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Paul’s Partners (7): Luke

David Williamson, Newtownabbey

Luke is well known to us as the writer of both the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles. There are more verses directly attributed to Luke in the New Testament than to any other writer. It may come as a surprise that his name is only mentioned on three occasions (Col 4.14; 2 Tim 4.11; Philem v.24). These mentions of Luke enable us to paint a picture of the close companionship enjoyed by Paul and Luke. Hiebert notes that "Of the different companions of Paul, Timothy alone seems to have gotten a stronger hold on the heartstrings of Paul than Luke".

We will limit our consideration of Luke to three characteristics which mark him out.

The Accurate Historian

It is clear from his writings that Luke was a man of great literary ability. He was also a keen observer of detail, a man with a great knowledge of the classics, well versed in seamanship, and a trained medical doctor. His main legacy, however, is the fact that he has given to the church two remarkable historical narratives: the Gospel of Luke, called by some "the most beautiful book in the world", and the Acts of the Apostles. Without his writings we would be greatly impoverished. His record of the miraculous conception, virgin birth, and infancy of the Lord, told from the standpoint of Mary (Lk 1-2), is the perfect complement to the record given by Matthew (Mt 1-2). He also recorded the unique birth and infancy of the Church, which is the perfect bridge to enable us to understand the epistles that follow.

But how did Luke write? His methods are detailed in the prologue to his Gospel (Lk 1.1-4), which really serves as an introduction to both books. He used eyewitness accounts (1.2), he wrote with accuracy and order (1.3), and he had a definite purpose in his writing (1.4). As a master historian Luke gathered from sources near to the facts, patiently sifting evidence until he was sure of the truth; he then compiled these facts in order, and presented them with evangelistic purpose. He "set down in a book the gospel which Paul loved to preach" (Lockyer). Certainly, it takes only a cursory glance at the contents of both his writings to reveal a heart blazing with evangelistic fire. It is certainly possible that "the brother, whose praise is in the gospel" (2 Cor 8.18) was Luke.

Has his writing stood the test of time? When we speak of Luke using sources we are not diminishing the reality that his writings are divinely inspired. His accuracy has been questioned in secular circles time and again, only to be confirmed later by archaeological evidence. Sir William Ramsay, a Scottish archaeologist, travelled widely in Asia Minor and fully expected his research to discredit the record of the Acts of the Apostles. He set out with the intention of putting Luke on trial. His conclusion after a lifetime of research? "Further study...showed that the book could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement" (The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, W M Ramsay). Every historical detail recorded in the Acts was true.

The Beloved Physician

Another fact well known to us is that Luke is described by Paul as "the beloved physician" (Col 4.14). This passage also confirms that Luke was not a Jew. Paul names Aristarchus, Mark, and "Jesus who is called Justus" and then states, "These are my only fellow workers...who are of the circumcision" (Col 4.11, NKJV). He then names some more fellow workers, including Luke. The meaning is clear - Luke is not "of the circumcision". Whether a Greek or Roman we do not know, but most conclude that he was a Greek due to his observations, versatility, and knowledge of the sea. Assuming Luke to be a Greek, as a physician he would have been a very well educated man of high rank in society.

The Gospel of Luke shows many traces which are consistent with the writer having been a doctor. He shows an interest in healing miracles (recording a number which are not mentioned by Matthew, Mark or John), he uses some technical terminology in respect of healing, and takes particular notice of women and children. He was evidently trusted so as to become acquainted with the very intimate details of the conception and birth of the Lord.

Luke was with Paul when, after the shipwreck of Acts 27, they landed on Malta. On that island Paul healed the father of Publius, "the chief man of the island", then "others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed" (Acts 28.7-10). Two different words are used for healing in this section. The first speaks of the miraculous healing at the hand of Paul, the second is a medical term which denotes the reception of medical treatment. Luke was at work by the side of the apostle. Is this not an example of the gospel being furthered through practical Christianity? Someone has said that it is the perfect example of preacher and medical missionary working together.

Of course, the use of the term "beloved physician" (Col 4.14) suggests more. Paul refers on occasion to his own physical needs and infirmity. It is doubtless the case that he was ably ministered to by the hands of this Gentile doctor who had become one of his partners in the gospel.

The Faithful Companion

Paul’s final written mention of Luke is full of pathos. It is not difficult to feel the appreciation of Paul for this companion. At a time of widespread desertion, Paul writes to his beloved Timothy, "only Luke is with me" (2 Tim 4.11).

Luke introduces the book of Acts by speaking of himself as "I" (Acts 1.1). During the course of the book there are three sections in which he speaks of "we" and "us" (Acts 16.10-18; 20.5-21.18; 27.1-28.16). On these occasions Luke is the travelling companion of Paul. It will be noticed very quickly that each of these sections of the Acts involve sailing. Whether travelling into Europe as pioneer missionaries, confirming and encouraging the elders at Ephesus, or travelling to Rome as prisoners, Luke was Paul’s constant companion on board ship. His knowledge of the sea and sailing becomes most evident in his record of the shipwreck in Acts 27. Some believe that Luke was a ship’s doctor.

The closing words of Paul, however, reveal just how faithful was Luke’s companionship and just how close their relationship was together. In the very shadow of his execution, Paul’s contact with the outside world and human source of solace and comfort was "only Luke". Hiebert notes beautifully: "Not only was he physically with Paul but he was also wholeheartedly ’with’ Paul in everything that pertained to the spread of the knowledge of his blessed Saviour and Lord".

In our brief consideration of Luke we have discovered that he was a Gentile, a highly educated man, a trained observer, a professional doctor, a consummate historian, a dependable companion. He could have been a successful man, well respected in any society; instead he chose to place himself and all his abilities completely at the feet of his Lord. In so doing he shared the character of the apostle who said, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9.6). If he had known the words, he could have sung with perfect sincerity:

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated Lord to Thee...
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose

(F R Havergal)

The question which faces both writer and reader of this article is very straightforward. Is it my desire to live completely and entirely for Christ? To each of us God has given unique abilities and particular talents. He has also given spiritual gifts. Would our impact upon society not be infinitely greater if, like Luke, all that we are, and have, were put at the disposal of Christ? D L Moody was arrested by the words of a friend: "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him". May each of us be given grace to sing in sincerity:

Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

(F R Havergal)

To be continued.


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