Paul's Personal Greetings and Admonitions
Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church.
Let me say that this is a bittersweet morning - at least it is for me. We’ve come to the end of our time in this wonderful, little book. I will always remember this as the first book that I had the privilege of preaching here at Dishman. Over the last 24 weeks, this is our 25th sermon in this great book, we have learned much of Christ, of what He has done and what the implications are for us. So, it is a sweet morning as we get the chance to reflect and look back over what we have learned and experienced of Him in the last six months. But it is also a bitter morning as we close this letter - well it could be a bitter morning if we, like so many other literary books that we may read, put this on the shelf and leave it there until the next time that we feel compelled to pull it down and read it again. We should not leave this little gem behind but instead should pull it down and review its contents frequently if for no other reason than to bask in the glorious truths that it contains about Christ and the privilege that we have of viewing Him through its contents.
Paul is bringing this letter to the Colossians to a close and he has been conveying greetings from those who are with him in Rome. Now he is going to turn to his own personal greetings to the Colossian church. There is so much for us to learn in these four short verses. Paul could not have known at this moment what our current cultural context would be or that we would be examining these verses this morning in the midst of that culture but these words carry great meaning for us this morning.
Please open your Bibles with me and turn to Colossians 4 and we’ll finish out the chapter with verses 15-18.
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.
The Authoritative Letters
The Authoritative Letters
Paul starts off this short section with the cryptic instruction to give his greetings to the church in Laodicea. This is cryptic because as we can see in the very next verse he has previously written a letter to that church. It is interesting that Paul here asks the Colossians to convey his greetings to the church if, as some have suggested, the letter that he references is the letter that we have as the book of Ephesians. It think it is more likely that the letter that he alludes to is a previously written letter to the church of Laodicea that has been lost to history and his request that they greet the church there is a natural request in light of the request that they share their letter with the church and to get that previously written letter and have it read in Colossae.
Paul also here singles out a specific individual and the church in her home. There are questions as to the identity of Nympha primarily because different manuscripts in the original Greek translate this name as either Nympha - the feminine construction - or Nymphas - the masculine construction. It is most likely that a scribe somewhere along the way transcribed the name from feminine into a masculine gender rather than the other way around. Women played a significant role in the planting of the early church. Lydia hosted a church in Philippi. John Mark’s mother hosted a church (or at least a prayer meeting) while the church was still primarily centered in Jerusalem. In his closing remarks in the letter to the Romans, Paul commends Pheobe as being a servant of the church in Cenchreae. (Ken-cray-i)
Right now the role of women in society and the church is a significant issue and debate. Within the Southern Baptist Convention there was almost as much conversation at the recent convention surrounding the question of whether or not a woman could preach to a mixed congregation on Sunday as there was talk about sexual abuse in the church. And it has been noticed by the world - just prior to the convention the Washington Post published an article entitled “Southern Baptists are supposed to talk about sexual abuse. But right now they’re discussing whether one woman can preach”.
Paul is very clear in Scripture that the one thing that is not allowable in church is for a woman to teach or have authority over men and therefore they should not preach in the Sunday morning service or serve as elders in a church. But it is also very clear that women were appreciated and valued in their service to the church. In other passages Paul specifically tells older women to mentor younger women - providing them a limited teaching role. Here in our passage this morning we see that women hosted churches in their homes.
We can recognize from this mention, as well as others throughout the New Testament, that the contributions of women to the furthering of the Gospel were, and continue to be, significant and valuable. Paul valued their service within the roles that God - not Paul - has ordained. And we do too. We love the women who come here and desire to serve and there are lots of places and opportunities for you to do that.
One other important observation from this short, seemingly passing section is the view that first century Christians had of their homes. We can attempt to make the justification that the reason we see so many homes referenced in Scripture is that they didn’t have large structures like we have now to worship in so of course they would have had to open their homes.
An alternate view of that point is that once we become a Christian all of us - our lives, our work (as we’ve seen in this letter), our relationships and yes, even our very homes become places of ministry. There is an opportunity for greater fellowship, transparency and intimacy found in a home setting than in a restaurant, a coffee shop or even in this building. One of the greatest parts of the Bible study on Wednesday nights is when we break in to smaller groups of 6-8 and discuss what we learned from the study during the week. That would be impossible in the group of 20 or more that we have but it is possible in the context of a small group.
