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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:The advance of the gospel takes a team
Text:Colossians 4:7-9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Preached:2015
Added:2016-07-07
Updated:2016-07-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3:1-2

Hymn 3:5 (after the law)

Psalm 122

Hymn 52

Psalm 150

Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 3

Text:  Colossians 4:7-9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Each April 9, our country remembers an historic event.  Some say that this event was Canada’s coming-of-age moment.  On a cool Easter Monday morning in 1917, Canada became a nation.  Yes, Canada had technically become a nation on July 1, 1867.  But that was just on paper.  It took another 50 years before Canada really started thinking of itself as a nation and feeling like a nation. 

It took place at the most heavily fortified German bastion on the Western Front.  This was World War I.  No one believed that Vimy Ridge could be captured.  The French had tried – they lost 150,000 men in the process.  The British were also skeptical.  The Canadian Army was going to try.  There were four divisions of Canadian soldiers commanded by General Arthur Currie.  In each division, soldiers from different parts of Canada were going to fight alongside one another.  So the Royal Canadian Regiment from Toronto would fight alongside the Royal Highlanders from Montreal and the 49th Battalion from Edmonton, “The Loyal Eddies.” 

The attack was launched at dawn and by noon, the Canadian Army had taken Vimy Ridge.  It was and is one of the most remarkable military victories in history.  Afterwards, soldiers came back to Canada having fought alongside their country-men from coast-to-coast.  Men from British Columbia felt solidarity with men from Ontario, and so on.  Canadians finally began thinking of themselves as a nation. 

What’s important for us this morning is that the victory at Vimy Ridge only happened because of teamwork.  Canadians fought shoulder-to-shoulder, cooperating in a common cause.  General Arthur Currie couldn’t and didn’t take all the credit – he was working with an effective leadership team of senior officers, who in turn worked with junior officers.  No one could have taken Vimy Ridge on their own.  But when all these men worked together, they accomplished what everyone else had viewed as impossible.

Flash back some 2000 years ago and the church was faced with what seemed an impossible task.  Christ had commanded his followers to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.  In obedience they went and soon the gospel was rapidly spreading, not only in the Roman Empire, but even beyond.  Satan’s fortifications were under heavy attack and they fell, one after another.  Soul by soul, the gospel conquered impossible obstacles.  Like with Canada’s victory at Vimy Ridge, none of this would have happened without people working together shoulder-to-shoulder.  It took teamwork for the gospel to advance.

Paul was one of the most famous missionaries of those early days.  No one should ever think that Paul was a lone ranger; that he carried out his ministry work all by himself.  When he was first sent out, he had a fellow missionary with him, Barnabas.  Later, it was Silas who worked closely with Paul.  But there were also a host of others.  All these others weren’t necessarily with Paul all the time, but they were still part of the reason why the gospel advanced so quickly.  These others are mentioned throughout the New Testament.  In what we read from 1 Corinthians 3, there was Apollos.  Some Corinthian Christians were tempted to pit Paul against Apollos.  But Paul says there, no, you can’t do that.  We’re working alongside each other.  My work for the gospel complements his and vice-versa.  “We are God’s fellow workers,” he writes in 1 Cor. 3:9.  We’re a team.  If you survey his New Testament writings, you’ll find that Paul had anywhere from 81 to 95 co-workers.  Those are just the ones that are named.

In our text from Colossians this morning, we also find mention of people who worked with Paul in different capacities.  You may look at this text and say, “What could God be revealing here?”  Why is this included in the Bible?  Certainly those were questions I asked myself as I prepared this sermon.  “Why did the Holy Spirit see to it that Paul would mention these people in verses 7 to 9?”  Remember:  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  All Scripture, including these verses, is profitable somehow.  Here the profit comes from considering the blessing God gives in other Christians.  Here the profit comes as we see how having other Christians alongside us is a blessing as we want to obey Christ’s command to bring the gospel to whomever we can.

