We have a number of things we can be grateful for this week. Chief in our list, I would think, would certainly be our gratitude for the salvation which is given to us through Jesus Christ. We didn't earn it, and we don't deserve it. It is a gift of God's grace. Without this salvation we are left without hope, without forgiveness, without God. It is the chief blessing to be sure. But there are other blessings. We have a life to enjoy, a measure of health, and an abundance which makes complaints appear foolish.
This morning I add yet another reason for gratitude: our Christian friends. In these final verses in Colossians, Paul lists a number of people he recognizes as blessings given by God. I think as we look at this often overlooked passage, we will be stimulated to number our own friends among our richest blessings.
As Paul begins to sign off to the Colossians, he reminds them of a number of good friends, kingdom workers, people God has brought into his life, who have gone with him through thick and thin.
Thus far we have met; Tychicus, who Paul describes as "our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord." Paul intrusted him with the difficult and dangerous task of delivering this letter to Colosse.
Onesimus - who Paul calls "a faithful and beloved brother." He was a run away slave who Paul led to Christ. He was returning to Colosse with Tychicus to return to his master. This is a man willing to live out his faith no matter how costly it was.
Aristarchus was a "fellow prisoner" of Paul. This is a man who sacrificed his freedom for the sake of the kingdom of God. It cost him to minister to Paul but he was willing to pay the price.
Mark - he was a companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, who, when the going got tough, deserted them. Later he and Paul were restored to fellowship, and he became one of Paul's greatest helpers. Paul told Timothy that Mark was "useful to me for service." Mark was the author of the gospel that bears his name.
Paul then mentions Justus - all we know about him is that he was both a Jew and a fellow worker of Paul's, who was an encouragement to him.
Epaphras - he was the founder of the Colossian church, and he most likely was a pastor to that assembly. In Colossians 1:7 Paul calls him a "fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ ." In Philemon he is called a "fellow prisoner" of the apostle. What stands out about this man in the New Testament? Epaphras holds the unique distinction among all the friends and co-workers of Paul of being the only one whom Paul explicitly commended for his intensive prayer ministry. Epaphras was what might be called a "prayer warrior." He was a man who agonized in prayer.
The next person Paul mentions is Luke:
Colossians 4:14 (NASB) Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.
What do you know abut Luke? Luke was an educated, highly cultured Greek with a very fine Greek pen. He wrote about 1/5 of the New Testament, Luke and Acts. He was a true scholar. In Luke 1 and Acts 1 he assures Theophilus that he did all the necessary research about Christ and wrote down the exact truth. I think it is amazing that God used a Gentile to write 1/5 of the Greek New Testament.
It is interesting that two of the writers of the gospels are with Paul during this prison confinement. They both have already written their gospels. No doubt Paul would have read them by now.
Paul calls Luke "the beloved physician." Physician is a translation of the Greek word iatros, that's used only seven times in the New Testament. It is always used literally in its six occurrences outside Paul's one use of it. Luke uses it himself three times in his Gospel. It is possible that Luke was Paul's personal physician, as well as his close friend. Luke was a Gentile believer (cf. 4:11) who traveled frequently with Paul on his missionary voyages. It may, in fact, have been Paul's recurring illnesses on the first missionary journey that prompted him to take Luke along on the second. Like Paul, he was an educated, cultured man, as evidenced by the literary quality of his Greek in his gospel and the book of Acts. His conversations with Paul were undoubtedly stimulating. After joining Paul on his second missionary journey, he was with him for most of the remainder of Paul's life.
Nothing definite is known about Luke's background. According to the church Fathers, Eusebius and Jerome, he was born in Syrian Antioch. Some have speculated that he was Titus's brother, that he knew Paul when Paul was a student at Tarsus, and that he was a freed slave from the household of Theophilus (mentioned in the prologue to Acts). Those speculations, however, cannot be proved.
