Renewing Our Resolve: “Fitting People Together” – Colossians 4:7-18

hold handsSitting in the room as the man took his final breath, I held his hand. I watched as those who loved him throughout these last days of his life wept, held each other, and sought the comfort of another amid the searing pain of loss. The last few weeks, with their joys and laughter over shared memories, as well as their deep pains – piercing outward after a long burial in the back of the family closet – were now brought to a peak as the one around whom they gathered made a quiet exit from the body and the room. The pent up emotional anticipation could now be released in a tumble of tears. There was pain, but there was sweetness in that place. You could feel the blanket of soft tenderness and the warmth of love behind the pain of parting. These were people who were, in part, held together by the one they had just lost. These were those who had common experiences, shared life happenings built around one who was now represented by the empty chair.

Our lives are a puzzle of people and events that fit together uniquely from the vantage point of our own heart view. Yet, they are more than that. We can neither fully grasp the meaning of people in our lives in real time, nor do we often see the point in many of life’s moments – until our lives are completed and we are in the presence of our Savior. Not only that, but we can forget the size of our attachment to each other. In Christ, we have a vast family that extends beyond the biological one – a community not bounded to a spot on the globe. We are a part of something that extends outward around the world, and backward through time – we are connected to “the communion of the saints” now in the presence of the Savior. We are linked to a fraternity that is broad in its size and varied in its makeup and deep in its connection around common values of our one Father. We find the wholeness of our identity in Jesus – One not represented by an empty chair –but by an empty TOMB. It’s true, as followers of Jesus, we are a family of sorts – with all its laughter, its beauty and all its embarrassing moments.

Key Principle: A proper walk with Jesus is about fitting life together with other believers, and making an impact together that we cannot make alone.

Paul knew ministry was about TEAM. He knew that his life was an essay in working together, sharing together and accomplishing together. The end of virtually every letter of Paul was about the people he was connected to in Christ, and his desires and hopes for them. Look at the close to the Colossian letter:

Colossians 4:7 As to all my affairs, Tychicus, [our] beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. 8 [For] I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; 9 and with him Onesimus, [our] faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your [number]. They will inform you about the whole situation here. 10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and [also] Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); 11 and [also] Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and [also] Demas. 15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. 16 When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter [that is coming] from Laodicea. 17 Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” 18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

Look at the list of people Paul mentioned.

Ambassadors: Some were with him until he sent them with this letter: Tychicus and Onesimus (the runaway slave who also carried his own letter to his master Philemon).

Local Coworkers: Some remained behind, like Aristarchus, the fellow prisoner. Others stayed with Paul as much as possible to help him, like Epaphras the prayer warrior, Luke the physician, and Demas another companion.

Disciples and Assistants: Some were in Paul’s presence, but may have left him in Rome by the time the letter was received in Colossae, because Paul directed them on errands, like John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas and Jesus called Justus – some Jewish believers that encouraged Paul in his condition.

Family far away: Some were on the receiving end of the letter, like Nympha the hostess and Archippus, a local church leader.

So that we don’t get lost in the list of people, let’s identify that Paul outlined seven types of people in the community of faith that are essential in navigating life well with Jesus before a lost world. We cannot do it alone, and we are not natural about the attachment of the Spirit in a fallen world. We must recognize the unity God gave us, and then endeavor to strengthen it.

Seven Brothers and Sisters Essential to Navigating Life Well

1: Loving brothers:

The first kind of partner in life you and I need are what I am simply calling LOVING BROTHERS OR SISTERS. Here he included Tychicus (4:7) who was called “beloved brother” (agapes adelphos) as well as Onesimus (4:9) who was also addressed by that title. Luke was mentioned in this way as “beloved” (4:14).

We all know we need loving family to grow in Jesus. Our lives are interconnected, and what we become is often very related to WHO we have partnered with to grow. For Paul’s circle, one man was a doctor, (Luke) another man was a freeborn Roman (Tychicus) and the other a runaway slave found by Jesus (Onesimus). It didn’t matter how they came INTO the faith, what level of capability they had to help the others or what baggage they brought – it matters that they found in each other a family, and in God’s love a home. They found a place where people could LOVE them while they learned to grow into their walk with Jesus. Love isn’t the sole foundation of our walk together, however. It is important we recall that Peter carefully sketched out, under the Divine move of God’s Spirit, “God’s process for us in following Him together” as expressed in 2 Peter 1:

1:5-7 offers clear and eight deliberate steps should a believer should take to grow as a part of the body of Christ:

1. It all starts with Faith (pistis) the vision of what God says is true. A believer must conform our personal opinions and ideas to what God says in His Word, or we will be tossed about and not able to build on that foundation. These ideas form a new “world view” that is Biblical. The method is the transformation of our minds through the careful understanding of God’s Word.

