As we finish Paul’s letter to the Colossians today recall the context of the Church in Colossae. Tempted to believe the popular philosophy of the day, and by so doing they were tempted to embrace a low view of Christ. Because of this, Paul reminds them, and is now reminding us of the good, the true, the beautiful, and the Regal Christ. We can easily say Paul’s prominent theme in Colossians is the Supremacy of Christ over all things. This means in all things Christ holds first place, that He is preeminent over all things, that He is Christ the King. Since Christ holds Supremacy over all things, the lives of all those who claim to follow this Supreme Christ must change dramatically.
Paul unfolds the beauty of Christ’s supremacy and why it matters many ways throughout his letter, but notice the ‘bookends’ of supremacy. Paul begins in 1:2 the same way he ends in 4:18. In these two verses Paul puts forth the one doctrine that when rightly seen, is seen as the one end and aim all of Scripture points us to: the grace of God. Is that strange for you to hear? You’ve heard from me and you read from our vision statement on the wall that it is the glory (not the grace) of God that is the one end and aim of all Scripture. Well what is it? What is the grand and great aim of in God’s heart? Is it displaying His grace or is it displaying His glory? My answer is ‘yes.’ I get to that answer by asking a question: yes the glory of God is the aim of all that God does, but where do we see the glory of God most fully revealed? That answer is simple – we see the glory of God most fully revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul gives us a new category to fit things into in Ephesians 1:6, 12, and 14 when he says God does all He does for ‘the praise of His glorious grace’ or ‘the praise of the glory of His grace.’
Therefore, as we end Colossians today see for yourselves that the entry point into the supremacy of Christ is the grace of God (1:2 shows us this), and the conclusion or the place where seeing the supremacy of Christ leads us is the grace of God (4:18 shows us this). What does this mean? God’s grace takes us to God’s glory, and beholding His glory makes us marvel in His grace.
Now, as we move into 4:7-18 we get a brief look at the network of friends that linked Paul’s churches together. Moving through this text almost give us the impression as if we were reading through a lineup on a sports team. Paul lists 10 individuals and 3 different churches. In 4:7-8 we meet Paul’s messengers, in 4:10-11 we meet 3 Jews who’ve helped Paul, and in 4:12-13 we meet 3 gentiles who’ve helped Paul. Lesson? Paul’s ministry wasn’t a one man show.
Let’s walk through this text to see this lineup closely:
1) Tychicus: 4:7-8 says, “Tychicus will tell you about all my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts.” We learn from this passage and Ephesians 6:20-21 that Tychicus was the primary carrier of Paul’s letter to the Colossians and to the Ephesians. We also assume he was the carrier of Paul’s letter to Philemon since Philemon lived in Colossae. As Paul says here Tychicus was a faithful minister of the gospel, serving the Lord in the first century Church, sent to Colossae to encourage their hearts. He is first mentioned being with Paul and his companions in Acts 20:4.
2) Onesimus: 4:9 continues, “…and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.” Some of you will recognize the name of Onesimus because he is the runaway slave become Christian and subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon, a wealthy landowner in Colossae. Paul describes Onesimus as faithful, a beloved brother, and ‘one of you’ because it would have been a temptation to treat this runaway slave as a lower class Christian because of his chains, but Paul insists on no such thing. His name in Greek means useful, and in Philemon 11-12 Paul says Onesimus is useful to him for ministry and that by sending him back to Colossae Paul is sending his very heart to them.
3) Aristarchus: 4:10 says, “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner greets you…” Acts 19:29, and 27:2 records that Aristarchus was a Macedonian from Thessalonica who endured a violent mob in Ephesus with Paul, many travels with Paul, and prison with Paul.
4) Mark: 4:10 continues, “…and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you – welcome him)…” This is the Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. The reason why Paul left instructions regarding Mark was due to the prior incident between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 about whether or not Mark should accompany them on their missionary journey. Paul wanted Silas to go with them and desired to go back to see how all the newly planted churches were doing, while Barnabas wanted Mark (his cousin) to go with them and desired to go Cyprus. There was such disagreement over this that they parted ways. But, clearly along the way somewhere hearts were softened and changed toward one another again because Mark is present in this list of those who were of great help to Paul. This shows that even though we two close friends may minister side by side, at times they will have trouble with one another and may need to part ways for a time. But it also shows how the gospel we preach changes our own hearts too, that even after a strong disagreement we can still be reconciled, linking arms once again in ministry.
5) Jesus, called Justus: 4:11 says, “…and Jesus who is called Justus.” We really know nothing of this man because this is the only time he makes an appearance in Scripture. All we know is what we have here, that he went by the name Justus probably to ensure people knew he was not Jesus, the Son of God.
4:11 ends by giving a comment on these 5 men we’ve just named saying, “These are the only men of the circumcision (Jews) among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort for me.” This is an admirable compliment for worthy companions.
6) Epaphras: 4:12-13 says, “Epaphras, who is one of you (meaning he is from Colossae), a servant of Christ Jesus greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” We know Epaphras was a faithful minister of Christ in behalf of the people at Colossae. How do we know this? He taught the people (Col. 1:7) and prayed for the people (4:13). Church, see here what pastoral faithfulness looks like. Pastoral faithfulness doesn’t look like creating programs, or involvement in secluded ivory tower study. It looks like Epaphras. Faithful ministers devote themselves to prayer and devote themselves to teaching you the Word of God. You don’t need an entertainer, or a hip, trendy, persuasive leader to draw crowds. You need a pastor and you need elders whose one distinguishing trait is faithfulness. This is my goal as your pastor, and I know for a fact it is the goal of your elders too. In every decision they make they think through two things. First, will this glorify God, making God’s glory the glory of our city? And two, will this be good for the people? The glory of God and the good of God’s people – you know what that sounds like to me? God’s heart. I’m thankful for such elders here.