Here is a Gentile professional who probably had a comfortable, wealthy lifestyle going, and then along came Paul. Dr. Luke listened and was captured by the glories of Jesus Christ, and his whole life changed! This is tremendous. We know Luke joined Paul on his second missionary journey when God called Paul to come over to Macedonia. At a point in the book of Acts, the narrative changes from "he" and "they" to "we" and "us":
Acts 16:10 (NASB) And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Luke closed his local practice and devoted the rest of his life to assisting Paul in the ministry of the gospel. He was with him all the way to Rome. Luke writes in Acts 28:16 "When we entered Rome!" In Paul's last letter, 2 Timothy, he is back in prison again just before his execution under Nero, here's what he says:
2 Timothy 4:11 (NASB) Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.
These two men must have been great friends. Luke was with Paul to the end.
How many of you are familiar with the commentator, Martyn Lloyd-Jones? He started out his early career as a physician in London, assistant to Dr. Horder, who was the royal physician. But God did an amazing work in his life in those early years in his mid-twenties. He had opportunity to speak several times while practicing medicine, and God used him mightily. His heart was bursting with a love for truth, and he saw the desperate spiritual needs all around him. He struggled about whether to leave medicine for preaching. At one point, in 1925, he determined, "I made a solemn decision to go on with Medicine." But God would not let this truly brilliant, yet very humble Welshman alone. He writes, "It was a very great struggle, I literally lost over 20 pounds in weight." He struggled with the appeal of the world. But one night he attended a theater with a newly wed couple. When they left the theater in all the blare and glare of the city, he writes, "A Salvation Army band came along playing some hymn tunes, and I knew that these were my people these are the people I belong to."
He continued in medicine for a while, but God put the inner constraints on him to the point that he was satisfied with nothing other than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He married a surgeon, Bethan, and together they went to a rescue mission on the coast of Wales. There he was, a man with four degrees, ministering to the down and outers of this world. The two of them saw God work mightily as Martyn preached with incredible passion and reality the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
God knows we need doctors, and Dr. Lloyd-Jones would be the first to counsel anyone that if you can keep from being a preacher, do so. But think about these two kingdom workers. If Luke had stayed in his hometown with his medical career, we'd never have heard of him. If Martyn Lloyd-Jones had remained on the royal medical staff, we would never have heard of him. His commentaries have circled the earth, and his teaching lies behind much of the revival of solid biblical teaching today on the sovereign grace of God. These men made tremendous sacrifices for the kingdom of God.
For all of Luke's importance, there's only three specific references to him in the New Testament (Col. 4:14: "Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings", 2 Tim. 4:11: "Only Luke is with me", Philemon 24: "Luke, my fellow workers."). All we know about Luke is that he was a Gentile physician and fellow worker of Paul's. We have more direct information about Epaphras and his work than we do about Luke.
At the end of verse 14, Paul adds, "and also Demas." That's all Paul says about Demas - "Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas."
What do you know about Demas? Apparently, during Paul's first imprisonment, Demas was a faithful Christian who served Paul:
Philemon 1:24 (NASB) as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.
Here we see that Paul considered Demas a "fellow worker" - this is the Greek word sunergos, which means: "a co-laborer." Demas was a co-laborer with Paul in the gospel ministry.
The name of Demas only occurs three time in Scripture in lists of names alongside Luke. In two of these lists, Demas is simply mentioned as sending his greetings to the recipients of the letter with the appendage that he's considered to be a "fellow worker." Sadly, Demas is most well known from the reference in Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:10 (NASB) for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
This observation seems to be written after both of the first two references to him. What exactly does Paul mean in this text? Why exactly did Demas desert him?
One commentator writes: "In other words, we might assume that he had farms to care for, business interests to secure, or just a family that he hadn't seen in a long time and that he wanted to get back to - the apostle's words don't have to imply that Demas took a good look at the world and decided that it held more for him than the way of Christ. It could mean that earthly interests were conflicting with his service of Paul, and he chose to return to his home fellowship so that he could deal with them."
Another commentator writes: "There is nothing to suggest that Demas became an apostate, although there was a later tradition to this effect."
I believe that both of these commentators are wrong. What really did happened to Demas? What was it that caused him to desert Paul? The answer is in the text:
1 John 2:15 (NASB) Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Is this what happened to Demas? The Greek word used here for "world" is kosmos, which is used to designate both the material and the moral world. This is not the word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 4:10: "Demas, having loved this present world." The Greek word translated "world' here is aion. Aion is properly a designation of time, an age, and it is doubtful whether it ever has any other signification in the New Testament. This should be translated: "Demas, having loved this present age."
