Kingdom Work Is People Work

A missionary in Europe draws encouragement for church planting from the Apostle Paul’s often-overlooked greetings in 2 Timothy.

Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus, Carpus, Alexander the coppersmith, Prisca, Aquila, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia.

Although this unique list of names may sound like the cast of characters in a gladiator film or the members of a quirky family, these are the individuals the Apostle Paul briefly mentions in the conclusion to his second letter to Timothy. Writing as he anticipates his own death, Paul imparts a final set of information and instruction to the young pastor.

As church planters who are concerned for the ministry partners with whom we work, Paul’s advice to Timothy is both inspiring and prescriptive.

Although nearly 2,000 years have passed since Paul penned his letter, in many ways, his description of Timothy’s ministry context mirrors our own. In the last chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul admonishes Timothy to use God’s Word to rebuke, correct, and encourage so that people who have believed worldly myths might know the truth of the gospel. He says, “the time is coming when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear” (v. 3).

Where we serve in post-postmodern Western Europe, that time has come. Biblical literacy is at an all-time low, and in spite of our host country’s rich Catholic history, Old Testament stories are taught as myths in high school language arts classes—if they’re taught at all. Paul’s example as he “fought the good fight,” “finished the race,” and “kept the faith,” along with the reminder of our waiting “crown of righteousness” (vv. 6-7), have motivated us during seasons of discouragement due to constant rejection of the gospel.

In verse five, he commands: “but as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Yes, I think to myself as I read, this is why I became a missionary! This is the kingdom work I was called to do! So as Paul finishes his letter, I look for an encouraging anecdote or perhaps a mini sermon about what it means to fulfill our ministry. But in the second half of chapter four (verses 9-22), Paul gives his final instructions, and it’s just a series of errands and relational interactions.

At first, I want to skim over the final words of this chapter, presuming that the way Paul greets various people in his conclusion is simply the way a letter was written in his day. As usual, however, a deeper look reveals essential principles for church planting.

1. Kingdom Work Involves Staying Connected

One commentator describes Paul’s conclusion as “bringing Timothy up to date on the spiritual condition, activities, and whereabouts of certain men and women who either helped or harmed his ministry.”[1]

My husband and I serve with a local pastor and his wife. We meet every week, alternating weeks for prayer and team discussions. A good portion of our team meetings consists of discussing the spiritual condition, activities, and whereabouts of various people connected to our church community. With whom did we have opportunities to share the gospel? How are discipleship meetings going? Are there any new prayer matters? Just like in Paul’s letter, our effectiveness in ministry includes bringing each other up to date on the spiritual situation of those we serve.

2. Kingdom Work Has Many Stages

In my imagination, I can develop a backstory for each name Paul mentions, and I find parallels with the people in my own ministry. Perhaps Demas, who deserted Paul “because he loved this world” (v. 10), used to visit him but was led away by something better than visiting a friend in prison. Crescens and Titus have moved away—it doesn’t say why, nor that they’ve walked away from the Lord like Demas. They’re just not there for Paul anymore, and this is so relatable to overseas workers who often experience a revolving door of friendships. Luke, however, has been a good friend to Paul. Mark can be useful in ministry. Tychicus, whom we know was sometimes Paul’s scribe, has been sent on a mission for Paul to Ephesus. Carpus is keeping Paul’s cloak and scrolls—reminding me of when I left a Bible study with a friend before departing for my first furlough in the US, hoping that she would pick it up while I was gone. Perhaps Paul left the scrolls with Carpus for a similar purpose, but now he needs them back. Paul mentions other people, some who deserted him, and some who greet Timothy and send their love. One friend is sick, and, while Paul doesn’t say it, I conclude that this is a prayer request.

When church planting, we often want a linear ministry to people that progresses from evangelism to discipleship and finally, to fruit-bearing leadership. But Paul’s letter reminds us that throughout our ministry we will simultaneously encounter people at different stages in their walk with God, and the Holy Spirit does the work of convicting and calling his true disciples to serve him in his timing.

3. Kingdom Work Will Be Opposed

Between Paul’s mention of Carpus and the others, there is a warning: “Alexander the coppersmith did great harm to me. Watch out . . . because he strongly opposes our words” (vv. 14-15).

Paul does not indicate whether Alexander the coppersmith is a believer, only that he “did great harm” and that he strongly opposes their words. This likely means that Alexander the coppersmith strongly opposes the gospel. Some scholars believe this is the same Alexander of Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19 and 1 Timothy. If that’s true, it seems that at one point he was open to the gospel, but once he realized that it put his metalworking trade creating idols at risk, he turned away and spread lies about Paul and his ministry. There’s no proof that these are the same men, however. Alexander the coppersmith could also be an argumentative believer, opposing the leadership at every turn. He might not even mean to do harm. The arrows of the enemy can come from both believers and unbelievers, but opposition to the gospel is nothing new. God will continue to work in hearts and lives despite the opposition of those around us. With that in mind, I circle back to Paul’s encouraging words at the beginning of the chapter: “preach the word, be ready in season and out of season” (v. 2).

Our daily work of planning events, preparing for Sunday services, building friendships with people who have never heard the gospel, and teaching those who have received salvation often does not feel like carrying out Paul’s “solemn charge” (v. 1). We do all of that, however, for the sake of individuals God has brought to our sphere of influence. Paul’s letter to Timothy, with its list of characters, reminds us that even in the mundane activities of church planting, God is building his global church.

[1] John MacArthur, 2 Timothy, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).