So I preach to you God’s Word as we see that the advance of the gospel takes a team.

We’ll look at Paul and his involvement with:

  1. Tychicus
  2. Onesimus

Tychicus is one of the most mentioned of Paul’s co-workers in the New Testament.  He accompanied Paul on some of his travels.  He appears to have been from Ephesus.  In Acts 20, he’s described as being an Asian.  Of course, when we say Asian today we usually think of someone who’s Chinese or Korean or something like that.  But Asian simply means that the person is from the continent of Asia, and that includes Asia Minor, mostly what we today call Turkey. 

Far more important than where he was from is who he was and what he did.  First of all, verse 7 says that he was a beloved brother.  We have to pause to grasp the significance of that.  Tychicus was a beloved brother – that means, in the first place, that he was a Christian.  Somehow God had brought the gospel of grace to Tychicus.  In Acts 19, when Paul came to Ephesus, he found that there were already disciples there, but they hadn’t yet heard about the Holy Spirit and had only received John’s baptism of repentance.  Perhaps Tychicus was one of those early disciples.  Regardless, it’s clear that the good news of Jesus had come to him and the Holy Spirit had worked in his heart so that he believed.  This Gentile man had been brought into the church of Christ through God’s sovereign grace.  That in itself is an amazing thing.  And Verse 7 says not only that he’s a brother, but also a beloved brother, which means that Tychicus was dear to the apostle Paul.

But there’s more.  Tychicus was not an ordinary member of the church.   He was also a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.  Like Timothy, Tychicus was essentially what we would today call a pastor.  He was a preacher.  He worked alongside the apostle Paul to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.  Note that he’s described as a faithful minister.  The word “faithful” tells us that Tychicus was committed and trustworthy.  Tychicus was a minister who was loyal to his Lord and Master.  As a result, if you had Tychicus on your team, you could count on him to do what he had to do, to do it right, and to do it with excellence.  We should also note that he was a fellow servant of Paul in the Lord.  In a real sense, in the most ultimate sense, Tychicus was not on Paul’s team, but the two of them were together in the Lord, on the Lord’s team.  They were united together with their Lord and his cause.  Together they were serving Christ as ministers of the gospel.

Paul sent Tychicus to Colossae with a three-fold mission.  The first part was simple, but it’s only implied in our text.  The first part of his mission was to deliver this letter.  Tychicus was a courier for Paul.  Paul wrote this letter and it somehow had to get to the Christians in Colossae.  They didn’t have postal services like we do today.  He couldn’t go to the post office, buy a stamp, and put this letter in the mail.  He had to find someone to deliver it.  Paul needed someone trustworthy and dependable – Tychicus was just the man.  He knew the importance of the letter and would see that it reached its destination. 

The second part of the mission of Tychicus was to report on Paul’s well-being and his activities.  Three times in our text he says that Tychicus (and Onesimus with him) are going to do this.  The Colossians are going to get an update on what’s going on with Paul.  Remember:  he’s in prison as he writes this, probably in Rome.  He wants them to know how he’s doing, presumably so that they can pray for him and his work, even in prison.  In Philippians 1, he mentions that he’s still doing gospel outreach in prison.  He’s bringing the gospel to his prison guards.  Tychicus would relate that kind of news back to the Colossian church.  He would tell them something like, “Paul is doing really well, considering his circumstance.  He’s still joyful in Christ and he’s still able to proclaim the gospel, even in prison.  God has blessed him with opportunities even with the prison guards.” 