"This present age" is a designation for the Jewish age, or the age of Old Covenant law. To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "the age to come." All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come."
Matthew 12:32 (NKJV) "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
The word "come" at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: " about to be." We could translate this: the "age about to come" (in the first century). Many think that the age to come will be a sinless age; not according to this verse. Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in that age, referring to the age of the New Covenant, our present age. We see here that both of these ages have sin in them.
In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2 "this age" plainly signifies the Jewish nation under the Mosaical constitution:
1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NASB) Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
Who are these "rulers" of "this age"? Paul clearly identifies them as those, who in ignorance, crucified the Lord of glory. Compare this with Peter's words in Acts. Acts 3:12 says: "But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, 'Men of Israel'..."
Acts 3:14 (NASB) "But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,
Acts 3:17 (NASB) "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also
Peter says that those who crucified the Lord of glory were his Jewish brethren and their rulers. The rulers were none other than the chief priests, elders, and Sanhedrin council.
Adam Clark, commenting on "Having loved this present world" says: "Having preferred Judaism to Christianity; or having loved the Jews, and having sought their welfare in preference to that of the Gentiles." He goes on to say: "'This present world' is generally to be understood as signifying, either the Jewish people, or the system of Judaism."
So what happened to Demas? I believe that Demas became a apostate to Judaism.
In his day it was dangerous to be a Christian and so the temptation was to take refuge in that religion, which was exposed to no persecution. It seems that Demas had fallen prey to the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a group of people who went around in the first century promoting Judaism.
The Doctrine of Apostasy teaches that we can turn away from the faith.
1 Timothy 4:1 (NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
The word for "fall away" here is aphistemi. It means: "to depart from, to remove yourself, to fall away." It is a form of the Greek word translated: "apostasy." It is a purposeful, deliberate, departure from "the faith." The definite article before the word faith marks it out as speaking, not of faith as an act, but of "the" faith - the body of Christian doctrine. They are departing from the teaching of Scripture. This is apostasy.
An apostate is a believer who turns away from God, possibly even to the point of renouncing his or her faith. There are different levels of apostasy; an apostate can deny Jesus Christ by his life of willful sin, or by his profession. There's no hard and fast line.
Why Demas apostatized, we don't know. But for some reason he left the truths of Christianity and turned to Judaism.
Demas had the same advantages as Luke. Both were companions of the apostle. They had the same teaching and example. Just like two children can be brought up in the same family and turn two different directions. One will follow Christ, the other will deny him. One will rebel, the other will yield to the teaching of the Word.
Colossians 4:15 (NASB) Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.
Paul has already mentioned Laodicea in Col. 2:1, where he's noted his work on their behalf - for their spiritual well-being and maturity - and, in Col 4:13, has witnessed to Epaphras' unceasing work for all the believers in the three areas of Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Laodicea is one of those cities that seems to have become infamous in Christian circles for all the wrong reasons. Its claim to fame is in its mention in the Book of Revelation, where the Spirit has some not too pleasant words to say about the city's church and of its need to repent:
Revelation 3:14-16 (NASB) "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 16 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
Laodicea would have been the first city to have been visited by Tychicus as he journeyed eastwards towards Colosse. We'll talk more about this in a minute.
NYMPHA and the church that is in her house.
The manuscripts vary between Nympha (feminine) and Nymphas (masculine), and in the corresponding pronoun ("her," or "his"). I think the NASB is correct to have the verse refer to a woman, simply because it was more likely that a copyist might think that a man was the one who hosted a meeting of the church and, therefore, to inadvertently alter it.
Nympha's house should be considered as being a part of the Laodicean church because of it's close connection with that city in Col 4:15-16. We shouldn't think that the inference is that she was the recognized leader of the group because she owned the house, nor that it was the only place where there was a gathering together of believers. Rather, it seems that Nympha's place was one of many in Laodicea where believers came together so that the set up in the city was of a scattered collection of groups of believers rather than of them having one specialized, central place which was owned by the lady in question.
She is practicing hospitality, which, more than opening your home, means opening your heart to strangers. Folks, you can be a kingdom worker in this very way. When you take the time to introduce yourself to visitors; when you invite people to your home or out to eat, when you open your home for Bible studies, for fellowship times; you, like Nympha, are sharing your possessions for the advancement of the kingdom.
