This is our final sermon in our Colossians series. We have looked at Gospel Growth and the authority of Christ. We have examined the importance of turning an enemy to a friend and have been given hope when we are struggling servants. We have learned of the dangers of bad religion and what real spirituality is. We have learned about the importance of family life and we have heard the call to prayer and evangelism. Today we look at the importance of unity and togetherness for the Gospel.
One of the most appealing aspects of Christianity is the fellowship; the sense of community. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, we are a family. Sometimes the family is small, sometimes it is large but we are connected to those who came before us, those who are around us now or across the world and those who will come after us. In the Old Testament Moses recorded that he was encouraged by his father in law Jethro to gain assistance to manage the affairs of the Children of Israel so as not to be overburdened. Proverbs has many verses on the wisdom in walking with companions of faith. The New Testament emphasise this age old principle. In today’s reading Paul is emphasising and highlighting those people who are of help to him. Christ talks about the importance of fellowship and community, “where two or more are gathered in My name I will be amongst them.” He sent out disciples two by two and the Bible teaches us that a man is blessed who may fall and has a companion to help him back up. The Scriptures use the parable of a cord with two strands breaking but one with three is very difficult to separate. Paul frequently references his companions throughout the New Testament. So the Apostle Paul has always been the kind of person who needed help from his friends. As great as he was he could never do it alone. And it’s still true. We can’t do it alone. We have to halp each other. There is a theory in psychology that our personality is comprised of the 5 people that we surround ourselves with the most; in this passage Paul gives extremely honourable mentions to several people that were dear to him, and each of them brought something special-a facet of Christ’s being; And that’s the two fold message of this text for us today.
At this point in Colossians the Apostle Paul is a prisoner in Rome. He has been imprisoned for the first time; he will be martyred during his second imprisonment. During his jail time he has spiritual family with him at one time or another. He gives each of them a description, almost like an early photograph. The letter to the Colossae church was written around 60 A.D. And there were people who were very special to Paul at this time. They were devoted friends to a criminal. With that came danger, social stigmatism, and persecution-but these are dangers that no Christian should fear. The Lord felt that their friendship was worthy of mention in the Holy Bible and remembered for all time. Paul introduces these companions in this great Scripture. The first is a man named Tychicus (pron k). Paul calls him “a beloved brother, faithful servant and a fellow slave in the Lord whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose that he might know your state and comfort your hearts.” Tychicus has only been mentioned a few times in the Bible and even then only briefly but it is not quantity but the quality of the passage that stands out to me. He was first mentioned in the later part of Acts and is last referenced in 2nd Timothy. He was an Asiatic Christian who had been accompanying Paul for quite a while from Macedonia to Jerusalem, supporting him in his missions and support of the other churches; as well as the building up of the other churches. We do not have any words from Tychicus’ mouth but we are given a clear and concise window into his soul. Tychicus would have had very little experience in the outside world and yet his faith in Christ compelled him to serve Paul over several books of the Bible. Paul sends him to the other churches to “be of encouragement” to them. He is always portrayed as one who is serving in the background but Paul is pushing him up to the front, because one who can be trusted with a little can be trusted with much. Eventually Tychicus is sent to Ephesus to free Timothy so he can join Paul in Rome. Tychicus does everything on a complete committed faith in Christ Jesus, the fact that we hear nothing of this close brother of Paul’s suggests his humility we almost get a sense that Tychicus tries to stay out of the line light. He is humble, loving, devoted, faithful, encouraging, and hospitable-Tychicus appears to be used as a symbol of the heart of Christ and a model to which we should aspire to.
The next companion mentioned in this passage I would like to reflect on is Onesimus, the man with a dodgy past. We met the man with the servant’s heart. Now let’s meet the man with the sinful life. In the book of Philemon we learn more of Onesimus, we learn that he was a slave to Philemon at Colossae, a thief in the past, a coward who frequently tried to run from responsibility he converted to Christianity through Paul and as Paul says “was useless before but is now useful to all of us.” He is a “faithful and dear brother” not a sinful and cowardly sinner and slave. What can we learn about these brief mentions of Onesimus? Often times we feel as Christians like we get a one time shot to get forgiveness, afterwards we should be perfect as Christ is perfect and that if we truly sin as Christians we can never get back on the right track. Often Christians who backslide convert to another religion because they feel they have fallen too far and want a fresh start. A recent study indicated that many of the converts to Islam are in fact backslided Christian. We must view Onesimus as the symbol, the metaphor of the repeated redemptive spirit of Christ- we must take the lesson that until we stand before God we can always go back to Him and become faithful servants in Christ and slaves for Him. Christ makes sure a man with a past has a past that’s passed. And that man with the sinful life eventually became the Pastor of the Colossians church. He shows us that to become great we must always be a servant to Christ.
