How would we like to be mentioned by name in the published letters of a famous person? Perused over and over by everyone for centuries! It depends what the writer said about us, I suppose!
The other morning I was reading a brief letter that was written to a man called Philemon. Although it’s mainly about Philemon’s runaway slave, the writer, Paul, didn’t only send it to this particular slave-owner. He also addressed it to the whole church which met in his home. And he especially mentioned two other people by name, but I’ve never heard any sermons about either of them! It’s easy to miss the small things when we read the Bible, isn’t it? I’ve read this letter many times and neither of these other names stuck in my memory. If the people had done something really bad, perhaps I’d remember them!
One was a woman, Apphia; the other was Archippus, who was also referred to in another of Paul’s letters – to the church at Colossae. In that one, Paul instructed the Colossians to tell Archippus to ‘finish the job’ that Jesus had given him. This could merely imply that they had to encourage him in his work, but maybe Paul had heard on the grapevine that Archippus had been a bit slack in getting on with it!
Finishing is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life! Churches founder from the lack of it. They plod on, but fail to keep on. I know it’s hard when things are against us, or if we lose our original vision. It can happen in a family, a business, or to an individual who’s been through unexpectedly difficult times.
As this letter was read to the church in Philemon’s loungeroom, was Archippus sitting there, holding his breath as he heard his name read out in front of all the other church members? Fortunately he didn’t have to wait long. How thrilled he must have been when he heard himself described as a ‘real trouper!’ by the great apostle Paul. Especially after his previous reputation! I’m sure he would have immediately decided to gather all his resources and do even better in his work. I can almost see him smiling shyly, trying not to show his pleasure to all his friends!
There was another thing I noticed when I was reading about these people. I had the Message Bible before me and Eugene Peterson had used ‘trooper’ in a complimentary way for the usual ‘fellow soldier’ that other translations use. That’s correct, although a soldier doesn’t always deserve the compliment. But a ‘trouper’ is someone who keeps on until the end, regardless of the obstacles that block their way. It has the kind of meaning that ‘the show must go on, regardless’. So trouper or trooper, both will have to stand against obstacles, in spite of their feelings.
I’d also like to know the reason why Apphia was included. It might have been out of courtesy on Paul’s part; some people think she could have been Philemon’s wife. Maybe she had her hands full there!
Even though we’re not mentioned by name in the Bible, it was written to include us. We can learn from it too. If we’re dragging our feet; looking for something more challenging, or interesting, we can take Paul’s words to Archippus and apply them to our own circumstances. Any unfinished job will then become a worthwhile challenge when we know that the Holy Spirit really wants to help us with it, and when it’s done, he’ll be sure to call us a ‘real trouper’!