We’re All in This Together!
INTRODUCTION: Today is our last message in the book of Colossians. We have been working our way through this book together and learning what does it mean to live the Christ-centered life. And in this final passage Paul closes out the letter by mentioning various people who have helped him with the gospel and who will receive this letter on the other end. And the message here is clear. We’re all in this together. No one can effectively do God’s work all by themselves. (Read Colossians 4:7-18 and pray.)
I love reading stories about the old American West – pioneers settling the land, Texas Rangers keeping the peace, the lone cowboy riding the range in his saddle. There is a rugged individualism in the people of the Old West that many find appealing. And when you read Paul’s letters, you sometimes feel that’s the way Paul was – traveling from town to town, beating the odds, slugging it out all by himself.
But then when you get to the end of his letters, something remarkable happens. Because Paul starts listing all these other people who helped him. It’s like the credits at the end of a movie. We see the director’s name at the beginning of the movie and we get the idea that he made the film all by himself. But then the credits run and we are amazed at all the people it takes to bring a movie to the screen.
Well Paul didn’t do it all alone either. He had plenty of help and encouragement along the way. He followed Jesus’ example with the disciples and always traveled with companions. He loved to praise others for their part and to give people credit where credit was due. Paul was no cowboy. Rather he was the ultimate team player.
One of the things we learn from a passage like this at the end of Colossians is that even the apostle Paul needed help. Paul’s ministry was successful because he enlisted others and he was part of a team. With that in mind I’d like us to look at the people Paul names here in Colossians 4. There is such a rich variety and tapestry of people and names here and we can learn so much from them.
1. Faithful messengers (7-9)
So first in the list, let’s look at two faithful messengers: Tychicus and Onesimus.
– Tychicus > fellow worker; carried letter to Colossians
We meet Tychicus in verses 7-8 where Paul writes: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 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.” (Colossians 4:7-8)
So Tychicus is the mail man. He is the one who actually delivered this letter from Paul to the Colossians. Now this was no easy task. Paul was in prison in Rome over 1,000 miles away. Tychicus would have to cross Italy on foot, then sail across the Adriatic Sea, cross Greece on foot, sail across the Aegean Sea and then walk an additional 100 miles on foot to Colosse. You think your mail man has a tough job?
But Tychicus was more than just the mailman! Paul calls him “a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” Tychicus was a fellow worker with Paul who accompanied Paul faithfully on his journeys. He had returned with Paul to Jerusalem on Paul’s third missionary journey through Macedonia. (Acts 20:4) He was there with Paul in Rome now. He will be with Paul when Paul writes his letter to Titus. (Titus 3:12) He will be with Paul again during Paul’s final Roman imprisonment when he writes his second letter to Timothy who is pastoring in Ephesus. And when Timothy has to leave Ephesus, Paul will send Tychicus there as an interim pastor. (2 Timothy 4:12). Tychicus is a great example of someone who was faithful in small things being entrusted with greater things. Tychicus is “a faithful servant in the Lord.” We’ve been talking about living the Christ-centered life, and here we see that Tychicus’ service was centered in the Lord.
Paul was sending him not only to deliver the letter, but also to share with the Colossians about Paul’s circumstances, to fill them in on the “newsy” stuff, and then also to encourage them. Tychicus is a faithful minister, and he will encourage the Colossians and strengthen their hearts.
– Onesimus > runaway slave; subject of letter to Philemon
Tychicus is carrying two additional letters with him: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and Paul’s personal letter to Philemon. And that leads us to our second person in the list, Onsesimus. Look at verse 9 where Paul writes: “He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.” (Colossians 4:9)
So who is Onesimus? Onesimus is a runaway slave and the subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon. Notice Paul’s description of Onesimus. He was not a minister or fellow servant like Tychicus, but he is a faithful and dear brother. We learn from the letter to Philemon that Onesimus did not know Christ when he first ran away. He actually came to Christ through Paul’s witness, and now Paul was sending him back to his master, no longer as a slave but as a dear brother in Christ. Paul wrote earlier in the book of Colossians (Colossians 3:11) that in Christ there is no “slave or free,” that we’re all in this together. Onesimus is a great example of that. Like Tychicus, Onesimus is a faithful messenger who will fill them in on Paul’s situation.
2. Jewish co-workers and comforters (10-11)
So we have two faithful messengers. Next we move on to three Jewish co-workers and comforters. By the way, these three Jewish co-workers in the list will be followed by three Gentile co-workers, which is a further application of Colossians 3:11 which tells us that in Christ “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised … slave or free.” (Colossians 3:11) Once again, we’re all in this together!
– Aristarchus > fellow prisoner; from Thessalonica
So who are these three Jewish co-workers and comforters? First up we have Aristarchus. Look at verse 10: “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings…” (Colossians 4:10) We learn some key facts about Aristarchus from the book of Acts. Aristarchus was a Macedonian Jew from Thessalonica. (Acts 20:4) He was seized during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29). He was shipwrecked with Paul on the island of Malta (Acts 27:2, 41)
And here in Colossians Paul calls him a “fellow-prisoner.” Some people think this is a symbolic phrase, like when Paul sometimes calls some of his co-workers “fellow-soldiers,” but I think Paul really means fellow-prisoner. Paul calls another man, Epaphras, a fellow-prisoner in the letter to Philemon. (Philemon 23) I think both of these men suffered prison time for the gospel at some point, although not necessarily at Paul’s present time in Rome.
