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Gospel-Centered Friendships

Christ Is Enough  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What do gospel–centered friendships—friendships that are centered on Christ—look like? And, do our relationships with Christians reflect these characteristics?

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Colossians 4:7–18 NIV
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My 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.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, 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. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After 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. Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

eHeading 1W a

Gospel-Centered Friendships

How many people would you call your friends? Best friends? How would you define a healthy relationship?
What should Gospel-centered friendships look like?
In Paul’s letters, it is very clear that he had a lot of friends. In he mentions thirty–three friends,1 and in this passage we see eight friends who were with him in Rome while he was in prison, and he mentioned and greeted friends at two other churches, Colosse and Laodicea. The one thing that brought all these relationships together was Christ and the gospel they shared in common. They had all been saved by the gospel, and it was this gospel that energized them as they sought to reach the world for Christ.
We all need friendships that enable us to be more effective in our callings and that picks us up when we stumble.
King Solomon says this about friendships:
Ecclesiastes 4:9–11 NIV
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Ecc. 4:
Paul could not have served God alone; he needed others. He had many friendships, and we can learn a great deal about gospel-centered friendships through his conclusion in the letter of Colossians.

Gospel-Centered Friendships Are Like Family Relationships.

Colossians 4:7–9 NIV
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
One of the ways that Paul identifies both Tychicus and Onesimus is by the phrase “dear brother” (vv. 7, 9). Paul saw and related to both of these men as family. Tychicus and Onesimus were sent to share Paul’s circumstances with the Colossians as he was in prison, and they also went to encourage the hearts of the saints (v. 8). Tychicus probably carried the letter of Colossians to the congregation and possibly the book of Philemon as well (cf. 4:9).2This duty was not unfamiliar to him, as he also was the one who Paul sent to the Ephesian church with his epistle.
Ephesians 6:21–22 NIV
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
Tychicus was a trustworthy friend. We all need friends like this whom we can trust fully with any situation.
Onesimus was the runaway slave talked about in the book of Philemon. He had left his owner Philemon at Colosse and ran to Rome. By God’s sovereignty, Onesimus met Paul in Rome and was probably converted there. Paul is sending him back, not just as a slave but more than a slave, as a brother in Christ.
Philippians 1:15–16 ESV
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
Philemon 15–16 NIV
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Here we see that gospel friendships are more than friendships, they are like family relationships. Christ said the same thing about his disciples:
Mark 3:34–35 NIV
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark
Christ saw his relationships with those who were obedient to God as close or closer than regular family ties. In fact, Paul instructed Timothy to treat people in the church as regular family members:
1 Timothy 5:1–2 NIV
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
Those close family ties are considered a reward of following Christ. It is the reward of discipleship.
Mark 10:29–30 NIV
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
Bottom line: those who take up the cost of faithfully building the kingdom will receive intimate relationships as their reward. New family members will open up their homes to them. New mothers will clothe them, feed them, and care for them. It is a tremendous reward for gospel ministry.
When we become serious about Christ and his kingdom, a special relational bond develops between all members. It is truly hundred times better than anything you give up on this earth.
Do we view this group as simply a community of people or as a family centered around Christ? How can you better demonstrate this familial intimacy in your relationships?

Gospel-Centered Friendships Suffer and Bear One Another’s Burdens.

Colossians 4:10 NIV
My 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.)
The next person mentioned is Aristarchus. He seems to be very special to Paul. He simply calls him his fellow prisoner. This does not necessarily mean that Aristarchus was in prison as Paul was. More than likely, Aristarchus had chosen to partner with Paul and care for his needs while he was in prison. He was bearing Paul’s burden and caring for him as if he were in prison as well.
This was not the first time Aristarchus had suffered with or for Paul. He traveled with Paul then taken by a Mob in Ephesus (). He was also shipwrecked with Paul while traveling to Rome (). He was the kind of friend who would suffer with you.

Trials reveals our true friends.

It is often said, “You can tell who your real friends are when you go through trials.” In the beginning of his ministry, he experienced success in terms of churches being planted and people were being saved. He had many friends… until he began to suffer for the gospel. He started to see who his true friends were.
Philippians 1:14–15 NIV
And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.
While Paul was imprisoned in Rome, some were preaching the gospel out of envy and rivalry. Preachers mocked him while he was in prison. While he was in his second imprisonment, many of the Christians deserted him and wanted to have nothing to do with him.
2 Timothy 1:15 NIV
You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
That is what Aristachus did. He cared for Paul while he was in prison.

