Colossians: A Conclusion (Col. 4:7-18)

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Introduction

This morning we find ourselves coming to the end of Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae. We will finish this morning in Colossians 4:7–18, the final verses in this book. Having worked through this letter verse by verse we have been taught and instructed by the Apostle Paul himself. And because the letter to the Colossians is Holy Scripture, we have been taught and instructed, not only by Paul, but also by the Holy Spirit.

One of the primary reasons I wanted to begin my preaching ministry at Monte Sano Baptist Church with the book of Colossians is that this book is Christ-Centered throughout. Simply put, this letter tells us a whole lot about Jesus Christ, who he is, and what he has done for us. Paul summarizes in this book some of the most important portions of Christian theology and particularly those portions of theology related directly to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Over the course of the past few months we have learned that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that he is the head of the church. We have learned that through him all things were created and that he reigns supreme over all creation. And most importantly we have learned that he is our Savior as a result of his death on the cross. And in addition to being our savior, we have learned that he is also our example as we seek to mature in our faith.

In my introductory message in this sermon series I explained that Paul’s purpose for writing this letter to the young Colossian Church is that they continue on in the faith they have professed in Jesus Christ. And I also said that our purpose for studying this letter would be the same. My intent has been to remind us of the basics of our faith and to encourage us to continue to grow in the things that we have known from the beginning of our Christian life.

And I hope that we have done that together. I hope that we have been captivated by the gospel message again. I hope that we have been amazed by Jesus’ role in our creation and our redemption. I hope we have, over the past few months, trusted more and more in the Christ-Centered Gospel and less and less in the lure and lie of human wisdom. And I hope that we have learned more about what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

But this morning we have reached the end of the letter and so I must draw everything to a close today. So let’s go ahead and read Colossians 4:7–18. If you haven’t already, please turn with me in your Bible and follow along as I read these final verses to us.

7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. 10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” 18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:7–18 ESV)

It may appear at first glance that because the greetings at the end of this letter are very personal that they do not have much to say to us today. I must admit that I struggled for a little while at the beginning of my sermon prep to figure out exactly what I was going to say. But as I continued to read these 12 verses over and over again a few things became very apparent to me. There are certainly more points I could draw out of this text, but I am going to limit it to a few.

Real People (vv. 7–9)

The first thing that I want to point out about this section of greetings is that it reminds us that Paul was writing to real people. People who he cared about and people who cared about him. Sometimes it is easy for us to forget this when we are reading one of the letters in the New Testament. We forget that this is not just a theological discourse, but a real letter, written by a real man, to real people with real problems.

First there is Tychicus. Tychicus was Paul’s letter carrier on a few occasions. He most likely carried the letters to the Colossians, to the Ephesians, and to a man named Philemon who we will talk about more in a few minutes. Tychicus carried the letter to the Colossians but he also carried news of Paul. News that would encourage the hearts of the Colossians. Notice in verse 8, Paul tells us the reason Tychicus was sent to the Colossians. Paul writes: “I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts.” The Colossians are concerned about Paul. He is in prison and they are worried about his welfare. As Christians we should always be concerned for one another. We should be concerned about the welfare of each other and when someone is having a tough time we should concern ourselves with it. That was true for Christians in Paul’s day and it is true for us as Christians today.

And we see here that Paul knew the Colossians were concerned about him. Remember Paul was in prison and being visited by a Colossian named Epaphras who had probably reported their concern to Paul. So Paul wanted to ease their concerns with his letter and by sending Tychicus to give them a fuller report.

And Tychicus was to travel with a partner. Another Colossian named Onesimus. And we actually know a great deal about Onesimus from Paul’s letter to a Christian man from Colossae named Philemon. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave in Colossae. He had apparently escaped, possibly with some money, and somehow providentially he encountered the Apostle Paul and became a Christian. And not only a Christian, but someone who Paul calls “our faithful and beloved brother” in verse 9. So Paul is sending Onesimus back to Colossae and back to Philemon, and he is carrying with him Paul’s personal letter to Philemon with instructions that Onesimus be accepted back into Philemon’s household and into the Christian community there. Onesimus was coming back, not only as a Colossian slave, but now as a Christian. A slave of Jesus Christ. And his master Philemon, another slave of Jesus Christ, was to treat Onesimus as his brother. This was a radical statement in Paul’s day.

