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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:The Sweet Fellowship of Believers
Text:Colossians 4:7-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal, unless otherwise noted):

321- O Day of Rest and Gladness         

137 - In Doubt and Temptation

447 - Blest Be the Tie That Binds

410 (Red) - Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
The Sweet Fellowship of Believers”
Colossians 4:7-18
Behind almost every hymn there is an interesting story. For instance, William Cowper wrote that beautiful hymn on God’s providence, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, as he reflected on how God had spared his life each time he had tried to take his life in a period of great depression before he came to know the joy of salvation.
Or consider the agony that broke the heart of hymn writer, Horatio Spafford. He found out that his four daughters were all drowned at sea in a tragic ship accident, and this was shortly after he had seen his successful business in Chicago burned to the ground in the great fire of 1871, as well as the death of a young son. But out of that tragic background of death and sorrow, he wrote the classic words:
      When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
          When sorrows like sea billows roll;
       Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
          It is well, it is well, with my soul.
In a similar way the hymn that we just sang also has an interesting background which contributed directly to the writing of the hymn. Dr. John Fawcett was the pastor of a small church in Wainsgate, England. But in 1772 he received a call to a larger church in London. He accepted the call and preached his farewell sermon. He had horse-drawn wagons filled with his books and furniture and he and his wife were prepared to move. But his parishioners gathered around him and urged him to stay. Although the church was small it had close, sweet fellowship with concern and love – brotherly kindness – clearly evident.
Mrs. Fawcett said to her husband, “I cannot bear to leave. I believe the Lord would have us stay.” Her husband replied, “I cannot bear to leave either. We will unload the wagons and put everything as it was before.” His decision was hailed with great joy by the small congregation, and it is out of that background that the familiar hymn, Blessed be the Tie That Binds, was written.
Wherever God’s people gather together – whether in Wainsgate, England in the 1700’s, in the city of Colossae in the first century, or in the village of Oak Lawn in the 21st century, there is a communion of saints, a blessed fellowship of believers, and an inseparable tie based on shared faith in Jesus Christ.
We get a glimpse of that in these closing verses that the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church. His farewell greeting reveals some of the characteristics of true Christian fellowship. True Christian fellowship – the communion of saints – is characterized first, by faithfulness to the Word of God.
 Faithfulness to the Word of God
Did you notice in verse 7 and again in verse 9 how Paul describes his fellow Christians as not only being “dear brothers” but also being “faithful”?  Faithfulness to the Word of God is crucial to the tie that binds. Faithfulness to the Word of God is a requirement for the communion of the saints. The reason that is, is that light and darkness cannot go together. We see that in the rhetorical question of 2 Corinthians 6:14, What fellowship can light have with darkness? And we see it in the question that Amos posed: Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? (Amos 3:3).
Consequently, if a church leaves the light of God’s Word to teach the philosophies of this world, fellowship with that church must be broken. As Paul told the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 11:19, No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.
Admittedly, we may all have differences with our brothers and sisters in Christ on various applications or interpretations of some Scriptural passages. Some sincere Christians believe you should only sing Psalms. Some Christians believe that no instrument should be used in worship but that all singing should be acapella. I’m not talking about those types of differences.
Rather, the agreement among believers that is required is faithfulness to the great truths of Word of God: The divinity of Christ, the reality of His life, His death and resurrection, the inability of humanity to save ourselves, the greatness of God’s grace and the power, of God's gift of saving faith in Christ alone to save us from our sin. Agreement on these great truths of Scripture is crucial for the fellowship of believers.
In the Reformation era, the Reformers had five solas (sola meaning only) that we are in agreement with still today and will always adhere to: We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for God’s glory alone.
Earlier in history, the Apostles’ Creed was formulated to express biblical truths that Christians must have in agreement to have true fellowship. One reason we profess our faith in the Apostles’ Creed each Sunday evening is because those tenets reflect the biblical truths that Christians throughout the ages have clung to and are in agreement with. Belief in those biblical truths bind us together with all others who have a true saving faith in Jesus Christ.
