Friday, September 05, 2008

Colossians 4:10-18

10My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. 17Tell Archippus: "See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord." 18I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Let’s point out a few more things from this passage: Aristarchus, a Jew from Thessalonica, accompanied Paul often and was in prison with Paul for the sake of Christ. Paul says to welcome him if he comes to visit. It is sadly the case that the best teachers are coldly received. It’s the charismatic false teachers that receive the warm-welcomes and standing ovations. By the mention of Mark, we note that Paul’s relationship with him had been healed. Indeed, they were reunited in Christian love, “the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), not merely neutral toward one another. V10 and v14 mention Mark and Luke, respectively. Consider that these theologians – combined writers of over half of the New Testament (16 of 27 books) – sat in prison together in Rome. Paul, who had been carried up into the heaven of heavens, Mark, who had been with our Lord on the night in which He was betrayed, and Luke, who had investigated these things for himself, must have edified one another tremendously. Can you imagine their conversation as they considered the life of Jesus and the Scriptures?

In v12, we read that Epaphras, the pastor of the Colossian Church, worked hard and always wrestled in prayer for his believers, for Laodicea, and for Hierapolis, that they would stand firm in God’s will, mature and fully assured. That prayer alone sums Paul’s letter – that the believers would remain in Christ as supreme, would find their growth in Him as sufficient, and would be assured in their knowledge of their completion in Christ as fullness. What an encouragement that must have been for the believers, knowing their beloved pastor had not forgotten them! In v13, we see Laodicea and Hierapolis mentioned in the Colossian letter. These cities were near the Lycus River, in a region called the Lycos Valley, part of a larger area called Phrygia, about 100 miles southeast of (inland from) Ephesus. See the map:

Demas, mentioned in v14 with Luke, later deserted Paul during his second imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:10). He is also mentioned in Philemon 24 with Luke. Perhaps he was one of those Christians who rode the coattails of the more mature brother, Luke in this case, depending on him too much for his own spiritual maturity and growth in grace; when the challenge came, perhaps he found just how empty his commitment to Christ was and fell away. The very mention of his name reminds us that, no matter how far along the Christian journey, we must always make our calling and election sure. Finally, Nympha is mentioned in v15, as the hostess of a church. House churches were the norm until the third century. And this reality teaches us that our houses are to be house-churches as well. Our family exists to glorify God as an entity.

Some say that the letter to Laodicea that Paul mentions here in v16 refers to Ephesians, which Tychicus also delivered perhaps on the same trip. But the fact that Ephesians is more reflective and detailed makes it likely that Colossians and the missing Laodicean letter came first and that Ephesians was written a little bit later and delivered by Tychicus on the next go round through the region. Regardless of the history, Paul’s instructions to have this letter read to other congregations shows that his teachings are not for the specific audience alone, but that they are for all the believers worldwide – even us some 1950 years later.

In v17, Archippus is thought to have been the pastor or spiritual leader while Epaphras was away. Or perhaps he was the pastor of the house church that met in Philemon’s house, one of two or more house churches in Colosse at the time. Instructing him to complete his work received in the Lord may have been an exhortation to shepherd the sheep, to keep the Colossian believers safe from the lurking false teachers.

Finally, Paul’s letters often contain his own writing at the end, and this is generally for one of three reasons. Either he desires to strengthen the audience by issuing a genuine personal greeting, or he briefly summarizes the contents of the letter, or he writes to guarantee the authenticity of the letter. Here it is likely that both the first and last reasons are the case. Paul wants the Colossians to be strengthened for the battle ahead of them, so he says, “Remember my chains.” Why would Paul tell these people to remember his chains? He desired no sympathy. Rather Paul wanted these people to remember why he was in prison: for preaching the message that we are complete in Christ and in Him only. And furthermore, he wanted them to remember for whom he was imprisoned. He was not the prisoner of Caesar, or of Rome. He was the prisoner of Christ. He wanted them to remember the message and the Master who had enchained him, because he wanted them to be loyal to his Master and to cling to the truth of His message, Christ’s message delivered through Paul. Remain in Christ; He is supreme. Grow in Christ; He is sufficient. But be ready and willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Amen.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Colossians 4:7-15

7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. 10My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Paul wraps up with mention of a complex, yet fluid network of friends and leaders in the early Christian church, some of whom appear in Paul’s letter to Philemon 23-24. It is thought that Tychicus, also mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:12 and Titus 3:12, delivered the letter to Philemon along with Onesimus the runaway slave, whom Paul calls “a faithful and dear brother, one of you,” and the letter to the Colossians. He also delivered the letter to the Ephesians, though there is some question surrounding it. We’ll mention more of this on the comments on v16.

