“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. Philemon 1:25
During the mid-20th Century, Billy Graham assembled one of the greatest evangelistic teams to ever serve together. He was assisted by Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea on stage, and served behind the scenes by priceless men like T.W. Wilson.
At the news of his friend’s death, Billy Graham said of T.W., "We prayed, laughed and wept on hundreds of occasions. I feel his loss very deeply, but I know where he is. He is in the presence of Jesus, and that's where he longed to be.”
“In an interview with Christianity Today, song leader Cliff Barrows said Wilson's ‘great gift was to identify, to sympathize, and to minister to people who were such a vital part of our organization. I met him as a freshman in college in 1940, and he was very warm and personal to me as a freshman. Barrows said, ‘Wilson thrived in a team-based approach to ministry…people whose hearts God has knit together.’ ”
Epaphras, Mark, Demas, Aristarchus, and Luke formed a prototype band of brothers with The Apostle Paul. The world has granted Paul the spotlight, but these men made it possible for him to carry on in spite of his heavy weight of ministry. Like T.W., they deserve to be remembered and honored.
A team is always greater than the sum of the parts. Someone is always in the spotlight, or the tip of the spear in any great enterprise. The spotlight of success or failure brings name recognition that others on the team are not granted. Wise team leaders know they get more credit and blame than they deserve for any success or failure. The wisdom is not in knowing this is true, but in sharing both success and failure with the rest of the team. Success and failure are both a team effort. But I digress.
Epaphras was described by Paul as, “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus.” Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke were mentioned as, “my fellow workers.” There is a difference, but the common denominator is Paul’s personal sense of ownership. These men shared a personal relationship with Paul. They were not only on his team. They were in his heart. As Cliff Barrows would say, “knit together.”
A great team is not built by great talent, but by a healthy personal pride in and identification with others. There is nothing like the synergy of a plan and a people merging into a powerful force to accomplish more together than they could ever do apart.
Epaphras, whose name meant lovely, was instrumental in the conversion of the Colossians (Colossians 1:7). He was the messenger who brought Paul the good news of the progress of the gospel, of the Colossian’s "faith in Christ Jesus" and of their love toward all the saints (Colossians 1:4). Paul regarded Epaphras as, "our beloved fellow-servant," "a faithful minister of Christ" (Colossians 1:7), and "a bondservant of Christ Jesus" (Colossians 4:12).
Mark was the John Mark of the New Testament, whose unfaithfulness earlier in his life had been the source of a division between Paul and Barnabas. Subsequently reconciled with Paul, Mark stood with the aged apostle at his hour of need. The Gospel of Mark bears his name. Paul’s use of Mark’s name, may have been a reminder to Philemon of his own forgiveness towards a brother who had once failed Paul, but had been restored to usefulness. (2 Timothy 4:11)
Aristarchus was a Greek Macedonian of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2), who journeyed with Paul to Rome, and shared his prison experience with him as a fellow worker. This is the same Aristarchus seized by a mob and dragged into the theater of Ephesus. (Acts 19:29). This is not the place on the stage that most preachers envy.
Demas served Paul well during his first imprisonment in Rome, but unfortunately did not finish well. Paul’s final word on Demas was a disappointing epitaph. He is described in 2 Timothy as having deserted Paul and as, "having loved this present world." (2 Timothy 4:10) God often hits straight licks with crooked sticks, as long as they remain in His hands.
Luke was Paul’s beloved physician. His credentials as a fellow worker are abundantly clear by his authorship of The Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts. He didn’t just write the history of the early church. He made history.
It is amazing what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. An individual who craves the credit for success, but is unwilling to share the blame for failure, is not a team leader, nor a team member. Criticism of a leader or a team member reveals more about a critic’s lack of character than the one they disparage.
At least one member of Paul’s team did not make the final cut. Paul’s consistent prayers for those who were in positions of responsibility fill his writings. Paul prayed for Demas, but the failure to finish the race is evidence that Demas did not start praying for himself. He is the poster boy for those who pray hard enough to get a title, but do not pray long enough to finish the task. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!