God said regarding Adam in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Not only was the Lord concerned for Adam, but he was planning for the future as well. God told Adam and Eve “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). He wanted a world with relationships. Jesus understood this principle when He sent His disciples out in twos (Mark 6:7). Having fellow laborers creates comradery and provides a source of encouragement and help. The apostle Paul had many fellow workers who aided his ministry. We see two of them in Colossians 4:7-9, Tychicus and Onesimus.
The name “Tychicus” means “fortunate, fortuitous, or lucky” and Paul was fortunate to have him as a fellow worker. The Bible first names him in Acts 20:4 as one of the brethren who accompanied him on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the contribution made by gentile Christians (Acts 20:16, Rom. 15:25-26). These men likely served as a vanguard against highway robbers. Tychicus also served Paul by delivering news of his work to the churches. We know specifically that he delivered information to the churches at Ephesus, Colossae, and on the island of Crete (Eph. 6:21, Col. 4:7, 2 Tim. 4:12, Tit. 3:12). To the church at Colossae, Paul said that Tychicus would “know your circumstances.” This means that he also communicated information back to Paul as he traveled back and forth from these churches. The work that he did for Paul supported his efforts to care for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28).
Paul described Tychicus as a “beloved brother,” “faithful minister,” “fellow servant,” and said that he would “comfort their hearts” (Eph. 6:21-22, Col. 4:7-8). The expression “beloved brother” shows Paul’s affection for Tychicus and communicated to the churches Paul’s relationship with him. “Faithful minister” was in reference to Tychicus’ ability to carry out the tasks that Paul assigned to him. The word “minister” is the Greek word “diakonos.” The word does not necessarily imply that he held the office of a deacon in a local church. The origins of this word signify someone who can run errands and accomplish tasks. Paul also described him with the Greek word “sundoulos,” a fellow slave. This showed Tychicus’ devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. No doubt he was a fine preacher who was able to preach the word of God in such a way as to bring great comfort to the brethren. The word “parakaleo” was a Greek word used for “encouragement” and “exhortation.” Here it is translated “comfort.”
The name “Onesimus” means “useful, profitable, or beneficial.” This was the same Onesimus about whom Paul writes to Philemon. According to that letter, Onesimus was a run-away slave who became a Christian (Phile. 1:10). Paul wrote to his master to encourage him to receive him back without any punishment. Paul wrote, “[Onesimus] once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me” (Phile. 1:11). Colossae, evidently, was Onesimus’ hometown since Paul said that he was “of you.”
Paul also calls Onesimus a “faithful and beloved brother,” whom he was sending to report his affairs to the church in Colossae. The subtext to this comment is the letter to Philemon, which likely was delivered along with the letter to the church in Colossae where Philemon was a member. The fact that the letter to Philemon is extant is remarkable of itself. In this public letter to the church of Colossae, Paul does not mention this private letter to Philemon, which means that Philemon must have published it himself, even though, he was under no obligation to do so.
It must have been quite a surprise to the church to see Onesimus return to Colossae with Tychicus. He had not been a Christian when he left, but now he returns in full fellowship. No doubt it was difficult for Onesimus to walk back into their midst knowing that Philemon was among them. This demonstrated great courage on his part and trust in the message of the gospel “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11).
Onesimus’ returning to Colossae to face Philemon demonstrated repentance and showed to all that he had truly become a Christian. Given the fact that we have Philemon’s letter, he must have forgiven him and effected a great reconciliation between the two. Christians who believed in the message of the gospel often freed their slaves, and the church sometimes paid for their freedom.
Today we can look back on these two brothers, Tychicus and Onesimus, and learn from their good example of cooperation. Not everyone in the brotherhood is an Apostle Paul! We need plenty of Tychicus-types and Onesimus-types who will engage with our local congregations to do the Lord’s work. These men serve as a great example that the gospel is to be lived daily.