Stories of Faithfulness
Topic: Expository Passage: Genesis 4:7-14
Read vv. 7–18
Colossians 4:7-18 (NKJV)
7 Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. 8 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, 9 with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.
12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. 15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.
Closing Exhortations and Blessing
16 Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
18 This salutation by my own hand—Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.
We all know that when you read the Bible certain sections grab your attention, while you really struggle to stay attentive in other parts. For example, when you read Exodus it’s not hard to pay attention to the first few chapters as they tell the incredible story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. But when Exodus shifts to laws and detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, your mind naturally starts to wander
I could easily see the same thing happening when you read through Colossians. Every text we have studied has been rich in theology and practical significance. It really is like drinking from a firehouse. Last Sunday we finished the body of the letter when we looked at 4:5–6, and obviously vv. 7–18 have a different feel as Paul concludes the letter with a list of greetings and a couple of final instructions.
And we might be tempted to let our attention fade when we hit v. 7, because Paul’s talking about a bunch of unfamiliar people. We may even think that the Holy Spirit is done speaking to us and that these final words are just for the Colossians.
But I hope we will resist the urge to move on, because this conclusion gives a valuable window into the body life of the early church, and it highlights the character of some godly men who aren’t nearly as famous as Paul or Pete , but who played a vital role in the establishment of the church. And it reminds us that for every Peter or Paul, the church needs a whole bunch of people like Tychicus and Epaphras. And so I hope you will pay close attention to the testimony of these men and that we’ll strive to be like them. I’d like to offer 3 challenges from vv. 7–14. First, based on vv. 7–9, we need to…
I. Serve faithfully (vv. 7–9).
These verses introduce the two people who carried Colossians from Rome to Colossae. Paul describes the character of these men as well as the job that Paul had sent them to do. Notice…
The Character of Tychicus: Tychicus is only mentioned a few times in the NT, but it seems that he was a trusted and significant friend to Paul. Acts 20:4 tells us that he was from Asia, or modern Turkey.
It seems that Paul was used to sending Tychicus out on trips to assist the various churches. Titus 3:12 says that Paul was considering sending Tychicus to Crete to encourage Titus and the churches there. Second Timothy 4:12 says that Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus. And Ephesians 6:21 states that he carried Ephesians to the church at Ephesus. And so assuming that Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians at the same time during his first Roman imprisonment, he probably stopped first at Ephesus to drop off Ephesians and then travelled over to Colossae.
And in our day, we may think that all of these trips sound like a lot of fun, but we have to remember that Tychicus wasn’t flying first class while he sipped Starbucks. No, travel was slow, dangerous, and exhausting. But the health of the churches mattered, so wherever Paul sent Tychicus, he went, even if it meant taking several exhausting months to hand deliver a letter.
And Paul affirms that this is the kind of guy he was with 3 descriptions of Tychicus. He calls him a “beloved brother.” Paul loved this man and considered him a close friend. Second, Tychicus was a “faithful minster.” The fact is, I’ve never heard a guy talk about his dream wife and say, “I just really want a faithful woman.”
Faithful is not all that exciting, but when life gets tough and you’re enduring like Paul often did it means the world. We don’t know if Tychicus had a brilliant mind, or if he was a compelling preacher. I tend to believe he wasn’t, but he was dependable, and that meant everything to Paul.
And it’s a reminder to us that few qualities are more significant than faithfulness. Thinking of the church, it’s great when God brings talented people to serve, but talent without faithfulness is pretty useless. Few gifts are more valuable to the ministry of the church than faithful workers.
And Paul also describes Tychicus as a “fellow servant/slave in the Lord.” This word pictures Paul and Tychicus as tight-knit slaves toiling together for the spread of the gospel, and the building of the church. There’s no glory in that picture, just a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
But because of how they had labored together, Paul valued Tychicus very highly. He knew he could depend on him, and he knew he needed this man. Just because he was the great Apostle Paul didn’t mean he was invincible. He leaned heavily on humble, faithful servants like Tychicus to do the ministry. And we need to learn to do the same. We all need faithful, godly friends.