– Mark > restored to ministry; wrote the gospel of Mark
Next up we have Mark. Look at verse 10 again: “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)” (Colossians 4:10)
This is the same Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark, and we learn quite a bit about him from the book of Acts, too. Mark began the first missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5), but then deserted them on the road. (Acts 13:13) Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over Mark and parted company on their next journey. (Acts 15:37-39) Later on we find Mark with the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:13), but at this point Mark is in Rome with Paul. He may have already written his gospel by now, which means Paul would have been familiar with his gospel.
Now remember, Mark lost trust with Paul when he deserted him during his first missionary journey. But now Mark is working with Paul once again. Paul even tells the people at Colosse to welcome him, probably because some people may have still been holding something against him for deserting Paul earlier. Later on Paul will call for Mark to come to him during his final imprisonment at Rome. (2 Timothy 4:11)
Mark is a great reminder that God is not finished with you, even if you’ve failed. Everybody’s got a past. But just because you have a past doesn’t mean you don’t have a future. God is the God of second chances, and just as Mark was restored to ministry, God can restore you, too.
– Justus > fellow worker for the kingdom of God
And then thirdly we have Justus. Look at verse 11: “Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.” (Colossians 4:11) Jesus was a common name at that time, but for obvious reasons, Paul identifies Justus by his second name so there is no confusion. We don’t know much about Justus, but we do know he was one of only three Jews who were serving with Paul at this time. This was a great comfort to Paul, because most of the Jews were hostile to Paul and his message. Paul may have been an apostle to the Gentiles but he had a heart for his fellow Jews. Paul loved the Jewish people fiercely and longed to see them come to Christ.
3. Epaphras, the prayer warrior (12-13)
So Paul sends greetings from these three Jewish co-workers. And then next he sends greetings from three Gentile co-workers: Epaphras, Luke and Demas. Let’s look at Epaphras first. Verse 12: “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Colossians 4:12)
– founder of the church at Colosse (Colossians 1:7)
We met Epaphras earlier in the book of Colossians. (Colossians 1:7) He was the founder and original pastor of the church at Colosse and perhaps also of the churches in the nearby towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis.
– always wrestling in prayer (Colossians 1:9, 28-29)
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Epaphras in this list is Paul’s description of him as “always wrestling in prayer.” Epaphras had an amazing ministry of prayer. He was a prayer warrior who constantly interceded for the Colossians.
The goal of his prayers was that the Colossians might “stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” This lines up perfectly with Paul’s own prayers for the Colossians and his own goals for them. Paul told the Colossians back in 1:9: “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Colossians 1:9) And then later in the same chapter, Paul said this in verses 28-29: “We proclaim him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28-29)
– worked hard for the churches (Colossians 2:1)
Paul also says that Epaphras worked hard for the churches. Verse 13: “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.” (Colossians 4:13) That phrase “working hard” comes from a Greek word that means “pain, strenuous work, hard labor.”
Epaphras was a hard worker. And he worked hard not only for the Colossians but also for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Here’s a man who was working hard and praying for churches in three different cities! Once again this lines up with Paul’s earlier words about his own ministry for the Colossians when he wrote: “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea.” (Colossians 2:1) Epaphras was a hard worker for the church and for the Lord.
I once heard a pastor friend preach on these verses where he began the whole message simply by calling out Epaphras’ name. He got up in the pulpit and started calling out: “Epaphras? Epaphras? Are you here? Has anyone seen Epaphras?” And then he said, “No, I don’t think Epaphras is here, which is a shame, because we need him badly.” And I agree. We desperately need people like Epaphras today – people who will wrestle in prayer for God’s people and work hard for the kingdom of God. Is Epaphras here with us today? Are you an Epaphras? Because we need you! We need your prayers. We need your work. We need prayer warriors who are willing to work hard for the church of God.
4. Good friends and traveling companions (14)
So we have Epaphras the prayer warrior, and then we have Luke and Demas – good friends and traveling companions. Look at verse 14: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.” (Colossians 4:14)
– Luke > Paul’s personal physician; wrote Luke and Acts
Luke was a Gentile believer who was Paul’s good friend and personal physician on his missionary trips. I guess you could say Luke was the first medical missionary! Luke is also the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts in the Bible. In fact it’s fun when you read through the book of Acts to notice when Luke shifts from writing “They did this or they did that” to “We did this or we did that.” Every time he shifts to “we” is when he joins Paul for that part of the journey. Remember Mark was with Paul at this time, too, so we actually have two of the gospel writers with Paul in Rome at the same time. Luke may have also written his gospel by now, so Paul may have read them both! Luke and Mark are also mentioned as being together with Paul in Philemon 24 and in 2 Timothy 4:11.