So Tychicus and Onesimus are Paul’s Messengers. And Paul sends these men who are beloved and faithful servants of Jesus Christ to encourage the hearts of the Colossians who were concerned about Paul. And again, I say all this so that when we read this letter and others like it, we will not read it without an awareness of the humanness of it. These were real people. It is important for us to remember that whenever we read the Bible.

And sometimes these real people would encounter real problems and real struggles for their commitment to the gospel. We are reminded of some of those in verses 10–14.

Real Struggles (vv. 10–14)

In verse 10 there is a man named Aristarchus who is described as a fellow prisoner of Paul. And we know from elsewhere that Aristarchus was one of Paul’s traveling companions on his missionary journeys and it seems that he has been arrested and imprisoned with Paul. Paul calls him “my fellow prisoner.” And while we know a great deal about Paul, we know very little about this man named Aristarchus who was suffering in the same way as Paul in prison. We all remember that Paul was imprisoned when writing Colossians, but we just skim over this man who was imprisoned with him for his faith.

It would be like if I got hired on with Billy Graham to do some small task like prepare his cup of water before he preaches. And one night while he was preaching in some part of the world that was not friendly toward the gospel we all got arrested and put in prison. Everyone in the world would know that Billy Graham had been imprisoned for sharing his faith, but no one would even know who I was. I might be lucky if I was listed in the news stories in a list of ten other no-name people who were Billy Graham’s fellow prisoners.

My point is that struggling and suffering for our faith is not only for those well-known Christians, we all must be prepared for it and willing to do it. If you look down to verse 12 it says that Epaphras was struggling on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. Again Epaphras is a man we know very little about, and yet, he had work to do. He had a role to play in God’s plan of redemption. First he took the gospel to Colossae. Then he brought a report of the situation to Paul. And now, while away, he is spending his time struggling in prayer. And Paul describes this struggling as work in verse 13. Paul says that Epaphras “has worked hard for you and for those in [the neighboring cities] of Laodicea and Hieropolis.”

Do you sometimes find yourself not knowing what you can do for this church? Not feeling like you have a role to play? Let me plead with you to struggle on behalf of this church and its people in prayer. We are in a war against a supernatural enemy who would love to wreck this place and make a mockery of Jesus Christ. Work hard in prayer. Struggle in it. Pray like Epaphras prayed in verse 12. Pray that we may all stand mature and fully assured in the will of God.

Without prayer, some of us are at risk of ending up like a man Paul lists here named Demas. Notice in verse 14. Paul sends greetings to the Colossians from Luke, the writer of Acts and the gospel bearing his name, and from a man named Demas. At the time of the writing of this letter Demas was still a faithful follower of Christ. But some years later, we learn that Demas departed from Paul because of his love for the world. Brothers and sisters, do not be complacent in the battle for your faith. Struggle in prayer for yourself and on behalf of everyone in this church.

And if you know of someone who has not remained faithful to their calling, pray for them as well. If you have not remained faithful to your calling, you are not alone. Back up in verse 10 there is mention of a man named Mark. And because he is described here as the cousin of Barnabas, we know this is the same Mark who deserted Paul earlier and lived under the shadow of that incident for a while. His reputation was tarnished. But we see here and elsewhere in Paul’s letters that Mark had proved himself faithful once again and was now considered by Paul to be a faithful gospel worker. The Colossians are reminded of the instructions that they have already received and are told to welcome Mark if he comes. Christians must be people of second chances. Often we are not that. Living life as a faithful Christian is hard and sometimes people let us down. Mark is an example of that. His struggles on the mission field with Paul were too great for him to bear and he left. But he was given a second chance. And he proved himself to be useful to Paul in their common struggle for the gospel. Let us be careful about writing people off who have had a lapse of faithfulness.

So again, these are real people and they have real struggles. And we see in verses 15–17 that this letter is written to a real church.

