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Doug Van Meter - 5 February 2023

Tertius: Publishing God’s Word (Romans 16:22)

We are all familiar with popular, even famous, character in the Bible. Much is known about Peter and Paul, but the biblical record similarly highlights the equally significant, though lesser known, ministries of more hidden figures—like Tertius (Romans 16:22). Little is known about this amanuensis, but we are humanly indebted to him for having received the book of Romans. He literally published the good news of the gospel. Historically hidden, his skills were nonetheless used by God to pen a book which God has used throughout history to reach the lost and to reform his church. In this study, we consider some lessons we can learn from the brief record of this man’s ministry.

Scripture References: Romans 16:22

From Series: "Hidden Figures"

Lessons from some of the lesser known characters in Scripture.

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The movie Hidden Figures is a compelling story of three gifted mathematicians who, in the early 1960s, made a massive contribution to the NASA space program in the United States. These mathematicians have been described as “human computers,” whose complex calculations enabled John Glenn to be the first American propelled safely into and back from space (1962).

These three mathematicians worked in somewhat cloistered rooms, hidden from the more prestigious space centre. But though hidden, their skills enabled the US Space program to get off the ground. Hidden from view of most people—and certainly from me until I saw the movie—they were essential to a successful and safe launch and return of the Gemini spacecraft.

What makes this story even more compelling is that, in a day when both women and black people were terribly discriminated against in America, these mathematicians were black women. Though everything lined up to keep them in obscurity, ultimately they and their contributions to a huge program could not be hidden. An entire nation and an entire world were the beneficiaries of these otherwise hidden figures. So it is with many “hidden figures” in the biblical story line.

This study begins a series discovering some of these hidden figures. Each study will help us to appreciate how those who are often unnoticed and unrecognised—even to the point of almost complete obscurity—were used of God to advance his kingdom.

The goal of this series is to encourage us that the advancement of God’s kingdom does not require those with astounding gifts. It does not require that service to the Lord be noticed. Though grateful for the apostles, and for extremely gifted and historically renowned preachers, missionaries, writers, leaders, etc., we know that most of God’s gifts are lesser-known. Often that which is hidden in the life of a local church—as well as the wider kingdom—has a more profound impact than we ever imagined.

Like leaven, the growth of the kingdom is usually the result of incremental contributions, most of which are hidden deep within the lump. Yet in the end, that which is hidden has significant impact.

We will see this as we commence our study with one of the most hidden of figures: a man named Tertius. Though we meet him only once in Scripture, he had a huge impact, which is being felt to the present day. We read about him briefly in Romans 16:22: “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.”

Introducing Tertius

The apostle Paul customarily dictated his letters to an amanuensis or secretary (1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). It is quite possible that he had difficulty writing personally due to physical affliction (see Galatians 4:14–15; 6:11–12). Regardless, Tertius’s interjectory greeting here indicates he was one such secretary, serving the Lord by serving the apostle in this way. He may even have been employed to do so.

Though we only have one preserved sentence in Scripture about him, it is possible to fill in some biographical blanks from what is recorded. It is interesting that the name Tertius means “third.” Not first, not even second, but third. Hidden indeed.

First, we can conclude that he was academically equipped to write. It is estimated that about 10% of those living in the first century were able to read and write. Tertius was therefore among the educationally privileged. We can pause and be thankful for those more academically privileged, better educationally equipped than ourselves. Rather than being jealous, be grateful—and learn from what they have written. It takes all kinds for kingdom expansion.

Second, Tertius was a disciple of the Lord. He was apparently keen to send his greetings “in the Lord.” He wanted the church in Rome to know where he planted his flag. Like them, he belonged to the Lord and this ministry of writing was out of service to him. The gospel unites us to Jesus Christ which motivates us to serve him by serving his people (Romans 12:1–2).

Third, Tertius seemingly had a warm catholic spirit. The picture is rather touching. I imagine Tertius pausing at this point amid Paul’s dictation of his greetings and asking, “Paul, do you mind if I add my own word of warm Christian greetings to these believers?”

It is possible that Tertius was either from Rome or that he simply knew some of these believers in Rome. But it is also possible that he didn’t know any of them. He may have been a member of the church in Corinth (from where Paul was writing). If so, he was simply expressing the truth of the unity of the true global Body of Christ. It is wonderful when we share a sense of belonging with believers whom we do not know personally. After all we are fellow pilgrims on the same journey, though our starting points are different.

Fourth, Tertius was appointed by Paul for a very significant responsibility, which indicates he must have been a trustworthy individual.

The above is what I might call sanctified or reasonable speculation. But what is not speculative is that Tertius recorded Paul’s Magnus Opus concerning the doctrine of the gospel; namely, the book of Romans.

One wonders how Tertius may have thrilled at these truths as Paul dictated to him. I imagine Tertius often interrupting Paul, asking questions about what he was dictating. “Paul, please explain, again, what it means to be ‘in Christ’ and tell me again about this truth of being justified by faith alone.” In this way, he would have been discipled by the apostle. And with this, though hidden from the spotlight, one can nevertheless presumably conclude that his gospel light was not hidden under a bushel.

Humanly, we are indebted to Tertius’s ministry of Tertius. He literally published the good news of the gospel. Though pretty much historically hidden, his skills were used by God to pen a book which God has used throughout history to reach the lost and to reform his church.

Lessons from Tertius

Consider some lessons we can learn from this brief record.

First, being hidden is not the issue; being faithful to the Great Commission, wherever God places you, is. Each of us should look for opportunities to disseminate God’s word.

Second, we need the mindset of a willingness to be hidden, driven by a greater motive: that the gospel will not be hidden. Recently, our church was privileged to host a conference for likeminded churches across southern Africa. Many in our church served in unseen capacities. Though no one publicly acknowledged their service, the Lord noticed their hidden ministry, and it enabled the gospel to be put on public display.

Third, God graciously gives us truth, but it must be published to those who need it. This is where each of us can have a part. Those publishing the truth may be hidden figures but they are important figures. “The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host” (Psalm 68:11). Again, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7). Look for opportunities to share the gospel and to disciple. Pray for and support ministries that publish the truth.

Finally, the church needs those like Tertius who assist the uniquely gifted in such a way to expand their ministry. John MacArthur’s worldwide ministry, which has introduced the gospel to countless thousands, started when a church member asked permission to tape his sermons and send them to interested people. I have no idea who that church member was, but he was a hidden figure whose ministry did not go unnoticed by the Lord.

Surprisingly, there may be a lot more to say about Tertius. But let this suffice to encourage us to learn from his example. Let us pray that each of us will be faithful with the gifts God has given to us, and fruitful where he has planted us. Pray that we will be content with being hidden from others, yet well-known to God. Yes, hidden figures matter.