Carry Others’ Burdens

This should be no different for us in this group. We should bear one another’s burdens. We should reach out when someone is sick, when someone is in a financial difficulty, when someone seems to disappear, and when someone falls into sin. We should care for God’s people. Often, we have a tendency to not reach out and to not care for them. Sometimes we don’t reach out because we feel awkward and we don’t know what to say.
True gospel friendships stretch themselves past the initial awkwardness to care for one another, especially in hard times.
Galatians 6:2 NIV
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Christ is calling us to love one another as He loved us, which is sacrifically.
John 13:34 NIV
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
The Church is like the body (). When the Body is sick, the whole body works together to heal itself. That’s what happens when you have a fever. The whole body is recruiting itself to bring healing to one infected part. This is what we should do as well.
Who are we caring for in our family at Gallaudet while they are struggling? Do we know someone here who is struggling and should have our support and encouragement?

Gospel-Centered Friendships Transcend Ethnic, Social, and Gender Barriers.

Colossians 4:9–12 NIV
He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My 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.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, 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.
Colossians 4:9–12 ESV
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. 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), 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. 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.
,
ETHNIC BARRIERS TRANSCENDED
Onesimus, Tychicus, Luke, Demas and Epaphras are Gentiles.
Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus are Jews.
Jews were persecuting Paul for preaching the gospel. The big reason why this happened is because Christianity opened the door for the Gentiles to come to God and put them on equal standing with the Jews.
Ephesians 2:11–13 NIV
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
SOCIAL BARRIERS TRANSCENDED
Onesimus - a runaway slave
Luke - a medical doctor and author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts
Paul - a Jewish rabbi
The gospel has brought the slave, the rabbi, and the doctor together across the social lines.
GENDER BARRIERS TRANSCENDED
Nympha - a woman whose home was used for a house church meeting place… which was very radical. Strict rabbis would not even look at women!
The Gospel removes gender differences that throughout history have often separated people.
Galatians 3:28 NIV
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
There is equality in Christ. Now, this doesn’t change male and female roles in marriage or in the church, for those are ordained by God (, ). But it does teach the equality of sexes, which historically hasn’t readily been accepted.
It is a shame to see that many people who profess Christ still hold on to many of these distinctions!
Classism - exalting the rich and dishonor the poor ()
Favoritism - toward the poor, the rich, the educated, or the non-educated because we are called to reflect God, who shows no partiality.
Racism - Sundays tend to be the most divided day in the week because people gather amidst their own races to worship God. This doesn’t fit with the image shown in Revelation:
Revelation
Revelation 7:9–10 NIV
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
The Gospel exalts unity in diversity. We don’t have to look the same, walk the same, talk the same, or dress the same. The reason why we can be unified is because what we have in common is greater than anything that separates. It is Christ Himself, the hope of glory, within us which unifies our heart with one another.
Does your relationships reflect the unity that has come through the gospel? Is there diversity in your friendships? Or do you show favoritism toward people of diverse socioeconomic classes or races?

Gospel-Centered Friendships Encourage Prayer.

Colossians 4:12–14 NIV
Epaphras, 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. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.
Epaphras is probably the founder of the church in Colosse and one of its elders. He left Colosse to share with Paul the problems happening in the church and to get his counsel. It was in response to Epaphras’ visit that Paul wrote the letter.
Paul describes Epaphras as “always wrestling in prayer” for the Colossians (v. 12). His prayers were constant and fervent for this church he loved. He is praying for the church to stand firm in the will of God so they would not be led astray by the false teachers attacking the church. He is praying for them to be mature and fully assured of their faith.
Even though Epaphras is far away from the church, Paul says he is “working hard” for them (v. 13). This should be a characteristic of every gospel-centered friendship. We should work hard for one another, even when separated, and especially in the area of prayer. No doubt, Paul and Epaphras often prayed together for the church in Colosse, as Paul uses a similar athletic word to describe his service and prayers for the Colossians.
Colossians 2:1 ESV
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,
Greek word agon is where we get the english word, “agonize.”
They should always struggle in prayer for one another. They should also be partnering in prayer over issues or burdens.
Do you commonly pray for your friends? It is one of the best things you can do for them. Are you lifting up their spiritual lives, praying for them to become mature in Christ, and to stand firm in the will of God?
Paul prays for churches’ spiritual life to continue flourishing. He prays for the Ephesians to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know God more (). He prays for them to be strengthened in the inner man and to know how much Christ loves them (). He prays for Philippians that their love would grow in knowledge and discernment so that they may choose what is best ().
Do you pray these type of prayers for your friends? Do you wrestle over them? Do you agonize over them?

