I think it is obvious that the spirit of our age is independence. This is especially true here in America. Our founding document is the Declaration of Independence. In that document, we declared our independence from the tyranny that our founding fathers felt was imposed upon us by England. Of course, that document reflected a spirit of independence and was paid for by the blood of our forefathers, who fought a war for independence. Our independence is a prized possession in this country. And it should be.
The problem comes when we misapply that spirit of independence to the church. Independence can be good in certain circumstances, but it can also create problems in others. One such circumstance is the church.
While the spirit of our age is independence, the nature of the church is interdependence. The church, you see, is a community. It is the community of the King. And the church universal always finds its expression in the church local, which is a body of believers called out of the world and into a spiritual fellowship based on the life of Jesus Christ within. It is not one person, or even a group of leaders. It is every believer called to be a part of that local church. As such, it must work through an interdependence of all its members if it is to work successfully. Independence will tend to erode the fellowship. Learning to depend upon one another, however, will cause the fellowship to grow, both in quality and quantity.
The bottom line is that we need each other. I need what you have in Christ, and you need what I have in Christ. We need each other! And community is the key. God designed the church to bring together people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, and situations in life so that we could learn to live together as Christians, united by our common faith in Jesus Christ.
As we live together, God breaks down the walls that divide us. In the church, God deals with our selfishness. In the church, God deals with our pride. In the church, God deals with all of the issues of isolation that keep us apart, that keep us from living as people created in God's image for whom Christ died.
As Paul closes this letter to the Colossians, he reveals that interdependence, he was not working alone. He had help. There were many helpers who worked with Paul, without whom Paul's ministry could not have been nearly as effective. Paul knew that and he acknowledged that by including them here.
We looked last week at Tychicus and Onesimus and their purpose in delivering the letter. They traveled from Rome to Colosse, which was no easy task. They first had to cross much of Italy on foot, then sail across the Adriatic Sea. After traversing Greece on foot, they sailed across the Aegean Sea to the coast of Asia Minor. After all that, they still faced a journey of nearly one hundred miles on foot to reach Colosse. They weren't being paid for this, it was not their job, it was their ministry. Tychicus was doing this just to deliver this letter. Onesimus was returning to his master, Philemon, whom he had run away from. These are two very serious Christians, their faith cost them. What does your faith cost you? What sacrifices do you make for the sake of the kingdom of God?
Paul now turns his attention to record the greetings of those who were present with him:
Colossians 4:10 (NASB) Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas' cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him);
Aristarchus - like many Jews of the Diaspora, he had a Greek name. He was a native of Thessalonica (Acts 20:4; 27:2). Aristarchus first appeared during Paul's three-year ministry at Ephesus. He was seized by the rioting mob, who recognized him as one of Paul's companions (Acts 19:29). He accompanied Paul on his return trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4) and on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:4). It is possible he stayed with Paul throughout his imprisonment in Palestine as well. As Paul writes Colossians, Aristarchus is still beside him.
Paul calls him, "My fellow prisoner" - which literally means: "one caught with a spear". In secular Greek usage, this term referred to prisoners of war. There is much debate as to whether this is used here spiritually or literally. I see no reason to not take it literally. "Fellow prisoner" suggests that he had been charged by the Jews with some crime and was actually awaiting trial along with the apostle. Paul was a prisoner and so was Aristarchus.
Just what sort of penal set up the apostle found himself in that both his colleagues and fellow prisoners could converse to the point of dictating letters and issuing instructions is far from clear, but there certainly appears to be nothing even remotely resembling present day imprisonment.
Roman law gave the prisoner a fair amount of freedom of access with people not imprisoned, even though the testimony of Acts 16:24 indicates that there were more severe punishments for those who were thought to be non-Roman.
