Title: Relationships: Nothing is more important!
Text: Colossians 4.7-18
CPT: Relationships are vital to ministry and function within the local church.
CPS: Nothing is more important than relationship in the church!
Introduction: I want to share with you today, the greatest theological teaching concerning the church that I’ve ever learned. I wish someone would have taught me this valuable tenet of the faith early on. I’m standing her wondering if this should be the first lesson of every disciple. I’d dare say a hearty “Amen.”
We learn early on, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The Westminster Confession
I wonder if the 1st question should be: What is the most important activity of the church? There are 107 in the Shorter version – for children. We should make it 108! What is the most important activity of the church? Relationships!
In our text today we see people listed. This list is more than just some names. These are people who play a vital role in the on-going activity of the church. Let’s spend a few minutes getting to know each of these folks and then pull them all together at the end.
Transition: This first short list is classified as
I. The Carriers (7-9)
exp.: rd 4.7-8;
- Tychicus – Acts 20.4; Eph 6.21; Titus 3.12; 2 Tim 4.12; The entrusted brother from Asia, who accompanies other brothers with the ‘collection’ to Jerusalem. We first meet him in Acts 20.4. Being selected to serve as one of these ‘Band of Brothers’, he is a trusted individual. And Paul is pretty tough on the men who serve with him. Tychicus is there in Ephesus when Paul tells the Ephesian leaders that he is headed to Jerusalem – even though he knows persecution and imprisonment await him. Tychicus travels to Jerusalem to deliver the gift from the Gentile churches. Paul entrusts him with this letter, the letter to the Ephesians. So entrusted is Tychicus, that he is selected to take Timothy’s place in Ephesus, as their pastor. He also pastored in Crete. And those are just the ministries we know of from Scripture.
- Onesimus – rd. 4.9; Phm 10; ‘Useful’; When you read Philemon, you get the idea that Onesimus escaped from Philemon, and worse, stole from Philemon. What? We don’t know. Maybe food for his escape? Maybe clothes, or something of value that Onesimus could sell and get some money to make a new start. While in this new city, either Ephesus or Rome, Onesimus meets Paul and Paul leads him to the Lord. Whether they met in prison or outside, we don’t know, but what we do know is that Paul is imprisoned and Onesimus is of great service to Paul during that imprisonment. It appears Philemon hosts the church in his home. I’m guessing that would be in Colossae.
It must have been a great witness for Onesimus, which finally sunk in after he had already made some disastrous decisions. I wonder if Philemon ever thought about that as he hosted, served, gave and lived his life before Onesimus.
I wonder if Philemon prayed for Onesimus? I wonder how he prayed, what he prayed. Lord, bring Onesimus to you. Touch his heart. Convict him of his sin. Lead him to confession and commitment. Lord, do whatever it takes. And then, I wonder how he reacted when Onesimus hurt him.
ill.: I remember years ago hearing the story of a missionary who served overseas. She hired a servant to come and work in her home while she tended to the work of a missionary. It turned out that he was a hard worker and did a great job. One day, after only 6 months, he came to give her notice that he was leaving. She, was taken aback. She had no idea he was leaving. She offered him more money. He explained that he only took the job because he was searching. He wanted to find God – so, he chose the best way to observe someone would be to live with them. He was leaving because he was now going to live with a Muslim family and serve them. He had spent the last 6 months, unbeknownst to this missionary, simply observing her to see if your Christianity was real. Now, he would turn his attention to Islam.
app.: it appears that Philemon’s witness had a positive impact on Onesimus’ conversion. PTL! I think his greatest witness was yet to come, as he would have to display compassion, mercy, and forgiveness to this new believer.
t.s.: So, we’ve met the Emissaries. Now, Paul turns his attention to those who are with him.
II. The Companions and Coworkers (10-14)
exp.: Paul mentions 6 brothers, coworkers with him. The first three are Jewish, the 2nd three are Gentiles.
- Aristarchus – is actually mentioned before we meet Tychicus in Acts 19.29; You probably remember the story where Paul had been leading many Gentiles to the Lord. So many so, that it was having a financial impact on the idol industry. Demetrius, a silversmith, saw a cut in his profits and didn’t like it. He caused such an uproar that the whole city had come together and wanted to kill Paul and his companions. 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. I think a more humorous part of the story is that there were thousands of people crowded into this theater – thousands. And they all want Paul dead! So, what does Paul do? He’s like, “Hey, look, a crowd of people who need to hear about Jesus.” Let me go out there and preach to them. Aristarchus, probably Tychicus, Gaius and the others were like: NO!
