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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:God reveals his design for the interdependence of the body of Christ
Text:Colossians 4:10-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Preached:2015
Added:2016-07-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 99

Psalm 6:1-3 (after the law)

Psalm 46:1,2,5

Psalm 133

Hymn 49

Scripture reading:  John 17

Text:  Colossians 4:10-18

* 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,

Imagine for a moment that you’re out in the woods and you find a stick.  It’s not a very thick stick, maybe a quarter inch in diameter.  For most us it would be very easy to break such a stick so we could use it as kindling or whatever.  But what if you had a bundle of sticks that were each a quarter inch in diameter?  It’s a lot easier to break a single stick than it is to break a bundle.  There is strength in numbers tightly held together. 

This is true also when it comes to the body of Christ.  The body of Christ is those who believe in Christ and are united to him as their head.  Christ has his people in local churches.  When they’re living in love and close unity, there’s strength in numbers.  When these believers in local churches connect with believers in other churches too, there’s strength.  As the tightknit body of Christ, we are far stronger together than we could ever be individually.  This is God’s design for his people.  When he calls believers out of the world, it’s his intent that they would be connected to other believers locally and further afield.   The body of Christ is supposed to be a communion of saints, a fellowship of believers who love one another and build up one another.  We can see this also in what we read from John 17.  This was Christ’s so-called high priestly prayer.  Did you hear him praying for the close-knit unity of believers?  He prayed that they would be one, just as the Father and he are one.  That’s close-knit.  How can you get closer than the persons of the Trinity?  The Father and the Son love one another and live in the closest fellowship.  The body of Christ is supposed to be the same way.

This is also what we see revealed in our passage this morning.  We’re at the end of Colossians.  We have all these greetings here and these greetings teach us something about the body of Christ, about the catholic church, the church spread all over the world.  Here we see believers from different backgrounds and places caring about one another and showing an interest in one another.  These verses were not given by the Holy Spirit to tell us something about ancient letter writing (though they do), nor were these verses merely given to inform us about who some of the ancient Christians were.  What we need to keep in mind is that this is revelation from God.  God has something to say to us in these verses and it has to do with who we are as Christians in relation to other Christians.  So I preach to you God’s Word this morning as we see how God reveals his design for the interdependence of the body of Christ

We’ll see this design revealed in:

  1. The greetings from Jewish and Gentile fellow-workers
  2. The greetings to Laodicea
  3. Paul’s final words in this letter

As we look at these verses, we need to refresh our understanding of the background to this letter.  Paul is writing this letter from a prison in Rome.  How did he end up there?  The story began in Acts 21.  Paul was in Jerusalem.  He’d be walking around the city with Trophimus from Ephesus, a believer from a Gentile background.  Jewish opponents of the Christian faith jumped to the conclusion that Paul had brought Trophimus into the temple and defiled it.  Paul had done no such thing, but they assumed the worst of him and it got him arrested.  There was a legal process that followed and, in that process, Paul appealed his case to Caesar, the Roman Emperor.  As a Roman citizen, he had a right to do that.  Because of his appeal, he was sent to Rome to await a hearing before Nero.  That’s where he was as he wrote Colossians. 

Thankfully, Paul had company while he was in prison.  Verse 10 mentions one of those who kept him company, a believer named Aristarchus.  Paul says that he was a “fellow-prisoner,” which means that he voluntarily joined Paul in prison, perhaps trading off with others or perhaps on a full-time basis.  The Romans apparently allowed prisoners like Paul to have friends around.  What do we know about this Aristarchus?  From the book of Acts, we learn that he was a travelling companion of Paul and was from Thessalonica.  From verse 11, it would seem that he was also of a Jewish background.  Paul says that Aristarchus passes on his greetings to the Colossian Christians.  That means that he’s interested in them and cares about their welfare. 

Mark also sends his greetings through Paul’s letter.  The mention of Mark here is very interesting because of what we read about him and Paul in the book of Acts.  When Paul first went out as a missionary, he partnered up with Barnabas.  Later, however, he found a new partner in Silas.  Why did Paul and Barnabas part ways?  Acts 15 tells us that it was because of Mark.  Apparently Mark had abandoned them for some reason and because of that Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” with one another.  From our text, we learn that Barnabas and Mark were cousins, and that may have led to the disagreement.  It’s clear that things were not good between Paul and Mark.  But now here we are in Colossians 4 and things have changed.  There’s obviously been some kind of reconciliation.  Mark sends his greetings through Paul and Paul commends him to the Colossians.  He’s given instructions that Mark should be warmly welcomed if he comes their way.