Access to the prisoner by those on the outside was largely dependent upon the favor of those who were holding them and, sometimes, by the size of the bribe that was presented to them. It's entirely possible that the various city jailers often viewed Paul with favor and allowed access that was enough for him to be able to dictate letters, instruct workers to travel to fellowships needing their ministry and, even to some extent, able to convene meetings during the day to teach and proclaim the Gospel:
Acts 28:30-31 (NASB) And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
Paul says that "Aristarchus... sends you his greetings" - this word "greeting" is from the Greek word aspazomai, which means: "to enfold in the arms"; thus to "embrace." When used in Paul's letters, Kittels notes that it was, "...very important as an expression of affection."
So here we meet 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.
Paul mentions Mark next:
Colossians 4:10 (NASB) Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas' cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him);
John Mark had a very different career in the ministry than either Tychicus or Aristarchus. A companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5), he deserted them when the going got tough:
Acts 13:13 (NASB) Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
Mark's desertion was later to become a source of friction between Paul and Barnabas.
Barnabas wanted to take Mark along on the second missionary journey, but Paul, not trusting Mark to be loyal, refused. That led to such a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they separated from each other:
Acts 15:37-39 (NASB) And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.
Notice that our text calls Mark "the cousin of Barnabas" - a demarcation which would offer us a good explanation of why Barnabas might have been willing to overlook or forgive his error at Pamphylia - he was his own family and was making allowances for a momentary weakness, because of what he knew about him.
Fortunately, the story does not end with Paul and Mark at odds. By the time Paul wrote Colossians, Mark had become a changed man. He had been restored to usefulness, probably through the ministry of Peter (Himself no stranger to failure) in his life (cf. 1Pe5:13). In Philemon 24, Paul names him among his fellow workers. The man whom Paul once rejected became one of his greatest helpers:
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.
Paul told the Colossians that if Mark came to them, they were to obey their instructions and welcome him. The church most likely knew of the past unfaithfulness of Mark; and needed this recommendation of him. They were not to shun him because of his previous failure. Mark later received a privilege shared by only three other men in history: writing one of the gospels.
Paul is not only reconciled to him himself, but recommends him to the respect of the churches, thus giving us a great example of a truly Christian forgiving spirit. If men have been guilty of a fault, it must not be always remembered against them. We must forget as well as forgive:
Galatians 6:1 (NASB) Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.
John Mark is an encouragement to everyone of us who has failed in our attempts to serve God. He didn't sit around and sulk. He got back into the ministry and proved
himself faithful to the Lord and to the Apostle Paul.
Colossians 4:11 (NASB) and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision; and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Justus is the only one of these names not mentioned in the salutations of the Epistle to Philemon. There are just three references to individuals named "Justus" in the New Testament, and each one of them relates to a totally different person. In Acts 1:23, "Justus" is mentioned as being the surname of a Joseph, who was one of the two disciples who were put forward to take the place of Judas Iscariot. And, in Acts 18:7, a man by the name of Titius Justus is mentioned in the city of Corinth, who was a "worshipper of God"; a title which seems to be a betrayal of him as being a non-Jew.
In our text we have a man by the name of Jesus - or, more correctly, "Joshua" in the Aramaic, which would have been translated into the Greek as "Jesus" - who was nicknamed "Justus" for some fairly practical reasons, they found it either distasteful or uncomfortable to refer to him by the same name as that of the Savior. All we know about him is that he was both a Jew and a fellow worker of Paul's in the proclamation of the Gospel. Whether he was a local believer who'd been converted or one of his traveling companions who goes without mention is impossible to say.
Referring to Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, Paul says, "...these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision..."
What does Paul mean by the term, "the circumcision?" I'm sure that you're all aware of the significance of circumcision to Old Covenant Israel. We see in Genesis 17, that circumcision was given as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant. In Exodus 12:44, we see that it was carried over into the Mosaic covenant. As it developed down through the history of Israel and even into the time of our Lord, it became very clear that "the circumcision" was a title, a technical designation of the children of Israel. Jews were synonymously called "the circumcision." There are many passages in Acts, and some in Paul's letters, in which instead of saying, "Israel" or "the Jews," they are simply called "the circumcision."
Acts 10:45 (NKJV) And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
The Jewish believers who are called "the circumcision" were astonished, because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles.
