The Supremacy Demonstrated: By Leaving a Legacy (Col. 4:7-18)
I was looking this past week at famous epitaphs. Do you know what epitaphs are? Epitaphs are short phrases written on the tombstone to honor a deceased person. For example, Mel Blanc, who was the voice of Porky Pig (who had the trademark line: “That’s all folks!”) and many other animated characters, was given this epitaph: "That's all folks"
Here are some other epitaphs:
"A tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not enough" –epitaph for Alexander the Great
"I am ready to meet my Maker.Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Winston Churchill
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty I am free at last!” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.” Memory of an accident in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery
I don’t know if you have ever thought about this, but what would be on your epitaph? What will people say about you when you leave this earth? I don’t want to sound morbid, but it would not hurt us to think about what we will leave behind when the Lord calls us home, that is, if He does not come for us first. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Sure, you may not end up popular or famous according to the world or even the Christian world, but if you have been given new life by the living God, we better do something with it, something where when we are gone, people can look at it and see how we pointed it to Jesus.
Today we are going to wrap up the final verses of Colossians. Paul is giving some final greetings and instructions. Remember that he is in prison and several people have come alongside to be with him for various reasons. So this list includes some he is going to send away, some who are staying and some are away and Paul greets them.
Paul mentions 10 people here and for some of them, this is all we know of them. Did you know that Paul was not only a soul-winner, but a great friend-maker as well? There are over 100 Christians (named and unnamed) associated with Paul in Acts and in his epistles. In Romans, he has over 26 different friends in Romans 16 alone! He had a great capacity for relationships.
Here, assuming Paul’s comments for each of them is true for the entirety of their lives, we are going to look at the legacies of each of them. Nine of them are positive, one is negative. Some of them are popular, others are no names, yet all of them have made it to the pages of Scripture.
What I want to do today is to take each of these names and give them an epitaph based on what Paul says here about them. But more importantly, with each epitaph, I want us to evaluate our own lives and see if the same could be said of us. The title of the message today is “The Supremacy Demonstrated: By Leaving a Legacy.”
I was thinking how similar we are to Paul’s closing here, when we come to the end of an email or letter. Don’t we often say things like, “Say hi to your wife!” and “Don’t forget to give little Johnny a kiss from me” and “Tell Grandma I am still waiting for the cornbread to arrive” and “Tell Billy I am praying for him”? Paul is similar as he closes, but the only difference is that getting a letter from Paul is like getting a letter from the President! There is a respect for authority here.
Let’s start with the first name and epitaph:
I. Tychichus (Col.4:7-8): Greatness is in Servanthood.
The first person we read of is Tychichus (the “ch” is pronounced as a “k”). His name means “fortunate” and boy were you fortunate to have a brother like him! We do not know a whole lot about him. He is mentioned 5x in the Bible. The first time we hear of him is in Acts 20:4. Paul is in Ephesus, about to wind down the third missionary journey. Before he does that, he has one big burden to take care of. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were struggling financially. So Paul decides to go to Macedonia and get the Gentile Christians in the churches of Thessalonica, Philippi and Corinth to give financially to help out their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. Paul has another motive behind this as well. He is hoping the love shown by the Gentiles in this way will help build unity between the two groups. So one of the guys he takes with him on this journey is Tychichus.
When you read Acts you realize any trip with the Apostle Paul is an adventure. It is a long journey and Tychichus leaves his home, church, job and friends to go with Paul. It was not like you hopped onto a plane and you got to your destination in a couple of hours. They had to travel by ship and by foot over several days and weeks, sometimes months. So Tychichus stays with Paul all the way throughout Macedonia and back to Jerusalem. What a servant! You want me to go with you Paul? I’ll go.
Fast forward a few years and now Paul is in prison in Rome and guess who is there with him? Tychichus! Since the previous adventure to collect the offering, Paul had survived a plot by the Jewish leaders to murder him, trials before Felix, Festus and a harrowing voyage to Rome. Tychichus must have remained with him the entire time. A lot of people will be with you for a while, but a few stick with you through the long haul. You want me to stay with you Pa ul? I will stay.