But in other areas we need to get along with one another, understanding the truth of what Jesus said to His disciples that those who are not against us are for us (Luke 9:50). In a similar way the Apostle Paul told the Romans that there are “disputable matters” where Christians disagree about Christian liberty. In Romans 14 he tells us not to judge our brothers or sisters in these matters. But in speaking of Christian liberty he also warns, Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves (Romans 14:22b).
Even though Paul uses the terminology dear brother and faithful minister in this passage we know that there were differences of opinion within the church at Colossae. Much of the difference centered on false teachers who encouraged the worship of angels. Other controversy centered on the man spoken of in verse 9, Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave who had stolen from his master, Philemon, and then was converted when he met Paul while both of them were imprisoned in Rome.
The short letter of Philemon was written because of the reluctance of many in the church at Colossae to receive Onesimus. Some said he couldn’t be trusted and shouldn’t be in the church, but Paul vouched for him and saw in him a work of God’s transforming grace.
Where there is faithfulness to the word of God those types of differences must be dealt with in order that there may be harmony within the church, even – or especially – where there are differing opinions on how to handle unique situations. Which brings us to a second key to the close fellowship described in this closing passage. That key is brotherly kindness, reflected by the phrase “dear brother.”
Brotherly Kindness
In both verse 7 and verse 9 Paul describes fellow Christians as dear brothers. He is writing about the concept of brotherly kindness which many writers of Scripture implore us to exercise. For instance, in 2 Peter 1:7 we are told to add to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
What is involved in brotherly kindness? What attributes or characteristics would you need to be a “dear brother” – or “dear sister” – in Christ? What would be evident in your life and mine for us to have the same designation as Tychicus and Onesimus?
One characteristic is a genuine love for the fellowship of other Christians. As Dr. Fawcett wrote in the well- known hymn: “Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love; The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.” The tie that binds us together is faith in Jesus Christ. True faith in Christ necessitates a Christ-like love for fellow Christians.
That type of love for brothers and sisters in Christ is never put before us as an option. Rather Jesus put that requirement before us as part of the greatest commandment, which also serves as a witness to the world. He said, in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That love includes loving people of all nationalities. Three of the men who are mentioned here are Jews: Aristarchus, Mark and Justus; the others were Gentiles. But in the church, no matter what nationality, no matter what color of our skin, we are one in Christ and are to show that brotherly kindness and Christ-like love to each and every person.
If we don't have that love for our brothers and sisters in Christ – and for our neighbors – regardless of their nationality or color of their skin, we deceive ourselves when we think of ourselves as Christians. Although our love is never perfect in this life there must be that love that marks us as a true Christian, a dear brother or sister in the Lord. 1 John 4:19-21: We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Another characteristic of Tychicus, Onesimus and all others who have brotherly or sisterly love, is an active prayer life. We sang: “Before our Father’s throne We pour our ardent prayers; Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one Our comforts and our cares.”
One of the greatest things that you can do for me is to pray for me. And the most powerful thing that I can do for you is to pray for you. Epaphras serves as a great example of a dear brother who prayed for his brothers and sisters in Christ. In verse 12 we read: He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
As dear brothers and sisters in Christ how we need to pray for one another! Not just for health needs or economic provision, but especially for those things that Epaphras prayed for: spiritual maturity, the ability to know and to do the will of God, and prayer for full assurance of salvation, in life and when facing death.
A Servant’s Heart
A third attribute, or characteristic, that Tychicus and Epaphras shared – and every true Christian must also share in – is having a servant’s heart. In both verse 7 and verse 12 we read that these men were servants of Christ.
Admittedly both Tychicus and Epaphras were ministers in the sense of what we would call a pastor, an ordained minister, today. But each one of us is to minister the love of Christ to others as we live out the Word of God faithfully in our lives. In that sense, each one of us needs a servant’s heart.