It’s fair to say that the third part of the mission of Tychicus was the most important of all.  He was to encourage the hearts of the Colossian believers.  Paul sent Tychicus to comfort and strengthen them.  Now hopefully you’re thinking:  how?  How would he encourage their hearts?  As the courier of this letter, Tychicus would have been the one to read it out loud for them.  As a faithful minister, Tychicus would also have expanded on this letter.  Do you remember how when we heard about the Colossian false teaching we noted that it was really hard to pin it down?  Paul knew what it was, the Colossians knew what it was, and so did Tychicus.  But a couple of thousand years later, we just have some broad contours.  When Tychicus came, he would have basically preached this letter.  He gave the first sermon on the letter to the Colossians and he gave it for the Colossians.  He would have explained exactly what Paul meant about everything and also applied it further, knowing where the Colossians were at as they were listening.  That’s how he would encourage their hearts.  He would encourage and comfort them with the Word preached.  What would be the ultimate purpose of that?  That the gospel would advance among the Colossians.  The ultimate purpose would be for them to be more established in the faith, more closely united to Christ, being a light in their city, and bringing more glory to God.

Undoubtedly, if he could have, Paul would have loved to visit the Colossians in person to minister to them himself.  In the letter to the Romans, chapter 1, Paul writes about how he would love to come and visit them.  Why?  Because he wanted to preach for them and encourage them with gospel proclamation.  Romans 1:15, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” It’s like he’s saying, “What I really want to do is preach, but since I can’t, this letter will have to do.”  In this case, Paul sent not only a letter, but also a preacher.  He couldn’t come himself and preach, but Tychicus will fill in for him.  The result is supposed to be encouragement and comfort for the Colossian believers. 

So what is God doing here in our text?  He’s working through a team to advance the gospel amongst the Colossians and through them.  The apostle Paul can’t do it on his own.  He’s in prison.  But God has given him a brother in Tychicus.  He’s also given him a faithful minister and fellow servant.  Paul couldn’t go to Colossae in person, but he could send Tychicus.  God would work through Tychicus to make sure the gospel moves forward in Colossae and in other places.

The takeaway here for us is that the advance of the gospel never depends solely on one person, whether that person is a minister, a missionary, an elder, or just a regular member of the church.  God gives brothers and sisters to one another.  He has several purposes in that, but one important one is that we would together work for the spread of the gospel.  All of us are members of Christ’s church, part of his body, therefore part of the team working to share the good news with whomever we can.  Different parts of the body have different gifts or different circumstances.  Paul was in prison – that was a circumstance which limited his ministry.  But Tychicus was a free man, he could travel and bring Paul’s letters and preach.  Paul wrote the letter and Tychicus delivered it, read it, and expounded it.  Together they worked as a team, one’s strength compensating for the other’s weakness.  Similarly, in the church today, people have different gifts and different circumstances in life.  God has placed us all together in his church, so that we would work together to further his goals, and especially seeing to the progress of the gospel among ourselves and through outreach.  Brothers and sisters, the point is that God has given us to one another and we need one another. 

And then there was Onesimus.  He’s been mentioned before in Colossians, in the last verses of chapter 3 which speak about slaves and masters.  Onesimus is also mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, in the little book of Philemon.  In that little book, Paul was writing to a fellow Christian about his runaway slave.  Onesimus had run away from Philemon, but Paul was sending him back.  Philemon and Colossians actually belong together, and it’s quite likely that Tychicus was carrying both letters from Paul.

