We’re in This Together
Preached at Main Street Church on November 10th, 2019
Our Problem: We try make it on our own
Proposition: We’re in this together
- We’re in this with faithful servants
- We’re in this with forgiven sinners
- We’re in this with fellow sufferers
Our text for today is Paul’s final instructions to the church at Colossae, and it’s a passage of Scripture that many people simply skip over, since we’ve covered all the “good stuff” already, and at first glance it doesn’t appear to have any significance for us. I’ll admit that when I first began studying this text, that’s what I thought. But everything that God has included in Scripture, he has included for a reason, and as the Holy Spirit opened this passage up to me I discovered that this text actually has a message for us that both very important, and very relevant. Some have referred to this section of Scripture as something of a group photograph that Paul included with his letter to the Colossian church, and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Colossians 4:7-18 “7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
As Brittany and I have become parents and started taking our kids to parks where they can play I’ve learned the understanding that parents have with each other when we’re at the park. It’s an unwritten understanding that every parent knows for when you’re in the midst of the wildness and frenetic play at the park, and its this: we’re in this together.
When can’t make it on our own. But this passage, is a demonstration to us that we’re in this together. Even the apostle Paul, with his divine calling as an apostle and the miraculous signs that he performed, relied on other people—he relied on the church. No man is an island, no one can do it by themselves, we’re in this together.
In this final section of his letter Paul mentions 11 different people that we’re in this with, and since we don’t have time to look at each one, we’re just going to look at the first three people that Paul mentions, and they are people who represent types of people who are in our church and churches around the world—people that we’re in this together with. The other 8 people that we can’t get to today, you’ll have to study on your own, but we’re in this with them as well.
The three kinds of people that we’re in this together with are:
- Faithful Servants
- Forgiven Sinners
- Fellow Sufferers
- We’re in This with Faithful Servants – Tychicus
In v. 7 Paul says, “Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,”
Tychicus is mentioned five times in the New Testament. The first time he’s mentioned is in Acts 20:4, when the apostle Paul is at Ephesus and is planning to go to Macedonia, but he wants to collect some money from the Thessalonian, Philippian, and Corinthian church as a love gift for the believers in Jerusalem so that he can reconcile their relationship with the Gentile believers, and he wants them to have unity. So Tychicus joined Paul on his trip to Jerusalem.
This shows the kind of man that Tychicus was. He was a faithful servant; he had a servant’s heart. He leaves behind his home, his friends, and his fellowship of his church to take a long journey with Paul, which was never a safe thing to do, in order to serve Paul and other believers. In fact, everyone warned Paul about the danger of what would happen if he went to Jerusalem, and yet Tychicus didn’t bail out. He stuck with Paul. A lot of people gave their money, but a few people gave themselves, and Tychicus was one of those.
When Paul wrote this letter Tychicus was still with him while he was imprisoned in Rome. At the end of the letter that Paul wrote to Titus, who was a Pastor, and Paul said, “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.” Which meant Paul was going to send Artemas or Tychicus to fill in for Titus as the pastor of his church so Titus could come be with Paul.
Titus was the pastor of the congregations on the island of Crete, and Paul wanted Titus to spend the winter with him because Paul knew he was coming to the end of his life, and he loved Titus and wanted to be with him during that time. So he said come be with me, and I’ll send Tychicus to take care of your church. Tychicus served the Lord by serving believers. He was a faithful servant.
Tychicus started our as a messenger, and he turned out substituting as the pastor for a great man. He made himself available, as a faithful servant, and God used him in incredible ways.
In 2 Timothy 4:12 Paul said to the young pastor Timothy, “Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Paul forgot his coat somewhere and wants Timothy to bring it, along with some books and parchment—the parchments probably being Scriptures. So Paul wanted Timothy to come be with him, but in order for Timothy to leave the church at Ephesus, Paul would send a faithful servant to fill in for him: Tychicus. So Tychicus filled in as pastor for Titus and Timothy, two high quality guys. Anytime we find Tychicus’ name in the New Testament, is faithfully serving, doing whatever needs to be done.
Now where we see his name at the end of this letter to the Colossians he is with Paul in Rome, and will have to cross Italy on foot, sail the Adriatic, cross Greece, sail the Aegean sea, and then walked up the steep Lycus River Valley to Laodicea and Colossae, just to bring this letter to the churches there. But it wasn’t just this letter to the Colossians that Tychicus was bringing, he was also bringing a letter for the Ephesian church. Ephesians 6:21 says “Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.” Almost the exact same wording as the letter Paul wrote to the Colossians.