Actually, Paul sends him to Colossae as the messenger boy. Look at the text. He actually carries with him the letter to the Colossians, Ephesians and the letter to Philemon. Paul trusted him. Now the trip from Rome to Colossae is no easy task. Tychichus (and Onesimus would join him, see Col. 4:10) would have to first cross much of Italy on foot, then sail across the Adriatic Sea. After traversing Greece on foot, he would sail across the Aegean Sea to the coast of Asia Minor. After all that, he still had another 100 miles on foot to reach Colossae. See how God preserved these letters and entrusted it with a faithful servant! So Tychichus says, “You want me to take these letters to Colossae? I’ll take them!” “You want me to encourage the people there, I’ll encourage them!”
Fast forward a few more years and Paul wanted Titus to be with him in Nicopolis to spend the winter with him. Only problem is that Titus is a pastor in Crete and could not leave his congregation. Guess who Paul suggests to take care of the church? In Titus 3:12, he suggests Artemas or Tychichus to go. You want me to go and take care of the church? I’ll go.
Fast forward a few more years and Paul is in prison and soon about to die. This time, he wants to see Timothy, who is the pastor at Ephesus at the time. Paul says in 2 Tim. 4:12 that Timothy needs to come see him and in Timothy’s place, he’s going to send someone. Guess who? Tychichus! He’s beginning to make a big career for himself as an interim pastor, filling in for Titus (perhaps) and now filling in for Timothy. Tychichus is a pastor if you want him to be. He is a messenger if you want him to be. He is an encourager if you want him to be. In fact, he is anything you want him to be. Don’t need me here? Ok, let me know where you need me.
What a legacy he left! God did not preserve any of his sermons, or anything he ever said. But God did preserve something about Tychichus that is precious in his sight: faithful service. Notice what Paul calls him: “beloved brother, faithful minister and fellow servant.” What a compliment to get from the Apostle Paul himself! Someone has one said, “The greatest ability in the world is dependability.”
Could it be said of us now? One of the qualities I love about you all is your willingness to serve. May that be a legacy that lasts in each of your lives! Tychichus shows us that greatness is in servanthood.
II. Onesimus (Col. 4:9): Grace is truly amazing.
The story of Onesimus is very inspiring. I mentioned him a couple of weeks ago, when we talked about the exhortations to slaves and masters. Apparently Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, an elder in the church at Colossae. Onesimus got into big trouble with his master, whether he stole money we are not sure. Anyway, Onesimus promptly runs away. If you are a slave and you run away and you get caught, you are executed. Not a great future for Onesimus!
He ends up in Rome, perhaps looking for Epaphras, the pastor of his church who was with Paul in prison at Rome. Or we are not sure if he went to see Paul himself. Anyway, Onesimus finds Paul and is brought to Christ. As Onesimus’ life is transformed, but Paul at some point tells him that he needs to go back and make things right with his master. To help him, Paul writes the letter to Philemon, who also got saved through the Apostle Paul, telling him to receive Onesimus and if there was any debt, he would pay it (Philemon 17-19).
Onesimus is going to travel with Tychichus (that is a blessing in itself!) and Paul considers this runaway slave as a beloved brother and also calls him “faithful” (Col. 4:9). He doesn’t even mention anything about him running away or the fact that he was a slave. This is because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! The old is gone and behold, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
What a testimony Onesimus had! He truly was lost and God found him! Out of 2 million people in Rome, he finds Paul, who would bring him to Christ. A man with no possessions, no rights and no inheritance under Roman law, Onesimus finds belonging, meaning, riches and an inheritance in Christ. Amazing Grace!
There is some church tradition that says that Onesimus later became a pastor! Isn’t that amazing? Aren’t you glad God doesn’t hold your past against you? Aren’t you glad for amazing grace today? The hymnwriter has rightly said, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I am constrained to be!” For Onesimus, if he knew about it, would gladly have sung “Amazing Grace” all of his days.
III. Aristarchus (Col. 4:10a): Adversity does not lessen affection.
We move onto Aristarchus. Paul calls him a “fellow soldier.” This does not mean that Aristarchus was a prisoner, but that he willingly chose to make Paul’s lifestyle his own. He is similar to Tychichus in his loyalty and constant presence in Paul’s life. However, what stands out in his life is his willingness to suffer for the gospel. A good guy to take with you if you are the Apostle Paul, who is constantly suffering for the sake of the gospel!