2. Next, I must add to this Biblical world view specific chosen acts of moral excellence (areetay) a word from metallurgy that was commonly used for purity. My Biblically shaped world view must show in my moral choices and acts of truth and purity. Believers who live immorally cannot grow properly. Choices affect proper growth spiritually as dramatically as abuses of the body affect proper growth phytsically. One mirrors the other.

3. As I continue to grow, I must next focus on adding knowledge, (gnosis: add learning strategies and life experiences that enhance specifics of God’s teachings and wise experience). The experience of the Christian life is to be a shared experience. I can’t accomplish God’s desire for me if I don’t spend time with those who know more about how to be successful in the walk – it is the best way to grow.

4. Surrounded by others and walking in that Biblical world view, I need to focus on the constant discipline of self-control, (eng-kratia: one who masters his impulses) I must learn strategies to control impulses for God). Even though I will increasingly shape a more Biblical world view, it will be constantly challenged by my rebellious and undisciplined nature. I need to learn how to address that part of me as well. This will include learning to control my thought life, my mouth, and my behaviors.

5. Dealing with my disciplines I will be challenged by life’s difficulties. For these I must learn to persevere, (hupo-meno: stand by the difficult and remain under rather than try to escape the uncomfortable). I will want to quit, but I must stand under the load and not abandon my post. Those who go the distance see the prize, those who quit half way see only the troubles of the journey.

6. While I stand at my post and pass through troubles, I will deepen in reverence under God’s gentle and powerful hand. I will learn to see God and revere Him in a deeper way, (godliness: eusebace; reverence and worship). It takes experience with God to really appreciate Who He is and what He has done.

There is a common error in our churches that must be addressed. Many want to start with some form of musical or emotional worship today, but Peter makes clear that real worship is built on other things that must be settled first. This list in 2 Peter 1 is an ORDERED ONE. Coming to WORSHIP and seeking God is preceded by BELIEF in what He says, MORAL CHOICES that are in harmony with what He said, LIVING STRATEGIES of His Word, CONTROLLED IMPULSES in my lifestyle, and an understanding that it may take PERSEVERANCE to really connect with God amidst the distractions of life. Worship isn’t easy, but nothing that is truly impacting and extremely important is!

I am not suggesting that a believer needs to be PERFECT to worship – or none of us would. I am suggesting that the soul mimics the Spirit, and we will not be sure that we are, in fact, acceptably worshiping and effectively seeking God if we start with that.

7. When I really am experiencing God’s grace and worshiping His presence in my life, I will have endurance and grace in my striving with others. (Phildelphos: brotherly kindness, operate in grace to pull others up). How I treat others is a reflection of my walk with God. Bad relationships are a symptom of a deeper problem, not the key problem, and that was James’ point in the fighting between believers in the early Messianic movement.

8. When I am experiencing God’s power and grace, and I am reflecting His attitudes in my life, I am able to give myself away to love. (agape: unconditional and whole love; wholly caring for others before self). A right application of true love comes from a whole and complete lover. My maturity has everything to do with my ability to truly love another. If we start with LOVE, we may be attracted in LUST and not in God’s love. Moral choices will be compromised as we miss-order the list we were given.

In public discourse, the Bible follower has been placed on the defensive as more and more people are applying a misconstrued idea about what LOVE. In almost any discussion about moral limits in the public forum today, someone echoes the notion that Christian’s shouldn’t JUDGE, but they should LOVE as Jesus and His Disciples taught. That brand of so-called love is applied liberally to force acceptance of any practice that has been historically shunned by Bible believers, even when the practice is clearly outlined in the text of Scripture as reprehensible to God. Is that really LOVE as Scripture teaches? The text argues clearly that it is not. Peter said it ever so clearly in the beginning of his second epistle. He URGED LOVE – but a love that was defined and clear. He claimed that TRUE LOVE sits on TOP OF OTHER UNDERLYING TRUTHS.

