A Life Captured In Ten Words
II Timothy 4:9-18
If I were to ask you to name the person who wrote more of the New Testament than any other single writer, how would you answer?
My guess is that you would answer Paul or perhaps John. You would be wrong. The fact is the person who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else was Luke. He wrote the longest gospel, the gospel that bears his name, and he wrote the longest history of the early Christian church, the book of Acts. Taken together the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts comprise one-fourth of the New Testament. Taken together, they are more than the contribution of any other single writer to the material of the New Testament. Now, ironically enough, while Luke tells us much about Christ and much about the church, he tells us nothing about himself. In fact, if you scour the pages of the New Testament, you discover that only Paul refers to Luke or to information about him-and even then Paul makes reference to Luke in just three places, using a total of ten words. Amazing—ten words! But even though those ten words are all we have, they do provide us with a wonderful portrait of this most remarkable man. To show you what I mean I want us to look at those ten words now…
Words one and two: “Beloved Physician”
You remember how at the conclusion of most of his letters Paul always liked to make reference to specific individuals. Well, at the end of his Colossian letter Paul wrote these words, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you.” Note the two key words Paul used to describe Luke.
“Physician” Luke was a doctor, yet he was a doctor in the midst of a great missionary enterprise. What does that tell you about him? Well, then, as now, medical service was a terribly demanding career. Then, as now, a doctor required exacting training and specialized skill. Then, as now, a physician was constantly surrounded by the sick crying out, “Help me, heal me.” Then, as now, a physician could not calculate or control his schedule each day. Therefore, Doctor Luke would have been quite justified in saying, “Look, I’m too busy to take on a big missionary job for the Lord.” But Luke did not say that. In other words, Luke never drew a distinction between what he did for a living and what he did for the Lord. He never separated his sacred faith from his secular work. That was the glory and the genius of the great Doctor Luke. How can I ever forget visiting the great Presbyterian Hospital in Kwangju, Korea? I was taken to the operating room there to participate in what is normal surgical procedure in that hospital. There was a woman on the operating table about to undergo serious cancer surgery but before the anesthetic was administered everyone in the room—the surgeons, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the aides, the patient and I—all joined hands and all prayed. Only then did the surgery begin. Doctor Luke would have understood that and appreciated it. For Luke drew no distinction between what he did for a living and what he did for the Lord. That’s a lesson we can learn for our own lives—we are never to separate our sacred faith from our secular work. Luke was a physician, yes, but a physician in the service of his Lord.
“Beloved” That is also what Paul called Luke, “Beloved Physician.” I want you to understand that you do not become beloved simply by utilizing pills, needles and scalpels. Beloved refers to people, not pills. Beloved refers to relationships, not techniques. That means that Luke, clearly, was engaged in the practice of encouragement as well as the practice of medicine. That means that Luke was influencing people for good and for Christ. That means that Luke was meeting both the physical and the spiritual needs of people. He was not just a doctor, he was something more, and that is the beauty of the word Paul used to describe him, “Beloved.” I looked up that word “beloved” in scripture. It is used a number of times. With one exception, it is used to refer to relationships. This is the only time where the word “beloved” is used to modify a job. Beloved brother, beloved sister, beloved friend, yes, but here we read “beloved physician”. Quite clearly Luke had said to himself, “I will do my work as a physician in such a way that the Lord will be glorified and that people will be blessed.” That’s why Paul called him the “beloved physician”. That’s a word we need to remember in our own living. You see, you do not have to be just an accountant, just a salesperson, just a teacher, just a lawyer, just a homemaker, just a business executive, you can become “beloved”. That is, you can use your calling, your vocation to influence other people, to shape other people’s lives, and to encourage other people to become what God wants them to be. Once again, that was the glory and the genius of Doctor Luke. He was the “beloved physician”.
Words three, four and five: “my fellow worker”
The shortest book in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to Philemon. It is just one chapter long. Right near the end of that letter, Paul mentions Luke and calls him, “my fellow worker”. Now the word “worker” that Paul uses here must be understood quite literally. You see, Paul and the others with him were not just missionaries supported by a church or a denomination; they were people who had to ply their particular trade during the day in order to make ends meet. And so Luke was not simply an honorary member of Paul’s medical team; Luke was a worker, a practicing doctor with a hard job to do. I think it’s also important for us to note that these three words constitute the only praise that Luke ever received, as far as we know, for his efforts on behalf of the Lord. Paul called him “my fellow worker”. I think there’s a lesson there for us. We need workers like Luke, who work for the sheer joy and pleasure of working for the Lord, not for any praise or gratitude or reward they might receive.