And then we need to strive to be like Tychicus, because the church needs a lot of Tychicuses who just faithfully stand by their brothers and serve faithfully. And then notice…
The Transformation of Onesimus: The only other place where Onesimus is mentioned is in Philemon, which Tychicus and Onesimus also brought with them to Colossae. And we learn in Philemon that God had done a marvelous work in Onesimus’s life.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, a prominent member of the Colossian church. But he was not a Christian, and at some point in the past he broke the law and abandoned Philemon. He was a fugitive running from the law, when by the providence of God he bumped into Paul, who was a good friend of his master and brother in Christ. And Paul wasn’t nearly as concerned about Onesimus’s law breaking as he was about his soul. He shared the gospel with Onesimus, and he got saved.
And he didn’t just pray a prayer to get some “fire insurance”; rather, v. 9 tells us that God transformed him into a godly man. Paul describes him as “a faithful and beloved brother.” That’s high praise considering that it’s a lot of the same wording that Paul just used for Tychicus. The only differences don’t seem to be due to lesser character but to the fact that Onesimus was not a member of Paul’s ministry team because he needed to return to Colossae and make things right with Philemon.
And the story of Onesimus should serve as a powerful encouragement to be busy sharing the gospel and making disciples because we never know what God might do. God can take a runaway slave who possibly had rejected Philemon’s gospel appeals and place him at the feet of Paul and transform him. Don’t look at your coworker, the bratty kid down the street, or your AWANA table merely for who they are; rather, see them for what God can make them into. Then share the gospel, live the gospel, and make a disciple.
And the story of Onesimus should also provide great hope to anyone here who has not received Christ. Maybe you have heard me make numerous gospel appeals, but you always dismiss them because you believe that you are too far gone for God to save and transform you. You’ve done too many bad things, and you could never be useful.
But the Bible is filled with stories like this one. No sinner is beyond the reach of God’s grace, and no heart is so dark that God can’t transform it. Therefore, I pray that you will cast yourself on the mercy of Christ and believe that because Jesus died and rose again he can save you. Please come to him today and be saved. Praise the Lord for the transformation of Onesimus. And notice as well in vv. 7–9 regarding both Tychicus and Onesimus…
Their Service to the Church: First, vv. 7, 9 state that these men will tell the church what was happening in Paul’s ministry. And this is probably also the point in v. 8. Verse 8 in the NKJV says, “He may know your circumstances,” but it includes a footnote acknowledging there’s a textual issue here and that an alternate reading is “you many know our circumstances.”
And so Paul emphasizes that a major purpose of their trip was to tell the church about Paul’s ministry. This may seem incidental to us, but these reports were important to Paul. He wanted the churches know what God was doing in other parts of the world. This is because Paul didn’t see the churches as islands to themselves; no, he saw all of us as partners together.
It’s a reminder that we should care about what God is doing in other places. We should pray for God’s blessing, and we should partner as the Lord gives opportunity. Folks, we aren’t involved in missions just as a badge of honor. We are involved because it is a vital partnership for them and us, because we’re doomed if we can’t see past our own noses.
But of course Paul wasn’t just concerned about how this partnership benefitted him; he very much wanted to minister to them. Therefore v. 8 adds that Tychicus was there to “comfort your hearts.” Paul cared deeply for the health of these Christians even though he had never met them.
Therefore, Tychicus was there to serve, and Paul is urging them to receive his ministry. Very likely, he read Colossians to the church the first time, and most scholars believe that his reading would include explanatory comments and even answers to questions. We know that this letter is jam-packed, and so Tychicus probably spent a lot of time answering questions, explaining what Paul meant, and helping them apply it. He gave the first commentary and the first sermons from this letter.
And I’m sure God blessed his months of travel with a valuable ministry to this church. And so let’s strive to serve faithfully like Tychicus and Onesimus. The second challenge I’d like to give is…
II. Stand together (vv. 10–11).
Verses 10–11 send greetings from 3 Jewish coworkers of Paul. The first is…
Aristarchus: We don’t know a lot about this man because he’s only mentioned 5 times in the NT. Acts 27:2 tells us that he was from Thessalonica, and it’s fair to assume that he got saved when Paul visited Thessalonica during his 2nd missionary journey. Acts 17 tells us that the Jewish community reacted violently and drove Paul out of the city, so I imagine that since Aristarchus was a Jew, becoming a Christian cost him cost him most of his family and friends.