With all of the stress in the modern church on large and luxurious buildings, it is refreshing to be reminded that, for many years, the Christian church met and grew in the homes of believers (cf. Rom. 16:5; 1 Co1. 6:19; Phile. 2).
Romans 16:5 (NASB) also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
1 Corinthians 16:19 (NASB) The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
Philemon 1:2 (NASB) and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Lightfoot writes: "There is no clear example of a separate building set apart for Christian worship within the limits of the Roman empire before the third century, though apartments in private houses might be specially devoted to this purpose." An official building constructed for the use of the church didn't come about until the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313. Before this period, most buildings were normally everyday places of residence that believers opened up for the brethren to come together and meet.
The Church in the first century did come together on occasions as one or, at least, in large numbers (Acts 4:23-24,31, 12:12), and these would have relied upon men and women believers who had more extensive accommodations than others making their facilities available. Most of the meetings mentioned in Acts, though, speak of smaller gatherings - such as the continual coming together for the breaking of bread in their homes (Acts 2:46) - where an individual might gather a few fellow believers around for fellowship.
Think of the money that's spent on church buildings and their upkeep and think of how that money could have been invested in the proclamation of the Gospel message and to minister to the needs of the saints.
Colossians 4:16 (NASB) And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.
This is the only place in the New Testament where Paul commands that a letter is read by a group of believers, who aren't the initial recipients.
It appears that the public reading of Paul's letters was necessary when the churches met together from the very practical perspective that some of those who were now believers would have had difficulty in reading it for themselves. In I Tim 4:13 and Acts 20:20, the apostle also commands that Scripture be read publicly. Unlike today, it wasn't that each believer had the freedom of access to the compilation of works that are considered to be authoritative (that is, the Bible). Both preaching and teaching, therefore, supplied this deficiency.
There has been much debate over the identity of the Laodicean letter. It has been variously identified as a letter from the Laodiceans to Paul, a letter written by Paul from Laodicea, the apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans, and a genuine letter of Paul to the Laodiceans that is now lost. In all likelihood, however, Paul here refers to the book of Ephesians. It's not without scholarly support that our "letter to the Ephesians" is sometimes regarded as the missing letter to Laodicea, even though the evidence for such an assertion is far from conclusive. The oldest manuscripts of Ephesians do not contain the words "in Ephesus" in Ephesians 1:1, indicating that it was a circular letter intended for several churches. Church tradition links the letter with the city of Ephesus but the name of that city nowhere exists throughout the text.
Tychicus, who delivered the letter of Colossians is also mentioned at the close of Ephesians (Eph 6:21-22) in similar terms. The best candidate for a positive identification of the "lost" letter to Laodicea, therefore, seems to be that writing which we now label as "Ephesians."
This verse supports my proposition that "The Bible is not written to us, but for us."
The letter of Colossians was to be read by the Laodiceans - it was not written to them, but it was for them; they would benefit much from its teaching - so can we.
Colossians 4:17 (NASB) And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it."
Archippus is called the "fellow-soldier" of Paul and Timothy. It is probable that he was a member of Philemon's household:
Philemon 1:1-2 (NASB) Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, 2 and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Archippus is mentioned only twice in the New Testament (Col 4:17, Philemon 2) and then only in connection with the affairs of Colosse. Paul's words are, at first, particularly personal, and we tend to think nothing of them, but we should note that it would, presumably, have been better to have included them as a footnote to the very personal note to Philemon if his intention had been to remind Archippus of the "ministry" which he'd received from Jesus, and which he was now urging him to make sure that he fulfilled.
But instead, the apostle includes a note which was to be read out before the entire congregation and those who were in Laodicea (Col 4:16). We have just reason, therefore, to suggest that, although this verse served as a personal reminder to Archippus, it was also a confirmation to the fellowship that he was charged with a commission from God in a particular area, which they should encourage.
Paul is telling Archippus, "DO THIS & DO IT NOW"- the aorist imperative conveys a sense of urgency. Keep your eyes open, Archippus; perceive, discern, understand.
Colossians 4:18 (NASB) I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.