Peter claims that TRUE LOVE must be based on a Biblical world view (he used the term “faith”, corresponding moral choices (“virtue”), knowledgeable strategies of working them out, self-mastery, perseverance, reverence, and practical kindness. He claims that people who violate that progression and try to put LOVE first will become unproductive and unsure of their true relationship with Jesus. That’s his argument, and it makes sense to anyone who has children. Love places limits or lives with the consequences of unruly and unwholesome living. The call for LOVE today is often nothing more than a version of TOLERANCE of behaviors that were unacceptable in the Scriptures – redressed in a garb called “love” – but it is a charlatan’s trick.

The list Peter provided clearly illustrates that Biblical love isn’t an inoffensive, warm and fuzzy tolerance – it is genuine caring about everyone’s welfare by following God’s declarations of the clear fences that mark proper conduct and unacceptable behavior.

In the end, we need loving partners, but that isn’t as simple as it would seem. It includes people that have been deliberate about their growth in Jesus, and have been following the path He placed before us. The bottom line is this: we need loving brothers and sisters to hold us up when our arms are too tired to do what we were called to do.

2: Faithful partners:

Tychicus is mentioned as FAITHFUL (4:7) and again Onesimus (4:9), but the list continued. Jesus called Justus was included (4:11). Epaphras was called out in a particular area of faithfulness – prayers for their completion in Christ and understanding of God’s will for each of them (4:12). It didn’t matter how far they were from one another – they could lift the other before God though miles away. Faithful partnering isn’t always about physical presence, but it is ALWAYS about consistent and deliberate help to the other.

The term FAITHFUL is “pistós” (an adjective that is derived from peíthō, “persuaded”). The word is used interchangeably with loyalty to the faith. Don’t skip the derivation of the word. I walk in faithfulness when I am FULLY PERSUADED of the rightness of the path, and the benefit of endurance.

• People leave a marriage because they are NO LONGER PERSUADED they cannot live without their partner.

• People become disloyal to their country, and trade secrets, because they are no longer persuaded the nation they have served is worthy of their trust.

• People leave a company because they no longer believe that work environment will offer them what they truly want in advancement and environment.

Faithfulness is rooted in being persuaded. Faithfulness to God is rooted in true and honest belief that God is Who He says He is, and will do what He says He will do. You need people in your life that have that long view of God. David Owens illustrates God’s ability to do what He said:

A man named Russell Edward Herman left trillions of dollars to thousands of people he’d never met. What was the catch? Russell Edward Herman didn’t have trillions of dollars. He was just a simple, poor carpenter. While the wild, wild will of the late Russell Herman never paid off for his “beneficiaries,” it certainly enlivened conversations. Take the tiny Ohio River town of Cave-In-Rock, for example. Herman bequeathed $2.41 billion to them. Cave-In-Rock’s mayor, Albert Kaegi had this to say, “It’s an odd thing to happen, isn’t it?” While the will would never pay off, the mayor had no trouble imagining uses for the willed imaginary monies. Russell Edward Herman had great intentions, but he lacked the resources needed to make them a reality. The greatness of God, however, stands in sharp contrast. God not only has made great and precious promises, He has the ability to follow through on every single one of them.

Faithfulness to God is rooted deeply in persuasion ABOUT God. If He is able to deliver on salvation, following Him is worthwhile. If I am not convinced, then why would I give up the pleasure of living for self for this season in the hope that He will see my surrendered heart? I simply wouldn’t.

Faithful partners in Christ are people who are first faithful to the Master, and then as a consequence of that belief faithful to serving a brother or a sister. If the faithfulness to Christ isn’t first, the enemy will be able to introduce something into the relationship – a hindrance or trouble – that will wedge between you. The faithfulness will fail when the enemy is able to convince either or both of you that you are being taken. All it takes to destroy the relationship between Ruth and Naomi is for the enemy to convince Naomi that Ruth is only her friend to get her farm and her heritage. If Naomi believed the poison, the book would have finished entirely differently.

Here is the warning: surround yourself with people who are endeavoring to be faithful to Christ in their choices, and who will push you to be as well. Don’t let the enemy fill your ears with ulterior motives – spend time with them, and cherish them. Affirm every faithful step they take and stay close to them.

