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The Context of Christian Community

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The Context of Christian Community

Colossians 4:7-18                   February 18, 2001


          It is only a week since Founders Week at MBI and I trust that many of those messages remain richly with you.

          Indeed, that theme of community must remain richly with us if we are to be the church God wants us to be.

          We should not so quickly forget the Word of God.

          It often seems we get inundated with the blessing of so many excellent messages that at times we can seem to just space them off.

          Many times it is a challenge just to remember what last week's message was about in church.

          Do you remember?

          We went through the last passage in Acts where Paul finally reached Rome, and although imprisoned, he continued to freely preach and teach the gospel.

          And Acts ended abruptly there as if to say to us that we must finish what the apostles started.

          As usual, Paul had gone to the Jews first, and since they largely rejected the gospel like they did in almost every other city Paul went to, he then concentrated on the Gentiles.

          We talked about the tragedy of unbelief and the priority of evangelism because of it.

          I told you about the rich experiences I had at Founders Week regarding the beautiful sense of community I discovered from those I talked to, like Robin (who was blind).

          And we made the transition that the Jews who rejected the community of faith in Christ were to be greatly pitied for their tragic refusal to see and hear the truth that they had waited so long for.

          They could have had what I, and you, experienced at Founders Week and what we all experience here in our own church each week.

Indeed, they are still rejecting the gospel since there is a bill that seems very close to passing the Israeli Parliament that has received preliminary approval and would outlaw all evangelistic communications in Israel (including fax or e-mail).

The bill would virtually outlaw freedom of religion within the borders of Israel - - even threatening imprisonment for Christian missionary activity!

This action would make them no different and no better than their Moslem Arab neighbors.

This information came yesterday by e-mail from Mitch Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries.

This would be a tragic move by a people that desperately need our friendship in a world at war with them in light of present sentiments and violence.

This action would slam the door in America's face – and God's – since he has risen us up to be their ally.


It is bad enough when we are rejected by friends or family.

          EXAMPLES: Stepfather, Aunt, Daughter (you perhaps have your own examples)

          But it is even worse when we reject the legitimate opportunity to be a part of a family – and God's own family at that!

          And so I want to continue the theme of community for one more week.


I want us to take a look at the last passage in Colossians, Col. 4:7-18, found on page 1835 of your pew Bible.

          This logically follows from where we left off in Acts since Paul wrote this letter to the Colossian church from his imprisonment in Rome.

          And this last passage in his letter is a rich reminder of the blessed context of community that we possess in Christ.

          You see, at the end of his letter, Paul gives the credits.

          You know what I mean by the credits, don't you?

          That is the part of the movie at the end where everyone starts to walk out to go home.

          It is the part that we want to dismiss as being uninteresting.

          But the credits are the story behind the story.

          It is the movie about the making of the movie.

          I remember when I saw the Stephen Spielberg movie "The Green Mile" that I was greatly touched by the story I just saw unfold before me.

          But I was even more touched by the performance of that huge black inmate that played the central character.

          I think everyone else had the same idea, because hardly anyone got up right away to leave the movie theater.

          They stayed to watch the credits.

          They wondered just who that man really was.

          It’s the same thing in your life.

          No one is a self-made person.

          (1 Corinthians 4:7)  For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

          If anyone ever wanted to give me credit, I'd have to turn much of it over to my wife.

          I would also have to include my parents and some other family members in that list of credits.

          There are also a number of friends, mostly Christian and even a few non-Christian who deserve honorable mention.

          Teachers and college professors have made a profound impact.

          And the church itself could not be left out.

          At the top of that list would be all that Jesus Christ has done for me because he has orchestrated it all.

          I am not a self-made man.

          Neither is Paul, and he realizes the same for everyone in the Christian community.

          So he ends his letter to the Colossians with a list of credits.

          It shows us the importance of context in Christian community.

          I have learned in many of my graduate classes at MBI that the context of any particular Bible passage must be taken into serious consideration if we are to even begin to understand the meaning and application of the passage.

          The Word of God is written in context and must be understood in context.

          And this is the way that we must understand Paul as he brings Colossians to a close with the credits.

          It is an "added value" feature at the end.

          It is brief, and there are many unanswered questions regarding the gaps in the information we would like to have.

          But our understanding of Paul and what he has written is aided greatly by staying for the credits.

          The letter to the Colossians all along has been lending itself in progression to this idea of Christian community. 

Col. 2:20-3:4        Exhortation to stay connected to each other through Christ in worship.

Col. 3:5-11           Exhortation to stay connected to each other through Christ in purity.

Col. 3:12-17         Exhortation to stay connected to each other through Christ in fellowship.

Col. 3:18-4:1        Application regarding fellowship in the truth of relationships.

Col. 4:2-6             Application regarding fellowship in the spirit of prayer.

