by Steve Zeisler
People are fascinating, and most of us like to talk about others. There
is a growing industry in this culture based on catering to gossip through
magazines and talk shows in which people tell embarrassing things about
themselves. The fascination we have with human beings seems to be on the
rise everywhere. I think the British have retained their royal family just
to have something to talk about around the dinner table.
There are good reasons and bad reasons to be fascinated by people. Some
bad reasons are being judgmental, we enjoy ridiculing someone else, or we're
voyeuristic in our interest in others. A good reason is love for others,
which causes us to be genuinely concerned both to know others in order to
be a blessing to them, and to make ourselves known to them so that the life
of Christ that exists within us can be displayed more fully.
LOVE FOR PEOPLE
The passage of Scripture that we have come to this morning is filled with
references to specific people. This is one of the great human sections of
the Bible. The book of Colossians to this point has been largely about the
glory of Jesus Christ and his supremacy over all that has been and will
be created. It has been about prayer to God. There has been a great deal
of heavenly discussion. But the final and most practical section, which
we began last week, has to do with human beings. God is fascinated with
us, just as we are with each other. He is deeply interested in the very
ordinary stuff that makes up human life. We'll meet a number of folks in
our study of this section, and see a bit of Paul's commendation of them,
his words of encouragement, and a brief prayer. I hope we'll be encouraged
in relationships among ourselves as well.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of
thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God may
open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery
of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may
make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom
toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech
always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may
know how you should respond to each person.
The first category of people that the apostle is concerned for is those
who are not yet part of the Christian community, who are outside the faith.
He introduces this subject by calling on all who read these words to be
devoted in prayer. He wants them to pray in particular that he would be
able to speak effectively to those who have are not yet convinced of the
truth of the mystery that has been revealed, "Christ in you, the hope
of glory." Then ultimately he directs all who read these words to conduct
themselves in such a way that their lives are attractive to non-Christians.
Let's look at the directive to pray in verse 2. He first tells us some very
important things about prayer in general: "Devote yourselves to prayer,
keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving." We can see three
ideas here. First of all, prayer should be a devotion of ours. That is,
it should be something that we are deeply committed to, not a whimsy that
every now and then captures our attention, so that we give ourselves to
it briefly but then turn aside to get caught up with something else. You
probably know people who have an identifiable devotion: perhaps the 49ers,
their job, money, or their family. You can tell what anyone is devoted to
by the depth of their commitment or by their insistence that it is important.
The apostle Paul is calling on believers to be devoted in prayer, to care
deeply about it, and to be committed to it.
Secondly, he says to be alert in prayer. We can at times find our minds
wandering, can't we? I don't know anyone who isn't periodically frustrated
at their inability to concentrate during prayer. We find ourselves repeating
sentences, mouthing phrases, without paying any attention at all to what
we're saying. Paul's word here reminds us that we must choose to stay alert.
Our devotion should make us active in prayer, and our alertness should keep
us engaged in it. We mustn't allow it to become routine, empty phrases.
The last time I was in traffic school, the point made by the instructor
was that people drive badly not because they don't know how to drive, but
because they don't stay alert. We were reminded that if your mind is occupied
with how furious you are at somebody, you're worried about something, you're
late for an appointment, or you've taken a drug and you're unable to concentrate,
you're going to be a bad driver because you aren't alert. We had all gotten
tickets because we hadn't been alert. The same word applies to prayer here.
Don't let other things crowd in and destroy your ability to concentrate
during the time you spend in prayer to God.
The last point is that prayer is to be made with thanksgiving. It is not
to be a duty that we shoulder reluctantly in order to meet some standard,
our devotion grudgingly given and our alertness maintained under duress.
We are to be grateful for the possibility of speaking to God, drawing near
to him, knowing how much he loves us and longs to communicate with us. It's
OPEN DOORS FOR PROCLAMATION
The prayer he puts in particular focus in verse 3 is, "...that God
may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery
of Christ, for which I have also have been imprisoned; in order that I may
make it clear in the way I ought to speak." Paul was in prison because
he was a Christian; his Christianity had proved dangerous to the security
of the Jews in Jerusalem and dangerous to the peace-keeping efforts of the
Romans in controlling their empire. He was in chains, and what he is asking
the Colossians to pray is that a door be opened, but not so he could be
released from prison to enjoy himself. He does at the very end of the book
ask them to remember his chains, and I think Paul's humanity is clear in
this. He didn't like being in prison. But his request is for an open door
for the gospel. He had been made a steward of a mystery, truth that the
whole world needed to hear, secrets that had been hidden from humanity and
that believers needed to be instructed in so that we could be everything
God intends us to be. So he is asking for an open door of opportunity to
speak this mystery. In fact, he is asking for a chance to do the very thing
that got him thrown into prison, "Pray for an open door that I may
go out and stir up more controversy, win more people to Christ, and shake
up the world that's committed to sin and self-preservation!"
