Mature and Fully Assured in All the Will of God
Colossians 4:7–18 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
14th Sunday after Pentecost – August 26, 2018 (am)
Sometimes we get the feeling that maturity in Christ means we’re independent, spiritually self-sufficient. Jesus and I are on an island. It’s just the two of us, and He has enabled me to tune out the noise of other people’s lives, of and the distraction of fallen human relationships. However, in Gethsemane, as Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, He Himself suggested that the disciples’ failure to pray with Him increased His burden that night. And quite often in Scripture we meet up with tight-knit, self-sacrificially loving communities of faith which suggest to us that this is the way things ought (4, 6) to be.
Do you enjoy true gospel community—blood-bought believers in the Lord Jesus Christ unified under His preeminent (1:18) Kingship, proclaiming His coming return? That’s what we meet in our passage today, in the closing greetings of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This is the church he’d never visited (2:1), though he’d met some from there in other places. Still, he had such a heart for the gospel work going on in their city, and in surrounding cities, that this section just reverberates with the joy of laboring together for the spread of the gospel. We see this in three ways.
The Intimacy Exposed by Expressing the News – 7-9
Paul had never visited the Colossians, but he had a passion for their encouragement (8; cf. 2:2). And he knew that (knowing) how (he was) (8), would bring that encouragement. I recall a scene from a movie where two women met in a dark, quiet room. The younger one had just gone through a harrowing ordeal. And as they sat down, knee-to-knee, hand-in-hand, the older one whispered: Now, tell me everything.
Sometimes we think that when we have opportunity to talk, just sharing the news shows a lack of intimacy. But there are times when sharing the news is among the most intimate and emotionally bonding experiences possible. On the back side of a disaster, when lines of communication have been cut for a time, nothing is more satisfying and reassuring, than hearing good news. When a soldier has been at war, or a jury in-session…. Paul is in prison. And although most have never met him, they know him through Epaphras. And he’s their spiritual grandfather; they’ve come to saving faith through his proclamation of the gospel to Epaphras (cf. 1:7), through whom they heard it. And they’re warmed, they’re encouraged, by news of how he’s doing.
Tychicus (7) and Onesimus (9) are fully briefed on all Paul’s ministry activities. They’re faithful and beloved (brothers) (9, cf.7) to him and they’re well-prepared to encourage (the Colossians’) hearts (8) with news from Rome. They probably delivered this letter—Tychicus was a fellow servant in the Lord (7) who had delivered letters and greetings and gifts from Paul on numerous other occasions (Eph.6:21; 2Ti.4:12; Tit.3:12; cf. Act.20:4).
But Onesimus being mentioned here likely sent shock waves through this church! Almost certainly this letter and the one to Philemon were delivered at the same time. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. He had gone missing. He was now returning to Colossae. And not only was he being reunited with his master, but he was arriving home with the highest praise of the Apostle Paul! Imagine that scene!
Something unusual is happening here, and it’s saturated with expressions of Christian love and fellowship: slaves and freemen are faithful and beloved (brothers) with one another! 3:11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. And we, the readers, are not just enlightened by seeing this intimacy, we’re swept into it by the knowledge that what they shared back then we still share with them today, and with one another! Knowing who Onesimus is, thanks to the accompanying letter to Philemon, we can sympathize with the shock the Colossians must have felt when they heard his name here. Philemon’s letter was primarily to him personally (Phm.2), so it may not have been read to the church right away. They likely hear first about this missing slave now being referred to by Paul as a faithful and beloved brother (9), and then that, through him they’ll hear everything that has taken place (with Paul in Rome)! (9) Come back next week!
The Community Uncovered by Mutual Greetings – 10-17
From there Paul moved on to the greetings. And the sense of community just grows. We know that the first three names are the only Jews still with him (11b), and from that we learn that the rest of these names are Gentile fellow (servants).
The Jews – 10-11
Aristarchus is from Thessalonica (Act.27:2) and is mentioned several times in Acts as an associate of Paul’s. Evidently, he was also imprisoned with him in Rome (8).
