Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 4:15-18
Read vv. 7–18
This morning I’m going to preach sermon #29 in our study of Colossians, and “if the creek don’t rise,” this will be the last sermon in the series. I just have to say that I have been so blessed by this study. I had read Colossians many times, and I had even sat through a preaching series in Colossians, but the Scriptures are so rich that there is always more to discover as the Spirit illuminates our hearts.
In particular, I’ve been so blessed to see more of the beauty of Christ and to ponder the fact that I am complete in him, and I’ve also been amazed by wisdom of this letter. It’s remarkable how many practical issues of Christian living Paul addresses in such a short letter. And so praise the Lord of the gift of God’s inspired Word, and praise the Lord for the Christ we can know through the Word.
Today, we are going to conclude our study by considering 4:15–18. Last Sunday we looked at the first part of the conclusion in vv. 7–14. In these verses 8 of Paul’s coworkers send their love to the Colossians. And then Paul closes in vv. 15–18 by turning it around and challenging the Colossians to express their love by encouraging and serving others. They must reflect the love they have received.
In the process, God provides an important model of true Christian fellowship. It’s a model that we need because we often equate fellowship with lots of talking, and we never experience deep fellowship where we really hold each other up.
But Paul closes Colossians by calling us to enjoy a far deeper kind of fellowship that is built on God’s Word, partnership in prayer, and expressing love to fellow believers. Therefore, my title today is “Real Fellowship.” I’d like to offer 4 challenges from this text regarding our fellowship. First, if we are going to enjoy real fellowship we must…
I. Express love (v. 15).
Explanation: I mentioned last week that the Colossian and Laodicean churches were close sisters. The two cities were only 12 miles apart, and Epaphras probably started both churches. Therefore, after sending a whole series of greetings to the Colossians, Paul now challenges them to show love to this sister church by sending a greeting.
And Paul extends this command to “Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” If you are reading a more modern version, it probably reads, “Nympha and the church that is in her house.” This is because the textual evidence is very much divided over whether Paul is speaking of a woman or a man, and the challenge is compounded by the fact that the feminine and masculine forms of the name were identical in the script that Paul used.
Therefore, we don’t really know if Nympha/Nymphas was a man or a woman, but regardless, Paul commands the Colossians to send greetings to this individual and the church that met in his or her house.
Most likely this house church was one of several in Laodicea. This is because churches didn’t begin to own buildings until the Christianity became legal in the 3rd Until then, they met in the homes of the wealthier members of the church. And only so many people could fit into these homes. Archaeological evidence indicates that even the larger homes of the time could only hold 30-50 people, so the churches met in lots of smaller meetings. And for whatever reason, Paul singles out this particular church, and he tells the Colossians to make sure they send a greeting to them.
Application: So what’s the point of this verse for us, because we know that all Scripture is inspired and profitable? I believe that this verse sets a pattern for us of how Christians and churches must intentionally express love and encouragement to each other.
Let’s put ourselves in the Colossians’ shoes. 10 miles is a lot further when you don’t have cars, so many of the Colossians had probably not met their brothers in Laodicea. But they were still brothers who were in the same struggle, trying to grow in godliness and reach their community. And Paul wanted the Colossians to let the Laodiceans know that they weren’t alone. We love you, we stand by you, and if we can encourage you in any way, please let us know.
It’s another reminder, as we saw over and over last week, that Christians need each other. So understand that surrounded you are by lots of people who are in the same battle as you. They’re fighting against sin, and some are losing more than they are winning. Others are facing a difficult trial that Satan is trying to use to plant doubts about the goodness of God. Someone else is discouraged because he tried to share the gospel this week with a family member and got the cold shoulder.
They need you, and obviously, it’s great if you are able to offer wise and significant counsel, but simple expressions of love and support go a long ways too. In v. 10 Aristarchus just sends greetings, and v. 15 simply commands them to send greetings. In other words, there’s a lot of significance in just saying, “I love you, I’m with you, and I’m praying for you, so hang in there.” And so be mindful of the people around you, and find ways to express love and camaraderie.
I’ll add just for free that as a pastor, this verse has me wondering how we can better apply this verse as a church with other churches. We need to find ways to stand beside each other and encourage each other. And real fellowship requires that we express love. Second, it requires that we…
II. Fellowship around the Word (v. 16).
Explanation: This verse gives another fascinating little window into the life of the early church. In particular we see that the public reading of the Scriptures was a very important part of their services. This is ultimately because the Bible is God’s inspired Word, but there were also practical reasons why public reading was so important.
In particular, without a printing press, copies of the Bible were very rare and expensive, so most people didn’t have the Bible at home. And even if they did, most of them wouldn’t have been able to read it. It’s estimated that 80-90% of the population was illiterate. Therefore, you can imagine that when Colossians arrived and Tychicus stood to read it, that everyone crammed in and listened eagerly. Public reading was very important.