But he followed Christ anyway, and we first hear about him on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey while he is in Ephesus (Acts 19:29). He then travelled with Paul to Jerusalem, where Paul was arrested. But Aristarchus hung with him even as he was transported to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:2) and endured a terrible shipwreck.
And now for the sake of the gospel he was a “fellow prisoner” with Paul in Roman chains. I’m sure that they leaned heavily on each other during this trial. But like Paul, Aristarchus didn’t moan and groan about his plight. He cared for the Colossians and sent greetings. The second Jewish coworker Paul mentions is…
Mark the Cousin of Barnabas: The fact that Mark (i.e., John Mark) is mentioned here is a remarkable story of grace. Acts 13 tells us that when Paul and Barnabas went out on the first Gentile missionary trip, they brought Mark with them. But Mark flaked out and went home when things got tough.
And later when Paul and Barnabas were preparing to leave for a 2nd missionary trip, they had such a sharp disagreement over whether or not to take Mark that they split up. Think about that. Paul doubted Mark so strongly that he was willing to fracture his partnership with Barnabas not to take him. How would you like to be known as that guy?
But Barnabas took Mark under his wing, and later Peter did also. And God did a remarkable work in his life. Years later Mark and Paul met up in Rome, and Mark became a trusted ministry partner as v. 10 indicates. In fact the relationship grew to the point that as Paul faced death during his 2nd Roman imprisonment, he says in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” And God later used him under the tutelage of Peter to write the Gospel of Mark.
What a story of God’s gracious restoration, and what a reminder that God’s not done with us when we fail. He can pick up the pieces and do marvelous things. And what a reminder not to give up on people easily. Like Barnabas and Peter, we need to be ready to help fix broken people. And like Paul, we need to be ready to forgive and restore.
And in our text, we see Mark out doing ministry. He sent greetings to the Colossians, and he was potentially going to visit them. It’s very possible that the Colossians may have been hesitant to receive him because they had heard how he abandoned Paul, so Paul says, “Be sure to welcome him.” Again we see a picture of partnership. Mark was coming to serve, and they must also receive and serve him. And then the 3rd Jew Paul mentions is…
Jesus Who Is Called Justus: Jesus was a relatively common Jewish name, and it was common for Jews to take a Roman name just as Saul took the name Paul for when he served among Gentiles. We don’t know anything else about this man, because this is the only time he is mentioned. But again, his partnership meant a lot to Paul, and this man apparently cared for the Colossians even though he had probably never met them. And so Paul mentions his 3 Jewish coworkers, and notice…
Their Ministry to the Nations and to Paul: The fact that these 3 men, along with Paul, were Jews paints a beautiful picture of how the Great Commission is supposed to work. All 4 of these men had been raised to believe that Gentiles are inferior and dirty. But Christ saved them and transformed them. And now they had given their lives and their comfort to take the gospel to the very people they had been raised to hate.
And Paul wanted this mostly Gentile congregation to know that these Jewish men stood with them, and they stood with Paul. And we see again how much Paul leaned on these men. He says, “They have proved to be a comfort to me.”
It’s another reminder that if Paul needed his brothers, then so do we. The Christian life is too hard to do it on your own, so don’t try. And recognize how much others need you. We need to stand together. And then the 3rd challenge of this text is…
III. Labor for each other (vv. 12–14).
Finally, Paul sends greetings from 3 Gentile coworkers. The first one he mentions is Epaphras, whom Paul describes as “one of you.” 1:7 says that the Colossians learned the gospel from Epaphras. You may recall that most likely Epaphras bumped into Paul during his 3-year ministry in Ephesus. He got saved, Paul discipled him, and then he went home and started the Colossian church, and probably, based on v. 13, the churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Laodicea was only 12 miles west of Colossae, and Hierapolis was 15 miles northwest. God used this man to start 3 churches.
Now he had gone to Paul in Rome, maybe to get further training or maybe to get help with answering the Colossian heresy. But even though he was far away, the Colossian church was very much on his mind. He sends greetings, and notice how Paul describes his passion and prayers for his children in the faith, the Colossians. Paul describes Epaphras as a “bondservant of Christ.” I found it interesting that the only other people that Paul ever used this title for were himself and Timothy. It’s high praise for Epaphras’s commitment to the gospel.