Aristarchus is one of the ‘Band of Brothers’ delivering the collection to Jerusalem in 20.4; He is a traveling companion of Paul’s to Rome. My favorite story of Aristarchus is when he is mentioned in Acts 27.2; that is the story of Paul’s travel to Rome to appear before Caesar. They had traveled north and Paul wanted to see some old friends. They would be a while, as the ship unloaded and loaded cargo. The Centurion in charge of Paul let him leave to go visit some friends at or near Sidon. Aristarchus was there to witness the shipwreck, Paul getting bit by a viper, and so many other miraculous stories.
Aristarchus is mentioned in Philemon 24, as well. He’s an important, integral part of Paul’s ministry and mission. Oral tradition has been passed down that Aristarchus was released with Paul after his Roman imprisonment and was sent by Paul to pastor the church at Thessalonica. He would return to Rome at some point and be put to death under the hand of Nero around 70 AD.
- Mark – (also known as John Mark; Nephew of Barnabas; mother’s name is Mary); Mary, evidently was a wealthy woman in Jerusalem, who hosted the church in her home. John Mark would have witnessed many of the early church activities in Jerusalem. The church met in his house. He would have seen first-hand how the church gathered to pray for Peter’s release and how he knocked on the door, but Rhoda didn’t answer because she was so shocked that Peter was at the door.
Barnabas and Paul took a short Missionary Trip from Antioch to Jerusalem to help the believers there. They must have left an impression on Mark, because afterward, Mark left with them when they returned to Antioch (Acts 12.25). My guess is that he would serve with them as they continued to disciple the new believers there. Later, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to go on a Mission Trip (aka: Paul’s 1st MJ). John Mark would accompany them, but he would struggle early on. We don’t know what happened, but Mark would quit the trip and return to Jerusalem. Whatever happened, it left a bad taste in Paul’s mouth. When they loaded up for the 2nd Missionary journey, Barnabas invited Mark to come along – that is so like Barnabas – the Son of Encouragement. But Paul would not have it.
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
This story has a sad and a happy ending to it. The sad part is that we never hear from Barnabas again in Scripture. He and Mark sailed off to Barnabas’ native island, Cyprus. He wanted to go to his own people. In a twist of irony, it would be the Jews in Salamina (a large town on the island of Cyprus), who would drag Barnabas by the neck out of the city and burn him at the stake. He was martyred around 63-64 AD.
But Mark’s ministry would continue. He would serve and learn under Barnabas, and later, under Peter. Mark’s contribution to the Gospels (a book under his own name) was written with the help of the Apostle Peter and his stories. Peter mentions him in 1 Peter 5.13.
Paul’s attitude would change toward Mark and Mark would eventually win favor with him, helping him in the ministry and mission. Listen to what he writes in his last letter before his death: Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
- Jesus, also Justus – We know nothing about this Jesus, called Justus. There are other Justus’, but I doubt any are this one. 1st, Acts 1.23 (probably not the same), this is one of the men who followed Christ and was up for the position vacated by Judas; he lost and that went to Matthias; the other is found in Acts 18.7 (higher probability not the same) because this guy wasn’t Jewish; Col 4.11
- Epaphras – Col 1.7; 4.12; Phm 23; Some folks think that this Epaphras is one and the same with the Epaphroditus in Philippians. Php 2.25; 4.18; however, I think the probability of this is negative; Understand, I could be wrong, but I think we’re talking about two different folks moving in two different regions at about the same time.
Epaphras is recorded as having been Martyred in Rome about 70AD; however, when I was reading about his story, there is just too much speculation to be definitive about the specifics and details.
- Luke – The quiet, unassuming Luke. He serves, he gives, but very little is known about him because he told us so much about others, and not himself. Our text this morning tells us that he was a Physician. I believe it is the only place we read this, and how valuable! Luke is scrupulous in his details. That information alone gives us insight to his personality.
ill.: In Acts Paul travels by boat from one location to another and it takes him 2 days. On the returning journey, the same distance (in the opposite direction takes 5 days). Many used just such details about Luke’s information to claim that it was all made up. Until Sir William Ramsey stepped forward to attempt in-depth research that would definitely prove Luke to be wreckless and imaginative in his writings. Skeptics cite Acts 16.11 and 20.5f as an example of this. 16.11 says 2, 3 days at the most. 20.6 is recorded as taking 5 days to cover the same distance. Sir William Ramsey and his expedition set sail from Troas, stopped at Samothrace and on to Philippi. They covered the distance in two days. Next, they made a return trip, here hoping to discredit Luke. It took them 5 days, just as it had Paul. His experience was the same as that of Paul’s journey. Ramsey would spend the next 15 years trying to find information that would discredit Luke and the Bible. He traveled all over that area of the world, mimicking and copying and retracing Paul’s steps, attempting to find errors in the details of Luke’s records. Ramsey never would find it. He was converted from skeptic to true believer.
Listen to Josh McDowell: Sir William Ramsay, who spent 15 years attempting to undermine Luke’s credentials as a historian, and to refute the reliability of the New Testament, finally concluded: “Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
There is so much to talk about with this doctor, but time limits us. So, let’s move on.
