We often speak with awe of the work that the apostle Paul, and others like him, did for the cause of Christ in the first century. We also often speak of their work and success as though it was purely an outgrowth of their use of miraculous gifts and inspiration; thereby being something that can never be duplicated or reached by “mere Christians” today.
However, there is a fallacy in our perceived reasoning that we need to recognize and dispel. We treat the great deeds of the New Testament as if it were Paul (or Peter, John, etc) and the Holy Spirit and nobody else. Yet when one reads the Scriptures carefully, it is evident that there is another aspect to the work of these great men that is undeservedly overlooked. That is, there are always others working with the apostles. They are never working solo, but always have other brethren accompanying them.
In the early days of Paul’s missionary journeys it was only 1 or 2 individuals (Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, etc.). As time wore on, and more men were converted and trained, the numbers of men travelling with Paul increased. By the time you come to Acts 20, as Paul is returning to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey, you find that Paul has 8 companions (including Luke, the author of Acts) from at least 4 different cities/regions travelling with him (Acts 20:4, 6). These men are all working with the apostle on his travels, and this does not include those sent to other areas to work with congregations Paul has already visited. In fact, Paul becomes so used to the accompaniment of others that when he writes Timothy toward the end of his life he states, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11). He then asks Timothy to bring John Mark with him because he is valuable for the ministry that needs to be done.
Paul accomplished great things, but he did not do any of them alone. He always had brethren accompanying him, working with him, encouraging him, and helping in his care as his work progressed (see every single one of his letters to read about his companions).
That being said I wonder why, in our time, we have placed the load of carrying the Gospel on one man (or one family)? Even our Lord sent out his disciples “two and two” (Luke 10:1). I believe one of the reasons we have so much trouble duplicating the successes of the first century is because we see the main characters of the accounts and forget the supporting cast; the brethren who worked day and night to assist the apostles in proclaiming the Gospel.
We have many good preachers today who love lost souls just as much as the apostles of the first century. They have the exact same message at their fingertips (the New Testament Scriptures) and the same lost world standing before them; but who will be their companions? Who will, not just send them on their way, but go with them? Who will make the sacrifices to be their aides, supporters, co-workers, and friends?
Will you be today’s preachers’ Aquila and Priscilla, their Timothy and Titus, their Luke and Onesiphorus? If our preachers today had the same levels of support as those of the first century, I feel far fewer of them would feel alone, secluded, and give up. God, grant us those with the courage to spread the Gospel far and wide; and also those with the strength to accompany, encourage, and keep them.