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Colossians 4:7-18 (ESV)
7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 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.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, 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. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
When Sean assigned this passage to me he asked me if I was OK with the passage.
After all, what can one do with a passage that deals with Paul’s final greetings to the Church at Colossae?
I was actually excited about the passage because it deals with the seemingly mundane.
It deals with the seemingly ordinary.
We’re likely to skip over a passage like this because, after all, all the meaty parts of the book have passed and there doesn’t seem to be much more to talk about.
It does seem to me that our tendency to skip over the ordinary in Scripture is actually part of the reason that we fall into the trap that the Colossian Church had fallen into.
You see the history of God’s people up until today seems to be to abandon the very mundane and sincere ministry of the Gospel for something that seems much more extraordinary.
The trap that the Church at Colossae had fallen into was a fairly sophisticated religion that had some trappings of Christianity but, in the process, had lowered the person and work of Christ in the minds of the people.
They had probably looked around at the relative simplicity of the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments and prayer and thought there had to be more to it.
Instead of being satisfied with Christ as He is offered in the Word and Sacraments they thought themselves wiser.
They developed ascetic practices and took to Jewish ceremonies.
They were far too sophisticated for the simple ministry and preferred a Christianity that was more elaborate.
And so the Person and work of Christ was diminished because they thought they knew better how to worship God than this simple ministry.
Thus, Paul had to labor again to remind the Church of Colossae and so remind us that the Son of God from all eternity took on human flesh.
Very God of very God emptied Himself not be losing His divinity but by becoming man for us.
Jesus the man accomplished all righteousness for us and atoned for our sin and was raised for our justification.
He Who made the angels and all creation made Himself obedient and became the Mediator by which we have communion and true worship with the living God.
This same Jesus, after He ascended on high, gave gifts to men in the form of Apostles, prophets, and teachers that we might be united in the faith.
He gave us the Church that it might be the place where the salvation which He procured for His people would be applied by the powerful working of the Spirit.
As our Prophet, the Word is preached by plain men like me.
But it’s not just me because the Spirit works through the preaching to convert hearts to bring them to Christ and to sanctify them.
As our Priest, Christ accomplished our salvation on the Cross and ever lives to intercede for us to perfect all our meager prayers and to procure for us the faith that He earned for us on the Cross.
We believe in the Gospel and are saved to the uttermost because we’re placed in vital union with the man Jesus Who, by His flesh, has given us communion with Him.
As our King, our Savior ever reigns in heaven and among His people. He rules through His Church and those under-shepherds He has commissioned to not only admit to visible membership in the Body of Christ but to exercise discipline and ensure that we are all brought together in maturity and like-mindedness.
This is all very ordinary – Word, Sacrament, Prayer, Discipline.
But it’s powerful when we see with the eyes that the Spirit gives us because it is the work of the powerful and living Christ by His Spirit.
One of the things that I’ve been meditating upon recently is the tendency of many, if not most, Christians today to completely spiritualize their relationship with Christ.
What do I mean by this?
Many Christians see their relationship with Christ as intensely or even uniquely personal and accessible only by their spiritual connection that they have with Christ.
Some believe they have no need for the Church and Church membership because the physical gathering or membership in the Body of Christ is not necessary or even disposable compared to what they have by their spiritual relationship with Christ.
Some will be members of a Church body and participate in its life and work but their loyalty to a particular Church is very tentative.
Very few Christians seem to understand that their membership and participation in the local Church is vital to what Christ has ordained for His people.
Beloved, Christ loves His Church and He loves the physical Church.
He loves the ministries He has ordained to shepherd and care for the flock: elders and deacons.
He loves the people within the walls of those Churches who have vowed their lives and goods toward the common aim that all would press in for salvation.
The reason for the over-spiritualization of many Christians is that they forget we are all creatures.
We are creatures who are in need of redemption body and soul.
We are creatures with physical and spiritual needs.
The Word of God comes to us through our creaturely sense of hearing and, by the Spirit, converts our minds to the Truth. It transforms us.