A Real Church (vv. 15–17)

Churches are always made up of real people with real struggles. As Christians we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Saints because we have been buried with Christ and raised with Christ and he has placed on us a righteousness that is not our own. He has made us holy. He has made us saints. But we remain sinners—for now. One day there will be no more sin, but for now, the church is made up of saints who remain sinners.

And there were local congregations throughout the region. In verse 15 Paul tells the Colossians to pass on greetings to the church at Laodicea, a city that was about 10 miles from Colossae. And we see that this church congregation was meeting in the house of a lady named Nympha.

But notice verse 16. The Bible doesn’t give us an exact list of what should and should not be included within our church services, but verse 16 tells us something important. Paul says to the Colossians: “When this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”

One of the primary parts of a service should be the presence of Scripture reading. Paul’s intention here was for his letter to the Colossians to be read in the church and (most likely) copied and sent to the church in Laodicea for them to read. And another letter from the Laodiceans should be passed on in a similar manner to Colossae. And this is important. Because it shows that though Paul wrote this letter to an individual group of people in the town of Colossae, its content remains relevant for other groups of believers in other places.

And it is easy to see how there would be parts of a letter passed to another city that would not make sense without some explanation of the situation there. The people in Laodicea might not be up to speed on the particular heresy in Colossae and someone might have to explain it to them. And that is basically what preaching is. For the Colossians who received this letter, very little explanation was necessary. It was written in common everyday, understandable language and meant to be understood by all of them. They knew the situation and what Paul was saying to them was clear. But for those in other places, and particularly us in another place in a far different time, we require some context.

And so in my view, preaching should not be seen as something wholly different from the public reading Scripture. It is reading Scripture and filling in the cultural and contextual blanks using careful explanation, modern illustration, and relevant application. But the act of preaching is tied closely to the act of reading Scripture. That is why I am convinced that sermons should be based in Scripture and expound the Scripture. Over the past four months we have read Colossians together carefully. And we have done our best to understand it as clearly as the Colossians did when they read it. By seeking to understand their particular culture and unique situation for which Paul was writing we have hopefully come close to that. That has been my goal.

And something similar may have been the goal of the man listed in verse 17. Paul speaks directly to a man named Archippus saying: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” There is some debate about what the exact nature of his ministry was, but many commentators and Bible scholars believe that the ministry Archippus was to fulfill was the preaching of the gospel within the Colossian church. Archippus had the responsibility for overseeing Paul’s desire for the multiplication of mature disciples within the Colossian church.

Conclusion (v. 18)

And after speaking these words intended for Archippus, Paul reaches over and takes the pen away from the one he is dictating to, and he adjust the chains on his hands so that he can write, and he concludes with two very short sentences. “Remember my chains”—a personal plea for prayer. And “Grace be with you”—a prayer for the church in Colossae and the people there he loved though he had never met them.

Paul often wrote the last few sentences of his letters himself as a way of showing affection to the recipients and as a way of making clear the letter was authentic. Much like someone today who dictates a letter to a secretary will sign that letter with his or her own signature. That is essentially what Paul was doing here.

Paul, the Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, penned this letter. And God the Holy Spirit was at the same time its author. And so it speaks authoritatively to us today in the same way as it spoke authoritatively to the Colossians and Laodiceans and whoever else it was read to.

And this is true for all of Scripture. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And over the past four months, through these words, we have heard the voice of God proclaiming to us that Jesus is:

  • The image of the invisible God,
  • The firstborn of all creation,
  • The creator of heaven and earth and all things within them,
  • The sustainer of all things,
  • The redeemer of all things,
  • The beginning of all things,
  • The head of the church,
  • The dwelling place for the fullness of God,
  • The mystery of God,
  • The treasure chest of all wisdom and knowledge,
  • The disarmer of demons waging war against us,
  • The source of our life,
  • And the one who brought peace by the blood of his cross.

We have heard these things from the very mouth of God because we have heard them in Scripture. Scripture is the Word of God. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit who always shines the spotlight of the gospel on Jesus Christ. From Genesis to Revelation Jesus Christ is the hero. If we have learned nothing else from Colossians, I hope we have learned that. Jesus is the main character of the Bible. He is the Lord of Creation and the Lord of Redemption.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4 ESV)