Col. 4:7-18           The importance of context in Christian community.

          It all has to do with being connected to each other in Christ, and this is the point about what we learn regarding Paul's credits:

                   --- that his ministry was a team effort

                   --- that he inspired love, loyalty, and commitment on the part of others

                   --- that early Christians relied heavily on a network of friends

          So how do we learn this from Paul's list of credits in Col. 4:7-18?

          How can we outline this passage? [1. p. 271]

          A.      Paul introduces the bearers of the letter, Tychicus and Onesimus.

(vv. 7-9)

          B.      Paul sends greetings to the Colossian church from his associates.

(vv. 10-14)

C.      Paul asks the Colossians to send his regards to the Laodicean church and to exchange letters with them. (vv. 15-17)

D.      Paul concludes by writing the salutation with his own hand and asking them to remember his chains. (v. 18)

A.      Paul introduces the bearers of the letter, Tychicus and Onesimus.

(vv. 7-9)


          We first notice Tychicus in Acts 20:4 where he is listed as one of the seven men who had accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey.

The text says that Tychicus was from the province of Asia.

He is listed by Paul in Eph. 6:21-22 as a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord whom he is sending to them to tell them how he is doing and to encourage them.

In 2 Tim. 4:12, Paul says that he had sent him to Ephesus (but this is later).

The language about Tychicus in Ephesians 6:21 is very similar to that in Colossians 4:7, namely that he is a dear brother, a faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord.  

          This may indicate to us that these two letters were written at nearly the same time.

Something we notice in Ephesians however is that Tychicus is the only person listed in those "credits" which may indicate that Ephesians is circular letter, whereas this letter to the Colossians was more specific to the particular need of their church and so it included more "credits".

Some commentators believe that Tychicus has come from Paul's Roman imprisonment bearing not only this letter to the Colossians, but also the circular letter to the Ephesians.

This may indeed be the letter "from Laodicea" mentioned in 4:16 where Tychicus may have been instructed to stop first, since Laodicea is in between Ephesus and Colosse.

Of course, it could be that there is a "lost letter" to the Laodiceans.

And Tychicus also comes with Onesimus who bears another letter to set things right with his slave master and now Christian brother, Philemon, who lives in Colosse.

All three of these letters were written about the same time in A.D. 60 from Rome during Paul's first Roman imprisonment.

          We certainly get a glimpse of the context of Christian community here with the ministerial/servanthood role of Tychicus delivering a letter(s) of instruction and encouragement from the imprisoned apostle to struggling churches since Paul cannot come himself.

          We need to be these kinds of community servants to each other.

We see Paul's intense concern even from afar.

We see the protective oversight of Onesimus by Tychicus since Onesimus is not yet of ministerial maturity.

And yet Paul sincerely recommends him to the Colossian church as "one of you" (v. 9) since he is "one of us".

Paul doesn't divulge much information about himself and his circumstances, only to say that Tychicus will tell them.

Paul is not so caught up with his own circumstances, being more concerned about the personal ministry he is able to send to the Colossians through Tychicus.

Part of the idea of community is to be more concerned for others than yourself.

B.      Paul sends greetings to the Colossian church from his associates.

(vv. 10-14)


          Aristarchus appears first in Acts 19:29 as one of Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia (Thessalonica) who was seized during the Ephesian riot.

He also is listed in Acts 20:4 as one of the seven men who had accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey and then on to Jerusalem and thereafter to Rome (Acts 27:2).

He may have even been one of the other prisoners at that time (Acts 27:1) and may still be (Col. 4:10), although it is possible this is an honorary title.

          Mark is listed here who is the same one that deserted the team of Paul and Barnabas during the first missionary journey and became the cause of the split between Paul and Barnabas at the beginning of the second missionary journey.

Of course, Barnabas was quite well known as a leader from the Jerusalem church.

After the split with Paul, he headed up his own missionary team.

It is interesting that now, twelve years later, Paul recommends him to the Colossians as one who is approved, even having given other instructions previously about him.

He wants to make sure that his previous concerns have been resolved.

Indeed, he writes five years later in 2Tim. 4:11 that Mark "is very helpful to me in my ministry".

In this context of Christian community, in Paul's "credits", restoration is a key theme for both Onesimus and Mark.

Mark is indeed a coworker and may himself come to the Colossians sometime.

At least Paul wants to make sure he is welcomed.

          Jesus (or Justus) is listed along with Aristarchus and Mark as the only Jews among his coworkers.

There is some question about the language of this sentence as to who is included.

Are these the only fellow workers with Paul at the time of writing the letter who just happen to be Jewish, or are these the only Jewish fellow workers he ever had?

It seems from verse 12 and 14 that Epaphras, Demas and Luke are also fellow workers.

And what about Timothy who co-authored the letter?