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are physical acts where we feel water, we smell and taste bread and wine.
Because we are creatures, the God of the universe stooped down on one knee to us to touch us as creatures.
In Baptism He has given us visible and sensible water along with words that promise us the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting as surely as we feel the water cleansing our physical flesh.
In the Lord’s Supper, He has given us the taste of bread and wine to lift us by the Spirit into the very presence of Christ where we feed on Him and receive the spiritual nourishment necessary for the work of ministry.
In prayer, He gives us hands that reach up to Him with needy hands asking Him for the blessings He is willing to give to us.
All of this is mundane but all of this is powerful. It is the way that the Son of God has ordered His Church and worship to bring us into His Kingdom.
It’s His Church and, in His Word, He promises to bless in the Church through the ministries He has instituted.
We are foolish to think we can grow apart from membership in the body and all the offices and ordinances that Christ has ordained for our growth.
That’s a long introduction into what we see manifest in this closing passage.
Paul tells them that He has sent Tychicus, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
Why was he sent?
To tell the Church what was happening to Paul and the others in Rome.
It is worth the effort and expense that a man would travel for weeks to reach a Church to deliver a letter that is the very Word of God to an outpost of the Kingdom of God.
It is worth every ounce of energy, even the threat of death on the way that the work of Christ would be heralded by a flesh and blood person to flesh and blood people.
And who has accompanied this faithful minister? Onesimus!
That’s right, Onesimus, the runaway slave. The slave of Philemon.
But he is not named a slave of Philemon here.
He is a faithful brother and servant.
You see, this plain work of the Gospel, this labor of Word by Paul had taken a man dead in trespasses in sins and the Spirit had made him a child of God that he might be of service to the Kingdom of God!
So useful was he that Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him as a brother.
Whatever extraordinary price in earthly treasure might have been lost to Philemon was paid for infinitely because Paul had been the instrument by which Philemon himself was also in Christ.
Onesimus is now a servant of the Word – transformed by the Word to be privileged to serve it to other people just like him.
Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, greets the Church and will deliver instructions.
Yes, John Mark.
The author of the Gospel of Mark.
In the Acts of the Apostles he was on a missionary journey with Paul and left the mission field due to the hardships.
When Barnabas wanted to bring Mark on the next missionary journey Paul refused.
He saw Mark as a liability.
This led to a sharp dispute and Barnabas went his own way so that Paul continued on the journey without either.
But that temporary rejection and setback didn’t shipwreck the faith of Mark.
It didn’t make him bitter to the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
In God’s Providence the two were re-united because the Gospel is bigger than individuals and whatever perceived injury might be caused.
Mark persevered in the faith to be of great benefit not only to Paul but depositing the priceless treasure of the Gospel written by him.
And then there is Epaphras.
A faithful servant who labored and struggled mightily for the Church – yes, the local Church.
How did he struggle mightily?
By his prayers.
Epaphras knew that our ultimate battle is not with flesh and blood.
It is a battle that is beyond our means and prayer is the posture of the true believer who understands that the battle belongs to the Lord.
The saint who prays for the Church is the saint who loves Christ and His people.
The saint who gives battle through prayer is one who understands his or her helplessness apart from the work of Christ’s Spirit.
We receive not because we ask not.
We ask not because we don’t think we need the Lord’s help but the more we know the Lord the more desperate we are to pray for the Church.
The power of preaching is sustained by the prayers of the saints who reach up to God that He might come down in the Word powerfully to move among us.
We labor in prayer not because it is easy but because we sense desperately that God is our only hope and so we battle against our flesh that tells us that it is mundane and boring and seemingly useless.
May God free us to be a praying people – to be faithful and tireless as Epaphras!
Paul continues by mentioning Luke – the beloved physician – the man through whom we have the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
An educated man – a skilled writer – a physician.
All laid at the foot of the throne of Christ that he might serve Christ through the talents that he was given.
All for the sake of the Church.
Greetings to Nympha.
