The Importance of Community
Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church.
I want to start off this morning with an observation and a question. The observation is that sometimes we really aren’t that nice to one another. Oh we mean to be and often we even go out of our way to not say things so that we are being nice. We try to subscribe to that old momism “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” But sometimes we just can’t help it, we let our tongues get away from us and we say things that maybe shouldn’t have been said. And if the Bible is correct and the words that come out of us are a byproduct of our heart’s condition and our heart condition affects both our words and our thoughts then the question must be asked - what do you think of or how do you think of those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ?
As we read this morning’s passage - ask yourself this question “Do I ever think or talk about my fellow Christian brothers and sisters like this?”
Please open your Bibles and turn with me to Colossians 4 and we’ll be finishing out the chapter and the book today. We will have one more sermon - kind of an overview or review of the book next week but this morning we’ll finish off the last remaining verses.
Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and so that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, a faithful and dearly loved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you greetings, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcised are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills. For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis. Luke, the dearly loved physician, and Demas send you greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home. After this letter has been read at your gathering, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.” I, Paul, am writing this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
Look at the lavish language with which Paul talks about these men, these compatriots of his in the work of the Gospel. Dearly loved. Faithful. Servant - and the word translated servant here is δουλος meaning slave - of Christ. Paul is expressing a deep affection for these men. Do we talk about people that way? Maybe that would seem a little odd but more importantly do we think about one another this way? As we look at each of these men and what they did with and for Paul we each should examine our own affections for one another - as well as how far we are willing to go for one another - because really we cannot make it in this Christian life alone. It is in sections of Scripture like this that we see the great importance of community.
The first two men mentioned are Paul’s couriers carrying this letter to the church. In the first century there was no post office or FedEx. When you wrote a letter it had to be carried to the recipient by someone. Paul demonstrates great trust in both of these men to carry something so clearly important as this letter as well as the letter of Ephesians (which was around 100 miles west of Colossae) and the letter of Philemon.
Tychicus has great history with Paul. Probably a convert from the city of Ephesus, Tychicus was a part of Paul’s entourage during his final trip to Jerusalem.
He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.
Not only does Paul place great trust in Tychicus to carry the letter but also to be able to speak on his behalf to the church of Colossae. He says that Tychicus will tell the church all the news about him. Tychicus would have to be able to answer all of the Colossians questions not only about Paul but also with regards to the doctrinal content of the letter.
Tychicus had made a deep impression on Paul. We don’t have much information about him or his conversion. He is really only mentioned in the New Testament four times, but the four times are significant. He is mentioned here in Colossians and in the book of Ephesians as the courier for Paul. The other two mentions are in 2 Timothy and Titus.
In 2 Timothy Paul says
I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
and then in Titus
When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me in Nicopolis, because I have decided to spend the winter there.
The mention in 2 Timothy was years after the writing of this current letter and Tychicus has earned the ability to replace those who had been in places of eldership in the churches that Paul was sending him. I have already highlighted the clear affection that Paul had for not only Tychicus but for all the men in this conclusion, but the threefold description that he uses to describe Tychicus is only used here in all of his letters. He calls Tychicus a dear brother, a faithful minister and a fellow servant in the Lord. The only other comparable statements are made in Philippians regarding Epaphroditus.
But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus—my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need—
In both cases Paul is making commendatory statements to the churches he is sending these men to. In Epaphroditus’ case, Paul is commending him to ease the perception of the Philippians regarding the return of the messenger they had sent to Paul. They were expecting him to send Timothy but instead, he chose to keep Timothy and send Epaphroditus instead. His commendation of Epaphroditus was meant to put the Philippians minds at ease that their messenger had not somehow offended Paul or been delinquent in his duties. In fact, if you read more of that Philippians 2 passage, Epaphroditus had almost died in the completion of his duties.
Here, Paul is commending Tychicus to the church in Colossae to establish his credibility to speak against the false teaching that was threatening the church there. He is called a dear brother not simply as a fellow Christian but also as one who has been through deep and bonding experiences with Paul as he has worked with Paul in ministry.
It was Shakespeare in his play Henry V that first coined the term “band of brothers”. The English were outnumbered by the French and Henry stands up on Saint Crispin’s Day to urge his men on to courage, to remind them of previous great feats against the French with these words
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
The experience of Paul and Tychicus would have forged them into a band of brothers that had deep affection for one another and could rightly call each other a “band of brothers”.