In Acts 19:23ff, when Paul started preaching the gospel in Ephesus and people started getting saved, the idol makers got angry, because they started losing business. They create a riot and in Acts 19:29, and drag this guy named Gaius and Aristarchus, knowing they are associated with the Apostle Paul and ultimately for their association with the Gospel. I would have gone home after that experience…risking my life like that?! But not Aristarchus, we find him in Acts 20:4, going on the long trip to Macedonia, the same trip Tychichus was on. Later, in Acts 27:2, Aristarchus is on the boat with Paul to go to Rome. This means he also experienced the storm and shipwreck which happened on that journey (Acts 27:13-44).
Risking his life during a riot, staying with Paul during long journeys, enduring a storm and shipwreck and even to stay with Paul in a Roman prison, Aristarchus is a loyal man. Adversity does not lessen his affection. He is a man for all seasons, the bad weather friend. They used to say of mailmen that through rain, snow, sleet or hail, they will deliver the mail. I think that is a great slogan for the life of Aristarchus! Through any season, he is delivering the good news of the gospel!
Aristarchus’ song, if he knew it, would have been: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll—Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul!”
We are living in the last days. Hostility towards Jesus Christ is on the rise. He is ridiculed in television and movies. I thank God for the freedom we have now, but I do not know what will be our situation in the coming years. But that does not matter. God is looking for one thing: will we be loyal to Jesus Christ through storm and sunshine? Will adversity lessen our affection?
IV. Mark (Col. 4:10b): Failure is not final.
Right in the middle of Col. 4:10, Paul says Mark (he had two names…John and Mark. John was his Jewish name and Mark was his Roman name) sends his greetings, but to give him a welcome if he comes. Why write that? Well, Mark has an interesting history. Early in Acts, Paul and Barnabas are sent off to missionary work and they had John Mark as their helper (Acts 13:5). Paul is always discipling somebody!
When we move down to Acts 13:13, it appears Mark has left the group in the middle of the journey. Perga and Pamphylia separate Antioch in Pisidia by large mountains. This is a dangerous area because thieves and robbers are known to hang out in this area. Was that the reason he bolted? We don’t know. When the going got tough, Mark bailed. Mark ran home to Jerusalem, probably to Mom’s house (Acts 12:12).
Turn over to Acts 15:36. It is time for the second missionary journey. Mark shows up as Paul is packing. “Man, I’ve been waiting for this! When do we leave?” Paul looks at him and says, “We? You’re not coming.” Mark replies, “No way!” Paul replies, “Way. You bailed last time. We can’t afford that this time.” Mark turns around and calls Barnabas, “Hey cuz! I’m coming right?” Barnabas nods yes and they begin to argue. Barnabas takes Mark and goes on his own journey. Paul takes Silas and goes on another journey. I love how real the Bible is! It doesn’t gloss over this event.
The real surprising thing is that about 11-12 years later, Mark is hanging out with Paul in prison! In Philemon 23, he calls Mark a “fellow worker.” What changed him? It seems like Peter got a hold of him. In 1 Pet. 5:13, Peter says Mark is with him and calls him “my son.”
From one failure to another, Peter took Mark along and poured into him. “Hey, I know what God does with failures my brother. Come with me!” He might have said. Peter also influenced Mark in writing his gospel and later Luke and Matthew both looked to Mark to get information for their gospels as well. And by the end of Paul’s life, look what he says about Mark in 2 Tim. 4:11: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” Isn’t that amazing?
Loved ones, our Lord gives a future to failures. Mark is evidence of that. The Lord uses people who have blown it. He uses those who have messed up. Praise God! You can turn to the Lord because He embraces failures. Ask Peter. Ask Mark. Tradition says that Mark ended his days in Alexandria, Egypt, starting a church there and serving the Lord, eventually becoming a martyr. Mark, if he knew it, would love the hymn, “Jesus what a friend of sinners! Tempted, tried and often failing, He my strength, my victory wins!”