And then Paul adds that after they had heard Colossians, they were to exchange letters with the church at Laodicea, so that both churches could hear both letters. There’s been a lot of speculation about the identity of the Laodicean letter. It’s possible that it’s Ephesians, because Ephesians was probably intended to be a circular letter for various churches in Asia, but it’s impossible to know for certain. Most likely, Paul’s letter to Laodicea has been lost because God in his providence determined that it didn’t need to be preserved. Maybe it was very similar to Colossians, and there was no need to preserve both letters.
Significance for Inspiration: We don’t know for certain, but regardless v. 16 gives us an important window into how Paul viewed the broader authority and relevance of his letter This is important because we can sometimes assume that Paul thought he was just sending a letter to help a specific church and that he didn’t think of himself as writing Scripture and then after the apostles were dead, the church decided on it’s own to make his letters part of the Bible. But this verse stands against that theory.
First we see in v. 16 that Paul’s letters were to be read as authoritative in the public meeting of the church. Paul is also very direct about the importance of publicly reading his letters in 1 Thessalonians 5:27, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.” And these statements were especially significant considering Paul’s background in the Jewish synagogue. This is because the public reading of the Law was the primary feature of synagogue services. Therefore, Paul is essentially saying that his letters share the same authority as the OT Law.
Not only that, v. 16 also indicates Paul’s assumption that his letters were relevant and authoritative beyond the specific occasion for which he wrote them. In other words, the fact that Paul wanted the churches to share letters indicates that he knew he wasn’t just writing Colossians for the Colossian church. He knew that both Colossians would have continued relevance and authority for other churches. Paul knew he was writing Scripture. Therefore, we should also have absolute confidence that God has preserved his Word for us in Colossians and in the other 26 NT books.
But beyond that, v. 16 is also significant for how we worship and fellowship. In particular v. 16 teaches us that Scripture must be at the center of our worship and fellowship. We see in this verse that the Colossian church united around the Word, and the Colossian and Laodicean churches united with each other around the Word. Therefore, the Word must be at the center of our fellowship.
This is why the reading and preaching of the Bible is the main feature of our worship, but I’d challenge you to also make it at the center of our conversations and life together. We need to talk about the Bible with each other. That’s not to say that there’s something wrong with small talk. In fact, it often is an important means to building trust and showing love.
But if all we ever talk about is sports and politics, and we struggle to make conversation about the Bible, what does it say about our love for the Word? If we love the Word and we are meditating on the Word, talking about the Word should be very natural.
And not only that, Word-centered conversation is going to build our brothers in a way that small talk never will. So be intentional about pursuing Word-centered fellowship, because if we are going to enjoy real fellowship that builds us into Christlikeness, it has to be centered on the Word. The 3rd challenge of this text is that real fellowship requires that we…
III. Encourage fellow-ministers (v. 17).
Explanation: It’s noteworthy that Archippus is the only individual that is singled out to receive a greeting, but we don’t know much about him. The only other place he is mentioned is in Philemon 1–2, “…To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.”
The fact that Paul calls him a “fellow soldier” indicates that he was significantly invested in the ministry. And it’s probably fair to assume that he was a member of Philemon’s household, since he is included in this greeting. If Apphia is Philemon’s wife, Archippus is probably their son.
But we can’t know for certain, and we also don’t know the nature of his ministry, since Paul uses a very general term for ministry. It could be that he was a pastor. Maybe he was filling in for Epaphras while he was in Rome, but we can’t know for certain.
All we know for certain is that he didn’t ultimately achieve this ministry himself; rather, he “received (it) in the Lord” or “from the Lord.” Paul gives a subtle a reminder that Christ is the one who ultimately gives us our ministry gifts and opportunities and ultimately our strength to serve comes from him, and we will be held accountable to him for our service. And Paul wanted Archippus to remember this fact.
Application: And it’s good for us to remember our need to be faithful to the task.. This evening, we are going to talk about spiritual gifts, and I was struck this week by 1 Corinthians 12:7, which states, “The manifestation (i.e., gifts) of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” That means that if you are a Christian, God has graciously given you a role to fulfill in the local church. You have a stewardship from the Lord. And God would say to you, just as he did to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
But we also need to step back and ask what significance is there for us in the fact that Paul commands the church to give this sort of exhortation to Archippus? The answer is that we need to intentionally encourage each other in the ministry. Since Paul calls Archippus a fellow soldier in Philemon, we know that this man was working hard to serve the Lord. He was invested. And Paul wanted the church to recognize his struggle and to come alongside him and hold him up through intentional words of encouragement and if necessary exhortation.
It’s so important that we do this too. Do you intentionally take time to thank our children’s workers for the ministry they are having with your kids? It means so much if you occasionally say, “God has gifted you with an important ministry gift. Thank you for using it to minister to my child.” Say the same to our musicians, the people who clean, cook meals, and teach. And if you see someone waffling a bit, don’t be afraid to lovingly say, “Hey man, God has given you a gift. Stop floundering and use it.” Sometimes we need someone to come alongside and say, “Take heed to the ministry…”
Real fellowship requires that we encourage fellow ministers as they strive to serve the Lord. 4th, real fellowship requires that we…
IV. Pray for each other (v. 18).
You can see that there are 3 pretty distinct features to this verse. First, there’s…
Paul’s Salutation: It was pretty normal in the ancient world for authors to dictate their letters to a professional scribe who could write out the letter skillfully and use as little precious papyrus as possible. That’s probably what happened here. When the church received this letter, it was cleanly written out by a professional scribe all the way through v. 17.