Paul also calls Tychicus a faithful minister not only for his faithfulness to Paul during their travels together but also for his faithfulness in ministry to the churches across the Mediterranean basin. We’ve already looked at two instances where Paul would dispatch Tychicus to fill the role of elder in a church to free up Timothy and Titus, two of the key elders in the planting and formation of new churches in the first century, for ministry to Paul or elsewhere. Tychicus had proven faithful in the little areas of ministry to the churches and when the time was right he was given great responsibility and trust by Paul.
Referring to Tychicus as a fellow servant gives us a final piece of this man’s character. A key characteristic of Paul in his ministry, and one that he emulates from his Master Christ, is humility and lowliness of thought regarding himself or his station. Paul would never have embraced the notion that you have to have a high self-esteem or self-worth to be valuable in ministry (or any other realm of life for that matter). Calling Tychicus a fellow servant tells us that this man embodied the traits of the humble servant as well. Paul had no concerns that in sending Tychicus in his stead and with his recommendation that Tychicus would use the name of Paul to gain influence or to take advantage of the Colossians because of Tychicus’ demonstrated humility.
In addition to being able to expound on all that Paul has written in the letter, Tychicus would also be entrusted with informing the Colossian church how Paul was doing. The church would naturally be concerned regarding the condition of one they would have considered as their spiritual father. Even though Paul had never physically been to Colossae, his preaching of the Gospel had directly influenced the planting of the church there and so, even from a distance, he would have been their spiritual father. Tychicus would not only be able to inform the church of how Paul was faring in prison but also be able to encourage their hearts in the process as he described how Paul had not faltered but remained steadfast in his commitment and preaching of the Gospel.
When I was younger I attended Star Lake Music Camp. One of our activities was to have the privilege to play the National Anthem in Shea Stadium before a Mets game. It was an awesome time. The next morning we all gathered around the flag pole as usual at 8 for the raising of the American flag. When the band assigned finished playing the National Anthem - always a solemn occasion at camp my teenage self took off my Cardnials hat (I was an Ozzie Smith fan) and promptly threw it in the air calling out with all the gusto I could manage “Play Ball”. Every eye fell on me - and it was an uncomfortable moment. I was incredibly embarrassed and humiliated. And I think that the way I was feeling would only have been a fraction of how Onesimus felt.
We often love to think we’re in total control of events - that we can plan things out to the nth degree and they will turn out exactly as we design.
I’m certainly that way - I’m a planner. Before we moved home from Japan I spent hours researching driving routes from New Hampshire to California, where we would stay, when we would stop - everything down to the last detail. What I failed to account for was the 4, 2 and 1 year old that would be traveling with us - or even the two dogs. We had to change hotel reservations twice and our last leg from Denver to San Diego was done in one day because one of our dogs got sick. But I certainly had it well planned out in my head
Onesimus had a plan as well. He was going to run away. We don’t know what kind of master Philemon was - whether he was benevolent or not. From some of Paul’s words about him in the letter that would have accompanied the letter to the Colossians, it would lead me to believe that he was probably a good and just master and that Onesimus was possibly a wicked, lazy slave. So he decided to run away and his plan was to run to Rome and hide in the most populous city of the time among a large slave population - to get lost in anonymity.
That probably wouldn’t have been my plan - I would’ve gone more for a small unobtrusive village where I could just blend in, run from my past and completely change who I was. But, Onesimus’ past catches up with him. Not in the form of slave catchers or bounty hunters - but in the person of the Apostle Paul. Through God’s sovereign movement in his life Onesimus meets Paul and gets converted.
And now here he is accompanying Tychicus in the carrying of this letter and the letter to his former owner that would plead for his acceptance. Paul actually desired to keep him in Rome - and if I were Onesimus this would’ve been my desire as well. My thought would be Paul you write the letter and lets see how he responds first before I go back. Paul even desired to keep him with him
I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.