Unfortunately, leaders in the church have been known to have the attitude of the world instead of the attitude of Christ. So often leaders in the church see themselves more as presidents than as servants. The old analogy, which I suppose is not politically correct today, is that “Everybody wants to be a Chief and no one wants to be an Indian.”
In the church it can be hard to find those with a servant attitude. In the church it can be hard to find someone like Tychicus and Epaphras. The reason is, is that by nature we are proud and in our pride we would rather be served rather than to serve others.
That was true already for the disciples who argued among themselves about who was the greatest. You remember what Jesus said to them in Mark 9:31: Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
But that principle for those in ordained ministry – that we are to be servants in the church and not the President of the church, for the only Head of the church is Christ Himself – is also a principle that cannot be lost on anyone in the church.
It is truly a great blessing to serve in God’s kingdom. You really don’t find out the joy of being in the church until you realize that being a servant of Christ is a great privilege. It is a great privilege to be a fellow worker with God Himself in His kingdom, - and that privilege is not just given to those in ordained ministry. That privilege and that responsibility is set before every believer.
Encouragement and Comfort Amid Trial and Suffering
These final greetings in Colossians 4 are filled with application, as we have seen in just three of the characteristics mentioned: faithfulness, brotherly kindness, and having a servant’s heart. But there is further application as we see from the context that the fellowship of believers in Christ brings encouragement (8) and comfort (11) even in trial and suffering (10, 18).
Where was Paul when he wrote this letter? He was in a familiar place for him. He was in prison. Most of the others mentioned here were also imprisoned for their faith including the writers of two of the Gospels. Verse 10, My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark… And verse 14, Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.
There is trial and suffering written between the lines of these verses to a degree that those of us who live in the United States of America today really cannot even begin to comprehend. We have it so very easy here in the United States. But around the world there are countless numbers of Christians who know exactly what Paul is writing about when he concludes the letter in verse 18 by saying, Remember my chains.
But even out of such great trial and suffering – imprisonment for the sake of the gospel – there is comfort and encouragement. Did you notice the purpose for Paul sending Tychicus to the congregation at Colossae? Verse 8: I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.
Tychicus was sent to encourage their hearts! Governments, magistrates, supreme courts and false religions can all work together against the people of God. The forces of evil in this fallen world can bring incredible persecution and brutal conditions in prisons which so often lead to martyrdom. But they can never separate the true believer from the love of God and the assurance of salvation!
God’s unfailing love was of great comfort to Paul and to those who were imprisoned with him at Rome. But also, other believers were of great comfort to Paul and those imprisoned with him. In verse 10 and 11, after naming some of his fellow prisoners, Paul writes, they have proved a comfort to me.
The fellowship of believers in Christ brings encouragement and comfort even in trial and suffering.  And we have experienced that. We have not faced the trial of prison, but many of you who have faced illness, accidents, economic uncertainty and other trials have found that in those dire circumstances the fellowship of believers is a great comfort and encouragement.
Next week we will look, Lord willing, more closely at our need to pray for the persecuted church. But in the meantime, each and every day may you and I always seek to be faithful to the Word of God, being dear brothers and sisters in Christ to one another – and to everyone we meet, as we strive to be servants, willing workers in the kingdom of our gracious God! Amen.
                                   - bulletin outline -
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother,
a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. – Colossians 4:7
                   “The Sweet Fellowship of Believers”
                                   Colossians 4:7-18
I.  Paul’s farewell greeting to the Colossian church reveals characteristics
    of true Christian fellowship. It is characterized by:
     1) Faithfulness to the Word of God (7c)
     2) Brotherly – and sisterly – kindness (7b, 9)
     3) Having a servant’s heart (7d)
II. Application: The fellowship of believers in Christ brings encouragement (8)
    and comfort (11) even in trial and suffering (10, 18)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Ted Gray

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