I trust many of your are familiar with the life of Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador who, along with 4 fellow missionaries, was killed in 1956 by the Indians that they were seeking to minister to. His journals have been published; the story of the experiences of his missionary team in Through Gates of Splendor; my favorite is his wife’s biography of him that pieces together journal entries, letters, and her memories. That book is called Shadow of the Almighty, and I highly recommend it to you. In that book we have recorded for us this prayer from his journal: “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” He wanted to live such a Christ-centered life that anyone who came in contact with him felt pressure to either live in the reality of Christ or reject Him. Jim Elliot was that kind of man, and his life testimony still presses people to live in the reality of Christ. Through his journal entries and letters the Lord has used his life to push me to live in the reality of Christ. I think I can honestly say that outside of the Bible, Shadow of the Almighty has been the most life-changing book for me. So God answered his prayer and made him a man who showed off Christ and pressed others to live in the reality of Christ.
The apostle Paul was also that kind of man. Obviously we have seen in Colossians his passion for the supremacy of Christ in all of life. His teaching and his life pressed other people to live in the reality of Christ. Colossians 4 gives a few glimpses at the kind of changes God brought in people’s lives through Paul. We are tempted to breeze through this list of names at the end of this letter and pay little attention. But these people that Paul mentions are the people that Paul is influencing. These are the people who are hearing and seeing this message of a Christ-centered, Christ-dominated life in Paul. We need to be like these mentioned here in Col 4, who gladly gave themselves to fully living out a Christ-centered life, even when it meant radical changes in their lives. We need to be like Paul – like Jim Elliot – a crisis man or a crisis woman. People need to see Christ in us and feel the pressure to join us in loving and serving and delighting in Christ. They should feel the pressure to live in the reality of Christ.
So let’s pay close attention to this inspired list in Colossians 4. These people give us clues, personal illustrations, of what a Christ-centered life looks like.
Who are these people? What do we know about them?
· Jew; is from somewhere in Asia Minor near Colossae; Acts 20:4 he was traveling with Paul toward the end of his third missionary journey. This may be because he was one of the men bringing a gift to the church at Jerusalem from the churches in Macedonia and Asia.
· Eph. 6:21 “But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.” Does this mean that the Ephesian and Colossian letters were written at the same time and taken by Tychicus? If this is the case, then he may have taken Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and the Laodicean letter on the same trip!
There is mention in II Timothy of Paul sending Tychicus to Ephesus. That might be this trip, or it might be another trip later on which he took to Ephesus.
· Titus 3:12 tells us that Paul may have also sent Tychicus to Crete to help there.
· Colossians is written long after the third missionary journey. This means that Tychicus probably stayed with Paul through many months of that journey until they got to Jerusalem; and we know that when Paul gets to Rome, Tychicus is there with him. It is likely that he has been with Paul all along, a time of several years.
· And here in Col. 4 Paul calls him a “beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord”
· We learn about Onesimus from the letter to Philemon. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who must have run away. He might have stolen from Philemon or in some other ways done damage in the process (v.18). And he ran into Paul in Rome and received Christ (“my child … whom I have begotten in my imprisonment”). Once Onesimus comes to Christ he has to turn from his sin and make those things right. And part of that means he needs to go back to Philemon. Onesimus comes to the conviction that this is what God wants him to do, and Paul writes a letter encouraging Philemon to receive Onesimus not as slave again but as a wonderful Christian brother. Here in the letter to the church Paul calls him a “faithful and beloved brother.” So Onesimus travels with Tychicus. Tychicus has the letter to the Colossian church, which meets in Philemon’s house, and he has the letter to Philemon about Onesimus.
· was from Thessalonica; Acts 19:29 tells us that he was one of Paul’s “traveling companions”; with Paul in Ephesus on the third missionary journey, dragged into the theatre and just about killed by the mob (Paul was not there, though he tried to go in) Acts 27:2 tells us that when Paul left for Rome, he was accompanied by Luke and Aristarchus. So apparently Aristarchus stuck with him no matter what; through the 3rd journey, the trials (including 2 years in jail in Caesarea), the travel to Rome (including shipwreck!), and the imprisonment
· In the letter to Philemon Paul calls him a “fellow worker,” here he calls him a fellow prisoner.
· Barnabas’ cousin; while we know quite a bit about John Mark, we aren’t told enough about his connections with Paul to really draw any conclusions about Paul’s influence after the first missionary journey.
· this is apparently the only mention of him in the Bible (though there are two others with this same name).
Epaphras (accent on first syllable: Ep´-u-frus or Ep´-u-fras)
· “one of your number” Look at 1:7 “You learned [the gospel] from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf.” Maybe Epaphras was from somewhere else but he came and started the church in Colossae; or maybe he was from Colossae and became an important church leader and teacher there. Paul must have had a close relationship with Epaphras, because it was Epaphras’s report to Paul that prompted the Colossian letter. (Col. 1:8) It is possible that at some point Epaphras was in prison in Rome with Paul, but that is not 100% clear.