What changed between the time Onesimus ran away and the time this letter to the Colossians was written?  Onesimus became a “faithful and beloved brother.”  This man who had come from Colossae (“who is one of you”) had somehow come into contact with Paul and the preaching of the gospel.  In his sovereignty, God brought Paul into the life of Onesimus and with Paul came the proclamation of the gospel.  Onesimus heard about his sin and misery and realized that he needed a Saviour to deliver him from God’s wrath against sin.  Onesimus heard about Jesus Christ and rested and trusted in him alone for the salvation he needed.  The slave then became a brother in Christ, part of God’s family.  He was loved by Paul and also commended to the Colossians as a faithful Christian.  In other words, he was a committed and loyal believer.  God’s grace had transformed his life.  He was a different man.  That happened all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Coming back to Colossae could have been hard for Onesimus.  He wouldn’t have known what to expect, whether from Philemon or from the Colossian church.  After all, he had run away from his master and that was deeply frowned upon, to say the least.  God does two things that would have eased whatever anxiety he might have felt.  God leads Paul to send Onesimus with Tychicus.  Tychicus could advocate for Onesimus, if need be.  He could speak up for him and encourage Philemon and the other Colossian believers to accept him as the brother that he was.  A second thing is the public commendation that Paul provides with this letter.  Onesimus is being sent to them by Paul himself, and Paul the apostle is calling him “a faithful and beloved brother.”  Paul gives Onesimus almost what we would call an attestation.  With this two-fold encouragement, how could the Colossians not receive Onesimus properly?  God was working to ensure that Onesimus would be received into the Colossian church family.  Through God’s gospel grace, he had been received as an adopted son in God’s family, but through that same grace, via Paul and Tychicus, he also was to be received into this church family as a brother.

You see, God’s plan was that Onesimus would continue to see the gospel working in his life as a member of the Colossian church.  There was a plan for the gospel to advance through him, and through his interactions with his brothers and sisters in Colossae, and their interactions together with the unbelieving world.  God wanted the Colossians to praise him for how Onesimus had been transformed.  He wanted them to see the gospel at work in his life, moving forward.  He wanted Onesimus and his fellow believers to say, “If the gospel could do this for me, it can do it for others.”  But it took a team to get to that point.  Things might not have worked out well if Onesimus had just been sent by Paul back to Colossae all by himself, with no letter mentioning him and no minister vouching for him.  But God saw to it that Paul and Tychicus worked together incorporate Onesimus into the church, so that he could be a fruitful member there and contribute to the advance of the gospel. 

Loved ones, again we see how God works through the communion of saints.  God’s purpose in bringing us together is for us to be brothers and sisters who look out for one another and take care of one another, encouraging one another, especially those who are vulnerable or burdened.  We’re to do that however we can.  And as we do that, the gospel makes progress.  It advances in our lives as we receive encouragement from it.  And it also encourages us so that we’re more compelled to share it with others.  The point again is that we need one another.  We are far stronger together than when we’re thinking and acting as individuals.  By God’s grace, we can do more for the advance of the gospel when we team up and work shoulder-to-shoulder.

We began with the Canadian Army at Vimy Ridge.  By working together that army was able to accomplish a goal that was thought impossible.  Through that working together, a nation was born.  Scripture also speaks of Christians as being soldiers.  We are in the army of Christ and we have been given a mission:  the gospel needs to move forward, both among ourselves in this local church, and outside.  Sometimes it may seem like an impossible goal.  But God equips us in a mighty way.  He gives us not only the Sword of the Spirit, his Word, but also the Holy Spirit himself.  To them he adds the communion of saints as well, a team united by the Spirit to one another and to Christ.  Our army is well-led and well-equipped.  We can therefore look at our calling with hope and joyous anticipation.  In the words of Hymn 52, we will soon be not only the great church victorious, but also the church at rest.  AMEN.       

Prayer:

Gracious God and Father,

It happened nearly 2000 years ago that you sovereignly brought grace into the lives of Tychicus and Onesimus.  You sent your Spirit into their hearts so that when they heard the gospel, they embraced Jesus.  Father, though it was so long ago, this morning we praise you for it.  We thank you that you give believers to one another.  We’re glad for the communion of saints and that through it, the gospel makes progress.  We pray that in our church too, we would see the gospel doing its work.  We pray that we would be instruments in your hand, to work together for one another’s good, and also for the good of the lost around us.  Please strengthen us with your Spirit, so that we can be your willing and faithful servants working together for the advance of the gospel.  So that can happen, we pray that you would help us to grow in love for one another, please unite us closer together.  We pray these things because we want to see your Name praised as we enjoy more gospel peace and as we see the lost finding gospel peace for the first time.         

 

                                                                                   




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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