The book of Philippians was written during this same imprisonment. Paul
makes a wonderful, subtle statement at the end of Philippians: "The
saints of Caesar's household greet you." He is referring to the guards
who had been chained to him every day. He was under house arrest, so there
was always a guard there to oversee him. But meanwhile Paul had friends
visit, and he was writing letters, talking to people about Christ, and over
time winning these Roman guards to the Lord, to the point that there was
now a community of believers among the praetorians (Caesar's handpicked
close associates and soldiers). The open door in this case was for him to
speak to his captors. Paul wanted an opportunity to care to speak the truth
courageously even though he knew that time and again it would get him in
trouble. He wanted to bless the very people who insisted on denying him
SEASONED WITH SALT
Finally, Paul wanted to say the things he needed to say in a way that would
be helpful to those who were still enemies. Look at verse 4: "...in
order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak." He is
asking not only for an open door for ministry, but thoughtfulness and sensitivity
in being able to speak the mystery of the source of real life to people
who didn't have it yet. He wanted to understand those he spoke to, to be
able to put it in terms that would make sense to them. It's amazing and
encouraging to me that this man, who had for many years had public ministry
in every place, was not confident that he knew everything and that he didn't
need prayer for wisdom about how to speak the truth. It was not a canned,
routine speech that he would run through in every setting. Every time he
met somebody, perhaps especially those who hated him for his faith, he wanted
to be able to understand their world and speak clearly, aptly, and helpfully.
While some outsiders or non-Christians oppose the gospel, however, those
we meet beginning in verse 5 are apt to be attracted to it. It says, "Conduct
yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Let your speech always be with grace." Paul was imagining speech to
be something like a tasty stew; you put the right amount of salt into it
to make it especially flavorful. We're to put grace into our speech the
same way you put salt into a stew so that people are all the more attracted
to what we have to say, interested in it, and apt to follow up on it. He's
picturing people who are going to come to us and say, "What was that
you were saying? You act as if God were alive and you could know him! You're
talking about prayer as if you take it seriously. And when you speak of
your Christian friends, you're not just talking about people trying to use
each other for their own ends, but something entirely different. I'm very
interested in this! Help me understand it."
These people are so attracted to the Jesus they see in us that they're coming
to us and asking us about what they see. We're answering their inquiries;
not forcing ourselves into their lives, battering them down, grabbing their
lapels and making them listen to us about things in which they have no interest.
They're interested! They would love to be as sure that God loves them as
we are sure that God loves us. We must learn how to season everything we
say with little references to the love of Christ so that the stew is so
tasty that people want more of it. We need to ask God to help us see open
doors, follow-up tentative inquiries and bring those attracted to Christ
to a life of faith.
John Fischer gave a concert here last Sunday. One of the songs he sang had
the refrain, "Jesus is the only way, but there's more than one way
to Jesus." He was exactly right to remind us that Jesus is the only
way to God, of course. Not all religions are good religions, and not everything
people declare about God is true. We must not say to each person we encounter
what we think they want to hear. "There is no other name under heaven
that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
But there is more than one way to Jesus; that is, we are called when we
enter the world of outsiders to know what to say and how to say it; what
not to say; how to listen; and how to be gracious, wise, clear, and courageous
as we share the words of eternal life, the "mystery of Christ."
WORDS OF GREETING
Now the rest of the chapter is taken up not with outsiders but with another
category of people: those who are already Christians. Paul has a great deal
to say about folks who are already of the faith just in these words of greeting
and encouragement. Let's read verses 7-9 to begin with:
As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant
and fellow bondservant in the Lord, will bring you information. I have
sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances
and that he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful
and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you
about the whole situation here.
In this first section Paul basically wants his own life, circumstances,
feelings, needs---in short, his world---to be explained to them.
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas'
cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you,
welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow
workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision [i.e.,
Jews]; and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. 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. For I bear him witness
that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea
and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings,
and also Demas.
The apostle includes greetings from a whole group of people who were with
him in Rome, some of whom the Colossians knew, such as Epaphras, who was
from Colossae. He talks about himself and his comrades in Rome because people
are fascinating and God cares about them. As we saw earlier, there is a
godly, loving way for us to be caught up and concerned with each other.
Now in the last section Paul is going to greet those who are in Colossae,
Laodicea, and Hierapolis, these three close cities that were parts of a
single Christian community. Verses 15-17:
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church
that is in her house. And 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. And say to Archippus, "Take
heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may
Finally he picked up the quill and wrote the very last sentence in his own
hand. Most of the time he dictated his letters (some think he had glaucoma
or other eye problems that made it difficult for him to write legibly),
and at the very end he would sign them with his own name, writing the last
greeting to authenticate them as his. He says in verse 18:
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment
[chains]. Grace be with you.