3: Encouraging guides:

Along with those who will faithfully partner is the mention of one who needed encouragement to continue to follow Christ with their full efforts – like Archippus (4:17). He was apparently tempted to distraction from fully working out his giftedness in faithful service. The warning of Paul was a public one, read in the openness of the assembly as an encouragement to stay by the task assigned to him. Many BEGIN serving Jesus, but some need to be encouraged to STAY WITH the task until it has been completed in and through them. Paul used his gift of exhortation to warm and guide him.

For those who possess exhortation as a gift, we must be warned: the gift of exhortation can become caustic if not immersed in the control of the Spirit of God. That same gift was dispensed because it is essential to the fitting together of the body. Exhortation must be tempered by wisdom, and that comes with experience. If God has gifted you with the ability to see clearly where others cannot, and speak to the issue effectively when others do not – you must steward the gift very carefully – so that you don’t become unnecessarily critical and unduly harsh.

Remember that people in our “always affirm” society don’t handle criticism very well, so it must be delivered carefully. Most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. We also need to do a personal eye check for logs before we start exhorting anyone about anything. We need to have God at work in us, in a way that others can tell we are truly speaking for their good, and not out of our annoyance. Vance Havner once rightly said: “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”

People are hungry for encouragers today – not just hollow affirmers. I treasure people who give difficult feedback to me, and some of you do as well. Encouragement keeps us looking forward, because we feel like a team is PULLING FOR US. Encouragement keeps us smiling in a world that is frowning. In “Laugh Again”, Chuck Swindoll made the observation: “I know of no greater need today than the need for joy. Unexplainable, contagious joy. Outrageous joy…Unfortunately, our country seems to have lost its spirit of fun and laughter. Recently, a Brazilian student studying at a nearby university told me that what amazes him most about Americans is their lack of laughter. I found myself unable to refute his criticism”. We are not just sad because we forgot how to laugh. Americans are worried. They are nervous. It is time for believers to learn to encourage, and fill our rooms again with laughter!

4: Competent companions:

Some people are particularly encouraging because they are LIKE US in some important way. For Paul, three men represented the Jewish believers – Aristarchus, Mark and Yeshua called Justus. We need people who understand our background, our thinking, our needs – they will encourage us in deep and significant ways. Paul had some Messianic believers around him that understood the lifestyle of a Jew in the Roman world.

It isn’t wrong for you to seek to be with those who are like you. You should always be kind and hospitable, but it isn’t a flaw that you prefer to hang out with people that are similar in background and culture to you. That is natural, ever since the Tower of Babel yielded divisions into nationalism. Those who know how we are raised are often able to speak more deeply into our hearts. That is no secret. If multi-culturalism has taught us ANYTHING, it should teach us that we don’t understand as much as we think we do about other people around the planet, and other cultures they come from. Truly competent people know their limitations. Unfortunately, there are a lot of incompetent people out there today. I read this last week:

Most incompetent people don’t know they are incompetent. In fact, researcher Dr. David A. Dunning of Cornell University reports that people who are incompetent are more confident of their abilities than competent people. Dunning and his associate Justin Krueger believe that skills required for competence are the same skills necessary to recognize that ability. Krueger writes in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Not only do [incompetent people] reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” SOURCE: Hank Simon, Catch-22 of Incompetence, Belleville, Illinois. Citation: New York Times News Service, Belleville [Illinois] News-Democrat (1-18-00.)

Even in our own country we are having trouble speaking to each other. Why would we believe we truly understand those half a world away after a thirty second news segment? Brothers and sisters, we must be slower to conclude that we understand things. Too many people are making decisions that shouldn’t be – and too many decisions are being made that are damaging our future. You see, in a democracy, good will without competence and competence without good will are both equivalent formulas for community disaster.

Our problem carries to the mission field as well, because we make a mistake when we think that we can casually adopt another world view and truly understand what someone else is saying because they have learned our language. We need to slow down and recognize that we may grasp their words, but entirely miss their meaning. Some of you know that I was almost married once, entirely by accident, because I thought the Arab community of East Jerusalem was just like my little town in New Jersey. It was a time that marked dramatic learning in my life.

We don’t need people who THINK they know us – but close friends that share life perspective – especially when we are hurting. We don’t want to have to explain from our pain. Truly competent team members know what you mean by the grunt of the groan. You need friends like this, and so did Paul.