Notice first in these verses what we learn about the character of Paul, because his attributes are transferable characteristics that God expects of all fulfilled Christians. We see in this passage that Paul has a great capacity for people, a great capacity for shared ministry, a great capacity for supporting his co-workers, and a great capacity for single-mindedness. Each of those things ought to characterize our lives living in the grace of Christ.

First, Paul not only remembers the names of these folks, he is genuinely concerned about their well-being. They had to be wondering what was going on with him, but he doesn’t write about that. He sends more personal contact than a letter. In v9, we read that Tychicus and Onesimus will inform them about the proceedings in Rome and encourage them in the application of Paul’s teachings in their lives.

Second, Paul willingly shares his ministry, acknowledging those who work with him. Notice “fellow servant” in v7, “fellow prisoner” in v10, and “fellow workers” in v11. God has gifted Paul in an extraordinary way, but his ministry is a corporate ministry. He doesn’t work alone. He is willing to share his work for the gospel, for “the kingdom of God” (v11); other people play integral roles in Paul’s work, and he’s happy to acknowledge them. Do you think the false teachers would do the same?

Third, Paul is sincere in his compliments to his partners. First in v7 he speaks of Tychicus as his dear brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant. Notice his words in v11 about Mark and Jesus Justus, the only Jewish Christians who were serving with Paul. Paul upset the Jews everywhere he went, yet these two men have provided a comfort to him. We have no idea! What a blessing it must have been for Paul to have a couple of fellow Jews not only receiving the message of the gospel with gladness but also joining in with Paul and encouraging him in his work. He was thankful to God for them. (Calvin wonders where Peter was during this time. He was supposedly in Rome, yet not considered by Paul to be a fellow worker.) In v12, Paul calls Epaphras a servant of Christ and a prayer warrior. That simple title makes me think of the Lord’s words to His faithful conquerors in the end, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23). In v14, Paul speaks of his dear friend and physician, Luke. Do we build up the saints by those types of words of encouragement?

Fourth, Paul never lets up on a theme. His single-mindedness has revolved around commitment, loyalty, and faithfulness to Christ; it’s the theme of the entire letter, and it continues to be mentioned in his epilogue. The things Paul says he appreciates about these various people are their commitment, loyalty, and faithfulness. When we exhibit those qualities toward Christ, we will inherently exhibit those qualities toward one another. There’s no better example of that than Paul. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we'll conclude our study of Colossians.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Colossians 4:5-6

5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

V5 begins, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders.” Calvin ponders the motive for being a witness for Christ in the world and offers three reasons: first, we ought not put a stumbling block in front of a blind man (Leviticus 19:14); second, we ought not provide additional opportunity for the detracting of the honor of the gospel, for the name of Christ to be exposed to derision, or for disturbances and persecutions be stirred up as unbelievers’ hostility increases; third, we must be on guard lest we be defiled by their pollutions and revert to profanity. Vincent Cheung says, “To walk in wisdom toward outsiders would mean that ‘every opportunity is to be snapped up.’ Wisdom also knows the way to take advantage of an opportunity,” which is the exhortation at the end of v5. Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Calvin says, “Amidst so great a corruption as prevails in the world we must seize opportunities of doing good, and we must struggle against impediments.” Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

