The Seven Sons of Saul.

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. Acts 20:1-6 ESV


After the highly tense episode at the theater in Ephesus, when things had finally cooled down, Paul left the city and made his way north to Troas. We know that he stopped there from a comment he made in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth. He told them, “When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13 NLT).

Paul crossed the Aegean Sea and arrived back in Macedonia where he revisited many of the cities he had been to on his second missionary journey. We know from that same Letter to the Corinthians, that Paul was reunited with Timothy while in Macedonia.

When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.  – 2 Corinthians 7:5-6 NLT

Luke indicates that Paul eventually made his way from Macedonia into Greece, which refers to the area then known as Achaia. During his three months of ministry there, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, informing them of his desire to some day visit them on his way to Spain.

I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey. – Romans 15:24 NLT

But Paul’s immediate plans had been to sail from Greece to Syria, where he would make his way to Jerusalem. But he was informed of a plot by the local Jewish leadership to do him harm, so he altered his plans, deciding instead to return through Macedonia. But Paul did not make the journey alone. We know that Titus had rejoined him in Macedonia, but when he made his return trip back through that region, he had another six men as his traveling companions. Luke lists them as Sopater the Berean, Aristarchus and Secundus, who were Thessalonicans; Gaius of Derbe, Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the region of Asia. The only name in this list that is familiar to us is that of Timothy, the young man who had become a regular on many of Paul’s previous journeys. Along with Titus, they are the best known disciples or young proteges of Paul. He ended up writing two letters to Timothy and one to Titus, that each bear their names. But the other men on this list are relatively unknown to most of us. Together with Timothy, they make up a team of seven men, who accompanied Paul on his trip through Macedonia. It seems likely that these men represented the various congregations throughout Achaia and Macedonia who had contributed money for the needs of the saints back in Jerusalem. The various nationalities of these men reveal the cross-cultural nature of the gospel and how Paul’s ministry had mirrored his belief in its inclusiveness. In his letter to the church in Colossae, he wrote: “ In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11 NLT). There’s a Macedonian, two Thessalonians, two Asians, and two Galatians. Quite an eclectic group. But they all had one thing in common: Their indebtedness to Paul for his ministry in their lives which had resulted in their saving faith in Jesus Christ. He was a mentor to them, and his dedication and determination to take the gospel to the Gentiles had resulted in their lives being radically changed forever. He had been a difference-maker in their lives. And I can’t help but think about the seven sons of Sceva, whom Luke introduced us to in chapter 19. These itinerant Jewish exorcists, all sons of a high-ranking Jewish priest, had attempted to mimic the supernatural work of Paul by trying to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, but without having a relationship with Jesus. They failed. No doubt, these men had been mentored by their father. Perhaps they had learned to exorcise demons from him. But their attempt to use the name of Jesus for their own personal use and career advancement, left them beaten and stripped naked by the very demon they had tried to cast out.

What a stark difference between these seven sons and the seven spiritual sons of Saul, or Paul. He had poured truth into these men and it had taken root, manifesting itself in fruitful ministry. Paul had been confident enough in these men to send them on ahead to the city of Troas, without him. Paul was constantly expanding his ministry by exposing others to leadership opportunities. But not before he had trained and equipped them for the tasks they would face. Paul had taken Jesus’ command to make disciples quite seriously. And he wasn’t content to simply make converts. He wanted to raise up men who were mature in their faith and bold in their witness. We don’t know the ages of the seven men listed in this passage, but for Paul, age would not have mattered. The words he wrote to Timothy would have applied to them all, regardless of their age.

11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.– 1 Timothy 4:11-12, 16 NLT

Each generation should be about the spiritual training and preparation of the next generation. The psalmist wrote:

We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands. – Psalm 78:4-7 NLT

God warned the people of Israel:

18 “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 19 Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. – Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NLT

And yet, one of the saddest passages in all of Scripture is found in the book of Judges, where we read what happens when these commands of God to prepare the next generation are ignored.

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 NLT

Disciple making is not just about increasing the number of believers and growing the size of the church. Seeing people come to faith in Christ is wonderful, but it is only part of the process. Spiritual maturity is to be an equal and non-negotiable aspect of making disciples. The seven men who accompanied Paul were not just believers, they were maturing, Spirit-empowered ministers of the gospel who were equipped to do the work of the Lord. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul wrote:

28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. – Colossians 1:28-29 NLT

Paul wrote similar words to the believers in Ephesus, once again revealing his passion to see believers grow up in their salvation.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:11-15 NLT

Christ-likeness was the goal for Paul, not just coming to faith in Christ. Raising up workers to send into the harvest was his life’s mission, not just signing up future residents of heaven. For Paul, it all began with the perspective of a father to his children. He referred to Timothy as “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2 NLT). He called the Galatians believers his dear children, informing them, “I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives” (Galatians 4:19 NLT). He was suffering because they were not growing as he knew they should. He opened his letter to them with the following words of disappointment and admonition:

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7 NLT

Paul wanted mature sons and daughters in the faith. He would not accept mediocrity or settle for anything less than visible and tangible signs of increasing maturity. Paul had poured his life into Titus and Timothy. Now he had added another list of names to his ever-growing list of sons in the faith. How many spiritual sons and daughters will you leave behind? Who are you raising up to take your place when you’re gone?

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson