hike.)”

This was, of course, in addition to the journeys Tychicus had already taken with Paul, which probably encompassed another one to two thousand miles of travel. We can only imagine the bond that must have grown between them, traveling together over such long distances on foot and by boat, particularly at a time when travel was risky, accommodations uncertain, and safe return home more hoped for than expected.

Although not a perfect analogy, this brings to mind the 1,500-mile drive that I undertook in the immediate aftermath of 9/11—from Dallas, Texas, back home to New Jersey. During this period of uncertainty, I traveled with two colleagues from my company, relative strangers to me. Yet, over the course of that 24-hour drive, a bond was forged that has connected the three of us over the past twenty years. I suspect Tychicus had something much stronger with Paul and Onesimus.

I wonder if Tychicus had any idea of the importance of the letters he carried? They were, after all, relatively short communications from Paul to some small churches. I picture a rolled-up parchment stuffed in a bag, arriving at Ephesus significantly crumpled, torn at the edges, and slightly stained from the journey. Did Tychicus envision the impact of these letters over the following 2,000 years?

If we just consider the letter to the Ephesians, it was a document of only about 3,000 words.  However, an search today reveals over 1,000 books written about those words. Commentaries comprising hundreds of pages scrutinize a letter that, in my Bible, fills just over five pages. There are also sermons, study series, and PhD dissertations, all focused on this single letter.

It was a letter that needed to be delivered, not only for the Ephesians, but for the countless millions who have read its words down through the ages. It was God’s message, communicated through Paul’s writing—but it was Tychicus who delivered the goods.

Willingness to hold the ministry of Christ first in his life put Tychicus in position to be of service to God in ways he could not possibly have imagined. He was a companion, not the main event. He carried the letter, but did not compose its message. He did not receive top billing; instead, his name is buried in the credits. Despite this, the contributions of Tychicus were critical to the existence of the New Testament as we know it. 

Tychicus may have operated on the margins of our world, but he was a central figure in God’s plan, creating an impact that far surpassed what could have been reasonably expected from the simple delivery of a letter. This is a great reminder not to underestimate the importance of the tasks set before us.  Our life is a journey of uncertain length and unknown destinations that fits within the context of a heavenly itinerary far beyond our understanding.  Like Tychicus, we are unlikely to know the ultimate impact of each step of our journey.