5: Caring providers:

It appears, according to some records that Dr. Luke cared for Paul’s needs in his house arrest, and acted as an amanuensis, or secretary for Paul. Nympha (4:15) provided for believers in her home as a hostess for the local fellowship. Every believer needs these kinds of people in their lives – those who will see a need and not wait for a new program to start meeting it. Ministry is messy, and there are as many needs as there are people. Some of those who come in the door are deeply hurt by what life has delivered to them. They hurt in every direction. Some of YOU are gifted to be the caring providers.

Marc Axelrod mentioned this story in one of his writings: “There’s an old story about Dr. Benjamin Warfield. He was a theology professor at Princeton Seminary. While he was still at the height of his academic powers, his wife got sick. And she became an invalid. He took care of her for ten years. During that ten year period, he never spent more than 2 hours away from his wife. Even though she was handicapped, she still loved to read. And so Dr. Warfield would sit at her bedside day after day. And read to her. He was always gentle and caring with her. One day, someone asked him, “Have you ever thought about taking your wife to an institution?” Then you could write bigger books and have a bigger ministry.” But Dr. Warfield said, “No way. My wife is my ministry. I will never leave her side. I am going to love her and take care of her as long as God grants us life.”

Don’t we ALL hunger to have someone in our lives that will be that caring provider when what we add to their lives is so much less than what we ask for from them? We all need caring providers, and some of us are especially gifted to be one in the lives of those in the body around us.

6: Fellow servants:

Tychicus (4:7) and Epaphras (4:12) are noted as fellow slaves or servants. The term “doulos” that Paul routinely used of himself was a loaded term in a society where nearly half of all the empire was populated by slaves. Paul was BORN a free man of Rome, but DIED a slave of Jesus. No man or woman of God could want more. Yet some do… Demas (4:14) served for a time, but eventually peeled away from Paul (2 Timothy 4:9 “Make every effort to come to me soon; 10for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens [has gone] to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” The sad fact is that some will serve for a time, but be pulled away.

Slaves keep their tastes simple, and their eye on pleasing their Master. They are those who SEEK to find a way to help. They may have limitations, but they are undaunted in their zeal to live to please the Master.

Bishop J.C. Ryle, the first bishop of Liverpool, wrote about servants of Christ and said: “[Their] zeal is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. A zealous man is preeminently a man of one thing. He is more than earnest, hearty, uncompromising, wholehearted, and fervent in spirit. He sees only one thing, cares about one thing, lives for one thing, swallowed up in one thing, and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives or dies, has health or has sickness, whether he is rich or poor, pleases people or gives offense, whether he is thought wise or foolish, gets the blame or the praise, whether he receives honor or is given shame, He burns for one thing, and that one thing is to please God. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, he will work and give money, he will cry and sigh and pray. If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will hold up the hands of Moses until the battle is won.” (From a sermon by Robert Stone, The People God Can’t Forget: Nehemiah, 5/28/2011).

The church has produced clergy, professionals, publishers and prima donnas – but it lacks servants around the world. Are you one? We need them, and when we see them working – it is a breath of fresh air!

7: Fellow prisoners:

Aristarchus (4:10) was another believing prisoner that shared the hardships with Paul. Sometimes what you need more than anyone else is someone who has the same problems, same struggles, and same needs as you do. They may not be able to remove your need or satiate your hunger, but a shared sorrow is half a sorrow. Seek out those who understand, because they are going through it just as you are.

Widows, seek out those who have survived the process. Widowers, spend more time listening to those who have walked through the fire. If you are sick, make a prayer partner out of someone else who is, and call each other every day to chat for a few minutes. Hearing about someone else’s problems helps to keep life in balance. Sometimes you need a fellow prisoner to listen to your pain.

In the end, we need a variety of people – and we need to be at work helping others on our team… but we have a problem:

Every team in the NFL has players that know what their role is on the team. Some are part of the offense – the part of the team that puts points on the board. Others are part of the defense, those who hold back the opponent from moving the ball down the field in the “wrong” direction and scoring against their home team. What we are doing is MUCH MORE than a game – but it DOES have an opponent, and that opponent does have a team. He has a strategy called in Scripture his “schemes”, and he has an objective – to thwart the work of our Master. How is it possible that many of us don’t know – years into the service of our King – what our role is on the team?

A proper walk with Jesus is about fitting life together with other believers, and making an impact together that we cannot make alone.