The last Jewish background believer here is Jesus.  Jesus was a common Jewish name.  Remember it’s the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua.  Lots of people were named Joshua back then, just like today.  But if they were in a Greek-speaking environment, the name Joshua became Jesus.  Today most people wouldn’t name their child Jesus because that’s the name of our Saviour, but in those days it was common.  This Jesus was also known as Justus – that could have been his surname or maybe a nickname.  We don’t know anything else about this man other than that he was Jewish.  Together with Aristarchus and Mark, he also sent greetings to the Colossians, indicating his concern for them.

Paul mentions in verse 11 that these men were from the circumcision.  That’s just to say that they had a Jewish background.  Paul says that they were the only Jewish believers who’ve stuck with him and they’ve been a comfort to him, they’ve supported him through everything.  As he’s in prison, they’re with him to encourage him.

There are two important points to draw from the mention of these three brothers of a Jewish background.  One is that they were standing with Paul, the missionary whose main calling was to the Gentiles.  They were supporting him, even as he sat in prison falsely accused of having defiled the Jewish temple by bringing a Gentile in.  Because they all believed in Christ, they stood together with Paul.  The second thing is to note that these Jewish believers are sending greetings to a congregation made up mostly of Gentiles.  The wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down by Christ.  That’s how we see Christ at work here.  By his gospel and by his Spirit, he has taken down the wall of division.  These Jewish believers care about their Gentile brothers in Colossae.  Their different heritage or ethnicity doesn’t matter for anything.  They’re one in Christ and that’s why these greetings are sent.  Really we’re seeing the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer that his people would all be one.  These greetings are not just formalities but genuine expressions of Christian love.  Through this, God is showing what it looks like for the communion of saints to function in its intended way.  Christian love in the body of Christ looks past both ethnicity and geographical distance.

There are also Gentile fellow-workers who send their greetings to Colossae.  We’ve encountered Epaphras before in this letter.  He was the founding pastor of the Colossian church.  In chapter 1, Paul described him as a “faithful minister of Christ.”  Here’s he mentioned as a servant of Christ Jesus.  He’s with Paul in Rome too, and he also passes on his greetings.  But it’s clear from what Paul writes that there’s a special bond between Epaphras and the Colossians.  He’s from there (“who is one of you”) and he struggles in prayer for them.  When he prays, he prays with great passion and intensity for the Colossian Christians.  What does he pray exactly?  He knows their situation and the challenges they face.  There was that false teaching threatening to distract them from Christ and his gospel.  So he prays that they’ll stand fast, that they will grow and mature, and that they’ll be “fully assured in all the will of God.”  In other words, he prays for them that they’ll be standing firm on the gospel of salvation, that gospel which transforms lives.  Because he’s been their pastor, he knows their needs and he knows exactly how to pray and Paul has witnessed it.  Paul also knows how hard Epaphras worked for them, the zeal that he demonstrated as their pastor.  He reminds the Colossians of the special connection that they have with Epaphras.  Unlike the others who’ve been mentioned and unlike Paul himself, Epaphras knows everyone in Colossae intimately.  Paul mentions that he’s also been involved with the nearby churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis.  What Paul is saying is that even though he’s not physically present with them, Epaphras still cares and is still bringing them before the throne of grace.  God has laid a burden on his heart for these people and they should be encouraged to know that their old pastor hasn’t forgotten them.  The bond is still there and it’s still strong. 

Last of all, Paul mentions two other Gentile believers who send greetings.  One is familiar because there’s a book of the Bible named after him, which he wrote, Luke.  Of course, he also wrote Acts.  Luke is a doctor, beloved by Paul.  Why does Paul mention that he’s a doctor?  Perhaps to reassure the Colossians that he’s being well-taken care of.  After all, one of his friends and close brothers in the Lord is a doctor.  Demas is mentioned too, but Paul says nothing else about him here.  Demas reappears in 2 Timothy 4, at a later point in Paul’s ministry.  In 2 Timothy 4, Paul says that Demas has fallen in love with the world and abandoned him.  We don’t know whether he repented of this or not.  But here at this point, he was still giving the impression of being a faithful Christian, standing by Paul’s side as he was in prison and passing on greetings to the Colossians. 

What we need to see is the care and concern that believers are showing for one another here.  This is why God saw to it that this would be included in his Word.  Here the Holy Spirit shows us believers connected in the body of Christ, reflecting their union with Christ and genuinely loving and showing an interest in the other members.  Even if they haven’t met in person, even if they come from different parts of the Roman Empire, even if they have different ethnic backgrounds, they’re in the body of Christ together and it shows.  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is the way it’s supposed to be here in our local congregation.  Here in this church we’re to genuinely care about one another’s well-being and encourage one another.  But our interests are to go further afield too.  No church can be an island to itself.  God wants us to look beyond the walls of this local congregation.  He wants us to take an interest in the other churches in our federation, here in our city and elsewhere in Canada.  We could think of our sister churches as well, in Canada, the US, and elsewhere.  Brothers and sisters, do you take an active interest in what’s going on with your fellow believers in the body of Christ?  Do you encourage them whenever you can?  Listen, it is God’s plan for us to be connected and realize how we need one another, how we’re dependent on one another, and how we grow stronger when we stand together.