Paul moves on from one difficult issue and right into the next. He tells the Colossians that 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. There is so much in this one verse that we really could devote an entire sermon to it.
The first thing that Paul lays out in the verse is the importance of the public reading of Scripture. When he tells that Colossians that the letter would be read at your gathering he wasn’t telling them to all sit down and pass the letter around each reading it in turn. When writing to his young protege Timothy, as we read in our passage this morning, Paul tell him
Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.
The public reading that he is admonishing Timothy to here is the public reading of the Scriptures.
Writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul was even more explicit
I charge you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brothers and sisters.
There is to be an element of public exhortation in our gatherings - and the source is to be the Word of God not just the speaker’s ideas or dreams or any other method to come up with the talk.
In the late 1970’s a group of 300 pastors, seminarians and other theologians came together in Chicago for one singular purpose. The church was under attack by liberal influences who were questioning the authenticity and the inerrancy of the Bible. There was no particular denomination affected but instead it was systemic throughout the evangelical world. The church had begun to drift from the point of view that Scripture was authoritative and inerrant. And so these men gathered in Chicago to draft the first of three significant statements about the Bible - The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
Today we are in another crisis. The question today is not whether or not the Bible is inerrant - but instead is it sufficient. Does the Bible really have the capability to meet every need? Does it even have the capability to meet the needs that it purports to address? Is it still relevant? Two quotes on this subject - one from a known heretic “The church will continue to become even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2000 years ago” and one from a well known popular pastor “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” is where our trouble began. There are those who would say that the Bible didn’t even exist until 4 centuries after Christ’s death. Now why do I bring all of that up with regards to our text today?
It is because in some measure Paul knew that what he was writing to the Colossians was authoritative not because they were his own words but because they were the Word of God and were sufficient to address the issues both in Colossae but also to address the issues in Laodicea. And because this letter has been preserved for us (unlike the letter written to the Laodiceans) it is sufficient to address our issues today.
Paul would write to Timothy
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
And just in case anyone would say well that’s just the Old Testament - Paul wasn’t referring to his own writings, Peter would offer his support
Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.
The Bible contains the total and complete special revelation of God’s person, character and plan of salvation. It is not primarily a book about us but instead it is a book the reveals God to us. The reason we have decided that it is no longer sufficient is that we mistake the true purpose of the book that has been handed down to us. We come to this book with an issue and we think that it should provide for us the answer. If it doesn’t provide an explicit answer then it must not be sufficient.
We come to it expecting it to tell us how an issue is to be handled. And when we don’t see anything clearly stated regarding the issue we assume that the Bible doesn’t speak to that issue. This is how the church has gotten so far off on many issues because we don’t understand the book that we’ve been given. It is not primarily a book about us, it is a book about God.
We have seen that revealed in this very short epistle. After reading this book and studying it for the last six months the desire is that we would have a much clearer view of the person of Christ. If you don’t come away from this study with a greater love, a greater appreciation for the person of Christ and a better understanding of His divinity and work then the fault lies in one of two places. It lies either in my ineptitude as a preacher or in your ineptitude as a listener but one place it doesn’t lie is within the words of the book.
Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to share the message of this book with those in Laodicea and down through the years to us today because this book carries the most important truths that we could ever hear. Don’t ever let anyone dissuade you from faith in the beauty, majesty and veracity of the Word of God. It is a Charles Spurgeon has said
99We must settle in our minds that the Word of God must certainly be true, absolutely infallible, and beyond all question.
The Attentive Minister
The Attentive Minister
Paul now turns his attention to a man named Archippus. What exactly his role is in the church at Colossae we really aren’t sure. He is mentioned here in our passage and in the greeting to Philemon.
to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home.
Paul calls him a soldier and most likely, as he has with other men, this is to point to his role in the ministry in the church in Colossae. I think that most likely what he is is the surrogate or interim pastor for Epaphras that enabled him to make the trip to Rome to find Paul. Whether that is his role or not Paul gives the church the command to remind him to “pay attention to the ministry”.
