Its been an exciting journey thinking about some of the people that Paul shared his life with. Our final character is Luke. Although better he is known than some of the people we’ve looked at, I initially couldn’t think of a great deal about him. This is probably because there are actually only three specific references to him in the Bible. However, it seems that there is much more to be found, not least in the two books of the Bible (Luke & Acts), which we are fairly confident that he wrote. Within those books, Luke never refers to himself directly, but there is still much to glean and learn from his life.
So what do we know about Luke?
All three of the Biblical references to Luke appear in Paul’s letters. First in Colossians 4:14, Paul mentions Luke in a series of greetings to the church there. Here he is referred to here as a dear friend and doctor. Some versions translate it saying that Luke is the beloved physician. Luke is an abbreviation of the Gentile name Loukanos, which means white. This fits with the idea that Luke was a gentile – something strongly suggested in the preceding verses in Colossians 4:10-11 where Paul writes that Aristarchus, Mark & Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jews among his fellow workers. Philemon 1:23-24 tells us that Luke is one of Paul’s fellow workers while in 2 Timothy 4:9-11 it seems that a number of Paul’s friends had left him leaving only Luke alongside him.
14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:23-24 & 2 Timothy 4:9-11
These few brief references begin to help us build up an idea of Luke and his relationship with the apostle Paul. The writing styles used in both the book of Luke and Acts suggest a highly educated man who produced high quality books and had probably studied a wide range of subjects beyond medicine. In the book of Acts, Luke at times uses the word we in his narrative. It is fascinating to think about why Luke would not name himself directly. For me it speaks of the humility of the man and his desire to direct the spotlight towards others.
However, the implication of Luke’s use of the word we, is that there were times when Luke was clearly travelling with Paul. For example in Acts 16:10 we can infer that Luke joined Paul at Troas and then accompanied him to Philippi where it seemed that he remained. Then again in Acts 20:5-6 we find further uses of the we and it seems that Luke had now moved on from Philippi and joined up with Paul’s ministry team again in Troas. From there Acts 20:13 tells us that they sailed for Assos where they met up with Paul and they went onto Mitylene, Kios, Miletus and finally onto Jerusalem. We lose sight of Luke during this period when Paul became a prisoner, but there are further references in Acts 27:1 & 28:16. There we find that Luke had accompanied Paul to Rome and was with him while he wrote the letters of Colossians, Philemon & 2 Timothy and maybe others too.
1. The Importance of Friendship
All through this series we have been confronted with the stark reality that Paul ministered with a team of people. Paul strategy was to recruit people to join him for the sake of the gospel. These people came from a wealth of backgrounds and professions. They were not all mini-Paul’s made in his image! Some were writers/scholars/teachers (e.g., Apollos, Silas, Luke & Mark), some were evangelists (e.g., Titus, Epaphras), some were from wealthy/skilled backgrounds (e.g., Lydia, Phoebe or Philemon) and others made good use of their homes (e.g., Gaius & Lydia, Priscilla & Aquila). They were each very different kinds of people working out the same vision to reach people in different ways, different contexts and using their unique gifts to serve God. I find the following lists of people pretty inspiring as I think of the people Paul influenced most.
- Travel Companions: Aquilla, Aristarchus, Barnabas, Epaphras, Gaius, Justus, Luke, Marcus, Onesimus, Philemon, Priscilla, Secundus, Silas/Silvanus, Sopater, Tertius, Timothy, Titus, Trophimus & Tychicus.
- Co-workers, fellow workers & Supporters: Andonichus, Apphia, Archippus, Carpus, Demus, Epaphroditus, Lucius, Lydia, Jason, Junia, Nymphus, Onesiphorus, Pheobe, Tyrannus & Urbanus
- Other people of Influence: Felix, Festus, King Agrippa, Stoic & Epicurean Philosophers (Athens), Sergius Paulus (Roman Pro Consul in Acts 13) & Erastus (City Director of public Works)
I love the fact that Paul sought to do life with this wide group of people. By nature some were obviously much closer to him than others – especially those who travelled with him or were identified as fellow workers. I love the fact that there never seems to be much of a hierarchy amongst Paul’s team – people are simply fellow workers alongside him. The level of friendship between them was strong and we’ve seen this in many of the characters we have considered throughout this series.
2. Friendship that endures
I think we all know that some friendships just seem to stand the test of time – they endure! Even when we’ve not seen such friends in ages, there just seems to be an ability to just pick up where you left off. To Paul, Luke seems to have been one of these kind of friends. Yes they had worked and travelled widely together, but I find the reference in 2 Timothy 4:9-11 quite stunning. This letter was likely Paul’s final letter – indeed Paul tells us in the preceding verses that his departure was near:
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8
For various reasons (mostly positive), only Luke was with Paul as his end approached. Demas had sadly deserted them (because he loved the world), Crescens had gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke had stayed with Paul. Was this because of Luke’s skills as a Physician? Had God used Luke to help prolong Paul’s life a midst all of the very physical hardships that he had experienced. We can read more about the beatings, floggings, stoning’s, shipwrecks and so on in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 and then there was his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. A doctor is a pretty good person to keep close!
So it seems that Luke was the kind of friend that you really want to keep around who will stick with you through thick and thin. There is a real challenge here to draw this kind of friend into your life, whilst also seeking to be that kind of friend for others.
3. Friendship that serves
There are two further references Paul makes to people who were of great service to him. We cannot know for sure but it is definitely possible that one or both of them refer to Luke. Firstly in Philippians 4:2-3 Paul mentions two women, namely Eudoia and Syntyche, who were engaged in some kind of dispute. He pleads with them to be united and he asks his true or genuine companion to help them. We’ve already seen that Luke was in Philippi for quite some time while Paul was working elsewhere. It seems eminently possible that Luke is this person (supported by Gordon Fee in his commentary on Philippians).
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.Philippians 4:2-3
The second passage in 2 Corinthians 8 speaks of Titus who was coming to administer the gift that had been promised by the church in Corinth. Along with Titus, Paul says that they were sending a brother who was praised by all the churches for his service in the gospel. Tradition has it that this was also Luke and that would make a lot of sense too.
16 Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.2 Corinthians 8:16-19
While we cannot attribute either of these passages with any level of confidence, we can however conclude that these avenues of service do fit well with what we know of Luke. Friendship is at heart is not self-serving, but focused on serving others. There are many situations all around us where there will be opportunities to help, support and encourage others.
Time and space is gone, but I hope that the example of Luke will be an inspiration to invest deeply in friendships and be the kind of friends who stick with others and look for opportunities to serve.
Firm Friendship is an inspiration and a must. Find that friend… Be that friend…
See other posts in this series
- Paul & Ananias: The People God Uses
- Paul & Barnabas: The Power of Encouragement
- Paul & Timothy: Setting an Example
- Paul & Titus: Developing Leadership
- Paul & Silas: Sharing our Lives
- Paul & Lydia: Using our Resources
- Paul & Epaphras: Carrying the Gospel
- Paul, Priscilla, Aquila & Apollos: Generations
- Paul & Luke: Firm Friendship