In our passage there are not only greetings extended from Rome, but also a request for greetings to be passed on to Laodicea.  You need to remember that Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae were all in the same general area, very close to one another in the Lycus Valley, in present day south-west Turkey.  A church existed in Laodicea as well and it appears that it met in the house of a person named Nymphas or Nympha.  There is disagreement amongst the Greek manuscripts over the gender of this person.  The name in the Greek can be either male or female, and then the manuscripts give different forms of the possessive pronoun, some have “her house,” some have “his house,” and some even have “their house.”  It’s not easy to reach a definite conclusion over whether this person was male or female.  I would personally lean towards Nympha being a man simply because of the quantity of manuscripts that have this reading and the fact that the Church received and used these manuscripts for centuries.  However, this is not a significant issue.  Whether this person was male or female doesn’t really matter for how we understand the text.  The church met in someone’s house and the name of the person was Nympha.  Paul wants the Colossians to forward his greetings to these believers.  Through the Colossians, Paul wants them to be assured of his interest in them and his care for them.  The fact that it’s to be coming through the Colossians shores up the bond between those two churches as well.       

The bond also gets shored up in the sharing of letters.  This letter to the Colossians was to be read amongst the Laodiceans.  That tells us that while he’s writing it, Paul knows that his words have a wider relevance.  His words are intended for a broader audience than just the Colossians.  But there was also a letter from Laodicea.  This letter has been lost.  Paul wrote the Laodiceans a letter too and it was supposed to be read in the Colossian church.  The challenges the Colossians were facing were to be shared with the Laodiceans and vice-versa.  This would have a two-fold impact.  First, each congregation could learn from the challenges that the others were facing and how Paul responded to them.  Second, each congregation could also know how to pray for the other congregation.  Hearing about their challenges, they would know how to pray for the brothers and sisters down the road.  They could bring them before the throne of grace in a meaningful way.  Instead of just praying, “Be with the Colossians and bless them,” the Laodicean Christians could pray “Father, be with the Colossians as they deal with that false teaching that’s troubling them.  Help them to hold fast to the supremacy of Christ and not give any ground to these wrong doctrines, and so on.”  Through prayer the bond between the churches would grow stronger.  This is the way it should be, also for us today.  God wants us to be aware of the challenges our sister churches face and then pray for them.  We can particularly think of our Dutch sister churches.  They’re facing enormous challenges and things don’t look good.  Will they still be our sister churches after their next synod?  I don’t know.  We talk and we bemoan the developments over there.  But what we really need to do is pray.  Knowing their challenges, we need to pray that the Lord would keep his people in the Netherlands, that he would bring them back from any errors that they’ve been entertaining, and that he would keep them from falling further away from his truth.     

Verse 17 mentions encouragement for a particular brother named Archippus.  He’s also mentioned in the little book of Philemon.  There Paul calls him a fellow-soldier.  The fact that he’s mentioned in Philemon would seem to indicate that he was a Colossian.  He had some kind of ministry role in the church there.  Was he a pastor?  An elder?  A deacon?  We don’t know.  He had received some type of ministry in the Lord.  The fact that he’s mentioned here would seem to indicate that he was flagging in his zeal and in need of encouragement.  Paul instructs the Colossian Christians to come along side Archippus and push him along:  “Brother, remember that your calling comes from God.”  We see in this that also in the local congregation believers need one another – even office bearers need encouragement from their brothers and sisters.  The interdependence designed for the body of Christ certainly does start right here in our own church.  Here in this congregation, in our church family, we need to look out for those who are flagging in zeal and in need of a push.  Not a judgmental push, not a cranky surly push, but the gentle and loving push of a brother or sister coming alongside another brother or sister.  In this passage, it seems to have been an office bearer, but it could be anyone.  You come alongside them and you say, “It looks like things aren’t going well.  What’s going on?  How can I encourage you?  How can I pray for you?  Let’s carry on together in our service to the Lord.”   

The very last verse of Colossians is a personal word from the apostle Paul.  Oftentimes when people wrote letters in the ancient world they used secretaries.  So did Paul.  Paul would have dictated most of this letter to a secretary.  The secretary would have written everything down.  But when it came to the end of the letter, the secretary would hand the pen over to Paul and he would have written the last words.  By doing this, he indicated that the letter was genuinely from him.  It was like his putting his signature on it. 