A GRAND MIXTURE
Now, there is a wonderful cross-section of people from verse 7 all the way
through the end of the chapter: Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Asians, slaves,
free, women, men, those who were older and experienced in the faith, and
those who were young and timid in the faith. There are all kinds of differences
among them, and yet there is community, respect, and love among them. Paul
gives us a beautiful example in the greetings at the end of this letter
as to what it's like to be inside the Christian community.
Let's go back to verses 7-9 where Paul mentions the two men, Tychicus and
Onesimus, who will bear this letter to the Colossians. He says that when
they get there they will talk about things that are not in the letter; they
will tell the Colossians about Paul. Paul was not a gossip, someone who
loves to talk about other people but remains hidden behind a veil himself.
He was very comfortable that his needs, wants, foibles, struggles, and joys
in life should be discussed in his absence. In fact, he's asking that these
two men do that.
The references to personalities and people here are all positive, for the
purpose of building them up. Onesimus in particular is an interesting man.
His story is told in the little book of Philemon. Philemon lived in Colossae
and was probably a fairly wealthy individual. He owned a slave named Onesimus.
Onesimus was lazy when he was there; he didn't get any work done. His name
means useful, and Paul makes a pun in the letter to Philemon, saying, "Well,
his name is finally equal to what he is. He has been useless to everybody,
but now he is useful to me and to the Lord." He not only was a useless
slave when he was there, but he ran away, which was, of course, illegal.
He found his way to Rome, became a Christian, and was transformed. He became
Paul's close associate, someone who served the apostle from the heart and
loved Jesus Christ.
Now Paul is sending him back to his master Philemon in Colossae. He sends
him back because it's the responsible thing to do, but he sends him back
as a brother in Christ. And he says (in the letter to Philemon), "Philemon,
everything has changed. Whether you own this slave or not is not so important
anymore. The issue now is that he is your brother in Christ. You need to
treat him that way, and he needs to treat you that way." The references
we saw last week to masters and slaves are written in the very context of
a slave returning to his master carrying this letter. So it's a wonderful
story of redemption, renewal, and relationships being restored.
In verse 10 we meet a man named Aristarchus. He shows up a few different
times in the New Testament, but there is never any reference to his saying
anything. In my mind's eye he is a big, tough guy with a square jaw who
doesn't talk much. He was first sent from Thessalonica with money collected
to care for the poor in Jerusalem. He was given responsibility for the money,
so he was evidently trustworthy. He was also capable; he could travel across
the Roman Empire and take care of business as necessary, and he accompanied
Paul on that journey. He showed up in Ephesus later in one of Paul's interesting
adventures. Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus, infuriating the idolators
there, who started a riot in which people were storming the streets, screaming
bloody murder, and attempting to kill the Christians. Aristarchus was one
of the ones who stood by Paul in the middle of the riot. He was the kind
of guy you wanted to have around when you had problems. Later he accompanied
Paul on the prison ship from Caesarea to Rome, where Paul was imprisoned
at this writing. And Paul calls him "my fellow prisoner." There
was no reason to believe that Aristarchus was really under arrest. It's
just that because of the kind of man he was, he shared Paul's imprisonment
with him. He was a brother you could count on; he hung with the apostle,
lived under the same circumstances, and served his good friend because he
cared about him.
Now in a bit of contrast to him, farther on in the paragraph Epaphras is
mentioned. In my mind's eye, if Aristarchus was the strong, tough, silent
type, Epaphras was a talker. Epaphras was the one who founded the church
in Colossae after he went to Ephesus, heard the gospel, and met Christ.
Paul says here that Epaphras was a native of Colossae, "one of your
number." He talked to Paul about his people, to people about the Lord,
and to the Lord about everything ("laboring earnestly in prayer").
Again, in contrast to one another, Epaphras was someone who spent hours
bringing heaven and earth together in his prayers, and Aristarchus was someone
who stood by saying little; but dealing very effectively with danger and
deprivation. They had different personalities, strengths, and gifts, but
they were both of great value.
e was different again from either of those two. His description in this
paragraph is "beloved physician." It's all well and good to have
the warrior types who can be serious, determined, and effective; and it's
also very good to have someone who knows how to pray and express his faith.
But every now and then you've got a broken bone and you need someone to
set it, or you're sick with a fever and you need someone to bring the fever
down. Paul rejoiced to have somebody with him who could care for people's
physical needs. Luke was the team physician. And all the time he was performing
those duties he was watching and listening to everybody, putting himself
in the background but taking notes. He ended up giving us perhaps the greatest
history ever penned by anyone, the two-volume set of the gospel of Luke
and the book of Acts.