- Demas – Phm 24; Demas was a coworker and partner in ministry. He evidently suffered with Paul and served well – for a while. At this stage, Demas is with Paul. But, something happens in the coming years.
ill.: Demas grows weary of… your guess is as good as mine. Maybe he got tired of the people always taking and grumbling, never expressing their gratitude – nor displaying it. Maybe he grew tired of sitting in a jail cell while the church just watched. Too many observers and not enough workers. Maybe gossip finally chipped away at his faith enough to just walk away. Paul tells Timothy, at the end of Paul’s life that Demas wasn’t with him anymore. 2 Tim 4.10: 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. This word “deserted’ is a heavy word in Scripture. Matthew & Mark use it to quote Jesus on the Cross: My God, My God why have you and here’s that word forsaken me. Peter uses this word when quoting the OT prophecy of Christ recorded by King David: You will not and here’s the word abandon my soul to Hades… The writer of Hebrews uses this word when he quotes from the OT passage where God promises: I will never leave you or forsake you.
I don’t know why people leave the ministry. I mean, I do. I’ve felt the sting of betrayal by the very people you’ve entrusted your life to. I’ve given of myself so deeply, and then to watch people just walk away – to say things that just aren’t true – I mean out and out lies! It just kills the soul. People make fun of your haircut, or your car or you kids or your…
I’ve heard repeated statistics that say 90% of men who graduate from Seminary and become pastors, are not in the ministry 5 years after they graduate. So I get it. It’s hard. People are mean. Failure as seen in earthly terms is prominent and repeated. It is a valid reason to get those who serve you a break from ministry – so that they don’t burn out, like Demas.
app.: Whatever the reason, Paul’s last words in this world record the abandonment of Demas from the ministry to pursue the things of this world. Can you imagine what it will be like for those who destroy God’s church for their own personal pleasure – because of jealousy or loss of power or whatever reason… can you imagine what it will be like to give an account for that kind of destruction – destroying the church, destroying people’s lives…
One last word on Demas. I couldn’t find anything in church history that reports his repentance and return. No word on him. Historians list him with Judas. That’s sad. I wonder what it would be like if we had no more report of John Mark after Acts 13.13. What if Mark did everything he did in history, but there was no record of it. Would we assume that Mark was like Judas and Demas? My point is, we don’t know any more about Demas. And, I like to always hold out hope that God’s grace and mercy found its way back into his life. And, just because he didn’t serve as minister in the church, doesn’t mean that he didn’t settle down and serve the Lord in a local church.
t.s.: Well, the last group here is a short list of people not even affiliated with the Colossian church, but with the Laodicean church.
III. Others at Laodicea
exp.: rd v 15; Greet your sister church and the sister who hosts this congregation in her home; rd v 16; the exchange of letters might possibly be the beginning of collecting Paul’s letters, so that we have them here with us today. The letter to the Laodiceans has been lost. For those of you familiar with Revelation, it would be interesting (and can I say ‘fun’) to compare and contrast the state of the church in the 60’s compared to the 90’s. Finally, he mentions one last person, who is evidently from Colossae: Archie… Ἄρχιππος; rd v 17 – “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” He’s also mentioned in Phm 2, and appears to be a leader in that church. We don’t know what his ministry was, nor why Paul felt the need to say something here.
Conclusion: I find it interesting that Paul never traveled to the Lycus Valley, but he had a relationship with people from there (Nympha and Philemon, who hosted the church in their homes in Laodicea and Colossae); maybe he knew them intimately from Onesimus’ descriptions and details. Maybe he was able to put together what he needed to know from Onesimus and Epaphras.
Whatever the process, Paul had intimate relationships that made his mission and ministry work.
So, what do I want you to take away with you today:
These are not just names; they are people. And they are not just people, they’re people in relationships.
- Nothing you do in church is more important than your relationships with each other. Nothing.
Can you imagine anything harder for Onesimus to do than to return to the one he abandoned and stole from? Can you imagine the difficulty of Philemon, people coming into his home and the man who betrayed him comes into his home and reads with authority the letter Paul wrote?
- Notice I said ‘do’. We have to work through any difficulties we encounter over time. Do you hear me? There are many in your lives who no longer are in relationship with you through this body. Can I be so bold as to put them in the category of Demas? They didn’t put the work in to strengthen the relationships that make a church work. In selfishness or embarrassment, certain individuals abandoned you, to leave you to finish whatever ministry you had begun together.
- How can you strengthen the ties that bind us together – for the benefit of the ministry and mission? As a church, that has to be figured out. It takes great humility. It takes great faith. It takes surrender and obedience. There are many who simply can’t humble themselves to that point. So, they blame others and walk away.
- Here is a moment when you as a body must determine in your hearts that we will not allow anything to separate us: not pride, not money, not gossip, not (you fill in the blank).