As he does this, his chains are there.  The chains on his arms would have made it difficult for him to write, which is probably why these words in verse 18 are so brief.  He asks the Colossians to remember these very chains.  That means he’s asking for their prayers.  He wants them to pray about his situation in prison, not necessarily that he would be released, but that the Lord would use his situation for the advance of the gospel.  By praying for him, the bond between the Colossians and the apostle are also strengthened.  The apostle needs their prayers.  Also when it comes to him and them, there is this interdependence.  They needed his letter and he needs their prayers.  They needed his instruction, and he also needs them to pass on his greetings and so on.  This relationship is a two-way street and this is God’s design for the body of Christ. 

Paul finishes with doing one more thing for the Colossians.  He says, “Grace be with you.”  This is his concluding prayer for them.  He prays that God would lavish them with his favour.  Rather than giving these sinners what they deserve, Paul prays that they would continue to experience God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ.  They pray for him and he prays for them.  Again you see the interconnectedness that’s supposed to exist amongst those united together in Christ.  Believers need each other for encouragement and prayer.  You need each other. 

Admittedly this is not always easy to implement, especially locally.  When you live together in relatively close quarters, you get to see each other in all kinds of situations.  Sometimes we encounter and see one another when we’re at our worst.  We can be cranky and irritable and hard to love.  Some of us struggle with depression or other mental health challenges and that comes out in the way we talk and act and it’s not always pleasant.  Do you really want to get close to someone who’s always negative and complaining about everything?  Do you need a brother or sister like that in your life?  Maybe not, but have you thought about whether they need you?  Our problem is that we often can’t see past ourselves and our wants and our needs.  By nature, we’re self-centered.  But God’s design is that we would get turned outwards, that we would look out for one another’s interests.  This isn’t easy, especially when we deal with one another’s sins, weaknesses, and imperfections.  But there are two things we need to keep in mind. 

One is the great mercy and grace we’ve been shown by our heavenly Father and our Saviour Jesus.  Here is a Saviour who calls us friends, even though we’re not worthy of being in this relationship with him.  Here we have a Father who calls us his sons, even though we’re not deserving of being in his family.  We’ve done everything to forfeit this status.  You have been shown so much grace, haven’t you?  How much patience has heaven shown with you?  How many sins have been forgiven you?  How great are those sins?  Doesn’t that change the perspective on your brother or sister in need of your grace, patience, and encouragement?

The second thing we need to keep in mind is the need for prayer.  We will not grow in interdependence in the body of Christ through our own strength.  We need the Holy Spirit to bind us together.  He is the glue we need.  Because we need the Spirit, we need to pray.  We need to plead with God to work with his Spirit to connect us and tie us together with bonds of love and unity.  Brothers and sisters, let’s not be satisfied with the status quo, but pray and beg God to let his design come to a fuller realization among us.

I want to finish with an illustration.  It has to do with some amazing creatures God put on this earth.  I’m talking about fire ants.  In the Amazon rain forest, every year like clock-work, flood waters rise and submerge everything in vast swathes.  Do you know how fire ants survive these flood waters?  They make rafts.  They make rafts of themselves, with their bodies.  It’s quite incredible.  They join together and make rafts made up of hundreds or thousands of fire ants.  Individually, they would die when the flood waters come.  But banding together, they survive and eventually again thrive.  This is also God’s plan for the body of Christ.  We’re faced with enormous challenges from our enemies.  They threaten to destroy us.  But God has given ways for us to survive and thrive and one of those ways is the body of Christ banding together.  Loved ones, we need one another, just like fire ants need one another.  We need each other here in the local congregation, but we also need our brothers and sisters in our sister churches and other believers around the world.  Together we will be stronger.  Together we will grow in union with Christ and together we will see the gospel go out and do its work, bringing more people into fellowship with Christ and eternal life.  AMEN.          

PRAYER:

Merciful and gracious Father,

Thank you for the communion of saints, for the body of Christ.  We thank you that this is your gift to us so that we can grow as your children and give and receive the encouragement we and others need.  Father, please help us to look beyond ourselves, both individually and as a church.  We pray that you would help us to look out for the needs of others and encourage them however we can.  We pray for our own congregation here that we would grow in love for one another, showing grace to each other, having patience with one another.  Please help us with your Spirit to do that, so that we show what it means to be the body of Christ here. 

We also think of our sister churches here in Canada.  We pray for your blessing on the other churches here in our area. [you can pray here for specific needs, i.e. vacancies or other challenges

Father, we also think of our sister churches in the Netherlands.  We hear so many things that concern us about them.  We’re so saddened by these things.  We pray that you would bring them back from the path they’re on.  Please work repentance in the hearts of church leaders, ministers, elders and professors who fail to follow the clear teaching of your Word.  We pray that you would also strengthen those who are faithful and give them patience and perseverance.  Also give them the wisdom they need to understand what they need to do and when they need to do it. 

 

 

                                     




* 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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