So Tychicus has two letters to bring to the churches in that area, and both of those letters were what scholars call ‘circulal letters’—that is, they were letters to be read in all the churches in that region. We see that at the end of Colossians here Paul intends his letter to be also read to the Laodicean church. And the letter to the Ephesians was a very general letter that actually had the address area blank in most manuscripts that we have today. At the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians it reads “To the church at _________”. And that’s because it was meant to be read at a variety of churches.
But Tychicus wasn’t just carrying the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians, but he also a letter to a man named Philemon. In v. 9 Paul said, “And along with Tychicus I’m sending Onesimus.” Onesimus was a slave who ran away from Philemon, but we’ll see more about him later.
So Tychicus was someone who Paul trusted because he was a faithful servant. He had the job of delivering Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon, and he wasn’t just the mailman, but he was meant to declare what the letter said and everything going on. v. 7 says “he will tell you about all my activiites…and he will encourage your hearts”
We’re never told anywhere that Tychicus had any special credentials or training, or pedigree, or heritage. We don’t know a single word he said, but Paul calls Tychicus this: a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord. Tychicus was a faithful servant. He didn’t attain prominence. He didn’t have any high position, but whatever needed to be done he did it faithfully. It it weren’t for the role that Tychicus played back then, we wouldn’t be reading this letter, or the letter to the Ephesians, or Philemon.
A couple months ago I met a man with two dogs named Merry and Pippin after the characters from the famous Lord of the Rings stories. He told me that Merry and Pippin were his favorite characters in the whole story because even though they played a small, seemingly insignificant role, the things that they did were actually indispensable to the ultimate mission. If it weren’t for the tiny things done by two little hobbits from insignificant families, the fate of the world would have ended differently.
Friends, chances are that God has not asked most of us to do big famous things. He’s asked most of us to simply be faithful servants. Your role in God’s grand drama in the world might simply be to pop out from back stage for only a moment, deliver your one line, and then go back stage again, but if you don’t play your role, and if you don’t say your line, the drama doesn’t go as it should.
What lines are you supposed to say in this life? What role are you meant to play in other people’s lives? God is the director, and we must listen for his voice so that we can, like Tychicus, be faithful servants when he calls on us. It might be a certain work God is calling you to. It might be certain people God has put in your life that rely on you. We need to be faithful servants, because we’re in this together.
2. We’re in This with Forgiven Sinners – Onesimus
In v. 9 Paul says that with Tychicus he is sending “Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.” Onesimus was a man with a sinful past. We learn the most about him in the letter to Philemon. Philemon was one of the pillars of the Colossians church; his family was very involved, and it appears that the Colossians church actually met in Philemon’s house, so Philemon also must’ve been a pretty wealthy man, and he was a convert of the apostle Paul’s. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon’s but he didn’t like being a slave, so he ran off.
When the New Testament talks of slavery it is not like the slavery that we experienced in this country. Slavery at that time was more like indentured servanthood, with a contract, and the ability to acquire freedom. A modern example of this is in the United States military if you agree to serve for a certain period of time, the military will pay for your college, your room and board, your health insurance, and all your expenses. During your time in the military, though, they tell you where to live, what to do, and there’s a sense in which you are their slave. But it’s an agreement, not a concept based on ethnicity or personhood.
So Onesimus got sick of working as a servant in Philemon’s house, ran away from the Colossian church, and headed off to Las Vegas. Well, not really, but he went to Rome, which makes the same point. He apparently was seeking a life of hedonism and pleasure running away from his responsibilities, and if he got caught, the punishment was execution.
Out of the two million people living in Rome, who do you think Onesimus ran into? The apostle Paul. And Paul led this runaway salve to Christ, he had a radical conversion, and now Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon and the Colossian church, telling them to welcome him and take him back not as a slave, but as a beloved brother—as a forgiven sinner.
The gospel breaks down barriers of class and caste and makes us brothers and sisters with equal footing before Christ. In the letter to Philemon Paul calls Onesimus beloved and faithful, and: “my very heart.” And I think Paul had a special place in his heart for Onesimus because Paul himself had once been running from God, and had a radical conversion, and it took years before anyone would welcome him into the church because they didn’t trust him. Now he’s pleading with Philemon and the Colossian church to accept Onesimus as one of them, to trust him, because he is a forgiven sinner.
