Do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Titus 3:12b
It’s easy to read scripture and color it with present cultural norms. When someone says they plan to ‘winter’ in a different city, it usually means that they have two residences. One allows them to escape the cold by going to a warmer climate. The other lets them escape the heat by retreating to a cooler place. At first glance, I picture Paul wanting a winter’s vacation in some balmy Greek city, but this was far from his intentions.
Paul has just been released from prison. He would benefit from some down time in a beautiful place. But the city of Nicopolis is chosen because it’s an integral launching place for his end strategy for the planting of churches. It is a port city, a place to board a ship to other major ports not yet evangelized. Winter, however, is no time to travel the seas. Paul knows that well from his experience with being shipwrecked. He would go to this port city to ready himself for Spring. He would meet with Titus, Zenus (a lawyer in Jewish affairs), and Apollos (an eloquent teacher and apologist.) They would conceive a comprehensive plan (while waiting for the storms of winter to pass), a plan that would take the Gospel to new places.
Oh, but Paul never boarded a ship when Spring came. This was the last winter of his life as it’s believed that he was arrested in Nicopolis, then taken back to Rome to be beheaded.
Unless Paul heard from the God directly about his impending arrest, he did not know how small a window he had to finish his life’s work. Urgency, however, characterized Paul’s service to God. How fitting that he would spend his last few months strategizing with three fellow servants regarding the best way to spread the news of Jesus. Most likely, they spent time pouring over maps and making plans for Spring travel. Each potential destination would have its challenges, but Paul had the best team assembled to prayerfully explore the best ways to move forward. Zenas was a lawyer – specializing in Jewish law. Apollo was an apologist – specializing in knowing how to present the Gospel amidst cultural objections. And Titus was the experienced bishop of Crete – specializing in truth telling diplomacy when Christianity suffers corruption. Paul brainstormed with them and then finished his course. Soon he would step onto a new shore, see the face of the One for whom he had been brutally beaten, and hear the words ‘well done’.
Most of Paul’s epistles end with interpersonal tidbits. Not being familiar with the names and the nature of his relationship with them, it’s easy to skip over such verses. This morning, I would have missed a lot had I not spent a few hours thinking about four men, sequestered indoors, during the brutal coastal winter of Nicopolis.
Lord, Paul didn’t choose to surround himself with clones. Don’t let me shy away from friends who complement me and stretch me in good directions. Amen