Shout Outs: Aristarchus
In Colossians 4:7-18, the Apostle Paul closes his letter to the church at Colossae, with ten “Shout Outs” to friends who were with him on a mission across Asia Minor. A Shout Out is simply a public acknowledgment of good. Paul closed most of his letters with a list of shoutouts. These were one or two-sentence acknowledgments of their contribution to his ministry and life.
These shout-outs from Paul remind us that he was not alone. And neither should we try to be as we live life and participate in God’s mission. Christianity is about relationships. The church is simply a group of friends that are pursuing God’s mission together. Jesus had the twelve. Paul had around 35 that he mentions across all of his letters. The model is Friendship + Mission. There is no such thing as solo Christianity.
Paul’s third Shout-Out goes to Aristarchus. Here’s what we know about Aristarchus:
- He was from Thessalonica (Acts 27:2). A busy seaport city along the Roman Road.
- He was with Paul during the Ephesus riot (Acts 19:21-29). The silversmith Demetrius, out of fear of losing his business making statutes of Artemis, riled up the city against Paul and his companions. Aristarchus was drug through the city and threatened.
- He traveled with Paul all the way to Rome as a prisoner or just a companion (Acts 20:1-3; 27:1-2). Which meant he went through a harrowing experience with the sea, that ended in a shipwreck on an island called Malta.
- He was a fellow prisoner and fellow servant of Paul’s. It’s unclear if he was also arrested and sent with Paul to be tried or if he was just traveling with Paul as a friend and an aid on the harrowing journey. The latter seems more plausible, making Aristarchus an even greater friend. He chose imprisonment with his friend over himself.
- A loyal friend to Paul through thick and thin. How loyal? Dragged through the streets of Ephesus by a mob loyal. On a harrowing boat trip to Rome loyal. Shipwrecked on a foreign island loyal. Under house arrest facing execution at the hand of a Romans Emperor loyal.
- Through trials and hardships. Through thick and thin. Aristarchus SUFFERED with Paul.
If you read the New Testament, you’ll find suffering is a foundational element of the 1st century understanding of Christian belief and practice. And suffering TOGETHER can also be said to be a foundational Christian belief and practice. Among the 40+ “one another” verses in the New Testament, we find challenges to suffer together. I see three levels of Suffering Together. Each requires a depth of character and unselfishness as we do life together.
1. Concern for One Another – 1 Corinthians 12:25 – Suffering together starts with a basic concern or interest in the needs of others. This means we devote time and attention to what another is experiencing, putting ourselves in their place, imagining how we might be of service to them in their time of need. And this concern should be as great as your concern for yourself (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 10:24). Is there room in my heart to consider and devote time and attention to the needs and suffering of others?
2. Suffer with One Another – 1 Corinthians 12:26 – The next level of suffering together is entering into that suffering with another person. Paul challenged the believers in Rome to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Concern can be applied from a distance, but suffering together means we make an effort to be present with the person during their time of need. Do I have the strength of character and unselfish willingness to sit and stand with another person in their suffering?
3. Carry one another’s burdens – Galatians 6:2 – A final level of suffering together is making an effort to lighten the burden of suffering another is experiencing. Whether it’s physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual, there are things we can do to lift another person who is experiencing difficulty. Am I willing to sacrifice and give time, resources, and energy to help a fellow believer who is suffering?
Aristarchus definitely did all three of these for his friend Paul. His concern led him to suffer with and help carry Paul through the struggles of early apostolic ministry. Tradition tells us that Aristarchus became a Pastor in Syria and eventually suffered execution himself during Nero’s reign.
I’m glad I can say that I’ve experienced Christian friendship at each of these levels. Fellow believers regularly communicate their concern for my well-being. Fellow believers have walked with me, listened to me, and prayed for me through difficult seasons of life. And fellow believers have sacrificed themselves to lift my burdens. I want to be faithful to do the same for others. Let’s keep the Aristarchus spirit alive in the church today.