But then v. 18 was written out in Paul’s own hand, and included Paul’s distinct signature of his name, “Paul.” This was a very normal way to authenticate the letter and to say very clearly that this letter was in fact from the Apostle. Then Paul adds two final comments. First, he asks them to “Remember my chains,” which we ought to understand as…
Paul’s Prayer Request for Himself: I misspoke a couple of weeks ago when I said that v. 3 is the only place in the letter where Paul mentions his imprisonment, because he mentions it here also. And in v. 18, Paul seems to be asking them to remember his imprisonment specifically in prayer.
However, from everything we know of Paul and in light of his prayer request in vv. 3–4, we can assume he’s not ultimately asking them to pray for his release, though that would obviously be nice. Rather, his primary concern is that he would stay encouraged and stay faithful and that his imprisonment would not stand in the way of the mission God had given him.
Paul coveted the prayers of the Colossians, because he understood the power of prayer. It’s a reminder to us that one of the most significant ways that we fellowship together as a church is by upholding each other in prayer. Again, biblical fellowship is not primarily about talking a lot; it’s about partnering together in the Christian life. And one of the most important ways we do that is by sharing our prayer requests with others and by remember other people’s prayer requests and then taking them to the Lord. And so Paul shared his prayer request with the Colossians, and then he closes with his brief but very significant prayer for them.
Paul’s Prayer for the Colossians: Paul opened the letter by praying that the Colossians would enjoy grace and peace, and now he closes this letter, as he does all of his letters with a prayer that they would enjoy the grace of the Lord.
The fact that Paul closes all of his letters with a prayer for grace reminds us that the Christian life is fundamentally about grace. Sure, there are consequences both good and bad for our actions, but the foundation for everything in the Christian life is grace. Salvation is all of grace, not merit, and we desperately need grace to live the Christian life and to minister for the Lord. And so Paul prays that God would shower the Colossians with the grace of Christ.
Do you ever wonder how you can bless your family, your church, and fellow ministers? I can’t think of anything more significant you can do than to pray down the grace of Christ on them. Certainly we ought to pray for every health need or financial need that weigh on our brothers. But our greatest need is not a full bank account or good health. Our greatest need is grace. If we want to enjoy deep fellowship, then let’s pray for the grace of Christ to be active in each other’s lives day by day.
Folks, let’s not be content as a church with surface fellowship where we just chit chat about nothing. Let’s pursue real fellowship rooted in gospel love, God’s Word, and significant prayers.
V. Conclusion to Colossians
That’s the end of Colossians; therefore, to wrap up our study, I want to remind us again of the major themes God teaches in this text. I introduced 3 themes the first Sunday of our study, and after going through the book, I’d like to add a fourth. First…
Christ is the Lord of creation, knowledge, salvation, and Christian living. We saw very clearly in chapter 1, that Jesus is preeminent over all things, but most importantly he is the Lord of salvation. He will reconcile all things to the Father, but above all else, he has reconciled us. And now those of us who are in Christ are “complete in Him” (2:10). He is our forgiveness, our righteousness, our hope for eternity, and our strength to live for him.
And if there is anyone here today who does not know Christ as all these things, I pray that you will come to him today for salvation. You can never make yourself complete. You will never be good enough to earn eternal life. You will never be disciplined enough to make yourself holy. And no matter how hard you may work, life will always be filled with pain and disappointment. But you can be complete in Christ because 2:14 says that Jesus bore the punishment for sin, and you can have your sin debt wiped clean, if you will believe on Christ and be saved. If you have never come to the end of yourself and acknowledged that you need salvation, I pray that you will bow before Christ today, acknowledge your sin, and receive his salvation. The second major theme of this book is that because Christ is Lord…
We must pursue gospel-centered holiness, not a false replica. The key verse of Colossians is 2:6, which says, “As you therefore…” The Christian life is about walking in the new life that I have from Christ and pursuing genuine holiness rooted in the power of the gospel. May God protect us from the legalistic replicas so common in our day, and may God help us to become truly holy through Christ. Third…
We must unite around the gospel. The fellowship we enjoy in the church through Christ is unlike anything else man has achieved. Praise the Lord that we can love each other and support each other no matter our differences because Christ has made us new and united us in the church. Let’s live that kind of unity. Fourth…
We must reach our world with the gospel. Christ is the Lord, and all people need to hear that he is the Lord and that there is salvation in him. At every turn in this letter we see Paul’s passion for the spread of the gospel, and his desire to see the Colossians partner with him in this mission. And so let’s remember again who Jesus is, let’s rejoice in who he is, and let’s tell the world who Jesus is.