Anyone who has been to Denmark knows the work of the sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen. Thorvaldsen’s magnificent sculptures are displayed in many places throughout his native Denmark. However, Thorvaldsen did much of his actual work in Italy because that is where he could find the huge blocks of marble that he needed. On one occasion when he had completed a particularly large and beautiful statue, he had that statue packed and crated in order to ship it back to his beloved Denmark. In the process of packing the statue, in order to carefully cushion this immense work of art, a kind of thick, grassy straw available in Rome, was used as the packing material. When the great statue arrived in Denmark it was then uncrated and that straw—there was a lot of it—was simply scattered about to make mulch wherever it was needed. Now, what was not known was that down in that straw were tiny seeds which had been carried on the winds in Rome and had become lodged in the straw. As a result, after workers spread all of that straw about Copenhagen, the next spring, suddenly, surprisingly, for the first time, the magnificent flowers of Rome began to bloom along the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark. I submit that Luke’s life was like that. He didn’t get all the attention and the acclaim; Peter and Paul got all of that. No, Luke was just “my fellow worker”. He was the straw, the wrapping, the packing, the kind of person who makes the whole thing fit. But you know I almost feel that as Luke quietly moved up and down the Mediterranean world, the beautiful flowers of the gospel of Jesus Christ began to grow and bloom—surprisingly, but oh so beautifully, wherever Luke had been.
Feed that into the super computer which you call your brain. You and I are called to be the servants of Jesus Christ, to be fellow workers with Jesus Christ. We are called-very quietly, very lovingly, very faithfully-to speak and live the gospel every day. Doctor Luke was that kind of person. I think that’s why Paul called him “my fellow worker”.
Words six, seven, eight, nine and ten: “only Luke is with me”
Those words are found in 2 Timothy 4 verse 11 and those words may be the most touching and beautiful of them all. At this particular time, Paul was in prison in Rome. He was under the sentence of death. It was a tough time for Paul. All around him Christians were being mauled to death by wild animals in the arena or they were being tied to stakes and being set on fire in order to light up Roman garden parties, for Heaven’s sake. It was a time of terrible persecution for those who carried the name of Jesus Christ. Paul knew that his faith soon would cost him his life. It was at this very difficult time in his own life and at this very difficult time for anyone who was a Christian that Paul wrote this plaintive note to Timothy. He said, “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” Then Paul writes these words, “Only Luke is with me.” Only Luke remained faithful and loyal to Paul to the very end. There is something so beautiful about these words, “only Luke is with me.”
You know, if you stop to think about it, it’s really easy to be a Christian when times are good and the tides of the faith are running at the flood. I make no apology for saying it: I want the Christian faith to be the dominant faith in our world. I want churches to be filled to overflowing, I want more and more people to be won to faith in Jesus Christ, I want Christian belief to be embraced by society. But I also know something else: I know it’s easy—maybe even too easy—to be a Christian in circumstances like that. Paul understood. The Bible tells us that when Paul was in Ephesus, they filled up the Coliseum there to hear him speak. The word of the gospel fell on eager ears. Christianity was booming in popularity. During that time Paul was surrounded by friends. That was when Mark and Demas and Aristarchus and the others were with him. Later on, however, when the going got tough, when Paul was in jail, when hope was dim, when the end seemed near, all the others disappeared. Yes, when the going got tough, the others got going, so that Paul wrote, “only Luke is with me.”
I do not need to tell you, do I, that this is a tough time to be a Christian in our world—it’s even tough now to be a Christian in this country. If you doubt that, then let me say to you that carrying the name of Jesus now carries a rising cost. If you still doubt that, then let me encourage you to read Franklin Graham’s book, The Name. In that book, he makes the case overwhelmingly. There is one paragraph in the book that was particularly potent for me. I want you to listen: “Jesus is gentle, but Jesus is not weak. He loves the sinner, but is absolutely intolerant of sin. He is not a negotiator; He is Lord. It is this bristling truth that invites intolerance toward Christians. Jesus did not say ‘Do your own thing; all roads lead to God.’ That would have made Jesus politically correct, but Jesus is not politically correct. Jesus is Lord.” Yes! He is Lord! He is the true Lord; He is the only Lord; He is the Lord of all other Lords; He is Lord. And what Jesus, the Lord, wants to know from you and from me is not if we will be with him when living the Christian life is easy and when we can worship God as we please. No. What Jesus wants to know is this: will we be with him when the going is tough? Will we stay strong, true, loyal and faithful to him and to him alone—even when we feel that we are alone—or at the very least that we are in the minority? Will we stand with Jesus when hope seems dim and the end seems near? That’s what Jesus wants to know. Maybe that’s why Paul’s words cut so cleanly to my heart and speak so clearly to our living: “only Luke is with me.” I would suggest that’s what made Luke so great. That’s why he could write two books of the Bible; that’s why he could be such a spiritual giant. It’s because when he did not have to stick, he could not be pulled away; it’s because when his commitment became costly he willingly paid the price; it’s because his loyalty to Jesus Christ and his loyalty to Christ’s servant, Paul, ran so deep that nothing could separate him from Christ or from the servants of Christ. “Only Luke is with me.”
Just ten words: “Beloved physician. My fellow worker. Only Luke is with me.” Those ten words tell us all we know about Luke and those ten words tell us all we need to know about Luke. Now if only, by the power of Jesus Christ, we could start to live like Luke….