Acts 11:2-3 (NKJV) And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!"
The Jews, "the circumcision," were upset, because Peter ate with the uncircumcised, the Gentiles.
Romans 3:30 (NASB) since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.
The circumcision" was simply a way of saying "Israelites" or "Jews." The "uncircumcisied" were the Gentiles.
Galatians 2:8-9 (NASB) (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.
Peter went to the Jews, "the circumcision," and Paul went to the Gentiles, "the uncircumcision."
Ephesians 2:11 (NASB) Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands
The term "the circumcision" was a technical designation for Israel. The significance of this should not be lost as we look at:
Philippians 3:2-3 (NASB) Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
Please notice here that Paul describes the church of Jesus Christ as the "true circumcision." Paul says, "For we are the circumcision." The "we" is referring to Christians, all Christians. Theologically, this is very significant. This is Paul's description of the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the "true circumcision," it is those who "worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." This is the Church, Christians, true believers. Paul is saying that the church is now the "true circumcision," the true Israel, and the true Jew.
Paul explained to the saints at Colosse that in Christ you were circumcised:
Colossians 2:11-12 (NASB) and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
The critical phrase to note is "made without hands," which clearly refers to a spiritual,
supernatural circumcision by God as the result of their faith in Christ.
So, in our text, Paul is saying that it is only these three Jewish men who are kingdom workers with him. The lack of response from his fellow Jews must have grieved Paul's heart. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem rejected his message, plotted to kill him, and denounced him to the Roman authorities. Much of the opposition he received on his missionary journeys was from his fellow countrymen (cf. 2 Cor. 11:26).
Paul goes on to say that these three Jewish believers "have proved to be an encouragement to me." The word "encouragement" here is from the Greek word paregoria, which means: "to speak with, to exhort, to console." It refers to consolation, comfort, solace (to give alleviation of grief or anxiety). Paregoria uses more than just words, in contrast to a similar verb, paramuthia, which means to speak kindly, soothingly and so to comfort or pacify."
There is a medicine called Paregoric which is given to infants as a sedative. It tends to soothe and quiet them. The manufacturers certainly chose the right Greek word to describe the medicinal effects of their product. How precious to think that while Paul was in prison, deprived of much of his liberty to preach, his fellow-workers, by their activities in preaching the gospel, were a soothing, quieting influence to him. In that sense, they were a comfort to him. The noun form means: "comfort, solace, relief, alleviation, consolation." The word is found in a pagan letter of consolation on the occasion of a death.
Believers, are you an encouragement to other believers? Are you a soothing, quieting influence to other believers? How many of you would like other believers to be an encouragement to you?
Matthew 7:12 (NASB) "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
If you want to be encouraged, be an encourager!
Colossians 4:12 (NASB) Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
Epaphras - does anybody know who he was? You should. We met him earlier in this letter. Epaphras was the founder of the Colossian church, and he most likely was its current pastor. Paul says, "who is one of your number" - he was from Colosse.
Colossians 1:7-8 (NASB) just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
This faithful servant of the Lord brought the gospel to the City of Colosse. Literally, the Greek text has, "just as you learned it from Epaphras." "Just as" is a conjunction that, in this context, lays stress on the source where they learned "the grace of God in truth." This not only highlights the ministry of Epaphras, but also puts Paul's approval on it.
Paul describes him in Colossians 4:12 as "a bondslave of Jesus Christ." "Bondslave" is the word doulos and means: "not merely a servant, but a slave." A bondslave was one owned by another, and so completely that he was dependant upon his master for everything in life--for his daily supply of needs, where he lived and how, for his vocation or area of service, and for the supplies needed to do his work. It shows his submission and who controlled his life. His life was not his own, he had been bought with a price. He was the Lord's possession!
Paul also says he is "a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf." "Faithful" is the Greek word pistos. The basic idea of Scripture is that the faithful person is a person who is also full of faith. That which makes a person faithful is his or her trust and faith in the Lord and His sovereignty, love, provision, and support. A man or woman of faith is faithful, because he or she is resting in God's sovereignty and knows their work is never fruitless (1 Cor. 15:58).
