The Untold "Unstory" of Trophimus

We who live by faith in Jesus Christ have no need of patron saints, secondary role models or supplementary heroes. Jesus is our all. The value of lesser Bible characters is in the lessons and insights their stories offer to support our growing up into the Master in all things (Ephesians 4:15).

Any genuine Christian might dream of doing something magnificent for the Master, but our lives in reality are pretty ordinary.

Trophimus, who worked in the gospel ministry with the apostle Paul, is a more unlikely candidate for fame than most, rating, as he does, less than a column inch in a large-print Bible. We know that he was:

  • from the province of Asia (Acts 20:4),

  • specifically from Ephesus (Acts 21:29), which led Jewish religious zealots to wrongly assume that Paul had brought him into the Temple precinct, which made him the unwitting cause of a nasty riot.

  • left behind in Miletus sick by Paul, unable to help him, topping off his unimpressive list of accomplishments (2 Timothy 4:20).

That, friends, is all of it. Not very impressive! A story untold…because there’s just not much of a story to tell. In fact, it might be better called an “Un-Story.” Which is the point.

A good number of us personally share Trophimus’ keenly-honed talent for obscurity.

Most of us won’t have stories told about our leading the charge into glorious exploits in the name of Jesus like, say, a Billy Graham.

Most of us won’t become well-known media personalities, presenting the gospel of the kingdom. Most of us won’t be appointed to lofty positions and roles. Most of our evangelism will be quiet and personal. Most of our service to the Master will be unsung and unrecorded in Scripture — even more obscure, in fact, than the service to the gospel and ministry Trophimus gave. At least he got his name in print!

Actually, we who live the resurrection life of faith, along with Trophimus, are mentioned in the Bible.

We’re all familiar with the faith chapter “Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11), comprised of well-known servants of God who conquered kingdoms, administered justice, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, and so on. Acknowledged in the same chapter alongside these spotlighted, specified luminaries, there is also a “Hall of Obscurity” — an unstipulated mass of faithful servants of God (verse 36—collectively called “others”) for whom the cavalry did not come over the hill in the nick of time.

These are people whose names will remain unknown in this life, whose faith in the Master carried them all the way through privation, torture and martyrdom.

Historically, the obscure hugely outnumber the famous. Let’s be honest. Although any genuine Christian disciple worth the title might sometimes dream of doing something magnificent — or at least significant — for the Master, our lives in reality are pretty ordinary, aren’t they?

In his book, Community and Growth, Jean Vanier, founder of the worldwide L’Arche Movement, describes accepting this honest reality as “the second call.” He writes:

“The first call is frequently to follow Jesus or to prepare ourselves to do wonderful and noble things for the Kingdom. We are appreciated and admired by family, by friends or by the community. The second call comes later, when we accept that we cannot do big or heroic things for Jesus; it is a time of renunciation, humiliation and humility.”

He’s right.

Some Christians waste much valuable time waiting for the big moment — the cosmic call — the opportunity to do something extraordinary, when in reality, most of us are just ordinary people. We are called by an extraordinary God who has chosen to draw other ordinary people to himself in a hundred thousand different places — one at a time — most often through their association with ordinary Christians.

Although he was God in the flesh, the Master himself, in his own culture, was so much one of us, so unremarkable (Isaiah 53:2), so “normal” (at least, on the surface), that “The ordinariness of Jesus was a huge roadblock to belief in his identity and work in the days of his flesh. It is still a roadblock.” So writes Eugene Peterson, who translated The Message Bible.1

I have no idea if Trophimus was content with his unimpressive, back-seat, supporting role in the life of the first-century church. My philosophical affinity with this man rests on the charitable assumption that he was. Regardless of how Trophimus felt about it, the fact is that most of us will live out the resurrection life of faith in relative obscurity — unsung, unrecorded, unacknowledged this side of the fullness of the kingdom.

We should know that God remembers our labor of love — that he values our faithful, obscure, unsung, unrecorded, unacknowledged service to him every bit as much as the stuff that gets published. We can take confidence that we are included in this encouraging statement in Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

The world may not know your name. That’s okay; God knows your name.

The world may not know your faithful, quiet service. That’s okay; God knows your faithful service.

This reassurance is what I take, both from Hebrews 11 and the unremarkable “Un-Story” of Trophimus.

1 Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Eerdmans, 2005), p. 35.

Kerry Gubb
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