V. Jesus Justus (Col. 4:11): Anyone can encourage.
We move on to Jesus Justus. We’ll call him JJ. What a name! Jesus, his Jewish name, which is Joshua in Hebrew, means Savior and Justus is his Roman name, which is Latin for “righteous.” What a name he had to live up to! I guess it is equally as challenging to live up to the name of Christian, which means “a little Christ.”
We do not know much of JJ. We do know when a lot of his Jewish friends went with the stream, he, Mark and Aristarchus were the few who swam against the stream. The phrase, “…men of the circumcision” refers to them being Jewish Christians. To leave your people like that requires a strong commitment and JJ was one of them! All we know of him was that he served the Lord and he was an encouragement to Paul.
Barnabas is called the “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). But JJ also encouraged. The word “comfort,” which had a root word that meant a medicine that lessens pain. He was a soothing relief to Paul. Think of the last five people you spoke to today. How much encouragement came from your lips during that time? Are you known as a soothing relief or an irritant? JJ can testify that anyone can encourage!
VI. Epaphras (Col. 4:12-13): The best work is on your knees.
Out of everyone in the list, Paul spends the most time talking about Epaphras. This is because Epaphras is the founder of the church at Colossae, and neighboring cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea. Paul brought Epaphras to Christ during on the missionary journeys, so Paul was his spiritual father. Why is in Rome? What happens when false teachers come into your church and start taking over? You run to your spiritual father for support. He ran to Paul to tell him of the good news and the bad news.
Paul mentions Epaphras in Col. 1:7-8. He also calls him a “faithful minister” and “beloved fellow servant.” Paul was impressed with this brother. What impressed him was the prayer life of the pastor.
If Paul was preaching Col. 4:2-4, he would have used Epaphras as an illustration. Here are some words that characterize his prayer life. First of all, he prays persistently (notice the word “always”). Secondly, he prays passionately (“struggling”- a word that means agonizing, cf. Col. 1:29, 2:1). In other places it is translated “fighting” (John 18:36; Rom. 15:30). It is used of Jesus agonizing in the garden (Luke 22:40).
He also prayed personally. Notice the word “on your behalf.” He carried the people in his heart and on his lips, probably crying for each of the congregation members by name. In addition, he prayed purposefully. Did he pray, “O Lord bless Daffy’s grass and make it grow and help Barney change his oil in his car.” Notice what he prayed for: “that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). In other words, he was praying for the Supremacy of Jesus Christ in their lives! Notice the words “full” and “all”—complete in Christ! He backs all of his prayer with his servant and sacrificial heart, working hard in ministry (Col. 4:13).
These people are the Lord’s superstars. They are incredible servants, just using up their lives and passion for the Lord! Epaphras’ epitaph says, “The best work is done on your knees.” Can that be said of us?
VII. Luke (Col. 4:14a): Used his talents for a higher purpose.
We move on to Dr. Luke. He was Paul’s personal physician. During the first missionary journey, Paul got sick all the time. For the second journey, Paul took Luke along. When you look at the gospel of Luke and Acts, we can tell he was an educated and cultured man. He and Paul were close because toward the end of his life and in his final imprisonment, Paul says, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11).
Luke is the best example of a medical missionary. Everyone does not need to go to seminary. God can use some specialists for His glory. We don’t know what Luke gave up to be with Paul. Did he give up a lucrative practice as a doctor? But Luke gave his talent to the Lord and the Lord gave him the privilege of writing 52 chapters of the New Testament!
VIII. Demas (Col. 4:14b): It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Now we have a fly in the ointment. If we are looking at a group photograph, this is the guy with his face down, looking sad. Paul almost says his name in passing. His name is Demas. He had a great start. He is with Paul in the first imprisonment and Paul even calls him a fellow worker in Philemon 23. Here in Colossians, nothing is mentioned of his character. Did Paul start seeing something in him then? Well, by the second imprisonment in Rome, look at 2 Tim. 4:10: “Demas has left me, in love with this present world.”