It is interesting to remember that in the letter to Philemon, Epaphras is called a "fellow prisoner" of the apostle:
Philemon 1:23 (NASB) Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you,
That may indicate that he, too, was arrested by the Romans when he came to visit Paul and was chained as well as the apostle. This would explain why he was unable to return to Colosse.
Paul's fellow-worker doesn't appear in the list of traveling companions in Acts 20:4 and we may
be right to assume that Epaphras' presence with Paul at this particular time was because he'd
come to visit or speak with him; had stood alongside him to minister, and so got arrested.
Paul says that Epaphras was "...always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God."
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.
It wasn't "out of sight, out of mind" for Epaphras but, even in prison, he continued to bring the spiritual welfare of the Colossians to remembrance before God the Father.
"Laboring earnestly" is from the Greek word agonizomai. It is the verbal form of the noun agony, which Luke employed to describe Christ's praying in Gethsemane (Lu22:44). The term clearly portrays the difficulty of effective intercessory prayer.
There are several things suggested by the word. First, Epaphras is the nearest example of the Pauline exhortation in verse two , "devote yourselves to prayer." Second, Epaphras is a man after Paul's own make-up, for it is the apostle who uses the same word and noun to describe his own ministry for the Gentiles and for the Colossians (1:29 "striving"; 2:1 "conflict.") Here is genuine discipleship. Third, Epaphras and Paul, too, are simply following in the footsteps of the Lord:
Luke 22:44 (NASB) And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
This word agonizomai is used in 1Corinthians 9:25 to speak of the grueling competition endured by athletes in the games. In John 18:36 it is translated: "fight." Paul used this word in Romans 15 requesting that the Roman believers agonizomai with him in prayer:
Romans 15:30 (NASB) Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,
The words "strive together" here are from the Greek word sunagonizomai. The "soon' prefex means: "with or accompany."
Paul often solicited prayers from believers, because he knew how dependant he was. The Apostle of predestination, of divine election, of sovereign grace, of divine calling, and of foreordination is also the Apostle of fervent prayer. In his mind, prayer was the means ordained of God for the accomplishment of divine purposes.
We fail to realize that God has determined to suspend His blessing upon the prayers of His people. This is not Arminian theology. God, in His sovereignty and good pleasure, has ordained that His purposes be brought to pass in concert with the prayers of His people. James said, "You do not have because - God has not ordained it." Is that what James said? No, what he said was, "You do not have, because you do not ask."
Prayer is absolutely essential in the work of God. Any theology that diminishes the importance of prayer is not biblical theology.
If you look through the Scripture, you see that the prayers you find were predominantly for the advancement of the kingdom of God. What is it that we spend most of our time praying for? It seems that we mostly pray for our circumstance to be changed without ever realizing that there's a purpose for our circumstances. Those circumstances are part of God's providence to mature us. What we really need to be praying for is spiritual growth and strength while going through circumstances.
In 2 Corinthians Paul prayed for what appears to have been a physical problem. But verse 7 tells us that he had this physical problem to keep him from a spiritual problem - pride.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NASB) And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-- to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
As we look through the Scriptures, we also see that God promises over and over to answer our prayers. Hezekiah was a man of prayer, and we see prayer's effectiveness in his life. Hezekiah was the king of Judah (South) just before Israel (North) was taken into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.).
2 Chronicles 30:18-20 (NASB) For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon 19 everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary." 20 So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
Hezekiah prayed for the people, and the Lord heard his prayers and healed the people. Please notice what the Scripture says, "The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people." Why did the Lord heal the people? Because it was His sovereign will to do so? That is not what this verse says. It says He healed the people, because Hezekiah prayed.
Today is a special day for me. Sixteen years ago today God answered a very specific prayer request of my daughters and me. Today is my daughter Lindsey's birthday, and she is an answer to prayer. Katie, Julie, and I prayed for years that God would change Cathy's heart, and that she would want another child. God did change her heart. She got pregnant, and 9 months later we received Lindsey. Those prayers from 17 years ago are still today bringing us great joy. God answers prayer. We have not, because we ask not.