Paul picks up the pen to add some comments with his own hand. There are just four of these in the NT (I Cor 16:21-24, Gal 6:11-18, Col 4:18, 2 Thess 3:17-18), and the one in Colossians is by far the briefest of them all .
Apart from Rom 16:22, these four places are the clearest indication that Paul had his letters dictated rather than sitting down himself with a quill and a scroll to put his own thoughts onto parchment.
Why should Paul include such a hand-written note in one of his letters to both Corinth and Thessalonica and not in the others? And why would the entire area of Galatia need an extensive personalized note, when he was insisting that they repent from their legalism to allow Christ to be formed in them (Gal 4:19)? The most important verse in all the four passages is:
2 Thessalonians 3:17 (NASB) I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.
This seems to indicate that the apostle always picked up the quill and wrote something, because it was an authenticating mark that the recipients could trust as making what had preceded it genuine. That 2 Thessalonians was in need of authentication is confirmed earlier in the letter (2 Thess 2:1-2), where Paul seems to note the existence of other letters which appeared to be from him, but which were forgeries.
The only possible exception here is the letter to Philemon, which appears to have been entirely written by the apostle, because it was expected to be short and needed to be personal (Philemon 19) - it would have appeared to have been less than so had Paul dictated the main body and added just a few notes at the end.
Remember my fetters
This is the first and only place where Paul deliberately seems to ask for their support in his imprisonment. He asks for prayer for the further advancement of the Gospel (Col 4:3-4), and will even mention that he's now imprisoned (Col 4:10), but the thought of the fellowship supporting him in his incarceration hasn't occurred to him until he's about to close.
Do these words have any meaning for us today? I think it is good for us to remember Paul's chains; to think of this man of God who was hounded, persecuted, and oppressed everywhere he went. He was resisted and thrown into jail in many places. He spent a night and a day in the deep. He was beaten with rods and stoned on occasion. Even as he writes these letters, he does not find it easy to do so. He does not sit down in a comfortable room with his word processor. He must dictate them to an educated slave, and then painfully, because he suffered from poor eyesight, write with large letters his name at the close, lest the letter be treated as a forgery. Down through the centuries, this letter, along with others, has transformed the history of the world. It is a tremendously important document. Yet, it is well for us to remember the cost of having these scriptures in our own hands. All Christians ought to remember his fetters as a motivation to serve God under difficult circumstances.
Paul ends with the mention of "grace," which occurs towards the end of each and every Pauline letter in a way which is seen as a blessing imparted to those who either read his words or listen to them being read.
Grace is unmerited favor seen primarily in the way that Jesus died on the cross for men and women who didn't deserve such a reconciliation with God. Here, Paul blesses them with continued favor, and desires that they might continue to enjoy and be the recipients of the provision of the Father.
As we read over Paul's commendations of these friends, several things stand out. First, these are all people who, like Paul, were willing to make sacrifices to follow Christ and are laboring in the ministry in one way or another.
Someone has said, "If in the course of life you have the privilege of having one true friend, you have been blessed beyond all measure." Any of us who have trusted friends would nod our head to the truthfulness of that statement. Paul had some faithful friends who stayed by his side and labored with him for the kingdom of God.
Very little is more important in our lives in this world than the people we hang out with. Proverbs puts it this way:
Proverbs 13:20 (NASB) He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Are you blessed with quality Christian friends, like Paul was? Are you a quality Christian friend to others? Some believers struggle with friendships; both being one and having good friends. How does a quality friendship develop? I want to conclude this morning with a quote from Gary Inrig in his book Quality Friendship:
Quality friendship does not simply happen. It is born out of a fervent love for the Lord Jesus Christ that spills over into our relationships with people. Quality friendship is costly. It does not thrive in an environment of casual commitments, convenient relationships, and formal fellowship. It demands that, in Christ, I begin by committing myself to be a friend, rather than just to "get a friend": to meeting needs rather than seeking primarily to have my needs met. Quality friendship calls me to enter relationships not simply on the basis of mutual attraction but out of a commitment to help another realize his potential under God. As a friend, I seek to strengthen his or her hand in God. Quality friendship is covenant friendship, in which I declare to another my loyalty, commitment, and friendship. Quality friendship is agape friendship, a friendship of humanly impossible standards made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
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