Because this faithful servant week in and week out hosted the Church of Jesus Christ in her home.
Perhaps, like all the other mundane tasks of the body, few had taken notice of the challenges of that weekly hospitality.
But God notices everything done in the service of the physical, life and blood saints because they are His beloved children.
Paul commands that the letter he is sending be read in the entire Church because, once again, we see the gathering of the saints for worship in a physical location that they might be built up by the ministry that Christ has ordained for His people.
This Scripture was not merely for private devotion but that all might be made perfect together in Christ as they are sanctified in common service to the living God.
Verse 17 presents a charge from Paul to Archippus: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
This is the same charge that Paul gives Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5 and once again demonstrates the character of a simple ministry of the Word and the continuing gifts that the Church has been given by Jesus Christ.
You see Paul knew that his time and the time of the Apostles was coming to an end.
The Apostles would soon pass from the scene.
They, along with the prophets, had laid a foundation for the Church in the Word of God.
The last days were at hand and men would go from bad to worse collecting teachers for themselves preferring teachers that would scratch their itching ears.
Wolves would creep in among the flock and error, just like had come into Colossae, and would be a constant threat.
Thus, Paul and the Apostles left us the Word and the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Paul planted Churches with ministers, elders, and deacons because these are the gifts that Christ promised would continue the building of living stones upon the foundation of the Word that the Apostles and prophets had deposited.
It’s not fancy.
But this ordinary, sincere ministry of Word and Sacrament has continued for thousands of years and continues to proclaim the same message of the life and work of our powerful Savior Jesus Christ.
And that message will always bring opposition.
It leads to persecution.
Men in Syria and Iraq crucified in modern times for naming Christ.
Women and children killed, raped, and sold into slavery.
Christians know that the Judge of all the earth will one day sit in judgment and that Judge will come down for their defense and proclaim: Not guilty! This one is mine!
All from the simple ministry of the Church.
Paul closes with something that we ought to be expectant for.
Grace be with you.
It has taken many months for this series on the book of Colossians to be completed.
During that time many things have happened in each of our lives.
There were deaths in the family and we mourned because those that we loved were taken by an enemy that we brought into this world by our sin.
We wept and waited for this last enemy to be vanquished.
But grace was with us.
There were weddings and we wept with tears of joy seeing the boys and girls we once knew grow up to become one flesh with another that they might bring forth more godly seed and rise up a new generation of living stones in our Churches.
We looked in the mirror at the gray hair beginning to dominate.
We saw the wrinkles and realized that our life is a fleeting breath as we remember it was just yesterday that a little boy was crying from a hurt knee and was now taking a wife into his side.
And we were reminded that grace was with us.
We wrestled over and over againsts a besetting sin pleading with God that He would forgive us yet again for our anger or our lust or our pettiness.
We realized how unfaithful and frail and weak we were and thought ourselves unworthy of the peace of God.
But then we remembered that He is faithful.
And grace was with us.
We felt like we hadn’t mourned over our sin for a long time. We almost forgot what it was like to repent.
But then a minister of God’s Word proclaimed the Gospel of peace to our hearts and exposed our sin. He wounded us that we might see the wound again and weep and turn afresh to Christ.
Because grace was with us.
We had prayed for years that our little ones would come to a saving knowledge of Christ knowing that it is only by His Spirit that life is given.
And then we heard our child confessing her sins in a way that gave us hope that the Lord was changing her heart.
Or we saw our child come forward in front of the Church and confess that this God is his God and that Jesus was his only hope for salvation.
We rejoiced as another child celebrated the Lord’s Supper with us and fed on Him in common communion as we proclaimed His death and resurrection.
Because grace has been with us.
Beloved, the Law reminds us that we are born in sin and misery with nothing to commend ourselves.
It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that has provided a way of salvation and peace with God.
His grace is poured out on the Church in the giving of the simple ministry of Word and Sacrament and the labors of ministers, elders, deacons and the saints who are equipped to build one another up.
Grace be with you.
Let us pray.