It could be that Archippus was wavering under the assault of the false teachers and had lost focus on the ministry that he was called to perform. Paul here admonishes him to pay attention - be alert to the false teachings and don’t allow yourself or the church to be swayed by them. The language that Paul uses here is designed to cause Archippus to recall the words that Paul used to describe his own ministry back in the earlier portions of the letter.
I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,
The word for ministry here is diakonia which is a form of the same word that Paul uses in Colossians 1:25 for servant - there he uses diakonos. It means “the office and work of a servant or minister”. Notice also that Paul tells Archippus that he has received this work from the Lord. As I made the case for Paul when we looked at Colossians 1:25, here he is reminding Archippus that his service is due to the Lord because it is the Lord who he received his ministry from. He is literally Christ’s deacon - Christ’s servant to accomplish the task that Christ because of His ascension is no longer capable of performing on earth. He is to be preaching the Gospel and guarding the flock of Christians in Colossae from the false teachers.
We need more men today who are willing to stand on the call that they have received from the Lord and to pay attention to the ministry that He has given them. Too often we in the church are so desirous to be liked that instead of guarding the sheep we are shaking hands with the wolves, compromising with them and moving the church towards the world’s standards rather than being the holy set apart people we are supposed to be. And in the process we are leaving the gates open and sheep are being hurt and devoured by those we are catering and compromising with.
The issue is that so many of us are running around trying to be a who rather than being a what. This is a problem and a struggle in every pastor’s heart and oftentimes it is the struggle in anyone’s heart who is in ministry. We want to be a who rather than a what. Now what do I mean by that? In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul asks some very pointed questions
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given.
Notice that he doesn’t ask the question of who is Apollos or who is Paul but rather what are they. And he answers by saying that they are merely servants of the Lord. There are two character traits that Paul is calling Archippus to and, by extension, any person ever stepping into any ministerial role - they are humility and faithfulness.
Humility is the trait that makes it possible for us to be a what in the hand of the Lord rather than seeking to be a who in the eyes of the world. It is what enables us to be the unknown bit player in the Lord’s majestic salvation story as He works and moves and orchestrates events that lead to people being saved. It is that humility that says, alongside John the Baptist “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
The second trait is faithfulness. Faithfulness is an important trait in ministry for Paul. Tychicus is faithful. Onesimus is faithful. Epaphras is described as being faithful in Colossians 1:7. Paul himself describes his faithfulness in the ministry throughout his letters but most explicitly in 2 Corinthians 4. Here in our passage he gives Archippus a prescription for faithfulness in the ministry - pay attention and you can accomplish it. Not through your own strength but through the strength of the One who has called you. If you are here today and you are serving or desire to serve in some facet of ministry understand where your calling comes from and recognize that you are called to be a what not a who. We serve at the pleasure of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What Have We Learned
What Have We Learned
Paul now makes three final statements that close out the letter. He says that he is writing this greeting with his own hand. Often first century letters would be dictated to a secretary who would write down all of the words that the author wanted sent. We see an example of this in Romans 16:22
I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
But Paul would take the pen near the end of the letter and sign his own name to add authenticity to the letter and to prevent other teachers from claiming that a document wasn’t his letter. Paul signed every single one of his letters in his own handwriting. And as he takes the quill in hand he is reminded of his situation as he raises his hand to sign the letter and the chain that ties him to one of the Praetorian Guard clinks. Paul mentions this to the Colossians not seeking their sympathy but as a reminder and a request that they would pray for him as he sought to share and to continue to share the Gospel in his current circumstances. And Paul finishes his letter with the words that he uses to finish every letter - Grace be with you.
If we hadn’t just studied this whole letter it would be easy to overlook this statement as simply another Paulism or maybe an energtic scribes desire to add a postscript to the letter. But this statement draws us full circle back to the opening statement of the letter
To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul started off the letter with the words grace to you and he ends the letter in the same place. This simple phrase is so much more than just a catch phrase for Paul. It is the sum total of the Gospel that he preached and that he shares in this short but ever so important book.
I would agree with Dr. John Snyder the author of our Wednesday night study. There is a progression of thought in Colossians that really details what Paul was seeking to convey in this letter.