7) Luke: 4:14 begins, “Luke the beloved physician greets you…” Luke was not only a physician and traveling companion of Paul, he is the author of the two volume Biblical set which include the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. “Beloved” here in 4:14 indicates the intimate friendship between Paul and Luke. Knowing what Paul went through, Luke’s presence went with him would have been a great comfort.
8) Demas: 4:14 continues, “…as does Demas.” Demas’ presence in this list is a warning. Once committed to gospel ministry, committed to Paul, and traveled much with Paul. But 2 Tim. 4:10 says Demas abandoned Paul while in his Roman prison because “…he was in love with this present world.” Lesson? 1 Cor. 10:12 says it well, “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Have you been running the race well? Don’t get too comfortable, Demas’ example warns us of what happens when we lose our vigilance to stay close to Christ.
9) Nympha: 4:15-16 say, “Give me greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read it the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” Nympha, most likely, was the woman who hosted the Laodicean church in her home. House churches were the norm in the early Church until Christianity was legalized in the 4th century. Those who hosted churches in their homes (like Nympha) served as living examples of the kind of hospitality the gospel leads us to. Did you notice Paul also wrote a letter to the Laodicean church? Because this letter isn’t included in our Bibles we can conclude that this letter either hasn’t been found yet or that it is lost. Either way we know enough about the Laodicean Church to know it was an important congregation in this region, important especially to the Church in Colossae since the two were so close in proximity.
10) Lastly we have Archippus: 4:17 says, “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” We know Nympha was the host of the Church in Laodicea. We also know from Paul’s letter to Philemon that Philemon was the host of the Church in Colossae, and we learn in the letter to Philemon that Archippus (who may be the son of Philemon) was the pastor in Colossae. Paul’s very public words to this young pastor would have surely encouraged and challenged his heart, ‘fulfill the ministry the Lord gave you.’ In these words my heart is encouraged as a young pastor, and you should be encouraged as well to ‘fulfill the ministries’ God has given you. Some of may not think you have any ministries, but recall 4:5-6, you’re a minister wherever you go.
Lastly in 4:18 Paul closes the letter with his usual closing remarks saying, “I Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” It was Paul’s custom to take the pen out of the hand of his scribe and write the ending to all of his letters. He did this because he loved these churches and wanted to express such love. ‘Remember my chains’ would have left a lasting impression on them for the need to pray continually for Paul during his imprisonment and suffering. Having begun with the grace of God in 1:2 Paul now ends with grace, showing the bookends of Christ’s supremacy, and really the bookends of the Christian life are from grace, upheld by grace, and by the grace of God.
1) This passage reminds us that the Church is a family. As Paul made a list here of his companions and those who were close and helpful to him in his ministry, we here at SonRise Community Church could make a list too. As Paul spoke affectionately of his partners, can’t you and I here speak with much affection of how we feel toward another? This is yet another way we show our difference from the rest of the world, by our love for one another (John 13:34).
2) This passage reminds us that the grace of the gospel fuels partnership in ministry. Don’t miss that for the sake of the gospel moving forward into more hearts Paul partnered with at least 3 different churches in his work at Colossae. Lesson? If we want the gospel moving forward into more hearts in our cities, the local churches within our city must be intentional to partner with other local churches for the advancement of the gospel. We would be wrong to never meet together with other churches for worship, for outreach, for fellowship, for prayer, for teaching, for encouragement, and for help. For the early Church partnering with other churches wasn’t something that happened a few times a year, it was the norm for them. It should be the norm for us as well.
3) You could summarize chapters 3-4 like this. 3:1-17 discusses ‘Christian conduct.’ 3:18-4:1 discusses ‘Christian households.’ 4:2-6 discusses ‘Christian speech to God and to the lost.’ And our passage today, 4:7-18, discusses ‘Christian friends.’ The grace of the gospel fuels friendship with other believers. It should be normal for us to have deep and close friends within the church. Friendships so deep and so close that we are often found doing life together. This was clearly the case with Paul, and should clearly be the case with us, yet we show our sinfulness when we get ourselves into cliques that never change. If you come here, sit in the same seats, talk to and avoid the same people you show your sin of not remembering the gospel. When you were lost didn’t Jesus chase you down? Didn’t He come find you and give you what you needed most? How dare we get into cliques that close one another out here. We must be diligent to open ourselves up to all of the body of Christ and honestly do life together.
4) Lastly, this passage reminds us that the grace of the gospel creates community. You see the tragic consequence of sin is that we are not only cut off from God, but cut off from one another. The glory of redemption is that by the work of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension we are no longer cut off from God, and no longer cut off from one another. True community can only happen by those wrecked and in love with the gospel of grace. This community is for us in that it is a grace of God to keep us with God, and to bring us deeper into God. This community is for our city in that it is to be a witness of what life is truly meant to be about. It is gloriously true to know that never once have we ever walked alone.
Never once has God ever left us on our own. In His faithfulness He often ministers to those in His Church through others in His Church. We see it in 4:7-18 with Paul, and we see the same thing here among us!