· You have probably heard that Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a doctor. We know that because of this verse in Colossians: “the beloved physician sends you his greetings.” Luke apparently accompanied Paul on 2 of his journeys, assisted the church in Philippi, and stayed with Paul toward the end of his ministry even when others had deserted him
· a coworker of Paul’s (Philem. 24) who later left “having loved this present world.” (II Tim. 4:10)
· only ref. In NT: apparently the church in Laodicea met in her house
In Philemon 2, but the relationship is hard to discern. Could be a relative of Philemon, but regardless he is apparently a church leader in Colossae.
Some of these people are in Colossae; same are in Laodicea; some are in Rome with Paul; somve have just traveled from Rome to Laodicea; all have come under the influence of Paul and His message of the surpremacy and centrality of Christ in all of life.
Side note - Nympha: one of 3 references to house churches in the NT; this one in Laodicea; the one in Colossae (Philemon 2); the church in Priscilla and Aquila’s house in Rome (I Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5); along with the mention in Acts 2:46 of breaking bread from house to house. We don’t have any record of church buildings in the early church until the third century. Nearly every church in the early church was in a house. This doesn’t mean that church buildings are bad, because they are very important and useful tools for ministry. But this does remind us that the church is a body of people, not a building. While many will tell you about a particular building which they walk into and out of each Sunday, that is not the same thing as telling you which church they are a part of. You may go to a church building and attend a church service each week, and not be part of a church. If you aren’t part of a group of believers who are functioning with one another like the NT says, you aren’t really part of a church.
What can we learn about living in the reality of Christ?
1. Living in the reality of Christ means faithfulness. Paul says Tychichus is faithful; he says Onesimus is faithful; he says Epaphras is faithful. They were trustworthy, reliable, consistent, firmly devoted to the faith. Does that describe you as a Christian? Reliable – consistent – firm? In chapter 3 he talked about stability; being firmly rooted; being established or anchored to the foundation. Anyone living the in the reality of Christ is faithful; reliable, consistent; trustworthy; firm. Onesimus showed his faithfulness by going back. He knew what God wanted Him to do, and though it was extremely difficult he did it. Philemon could probably have had Onesimus tried and sent to jail or something worse than that. But Onesimus would be faithful, no matter the cost.
It is interesting that all of these people are “waterboys” or “equipment managers.” They’re not the apostle Paul; they’re not superstars who dominate the scene. But for every one apostle Paul the church needs hundreds of people like Tychicus and Aristarchus. Faithful men and women. As my father in law said as we talked about this yesterday, the church needs more indians than chiefs. Living in the reality of Christ means faithfulness, whether you are the bright chandelier in the lobby or the little light that helps someone down the stairs to the basement.
2. Living in the reality of Christ means diligence. V.11 calls Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus “fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” They had a passion for the advancement of the kingdom, and they were workers for it. They were diligent laborers for the kingdom. Of course the kingdom here is the present reign of Christ in the hearts of people. In other words, they were diligently working to help people know God’s unique greatness, value this above all else, and live to make His unique greatness known to others. Are you? If you could sit down and write out the things you are doing for advancement of the kingdom, what would that list look like? If you described how you are working diligently to advance God’s fame in people’s lives, what would that list look like? Living in the reality of Christ means diligent work for His kingdom.
3. Living in the reality of Christ means submission. Paul calls Tychicus a servant and bond-servant. Epaphras he calls a bondslave. This term bond-slave Paul only uses for Timothy and Epaphras. The common idea in service and slavery is the idea of submission. My will is submitted to the will of the master. What he needs done is my concern; when he needs it done is my concern; how he wants it done. The servant must take his will and submit it to the will of the master. Living in the reality of Christ means submission. Acts 20:24 Paul “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.” He had submitted his life, and placed it under Christ. Anything related to Christ was more significant than Paul’s life.