Now there are several people mentioned in this passage but we only have time for a few, the next man I wish to examine is the one who has most of the passage connected to him, Epaphras. Epaphras was with Paul in Rome according to the book of Philemon, a preacher and a Colossian whom Paul says “is always wrestling in prayer for you to stand firm in the will of God, matured, and fully assured.” Paul assures the Colossians that Epaphras is hard working for not only their church but the ones at Laodicea and Hierapolis. But he was also the founder of the Colossae church, so what was he doing with Paul in Rome? Epaphras had travelled there to inform Paul of the false doctrines and teachers that were wiggling into the church there and in response Paul wrote this letter for them. Epaphras does stay with Paul for a time; I believe not only to support him but also to learn from Paul. Paul encourages his church however that even though their pastor is away from them the shepherd is always wrestling in prayer for them, like Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord. And his prayers are that they will never be led astray again. Paul emphasises Epaphras is working hard to show them that even though the leader may be absent they are never far from his thoughts and he is never far from theirs. Epaphras was a prayer warrior who wrestled (in some translations agonised) for his congregation, to be well founded, not to be lucrative; For if they were well grounded and mature then they could grow, evangelise, and persevere in his absence. To me Pastor Epaphras represents the commitment of Christ that we should all hold in our lives, he could even be a symbol of Christ’s ever loving soul-wrestling and fighting always for His flock.
The final person I would like to look at is the medical man of the group, Dr. Luke. I do not say the most educated man because Paul himself, when he was Saul was extremely educated perhaps even more so than a doctor. But Luke is clearly identified as a physician. He is the author of the Book of Luke, the Book of Acts, and about 52 chapters of the New Testament; and was also Paul’s personal physician. In a land where education and science was not as highly emphasised we see a man of the aforementioned discipline who became one of the key Christian apostles. It’s interesting to note that on Paul’s first missionary journey he was constantly ill. On his second missions trip he took Luke with him again. The need for a personal doctor was evident but also the support of a friend who had similar interests as Paul; so he took him along. God’s work needs specialists. Not everybody goes to seminary; There are some people who can do something else and fit in. The famous preacher and healer Smith Wigglesworth was an uneducated, inarticulate plumber by trade and one of the most influential ministers and healers of the 19th and 20th centuries chosen by God. But it was not without sacrifice that Luke accompanied Paul. He left the potential for a lucrative practise; he ventured into a world of unknown diseases but the love of Christ and his desire to dedicate his professional discipline to the Living God was of a greater calling. He was also the beloved physician as Paul calls him, the one to be with Paul as he was dying in II Timothy. In Luke we see the embodiment of the intellect of Christ.
But let’s look at Paul’s final concluding remarks. He sends greetings to the brothers and sisters, to the house of Nympha and the church there, along with the church of Laodicea (Ephesian Church) which Paul wants his letter circulated to. Paul wants his teachings to spread and support other Christians. Christians are a community of believers, of saints and to be isolated from the teachings of the church leaders and the encouragement of others would have made a difficult existence as an outlawed religion even harder. Other churches had other letters by Paul’s hand which also circulated and these churches would copy them and the basis of our Bible began to form out of this communal sharing. Paul continues on with a disciple named Archippus “Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” 18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” Archippus, which was Greek for “master of the horse” was born in Colossae and was an early Christian believer. In the book of Philemon he is referenced as a “host of the church and fellow servant.” It is believed he was the first bishop of Laodecia and one of the seventy Christ sent out. Paul is calling Archippus to take a lesson from these people he has mentioned and this epistle, follow through with what God has commanded you to do, devote yourself to what ministry you have been placed in-this is a lesson we should all take, when I agreed to preach I did not go into it half heartdly, but prayerfully; and in everything remember whatever we do, do it as unto the Lord and not unto men.” And above all else we remember that Paul needed prayer and companions as he had all through his missions, and as we do all the time as well. He is saying do not forget me; do not forget to pray for me, I need the help of God and you.
Today we looked at the importance of companions and the lessons they can teach us. We looked at several men in a long list of great men who embodied a few of the many facets of Christ’s identity. His Heart, His Spirit, His Soul, and His intellect; these are facets all Christians should aspire to live out everyday. We also saw the other theme of the message, the importance of the Christian community. A great man of God like Paul shows us that it is not only alright to be reliant on others but it is a benefit of knowing Christ and maintaining an identity in Him. Colossians teaches us many things about our identity in Christ, but for today try to take these two lessons away based on the examples of some great men of God, understand the personality and being of Christ, and live out that understanding for your fellowman giving praise to the Glory of God, let’s pray.
Benediction: Colossians 3:15-17
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.