In 1540, Martin Luther's great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed, he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply, "I command thee in the name of God to live. I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will and my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God." These words seem shocking to us, but do you want to know what is even more shocking? One week later, Myconius recovered and died two months after the death of Luther.
Calvin Coolidge said, "People criticize me for harping on the obvious. Yet, if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves." For the Christian who wants to grow, the most basic of all activities is prayer. Although most Christians would agree with this statement, as the frustrated Coolidge pointed out, most of us don't do the things we ought to do.
The content of Epaphras' prayers for the Colossians is that they, "...may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God." The word "perfect" is identical to the word used by Paul in Colossians 1:28, where he reveals his own desire: "That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." "Perfect" is a term of maturity. The word "perfect" means: "someone who has reached the end God intends for them."
His prayer was specifically for their spiritual development. To "stand perfect"literally implies a firm standing in spiritual maturity. Think of how these believers were being pummeled by the false teachers in Colosse. While they struggled, Epaphras labored behind the scenes, beseeching the throne of God for them that they might "stand firm" and be unmoved by the threats and intimidations thrown their way. He wanted to see them growing into spiritual maturity, so his prayer is that they might hold their ground spiritually; and in doing so, grow into stable, mature believers.
Epaphras had brought Paul a disappointing report of the Judaizing and Gnostic teachers at Colosse. No doubt, he desired to return home with the Colossian letter, but he could not do so. He remained in prison. His prayers for the Christians in his home community were that they would stand perfect, strong, and mature in Christ.
Paul continues and explains that Epaphras prayed that they might be "fully assured in all the will of God." "Fully assured" is from the Greek word pleroo, which means: "controlled." This points directly to the heart of the problem they faced. They lacked the assurance of Christ's sufficiency. They did not fully understand God's design for them through Christ. So he prays that they might come to the richly satisfying understanding of the truth in Christ. He does not want them to be blown about by the deceitful winds of false teaching, but to be controlled by the truth. They were to be directed by the truth in Christ and satisfied in Christ alone. So for this he prays. We might add that he was praying for a full application of what Paul had written to them.
I think we can safely assume that Paul and Epaphras probably had a few prayer meetings together to intercede for the needs in this area of Christian work. We can also assume that the reason for such earnestness in prayer was a genuine love for these people. These were not numbers to Epaphras, but fellow members of the body of Christ. Their joy was his joy. Their burdens were his burdens. Their trials were his trials.
Colossians 4:13 (NASB) For I bear him witness that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Having observed Epaphras firsthand, Paul could bear witness to his deep concern for the Colossians and those at nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis. His fervent, agonizing prayers, and his single-minded passion for his people's maturity must have greatly encouraged Paul and his other co-workers.
It is impressive that Epaphras prayed for believers in three different cities. We are fortunate today if church members pray for their own leaders and church, let alone believers in other places!
If "church" is simply a place to us and not "people," then I can assure you that we have no sense of heart burden to pray. If "church" is something you do on Sunday in order to salve your conscience, then I can assure you, as well, that we have no sense of prayer burden. But if we recognize that we are vitally connected to one another in Christ; that we are corporately indwelled by the Holy Spirit; that we are identified as part of the same family in Christ; that we will spend eternity with each other, then it ought to do something to the way we pray for one another. If you have a low view of the church and its importance in the economy of God, then you will not give much thought to praying earnestly for the body. Epaphras saw his laboring in prayer to be essential for the spiritual well being of these churches. Do you recognize that your faithful praying is essential for this body?
If you are not sure what to pray for others in this body, then why not pray this same prayer? We can take an example from Epaphras who prayed for spiritual maturity. Do you pray regularly for your fellow believers in this body? Do you labor in prayer so that this body might stand firmly in spiritual maturity and fully assured in all the will of God? "You have not, because you ask not."
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