Gospel-Centered Friendships Sometimes Discourage Us.

Colossians 4:10 NIV
My 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.)
Col.
Colossians 4:14–16 NIV
Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After 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.
Sometimes gospel-centered friendships discourage us. Becoming a Christian doesn’t free us from being human and from our own struggles and mistakes. We often mess up terribly.
When we open ourselves to others through transparency, when we pour ourselves into others through love, we become vulnerable.
We see pain and discouragement in Paul’s friendships through several examples in this text.
MARK
He had tremendous impact on the early church and wrote the gospel of Mark. But his beginnings were not good. Mark abruptly left Paul and Barnabas during Paul’s first missionary journey (). We don’t know why he left, but we know that what he started, he did not finish. This later led to a split between Paul and Barnabas, as Mark wanted to go on another mission ().
Here, Paul tells the Colossians to “welcome him” (v. 10). In , Paul says that Mark is helpful to him. This story of discouragement has a good ending! This should encourage people who have started out in ministry and blown it. It is never too late to finish well. God uses even the worst failures for the good of those who love Him (). The pain Paul experienced with Mark was certainly worth it, as it was part of the process of enriching and training Mark to be a faithful servant.
This is normal for Gospel-centered friendships. Christ many times became discouraged with his disciples.
Matthew 17:17 NIV
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”
And on the hour he counted the most on his disciples, they denied Christ. But his friendships were not in vain, for all of these men (save one) were used greatly to build the kingdom of God.
Gospel friendships do come with pain, but they also many times come with some of the sweetest encouragement ().
DEMAS
But not everyone who we minister with will be faithful to the end… Demas is our example. In , it becomes clear that Demas loved the world more than he loved Christ. Demas started off well but did not finish at all.
LAODICEAN CHURCH
Revelation 3:14–19 NIV
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
The church was lukewarm. It seems that this church around AD 90 had essentially died. They previously were very wealthy (v. 17). THey were one of the historic churches where the gospel had initially gone and Paul had ministered to. But in the end - in spite of their wealth, initial gospel impact, Christ’s righteousness, and Spirit-filled gospel witness, they were inwardly dead. They had no life in Christ and they were dead.
Gospel-centered friendships is not based on what you will receive but rather what you can give. You give because you love, regardless of what is received in return. This is what agape love is and that is how Christ loves us, even though we fail him.

Gospel-Centered Friendships Encourage Us in Our Callings.

Colossians 4:17–18 NIV
Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
We see Paul encourage a man named Archippus.
We do not know what work God has assigned to this man, but we can probably discern that he was probably discouraged. Maybe he felt like giving up. Paul wanted to encourage him in the ministry God has given him.
This is a good picture of how gospel friendships should be. They do not deny the reality or try to act like problems never happen or don’t exist. Ministry is full of ups and downs and discouragements.
MOSES at one time prayed for God to take him home because he didn’t want to live anymore.
JOB said it would have been better if he were never born.
ELIJAH, after a great victory, became sorely discouraged and felt lonely, thinking he was the only prophet left in Israel and wanted to die.
CHRIST was weary unto death on the cross.
All of great saints need to be encouraged at times in their ministry, and it’s the same for us. We need godly Christians who are praying for us, who are speaking words of encouragement and challenging us to keep going in the callings that God has given us.
Do we have friends that continually encourage us as we explore our callings in life beyond Gallaudet?

Conclusion

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul taught this church the centrality of Christ. He is the maker, the sustainer, and the firstborn above all creation. He is the head of the church - the hope of glory. We were crucified with him, and therefore we should daily seek to look like him. As we finish this letter, we see Paul’s friendships and the difference that Christ had made in them.
We see eight people who ministered to Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. But we also see the people he loved at Colosse at Laodicea. These relationships teach us a great deal about how the gospel should affect our friendships.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
Do we view this group as simply a community of people or as a family centered around Christ? How can you better demonstrate this familial intimacy in your relationships?
Who are we caring for in our family at Gallaudet while they are struggling? Do we know someone here who is struggling and should have our support and encouragement?
Does your relationships reflect the unity that has come through the gospel? Is there diversity in your friendships? Or do you show favoritism toward people of diverse socioeconomic classes or races?
Do you pray regularly - if not wrestle - for your Christian friends and for the lost?
How do you handle discouragement in your life?
How can you encourage one another as they explore their callings in life beyond Gallaudet?
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