Now here’s something very interesting about Onesimus: we have a letter written in the first century by a man named Ignatius, who is well known to church historians as one of the early church fathers. Ignatius was pastor of a church in Smyrna, and he wrote this to the Colossian church: “Since then, in the name of God, I received your entire congregation in the person of Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your pastor. I beseech you in Christ Jesus to love him and all who are like him.”
That statement from Ignatius means that Onesimus actually become the pastor of the Colossians church. What an ending to the story! So not only did Philemon accept Onesimus back into his family and the church, but he became his pastor. One pastor said, “From runaway slave to your pastor, only Christianity is going to do that.”
The church is made up of faithful servants, but it’s also made up of forgiven sinners. If you’re a believer in Christ, you’re a forgiven sinner. We need to remember that we’re forgiven sinners, because remembering that helps us to forgive others whom God has already forgiven. Who might God be speaking to you this morning that you need to welcome back into your life as a forgiven sinner? God transformed Onesimus, and we are beneficiaries of his story because it shows us that kind of God we have, and how we are to receive forgiven sinners—just as Christ has.
Maybe you feel like Onesimus. You ran away from the church and the family God gave you, but he’s been working in your life, and you know you need to go back, but you’re scared. Look at Onesimus. By the power of the Holy Spirit he was received, and God had quite the fruitful future prepared for that forgiven sinner. We’re in this together with faithful servants and forgiven sinners.
3. We’re in This with Fellow Sufferers – Aristarchus
V. 10 says, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you,” Paul minister at Ephesus for three years, and during that time Aristarchus was with him. Eventually a riot broke out in Ephesus because of Paul’s teaching, and Aristarchus was seized by the mob. He was recognized as one of Paul’s friends, and Acts 19 tells us he suffered because of it.
When Paul went on his trip to Jerusalem he was imprisoned there, an Aristarchus was with him. Then in Acts 27 when Paul went on a ship to Rome he was a prisoner on the ship and Aristarchus was with him. It appears that Aristarchus had been through all of Paul’s imprisonment with him. He never left him. He had chosen to be a fellow sufferer with Paul. Aristarchus hadn’t committed any crimes, he just hung around with Paul, and so he suffered with him. The word for ‘fellow prisoner’ means something like ‘war captive’ so Aristarchus was a captive like Paul.
The amazing thing is that Aristarchus himself was never imprisoned, but Paul calls him a prisoner ‘like me’ because he might as well have been a prisoner. He chose to be beside Paul when he was imprisoned. He chose to take on Paul’s lifestyle as his own, so that Paul would not have to suffer alone.
There are some people who don’t do public things that make them prominent, but they might be the most loved because they will bear your burden with you. We don’t know what Aristarchus did. We aren’t told that he delivered anything or ministered in any kind of way, all we know is that he was with Paul and stayed with Paul when he was in prison. He gave up his freedom to suffer with Paul.
Christian Author Dan Allender said, “Find like-hearted kings living in the same direction. Sign treaties. When they’re at war, you’re at war.”
We need to be in this with other people who will suffer with us, because no one can do it alone, we were never meant to try to do anything in life alone. Do you have an Aristarchus in your life? Do you have someone who will give up their freedoms to suffer with you? Who have you signed a treaty with that you will go to war with? What friend of yours, when they’re wounded by the enemy, will you fight for? We need each other.
Do you know somebody suffering right now? Be a fellow sufferer with them. Find out what they need and do it for them. Spend time with them. You can’t sign treaties with everyone, only a few. You’re only human. But who has God put in your life.
Maybe your husband or wife is going through something right now. Don’t let them suffer on their own and just hope that they’re make it through. Fight for them. Fight with them. In v. 12 when Paul says Epaphras is “struggling” for you in his prayers, in other places that word is translated ‘fight.’ He fights for you in his prayers.
Oh that we would be a church who fights for each other in our prayers. Oh that God would make us like Aristarchus, willing to be fellow sufferers with each other.
This April we are planning to do a men’s event, and I want to invite each of the men in this church to come on this trip. We’re in this together, and we need each other. We need to be in the fox holes with each other. We need to fight for each other.
We’re in this together with faithful servants, forgiven sinners, and fellow sufferers. We need all three, and we need to be all three. The church is not just a voluntary group of people who believe the same thing. The church is a new community of people, supernaturally brought together in Christ, for God’s mission in the world. We need each other because we’re in this together.