Philemon 1:24 lists Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke as fellow workers, whereas it lists Epaphras as a fellow prisoner.

It would appear then that Jesus Justus, Aristarchus and Mark are not the only fellow workers, nor are they the only fellow Jews, but perhaps means that they were the only ones of the "circumcision party" who have turned to support Paul.

If so, Paul is reminding the Jewish opposition at Colosse that there are at least some who were willing to set aside their Jewish prejudice in ministry to the Gentiles.

If this interpretation is correct, then the NIV might give us the wrong impression when it says, "These are the only Jews among my fellow workers---."

The original Greek text reads "the ones being of the circumcision" rather than what the NIV translates simply as "Jews".

The emphasis is on certain types of Jews.

If we are to have a true sense of community, we must also set aside our own prejudices in order to serve.

          Epaphras is described as being "one of them" (Col. 4:12) and may have been the one to found the church (Col. 1:7).

Paul calls him a servant (slave of Christ) who is always wrestling (laboring, struggling) in prayer for them as well as those in two other cities.

Paul uses the same word in Col. 1:29 to describe his own labor in prayer for the Colossians.

Indeed, if Epaphras founded Christian communities there, he has a vested interest in their spiritual success.

It would do good for the Colossians to know his continuing deep concern in this bond of prayer.

And if he is a slave of Christ, his life is not his own but theirs through Christ.

His goal is that they might stand complete and fully assured in all the will of God.

          Luke and Demas are mentioned without much comment except for Luke's profession as a doctor.

We find that later in 2Tim. 4:10 that Demas had deserted Paul and gone to Thessalonica "because he loved this world".

Paul doesn't say that Demas deserted Christ, but he at least deserted his needed mission and may have deserted Christ because he "loved the world".

          In all these greetings and comments we again see the great lesson of Christian community context in those who are listed.

We have those who are traveling companions, fellow prisoners, restored from failure and rejection, converted enemies, church planters and prayer warriors, and even future failures.

This is the context of our Christian service in which Christ still reigns supreme and accomplishes his purpose through us together.

No one stands alone. We live together in Christ.

C.      Paul asks the Colossians to send his regards to the Laodicean church and to exchange letters with them. (vv. 15-17)

          In these verses we see the association between Christian communities.

There are brothers in the city of Laodicea and there is a church that meets in Nympha's house.

There is dispute about whether this person is male or female.

There is no way of telling from the unaccented original Greek, although most modern translators interpret this person as female.

The only major translation that interprets it as male is the KJV.

The variant early readings could be assumed to err in the direction of changing this to a male name rather than female so we take it as likely to be female.

If so, she was probably a widow or unmarried.

This adds to our context idea of Christian community since women are certainly included in the kingdom's work and success.      

          Paul gives instructions about an exchange of letters between Colosse and Laodicea.

The letter from Laodicea may be either a letter written to them specifically which is now lost, or it may be the letter to the Ephesians that is intended to circulate.

Even the one to the Colossians, although specifically written for them, was to have instructional value to other churches.

So the context of Christian community extends not just through individuals but through local bodies of Christ to one another.

We can all learn from one another's needs and mistakes as these letters would attest.

          Regarding Archippus, we don't know just what the work is that he is to complete.

But whatever it is, it is the Lord's work.

This comment here to the Colossians reveals an accountability that Paul is assuming will take place.

We don't know whether Paul intends it as a warning or an encouragement, but it would seem best to say that it is a positive reminder.

In the context of Christian community, we all need such things.

D.      Paul concludes by writing the salutation with his own hand and asking them to remember his chains. (v. 18)

          Paul concludes with his own personal handwritten greeting since Timothy probably wrote the rest of it by dictation (Col 1:1).

Indeed, if he is chained he cannot write very well himself.

Now, this too is Christian community context.

When one is bound, another is free – free to help.

And Paul asks the Colossians to remember these chains or bonds.

This request is most likely for their prayer support but may also hint at the fact that their faith also is more than worth the threat of persecution.

Paul is saying, "Remember my example for Christ and for you.

Do not be ashamed to suffer for the truth."

All this too, this giving of ourselves for others, is the context of Christian community in action.

But where would we be without God's grace to accomplish it?


In these credits Paul has given us a glimpse "into the boiler room of the New Testament, those laboring in various capacities in various places."

Paul put a premium on friends working together and praying together, caring about what was going on in their lives, and offering mutual support.

He clearly did not believe that he was self sufficient, but needed the help of all those listed, and he appreciated and affirmed each person's contribution.

And so should we.

God has not just called us to serve him, but he has called us to serve him with others.

Indeed, our service for him is to others – in community.

And, of course, if we can remain dependent in one another upon Christ, false teachers cannot make inroads quite so easily by singling out individual weaknesses.

And this may be the whole point of this letter to the Colossians.

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