Mark (also known as John Mark) and Demas stand as another interesting pair
in contrast with one another. Mark started out badly as a young man. He
was the cousin of Barnabas, who was one of the great heroes of the early
church. Barnabas wanted to help him out, so on their first missionary journey
Paul and Barnabas took Mark along with them. Eventually they got into trouble,
and John Mark chickened out and ran for home.
Later, Paul and Barnabas were going to go out on another adventure, and
Barnabas again wanted to bring Mark along. Paul said, "No way! The
gospel is too important, and the responsibility too awesome. We shouldn't
bring along young guys who can't pull their weight." (Paul and Barnabas
had an argument over it. Barnabas said, "This kid failed once, but
he's not going to fail forever. I believe in him." Paul said, "But
I believe in the message;" and they actually split up. The Lord ended
up using the convictions of both Paul and Barnabas redemptively. Paul publicly
reprimanded Mark for his failure then, but now he is publicly commending
him. In 2 Timothy, the last book he wrote just before his death, he commends
Mark even more fully. It's great testimony to the redemptive work of Christ.
Failing once doesn't mean failing forever. Mark's fear turned to courage,
and he became someone they could count on. He too became one of the great
chroniclers of the life of Christ. The book of Mark is this man's document.
Demas went the other direction. He began as an able member of the band which
traveled together in ministry. But there's a subtle point that comes across
in Paul's statement, "Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings,
and also Demas." Everybody in this paragraph has something positive
said about him except Demas. Demas is just Demas. He's not beloved, courageous,
fellow, or brother. It strikes me that Paul even at this point may have
begun to wonder about Demas and whether he was wholehearted in his devotion
to the cause of Christ. He wanted to mention him because he was there, but
he couldn't think of any honest comendation to add.
By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy at the end of his life, he said of Demas
that he "loved this present world" and abandoned his faith. He
loved what this world had to offer. We might think of him as sort of the
patron saint of modern failed televangelists: people who had an effective
ministry once but increasingly favor this world's goodies in place of the
stewardship of Christian service. By the end Demas had become an outsider
to the believing community. So Mark is the story of someone who started
out badly and ended up faithful. Demas is the story of someone who was in
the midst of sliding downhill even as this letter was written.
THE LYCHUS VALLEY CHURCH
Let's examine the last paragraph, beginning in verse 15, in which Paul sends
greeting to the believers who are receiving the letter. I've already mentioned
that there were three cities that were in close connection to each other.
Nobody knows for sure the identity of the letter coming from the Laodeceans
mentioned here. It may have been the book we know of as Ephesians, because
that was circulated and may have come to Laodicea, later to be passed on
to the Colossians. Or it may be a letter that has been lost to us.
There are two more people who are also interesting. First, Nympha was a
woman who owned a home where a church community or fellowship met. There
are a number of ancient manuscripts for this book that list that name as
Nymphas, a man's name. Most scholars agree that the original document said
Nympha, that this she was a woman who owned a home and was giving leadership
and hospitality to this church. But scribes transcribing the Bible changed
it from a feminine name to a masculine name, because of their discomfort
with women in prominent positions in the church. Christians struggling with
the roles of men and women, which we discussed last week, is not new.
The other person mentioned here is Archippus. Paul wrote this word to him
in verse 17: "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in
the Lord, that you may fulfill it." Archippus is also greeted at beginning
of the book of Philemon. Philemon, as I've said, was a wealthy man and a
leading figure in the church of the Lycus Valley, and Archippus was almost
certainly Philemon's son, probably a young man. Paul had a particular affinity
and concern for young men who struggled with timidity. He had rebuked Mark
because Mark had failed the test once, but in this letter he speaks well
of him. Timothy, whom Paul called his son in the faith, was a young man
who struggled with timidity or fearfulness. He often needed a word of encouragement
and "bucking up" in order to get on with what he had been called
to do. I think Archippus is the same kind of person. Paul meant, "Say
to Archippus, 'Even though your father is a big deal, and even though it's
hard for you to believe in yourself compared to other people, there is a
ministry you have received from the Lord that you are to fulfill. Don't
be afraid, wringing your hands and in self-doubt. If the Lord Jesus has
called you to some service for him, get on with it, because you can do what
God has given you to do.'"
The conclusion in the last verse is perhaps the most human thing about this
whole document. Paul says, "Remember my chains." He was counting
on the Colossians' caring and praying for him. We, too, must remember the
chains, figuratively speaking, of one another. Some may have physical disabilities
that bind and frustrate them. Others have emotional chains---perhaps relationships
that have the effect of weighing them down, or memories of past failure.
Let's not forget to be involved with one another in those things. We ought
to be concerned to be helpful to one another in the tough business of being
human. Our glorious Savior, described so powerfully in this letter, continues
to use the lives of ordinary people to honor himself and make the truth
Catalog No. 4334
October 4, 1992
THE LIFE BEARERS
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