V6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Calvin comments simply that Paul “reckons as tasteless everything that does not edify.” Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I have quoted Vincent Cheung frequently in this study, and sometimes his statements seem harsh. When commenting on this verse, he says, “The grace and salt in Colossians 4:6 refer to an excellence in the quality and content of our speech, so that to equate them with the usage of words and tones that are kind and gentle (often as defined by the culture and not by Scripture in the usual interpretation) is in fact to neutralize it. This excellence of speech could certainly include kind words and tones, but harsh and insulting rebukes are not excluded, as biblical principles and examples conclusively demonstrate.” Cheung goes on to provide a number of New Testament examples (Matthew 23:27-33; Acts 13:10; 23:3; Titus 1:12-13) where Paul and Peter, and even Jesus Himself, speak quite harshly against their opponents; Cheung notes that their language is nevertheless always graceful. I close this section with Cheung’s parting comments:

“If for some reason, I am still forbidden to preach the Bible using it’s own language and expressions, then what am I allowed to do? …Am I at least allowed to show people what it says? But the Bible says that unbelievers are stupid, evil, wicked, depraved, immoral, impure, greedy, idolatrous, superstitious, enslaved, dead, deceitful, malicious, slanderous, unjust, perverted, filthy, whores, dogs, pigs, donkeys, snakes, brutes…these are all biblical descriptions of unbelievers that come to mind at the moment, and the list goes on and on and on. It also uses some strong words against professing believers who are in error. These are the things that they will read if I were to show them the Bible – the same things that they would hear if I were to speak them. So if I am not allowed to say what the Bible says, am I allowed to show people the Bible? Or am I supposed to hide the book? Am I expected to burn it too? Perhaps this is the true desire of my critics, and only the destruction of the Bible would make them happy, even though some of them claim to be Christians. However, ‘If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10). Therefore, I will continue to both speak and show what the Bible says.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Colossians 4:2-4

2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Paul, as Calvin declares, “returns to general exhortations, in which we must not expect an exact order, for in that case he would have begun with prayer, but Paul had not an eye to that.” He had mentioned attitude and behavior, as characteristics of spiritual maturity and/or rules for holy living, and now he mentions prayer and witness. As to prayer, he mentions three things: first, devotion, second, watchfulness, and third, thankfulness. So we should pray regularly, continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and be firmly devoted to praying in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20). “Devote” appears to indicate the amount, but here it is better translated as “persist,” or as in the ESV, “continue steadfastly.” And of course, persistence does increase the amount. As we engage in this kind of prayer, we ought to be watchful, not listlessly or in coldness; we must not become fearful or discouraged, and give up (Luke 18:1). Prayer ought to be a struggle, a wrestling with God. And finally, prayer ought to be done in thanksgiving. For amazingly, He hears our prayers and is pleased when we draw near to Him in prayer. Calvin says, “God must be solicited for present necessity in such a way that, in the mean time, we do not forget favors already received. Farther, we ought not to be so importunate as to murmur, and feel offended if God does not immediately gratify our wishes, but must receive contentedly whatever He gives” (Philippians 4:6).

For what are you most thankful? When you pray, what comes first? Is it an earthly request? Or is it something heavenly? The ACTS formula of prayer reveals a good pattern. First comes adoration. We show our desires and attitude are in the heavenly realm, adoring God and His works. Second comes confession, rightly humbling ourselves and revealing that our desires and attitudes and behavior are often not in the right place. Third comes thanksgiving. We ought to be thankful first and foremost for heavenly blessings, things of eternal and lasting nature, rather than merely temporal and earthly things. Finally comes supplication. What should we ask for from God? Heavenly things of course! Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things (earthly necessities) will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

All of this is from v2, but look now to the powerful v3-4. Paul asks that the Colossians not forget his party. He does not ask for safety or health, but for them to pray that God would open the door for the gospel, and that Paul and those with him may proclaim it clearly (Ephesians 6:19-20). Vincent Cheung says, “We are to be eager to perform the work that God has given us, and this should translate into a desire for opportunities to preach, and then to do it with clarity and boldness.” Calvin says, “He is contented with this one thing, that he may, unconquered and undaunted, persevere in a confession of the gospel; nay more, he fearlessly makes his own life a secondary matter, as compared with the glory of Christ and the spread of the gospel. …It is in no degree easier for us to speak confidently respecting the gospel, than to break through a door that is barred and bolted. For this is truly a divine work, as Christ Himself said, ‘It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you’ (Matthew 10:20).” Is there any doubt that Paul knew missions would be successful only as God’s people prayed?