And then Paul adds that Epaphras, “labored fervently” for them in prayer. The Greek verb is agonidzomai, from which we get our term agonize. It’s an athletic term that pictures a runner striving with all his energy to win the race. It gives quite a picture of how Epaphras prayed for the Colossians. Even though he was far away, they were on his heart, and he labored for them in prayer. And this labor in prayer was rooted in the fact that v. 13 says that he had “a great zeal” for them and for the other 2 churches.
And notice what he prayed (read). Perfect translates a word that commonly means mature or complete. Epaphras longed to see the Colossians grow into mature Christians who walked with the Lord. And Greek verb that is translated as complete comes from the root pleroma that was so significant in chapter 2, where it is translated as fullness. Paul used it there to drive home the fact that we are complete in Christ. He is everything that we need.
Therefore Epaphras prayed earnestly that the Colossians would fully comprehend all that they enjoy in Christ and that they would live in light of it. He prayed that they would appreciate their life in the gospel and power in the gospel and that they would mature as a result. As such Epaphras’s prayer mimics Paul’s prayer in 1:9–10a. If anything has been clear in Colossians it’s that Jesus has provided all that we need to walk in him. We just need to appreciate it and apply it. Epaphras desperately longed for them to do just that. What a model of a pastoral heart. I can’t think of a better commendation for a pastor than what Paul gives Epaphras in vv. 12–13.
Then v. 14 adds 2 other Gentile workers. First, it mentions Luke. Interestingly, despite the fact that Luke wrote a quarter of the NT in the Gospel of Luke and Acts, his name only occurs 3 times in the NT. It’s only here that we learn he was a Gentile and a doctor. But he was very dear to Paul because we know from Acts he stood by Paul through the hardest of times, and 2 Timothy 4 says that he was with Paul to the very end. Luke had a profound impact behind the scenes, even though he is hardly mentioned.
The final coworker Paul mentions is Demas. We don’t know much about him, because he is only mentioned here, in Philemon, and in 2 Timothy. Of course, no one is naming their kid Demas because of what Paul says about him in 2 Timothy. As Paul faced certain death a few years after writing Colossians, Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:9, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”
I’m sure it was devastating to Paul when Demas abandoned him. It’s a reminder that while we need each other, sometimes we can crush each other’s hearts. People are going to let us down, but it can’t stop us from loving people and trusting people, because this text is clear that we need each other. The Christian life and gospel ministry demands that we partner together. And so this text introduces us to 8 men, with differing stories and differing gifts who all shared a deep love for the Lord and for the ministry. I’d like to conclude with 4 brief applications of this section.
IV. What’s the Point?
Stay involved with God’s work in other places. There’s no doubt that our primary ministry is with each other and to our community. But Paul worked hard to network many churches together to support his mission and to support each other. It’s an important reminder that we ought to care about what God is doing in other places. We should pray for our missionaries, other churches, and other ministries. And we should serve them as the Lord gives opportunity. Second…
Love God’s people and lean on God’s people. It’s pretty clear here that Paul was a team guy. He had a team of men who served alongside him, and his team was always trying to bless others. If Paul valued teamwork, then we should too. Don’t try to be a lone ranger. Spend time with God’s people for your good and theirs.
Serve faithfully wherever God puts you. Within Paul’s ministry team, Paul was obviously the man. He was an apostle, and he was extremely gifted. And God used Paul in profound ways, but I wonder what Paul would have been without his team? I guy like Tychicus may not have had the same training or gifts as Paul, but he faithfully served with what God gave him. And God used him profoundly. And God can use you too. So embrace the gifts that you have and determine that you will be a faithful steward of them.
Don’t give up on Onesimus or Mark, and don’t assume you’ll never be Demas. Demas is a sobering reminder that beginning well doesn’t guarantee that you will finish well. Stay sober, lean on the grace of God, and lean on Gods’ people. And if you know a Mark, keep working on him, because no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. And if you are Onesimus and you are a fugitive who is far away from God, know that God’s grace is greater than your sin, and come to him today to be saved.