4. Living in the reality of Christ means sacrifice. We have a new coffee table book in our house. It is about the Grand Canyon. If you have been to our house, you know that coffee table books with photos from national parks is nothing new. But, I might tell you, this book is different. The author of this book is a rafting guide on the Colorado River through the canyon. He was a godless evolutionist for 15 years, taking people through the canyon telling them how it was formed by evolution. Then a Christian lady came on one of his tours, and shared Christ with him. He trusted Christ, and quickly realized that the Grand Canyon is a magnificent testimony to Creation and especially the flood. He wrote this beautiful book on the Grand Canyon as a testimony to the truthfulness of the Scriptures and the God of Creation. The book includes a clear salvation testimony. The book has caused a furor among evolutionists because it is sold in the official National Park Service bookstores at the Grand Canyon. As you looked at the new Grand Canyon book on our table, there was a lot more there than met the eye initially. I’m sure all of you have things like that in your homes. In a similar way, it is easy for us to read of these events related to Colossians 4 and miss the significance. Tychicus and Onesimus travel from Rome to Colossae. Aristarchus was with Paul on the third missionary journey, through his time and Judea, and on to Rome. Luke journeys with Paul. It is easy for us to miss the significance. We can miss the significance of the time. The Bible doesn’t give us a simple timeline in the margin of every page. So when we talk about these men being with Paul through the third journey and all the way to Rome, we forget that Paul spent two years in prison just in Caesarea before he even got to Rome. His third journey itself probably lasted 5 years. This is not a weekend camping trip for these men – they were giving their jobs, their homes, their lives for the work of Christ. We can also miss the significance of travel. Most of the travel was done by foot. Of course we know that Paul used ships several times, but they estimate that with good wind at your back a Roman ship could go about 6 knots – 7 miles per hour. Combine that with the distances involved. When we say that Tychicus and Onesimus went from Rome to Colossae, we don’t realize that this is 1000 miles as the crow flies, much further as they would actually have to travel. If they could go straight there, and they walked 20 miles every day, it would still take 50 straight days to make that journey. So these trips, whether by boat or on foot, often took weeks or months. I am talking about all of this to help us understand that there were great sacrifices involved. Living in the reality of Christ means the eager embrace of sacrifice for the cause of Christ. This is not for a select few – this is the call for every Christian, because it is living in the reality of Christ.
5. Living in the reality of Christ means passion for people. I see this two ways in our text today. First of all, I see it in Epaphras. Verse 12 says He “labors earnestly for you.” This is a word for battle, wrestling, intense conflict in prayer that they might be fully assured = either fully completed (with perfected, matured) or fully confident of the will of God. And look at verse 13 – “he has a deep concern for you.” And Paul can testify of it! It shows not just when he is in Colossae, but when he leaves. He goes to Rome and Paul can see his deep concern for them. So I see a passion for people in Epaphras. But I also see it in Paul: he calls Tychicus our “beloved brother”; Onesimus “our beloved brother”; Luke “the beloved physician.” Beloved means “who is loved.” Tychicus, whom I love. Onesimus, whom I love. Luke, whom I love. Paul is not first concerned with the mission, with success, with notoriety – he is concerned about people! He wants people to love Christ and live in the reality of all that Christ is for them. Listen to his emotion:
I Thes. 2:19 “Who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy!”
Gal. 4:11 “I fear for you”
II Cor. 1:14 “you are our reason to be proud in the day of our Lord Jesus”
Phil. 4:1 “my beloved brethren, whom I long to see, my joy and crown”
II Cor. 11:2 “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy”
I Thes. 2:13 “we constantly thank God for you”
I Thes. 2:8 “having so fond an affection for you”
This starts in our homes. Mom, do you have passionate concern that your children would live in the reality of Christ? Dad, do you have that concern for your wife and children? This matters at church. Every Christian should be part of a body for which they are passionate. You carry the concerns of the others; you labor in prayer; you encourage and minister to; you challenge and warn. Then this spreads to our neighborhoods and around the world.
· This is a great struggle for me. How often do I find myself in the middle of my task-oriented life and I stop and say: “Tim – do you care about people? You are caring so much about things, but where is your passion for people?”
MAJESTY 145 “When our Lord was speaking to the crowd a beggar came who fell down”
“Yesterday my time was filled with vain and empty things, and I was so busy”
Living in the reality of Christ means passion for people.
We started by quoting Jim Elliott: “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” Do you see how God used Paul as that kind of crisis man. When a runaway slave came in contact with Paul, he came to Christ and made restitution for his sinful choices. When a doctor comes in contact with Paul, he abandons his formal profession to follow this missionary by foot and boat all of the Eastern Mediterranean spreading the message of Christ. When Tychicus and Aristarchus and others come in contact with Paul, they abandon they work and security and comfort and hit the road for the sake of the kingdom. Demas couldn’t take the heat – he turned to the world. When people came in contact with Paul, God used him as a crisis man. They had to live in the reality of Christ or turn away.
Now, for the last 6 months we have been in contact with Paul. Even better, we are reading the divinely inspired words of God through Paul. We have been pounded with a message of the supremacy and centrality of Christ in all of life. By the grace of God it should leave us forced into a decision – live in the reality of Christ or abandon Him altogether. Is it shaping your life? Is God changing you? Is God building a Christ-centered faithfulness in you? Diligence? Submission? Sacrifice? Passion for people?
And your life – are you a crisis man? Does your life press people toward living in the reality of Christ, or does your example encourage people toward mediocrity, apathy, and excuses?
Are you fighting God in any of these areas? Has God shown you what it would mean to live in the reality of Christ, and you have shyed away from it. You are stiff-arming God in this area?
This is it – the end of our time together in Colossians. The supremacy and centrality of Christ in all of life. Don’t leave this series with an area of your life unsubmitted to God. Don’t leave this series with an area of your life that is still for you, and not for Christ. James 1:22 says “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Deceive themselves.