But both Paul and Onesimus knew that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, so here he stands. But he doesn’t stand there empty handed. Paul commends him in both this letter and the letter specifically addressed to Philemon as well. Here, Paul refers to Onesimus as a faithful and dearly loved brother. It is interesting that Paul would call a runaway slave faithful. We have no idea of knowing how long it has been since Onesimus had run away from Colossae, but in the intervening time he had experienced a change of character that is only possible through an encounter with the living Christ.
The faithless had become faithful.
Paul’s letter to Philemon draws even more of a picture of this man. Paul sends him back and tells Philemon that
Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me.
The wonderful thing about this and the part that is missed in our modern understanding is that Onesimus means useful. So even though he was at one time useless to Philemon as a slave, now through his conversion he is capable of living up to his name and being useful to not just Philemon but the entire Christian community in Colossae.
Earlier in our study of this book we discussed how Paul had approached the issue of slavery in the Roman Empire - and really it was more of an argument from silence as he spoke neither for nor against slavery necessarily. But here in the closing of this letter we get another picture into how Paul understood the new nature of Christianity to affect slavery and the revolutionary way that slaves should have been treated. Paul calls Onesimus his dearly loved brother. In the parallel passage in Philemon Paul says this of Onesimus
I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I became his father while I was in chains. Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me. I am sending him back to you—I am sending my very own heart.
Paul is bestowing on Onesimus a level of humanity not often ascribed to slaves. This wasn’t based on anything inherently valuable in Onesimus but instead the new condition that Onesimus embodied as a Christian. He ascribes to Onesimus the same dignity and worth that he has earlier given to Tychicus.
The entire story of Onesimus is one of hope and reconciliation and it is one of the most beautiful pictures of the redemptive power of Christ in all of Scripture. This man ran away from his owner and left the life that he had known expecting to find freedom in Rome. He found freedom but not the type he was expecting. Maybe you are one who has drifted far from God. Maybe you think that you are beyond redemptions reach. Onesimus ran right into the waiting arms of Christ and through this meeting went from being a condemned, non-person to a redeemed fellow brother of all Christians - not just those in Rome but those in Colossae as well.
Paul, not one to lavish exuberant praise on individuals unnecessarily, commends these two men to the church as his emissaries but more importantly as his fellow ministers and brothers in the faith. These were the men that he had chosen to carry this message to the church in Colossae. One a trusted companion who had been with Paul for years. The other a converted slave who was returning to Colossae facing an uncertain future.
Paul next turns his attention to those who were with him in Rome - and in doing so provides an important message for us today and we will explore that message next week.
But for this week we see two men - a faithful companion and a runaway slave that both served Paul because of a common denominator - the impact of the Gospel on their lives. Each of them had a choice to make. Tychicus did not have to remain with Paul - from what we can tell he was there of his own volition as a servant to his spiritual father. Onesimus could have refused to return to Colossae - especially not knowing what the future would hold for him. But the Gospel challenges us to two aspects of life - the first is a level of willingness in the service of others that we have never known before. Not because unbelievers don’t do nice things for each other or serve one another. They do. They just don’t have the proper framework or motivation for why. Because of the Gospel and the humility that is a byproduct of the Gospel we are free to serve one another with abandon in the small things as well as the big things for the Kingdom of God.
The second is a willingness to face consequences for our actions regardless of what they may be. Because of the salvation provided for by Christ we can be confident that our eternal guilt has been paid for, but we also recognize that there may be consequences here on earth for our actions. David’s first son with Bathsheba died as a result of their sin. The descendents of Ishmael and Isaac have been at war for centuries as a result of the sin of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Onesimus returned to Colossae not knowing whether there would be consequences for his running away but knowing that his eternity was secure in Christ.
The Gospel impacted both of these men and it still impacts us today. If you have come to a knowledge of your sin and the condemnation that you face before God because of your sin and have repented then you share the same designations as these men - we are all dearly loved brothers. We should think and speak of one another this way. We share a common future, a common Savior and a common mission while we remain here on earth.
If you have not repented and placed your faith solely in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for your salvation and to make you right with God then this is your opportunity. What could be more important today than to make peace with God. Christ did not die to fix your finances, to cure your addictions, to help you get better grades in school or to give you a better job. All of those things may happen but they are a byproduct of the Gospel. Christ died to redeem His people to Himself and to restore the peaceful relationship with His Father that would enable them to have eternal life knowing and learning about God. Seek His face this morning. Say with David
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”