And it’s from this passage that we discover not only that the rift between Paul and Barnabas (cf. Act.15:36-40) must have been reconciled, but that Mark (Barnabas’ cousin), over whom they’d argued, was also now on good terms (cf. 2Ti.4:11, … he is very useful to me for ministry). But we don’t have any idea what instructions the Colossians received about him (10).
Nor do we know anything about Jesus who is called Justus (11), except that he rounds out this list of three Jews who were still among (Paul’s) fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and that they (had brought) comfort to (him) (11).
The Gentiles – 12-14
Epaphras (12) we’ve already met (1:7); he was the Colossian native (12) who brought the gospel to their city. But one of his more remarkably qualities is not revealed until now. He’s 12 … always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. He’s hungry for spiritual growth in his brothers and sisters in Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis (13). Do you (struggle in prayer) for anyone’s spiritual growth? How about a whole church, plus two more in neighboring towns? A bigger question: do you think God was doing anything in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis in answer to Epaphras’ prayers that He wouldn’t have done if he wasn’t praying? In other words, does God act in response to our prayers, or is He just going to do what He’s going to do no matter what? Scripture teaches that our prayers make a difference. Do we pray like they make a difference?
Luke wrote more of the NT than anyone else. But here (14) is the only place where we learn not only that he was a doctor but was also most likely a Gentile (cf. 11b).
But more important, and the miracle of the mystery (1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3), Paul had a closer relationship, and enjoyed sweeter community, with these Gentiles than he did with his fellow Jews who did not embrace Christ as King. Likewise, we can experience greater community with a Muslim who embraces Christ than with an unsaved father or mother. A believing Palestinian and a believing Jew can be more closely connected to one another than they are to their own people. That’s the sort of community Paul is spotlighting here by his greetings.
And it unites churches just like it unites people! The gospel lays the foundation for kingdom collaboration. Paul felt it with these Colossians—and it spread to the churches of Laodicea and Hierapolis—even though they needed some doctrinal reminders and reassurances. They were vulnerable to plausible arguments (2:4) that continuing to honor the OT law would be a good way to ensure good standing with God. They needed to be pressed to see to it that no one (took them) captive by such philosophy and empty deceit, and human tradition (2:8). But this need for doctrinal reminder and reassurance did not impede Paul from working with them, or from loving them deeply, or from affirming that they were truly his brothers and sisters in the faith. We’re all a work in progress, and we link arms along the way!
How is our love for other churches? How is our zeal for their spiritual growth? Do you pray for our fellow churches in Warrenville, Wheaton, and Naperville? Do you pray for the likes of Willow Creek, which is going through a serious trial? I trust there are many who will (struggle) on (their) behalf in (prayer) (12), just as I hoped there were many doing so for us when we went through a season of trial a few years ago. In Christ we’re all headed for something far better than this world, but entering into the joy of laboring together for the spread of the gospel is a foretaste of what is coming! It is an in-breaking of the worship and fellowship of the coming kingdom here and now—the place where finally and forever we will be standing before the throne of God with brothers and sisters in Christ from every nation and all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev.7:9). Paul is tasting of that here (7-18)—Jew, Gentile, slave, free, imprisoned, estranged, reconciled!
The Sadness Insinuated by Suffering and Separation – 18
And then he speaks a word that is tinged with sadness. That rich, coming life has not yet fully arrived. All is not yet resolved. Paul is writing from prison. And without a speck of self-pity but with an ache of separation he (writes) with (his) own hand: Remember my chains (18). He’s depending on the prayers of his friends, just like Jesus did in the Garden.
Paul longs to enable their encouragement, and he opens himself up to receiving theirs. Remember how he put back in c.21 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that (your) hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He’s been lifting them up. Now he asks to be (remembered), surely in (prayer).
This is how gospel community works. Paul spotlights it here. He celebrates it. He depends on it! And as he does, he calls us all into such community. But he knows it comes from only one Source, so: grace be with you (18). My friends, grace be with you as we press on to enter into the joy of laboring together for the spread of the gospel.