– Demas > eventual deserter (2 Timothy 4:10-12; 1 John 2:15)
So we have Luke in Colossians 4:14 and then we also have Demas. Demas is only mentioned; we don’t learn anything specific about him here. However, we learn from the book of 2 Timothy that later on Demas deserted Paul during Paul’s second imprisonment at Rome. 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me.” (2 Timothy 4:10)
Notice the contrast here between Mark who deserted Paul and was eventually restored, and Demas who started off strong but eventually deserted. These words in 2 Timothy were written just three or four years after Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And we learn from this the sad truth that not everyone in the church continues in their Christian commitment. Pastor John MacArthur comments on this verse: “Jesus had his Judas, and Paul had his Demas … Even the two greatest leaders the world has ever known had those who failed them.” People can and will eventually let you down, but God never will. And so yes, we need each other, we’re all in this together, but we must learn to depend only on God.
Demas is an example of someone who failed to finish well. Paul tells us that Demas abandoned him because Demas loved the world. We read in 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon, We need to go the distance. Demas loved the world, which means he stopped setting his heart and mind on things above. He was no longer living the Christ-centered life. Demas is a warning to us that we need to keep Christ at the center if we want to finish well.
5. Valued recipients (15-17)
After extending all these greetings from those with him at Rome, Paul focuses next on the valued recipients of this letter.
– Nympha > church met at her house
First he greets Nympha. Look at verse 15: “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” (Colossians 4:15) Christians did not begin owning buildings for worship until about A.D. 200, so churches often met in homes at this time. This church that met in Nympha’s home was probably one of the house churches in Laodicea.
– the church at Laodicea > letter exchange (perhaps Ephesians?)
Next he mentions the whole church at Laodicea. Look at verse 16: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:16)
Even though Paul wrote specific letters with specific instructions to specific churches in specific areas, as the inspired word of God those letters were still applicable to other churches and indeed to the whole church of God. (see 1 Thessalonians 5:27) For example we are still reading and benefiting from this letter to the Colossians two thousand years after it was written. And so Paul tells the Colossians to engage in a letter exchange. They should read the letter he sent to the Laodiceans, and the Laodiceans should read the letter he has just sent to the Colossians. Although we don’t know for sure what this second letter is that Paul refers to, it may very well have been a copy of the letter to the Ephesians, which as we have seen through this study supplements the letter to the Colossians nicely.
– Archippus > told to complete his ministry (cf. 2 Timothy 4:5)
And then lastly Paul gives the Colossians a word of instruction concerning a man named Archippus. Look at verse 17: “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.’” (Colossians 4:17) Archippus may have been Philemon’s son (Philemon 1-2), and he was probably a pastor in either Colosse or Laodicea.
Whatever his role, he was involved in some type of ministry, and he was in danger of stopping before he had completed the work God gave him to do. Perhaps he was tired; perhaps he was distracted; maybe he was just discouraged. Either way Paul takes the time to encourage him to complete the work he has received in the Lord. There’s that phrase “in the Lord” again, reminding us that Christ is central in all things.
And so Paul tells Archippus through the Colossians: “Archippus, complete your ministry. Finish what you started in the Lord.” Paul would later write something similar to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5: “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)
Here is a basic principle of ministry. You should stay where you are until the Lord tells you to go. I know it gets tough sometimes, but when God calls you to ministry, he also equips you for ministry. As pastor Warren Wiersbe writes: “Ministry is not something we do for God; it is something God does in and through us.” Every God-given task can be completed when we look to God for his help. There are many faithful people in ministry serving in difficult situations who need to hear this particular word to Archippus.
6. The apostle Paul (18)
Finally Paul closes out the letter with his own greeting. Look at verse 18: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18)
– personal greeting in his own handwriting
Paul would have dictated most of this letter to someone else writing it down, but now he picks up the pen himself for these closing words. This was partly a guard against forgery, but it also emphasized a personal touch at the end.
– suffering for Christ and the gospel
He tells the Colossians to remember his chains. Paul is suffering for Christ and the gospel, and it is touching to consider that Paul is in chains even as he picks up the pen to write his final greeting.
– letter begins and ends with grace (Colossians 1:1-2)
And then finally he closes with these simple words: “Grace be with you.” Paul never got tired of proclaiming God’s amazing grace in sending his Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He began this letter with the words: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:2) And now he ends the letter with a final benediction: “Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18) The letter of Colossians both begins and ends with grace.
CONCLUSION: So what do we learn from all these people Paul names at the end of this letter? We need to be part of a team when it comes to doing God’s work. Team members provide encouragement, support and accountability. My prayer is that each of us will commit to being a part of the team here at Plantation Community or whatever local church you attend, that we will serve together to fulfill God’s purposes for his church. You can’t live the Christ-centered life on your own. We’re all in this together!
The book of Colossians is an amazing letter with this amazing theme: God calls us to live the Christ-centered life. We have walked our way verse by verse through the entire letter and seen this theme over and over again. Christ is central! He is central to creation, he is central to redemption, he is central to the church, he is central to the gospel, he is central to relationships, he is central to ministry, he is central to life. Whatever problems you may be dealing with, the answer is always the same: keep Christ at the center, and everything else will take care of itself.