If Arisarchus, Mark, JJ, and Luke are the men who stayed and if Epaphras was the man who prayed, then Demas was the man who strayed. Somewhere along the line, Demas thought, “This Christian thing and ministry is not all that it is cracked up to be. And he thought about having a better life and left. We don’t know if this is another John Mark, but nothing is mentioned of his return again in Scripture.
If he lived today, he would be the guy who would be in church for a while, but then starts thinking about money, and a career, and “I can get a bigger house if I did this and that car that I always wanted and..” Off he goes.
His epitaph reads: “It is not how you start, but how you finish.” There are a lot of people in the beginning of the race, but few finish. Every ministry will have a Judas and a Demas. I pray none of you will be one! I pray I will never be one!
IX. Nympha (Col. 4:15): Little is much if God is in it.
Two more names. Paul says greet the brothers at Laodicea and to greet Nympha, who had a church in her house. Some manuscripts have Nymphas here, a male name, but others have Nympha, a female. It is probably most likely that Nympha is correct, the female is correct. In the first century, many local assemblies met in homes. Once the government approves, they would move into a building.
But let’s look at Nympha. Are you a doctor? Can you do great missionary work around the world? Do you have training? No, but I have a house. God took the house and turned it into His house. Her epitaph reads, “Little is much if God is in it.” Take my house Lord and use it. It’s five loaves and two fish, but in your hands, it can be multiplied for your good use. Her hymn would be, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee…take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold!”
X. Archippus (Col. 4:17): Get to work!
He has a special word for Archippus. But before he gets there, Paul asks this letter be read at the church at Colossae, and then go down the road to the church at Laodicea and have it read there as well. After that, switch letters, and read the letter to the Laodicean church as well. It is likely that the letter to Laodicea is actually the letter to the Ephesians, which was more like a mass email, a general letter sent to many churches in an area. But when we get to Revelation 3, the church was still not doing that well, despite having Ephesians and Colossians.
Archippus is actually mentioned in Philemon 2 as a “fellow soldier” and some have suggested him to be the son of Philemon and a pastor at Colossae. He is mentioned at the end here before a list of people who have done what Paul is encouraging him to do. We don’t know why Paul gives this charge “to fulfill the ministry you have received in the Lord.” Was Archippus discouraged in ministry? Were the false teachers getting to him?
But it seems as if Paul’s portrait of friends was set up to encourage Archippus. Get to work brother! Do what God has asked you to do. Like Tychichus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, JJ, Epaphras and Luke. They’re all in it to win it. Don’t give up and get back in it brother!
The final verse is Paul’s signature and final greetings (Col. 4:18). He does not actually write the letter, because he has a secretary, but he likes to sign the last part to authenticate it. He reminds the believers that though many good things are happening, things are still hard in prison. Thus, he says, “Remember my chains.” He ends by talking about the soil in which we live and declare, defend and demonstrate the Supremacy of Jesus Christ: GRACE!
I want to end here by taking Paul’s final challenge to Archippus as the call for all of us. We have all been gifted by the Lord to serve Him in some capacity. Some day we will have to give an account to what we did with what He gave us. The Lord would encourage today us by saying, “Fulfill the ministry that you have received from the Lord.” Put your hand on the plow and don’t look back (Luke 9:62). Leave a legacy! It’s not about having your name in lights, but being a light where you are, pointing people to Jesus Christ. It is about leaving this world having loved Jesus Christ and helping others love Him too. Look what Jesus said at the end of His life, which is what I want said of me as well! John 17:4: “I glorified you on the earth and accomplished the work you gave me to do.” What legacy will you leave? Listen to the words of Nichol Nordeman:
I don't mind if you've got something nice to say about me
And I enjoy an accolade like the rest
You could take my picture and hang it in a gallery
Of all who's who and so-n-so's that used to be the best
At such'n'such ... it wouldn't matter much
I won't lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an 'Atta boy' or 'Atta girl'
But in the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world
I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy
I don't have to look too far or too long awhile
To make a lengthly list of all that I enjoy
It's an accumulating trinket and a treasure pile
Where moth and rust, thieves and such will soon enough destroy
Not well traveled, not well read, not well-to-do or well bred
Just want to hear instead, "Well Done" good and faithful one...