God’s People, part 136: Theophilus

Read Luke 1:1-4

“In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach”  Acts 1:1 (NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, from left: George Carlin, Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, 1989, © OriPart 136: Theophilus. “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught”  (Luke 1:1-4 NLT).

These are the opening four verses of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. In Luke’s Gospel, he is clearly writing to someone named Theophilus an account of Jesus’ life, teachings, betrayal, torture, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. In fact, Luke is not just writing the Gospel to Theophilus, he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles to him as well. Actually, the Gospel of Luke and Acts were two back-to-back volumes, that got split up by the Gospel of John when the Biblical canon was put together.

Scholars are not entirely sure who this Theophilus actually was. Some believe that it may be a person whose name was Theophilus. The name Theophilus (Θεόφιλος, pronounced Theh-of’-il-os), literally means lover or friend of God. In more plain words, it means one who loves or is a friend of God’s. While it would be hard to imagine Theophilus’ Gentile birth-name was Theophilus, many early Christian converts changed their names as they were reborn into a new life in Christ (e.g. Saul became Paul, Simon became Peter, Levi became Matthew, etc.).

Still, it is quite possible, maybe even likely, that Theophilus was not the name of a person at all. It could be that Theophilus was a code word for a wealthy, prominent patron of Luke’s who did not want to be outwardly named and risk persecution. It is also possible that Theophilus wasn’t a single person, but perhaps a codeword for a group of people (e.g. Luke writing to a church and calling them, collectively, Theophilus).

Whatever the actual answer may be to that question, I believe that Luke was not intending his Gospel letter to go to merely one person; rather, he wanted it shared with the entire Christian community in the region he sent it. Therefore, one can accurately say that whatever Christian heard Luke’s Gospel read was Theophilus.

To carry that one step forward, anyone in any part of the world at any time who hears or reads Luke’s Gospel is potentially Theophilus. Why potentially you might ask? Simple. Because the name means friend of God and not all people who read the Gospel are “friends of God”. Everyone, on the other hand, has the potential to be friends of God and, certainly, all who are receptive to the Gospel message ARE friends of God.

The challenge for you today is this: are YOU Theophilus? Are you a friend of God’s? Are you receptive to the Gospel message? Or are you not? If you are receptive to the Gospel message, then you are Theophilus. This does not hinge on how perfectly we live out the Gospel, it hinges on our hearts and on our willingness to change direction when we fall out of line with the Gospel. It is my prayer that you are, indeed, most excellent Theophilus. It is also my prayer that you share this message with others who can also receive the Gospel and become friends of God.

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”  – Jesus Christ (John 15:15 NLT)

Lord, friendship with you is my heart’s deepest desire. Draw me close to you and never let me go. Amen.

Leave a Reply