Paul’s Ministry Team of Men and Women (Post 3)

[This is the 3rd post in a series on a vision for ministry from the New Testament. This post can be read on its own or ideally along with the others.]

There are three Letters in the New Testament (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) that are most frequently referred to as ‘Pastoral Epistles.’ We often hear introductions to these letters stating that they are written to young pastors to help them in their ministries.

Unfortunately, like most of the New Testament, we have a tendency to read them through the lens of our own ministry models rather than seeking to understand the New Testament on its own terms. Our primary understanding of church leadership is that of local church pastors and so we assume that’s what Timothy and Titus are. But we are at least partially mistaken in that view. These Letters themselves, as well as other writings of the New Testament make this clear enough when we take a fresh look.

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer…” 1 Timothy 1:3

Clearly, Timothy wasn’t ‘called’ by that congregation to be their pastor, nor would he remain there any longer than was necessary. As we will show in more depth in a future post, local congregations in these churches did not have ‘a pastor’ the way that we think about that role today.

Rather Timothy was urged by Paul to stay in Ephesus because of the depth and degree of false teaching that needed to be dealt with. The assumption is that if there were not significant problems there, Paul would likely not have urged Timothy to stay there.

Why not?

Because Timothy was not a local church pastor. Rather, he was part of Paul’s trans-local or itinerant ministry team.

From what we can tell in the book of Acts as well as other Letters, as Paul traveled he connected with other disciples of Jesus and partnered with them in a web of ministry connections that he often referred to as ‘co-workers’

In Timothy’s case, Paul met him in the midst of his ministry travels and wanted to take him along on his journeys (Acts 16:1-5). As we have seen, he is in Ephesus for a time. He is also noted as traveling to Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:10). Another time he is in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Timothy has a significant ministry purpose when he is in these cities, but he is not a local church pastor the way that we think of one today. When he left, someone else did not come to replace him. Rather, local church oversight was developed from among each congregation or city. We will explore this more in a future post.

Paul’s ‘co-workers’ were numerous and they included both men and women. While some of the names of Paul’s ministry associates are perhaps familiar to us (Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Mark, and Luke) many of these names are easily overlooked in our devotional reading.

One husband and wife ministry couple we see active in different locations is Priscilla and Aquila. In the book of Acts, he first meets them in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). He connected with them in both ministry and their shared occupation of tent making, something both husband and wife engaged in to meet their financial needs – perhaps ministering as they worked.

As with Timothy and others, Paul took Priscilla and Aquila along with him on his journeys at times (Acts 18:18).

Acts also notes that Priscilla and Aquila spent some time further discipling Apollos, a gifted man who needed some more teaching:

“He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” Acts 18:26

Romans 16 is a text that is often overlooked in our studies of that Letter and yet is filled with lists of Paul’s ministry associates that were mutual acquaintances of both himself and the Christians at Rome. Having never been to Rome in person prior to writing the Letter, he is drawing on shared connections.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” Romans 16:1

We might easily overlook the meaning of this statement. Paul’s ‘commendation’ of Pheobe is because she is the one carrying the Letter to the Romans, which was both a substantial undertaking in the actual journey as well as the responsibility given. Phoebe is the person chosen from among others to deliver this Letter. Scholars have good reason to suggest that she may have been the one to read it aloud in each of the Roman house churches. If the Christians in Rome had questions abut the content of the Letter, she might have been equipped by Paul to answer some of them. This, however, is uncertain so while I think the suggestion has plausibility, we should not push these additional aspects related to her potential interpretation of the Letter too firmly.

Priscilla and Aquila also show up in Romans 16 – they are everywhere it seems! The fact that her name is often listed before his is interesting and may or may not have any significance and again, that point shouldn’t be pushed too hard.

Throughout this chapter, many men and women are mentioned. Names you’ve likely never heard of like Ampliatus, Appelles, Rufus, Hermes and Hermas.

Again, note more of the women mentioned in Romans 16:

“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.” Romans 16:12

“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.” Romans 16:6

One of the most interesting mentions in this chapter is another ministry couple: Andronicus and Junia.

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Romans 16:7

There has been a lot of discussion about Junia over the course of Christian history, including a translation question of whether she and Andronicus were themselves apostles or well known to the apostles. We should recall that there are people in the New Testament beyond the ‘Twelve’ who have apostolic gifting and are described as such, including Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Jesus’ brother James (Galatians 1:19).

It is, I think, significant to note that ancient interpreters like John Chrysostom of Constantinople (c. AD 349 – 407) – who spoke Greek fluently, insinuated that this passage could only be translated one way:

“’Greet Andronicus and Junia . . . distinguished among the apostles.’ To be apostles is a great thing, but to be distinguished among them—consider what an extraordinary accolade that is! They were distinguished because of their works and because of their upright deeds. Indeed, how great was the wisdom of this woman that she was thought worthy of being called an apostle!”

In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about different people Jesus empowers to collectively equip his people to together grow to maturity.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

Much like with the lists of spiritual gifts we saw in 1 Corinthians and Romans, there is no contextual indication that only one gender in view here. We have already seen in Peter’s Pentecost speech quoting Joel that men and women would both be engaged in prophetic ministry. Acts 21:9 is a specific instance of several women (Phillip’s daughters) having the gift of prophecy. In Romans 16 we have seen a strong indication of a woman being an apostle.

In any case, it is clear that amongst Paul’s ‘co-workers’ – his ministry network, there are many men and women named.

We might wonder what specific ministries they – specifically the women – are engaged in?

But why ask that question at all? Why wouldn’t women be involved in any and every type of ministry?

1 Timothy 2 is probably among the biggest reasons we would ask such a question and to that text we will next turn our attention. In the next post, we will use Paul’s mention of Eve in that Letter as a starting point to dig into Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3 and track the relationship between men and women in creation, fall and redemption in Christ.

I hope you will stay with me for the journey!

[For a more complete 4 page walk through Paul’s ‘co-workers, check this article.


Author: Dan Masshardt

Husband, Father, Pastor...

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