November 13 – Colossians 4:7-18

Main focus: Relationships are the primary context for the ministry Jesus has given us to fulfill.

Here we are friends, at the end of our fourteen-week series in Colossians! For three and a half months we’ve talked about what it means to live as a Citizen of Jesus’s Kingdom, and this week is a great time to look back and reflect on that time, so we’ll kick off discussion with a quick question about something you’ve learned from the series. We tend to live fast-paced lives in which it’s all too easy to move on to the next thing without much time to process and, in doing so, fail to celebrate what God has done in us through his word.

Once you’ve done that, jump into the passage for this week which, admittedly, is a bit of a tricky one. Reading 4:7-18 is a bit like stumbling into someone else’s conversation, filled with references to people you don’t know and events you weren’t there for. Much like the final greetings in Paul’s other letters, this section is a hodgepodge of side comments to individuals in the church and from mutual friends. However, one thing is quite clear in this passage and relevant to celebrating our 20th anniversary as a church: ministry happens only in the context of human relationships. Sure, our 20 years have seen many successes and achievements, killer sermon series and conferences, exquisite devotionals and handouts—the Jesus videos, no less! But the true work God has given us, the only work that will endure into eternity, is with people, the shepherding of souls.

Back to all the names in this passage—in this intro we’ll look at a bit of background on some of these people, but our discussion won’t rely on it. Instead, we’ll try to pick up on the caliber of these relationships, how people were treating each other and how they felt about each other, in order to talk about the relational context of ministry, to sense out how God uses others in our lives and how God intends to use us in the lives of others. 

We won’t cover every name here, but keep in mind how these bits of backstory communicate the sorts of relational dynamics in the early church. First, Paul mentions faithful Tychicus since he hand-delivered Paul’s letter to the Colossian church (along with Paul’s letter to Ephesus, cf. Eph 6:21, and likely his letter to Philemon). Later in verse 12 you’ll see Epaphras, the man who planted the church in Colossae (cf. Col 1:7) and is always “struggling” or “wrestling” on their behalf in prayer. Towards the end you’ll see Nympha, who hosted a church in her home likely at her personal expense. The work of ministry is the work of faithful men and women like them, serving others and paving the way for ministry in order to encourage their hearts (4:8) and expand the kingdom. 

In 4:9 you’ll see Onesimus, the runaway slave who became a Christian and who Paul sent back to his master, Philemon, in order to reconcile whatever situation led to Onesimus’s escape. Go read the letter to Philemon, which explains all this, and you’ll see an example of how the gospel completely changes the way people relate to one another, taking people who would otherwise never be together and making them into a family.

After Aristarchus Paul mentions Mark, also called John Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark and with whom Paul had a massive disagreement (Acts 15:36-41), likely because Mark had some bias against doing ministry among Gentiles. But here in Colossians 4, likely 13-14 years later, we see that Paul and Mark have reconciled, probably due to growth and repentance on Mark’s part, and Paul makes sure the mostly Gentile believers in Colossae know to welcome Mark into their homes. In contrast is Demas—he’s mentioned in verse 14 as another faithful minister, but a year or two after this letter Paul wrote, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim 4:10). Relationships within and outside the church, and the ministry that comes with them, are not without their hardship and hurts.

In our discussion, we’ll make the connection between this passage and Colossians 3:16-17, noticing how the way these believers were relating to one another was a completion of Christ’s word filling their lives. Then we’ll  connect this passage to our own lives by looking at the relationships in which God has blessed us and in which he intends to use us. All of us have someone in our life who has served faithfully, encouraged our hearts, even, like Epaphras, wrestled on our behalf in prayer. Just like in our physical birth, no one is born into the kingdom all on their own. Similarly, God intends to use us in the lives of others, to serve them faithfully, encourage their hearts, and wrestle on their behalf in prayer. 

To look at one final individual from this passage, there’s Archippus, likely the son of Philemon and Apphia (Philemon 2) and the only one to receive a special charge from Paul. As we look ahead to further years at Vintage Church, and the generations of work that might be done through men and women and children after Vintage is gone and forgotten, perhaps we can hear Paul’s words to Archippus for ourselves and run the race set before us with endurance: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” We’ll close this discussion, and our study in Colossians, by reading a blessing from Ephesians 3, reminding ourselves that all the work of the kingdom, and our faithful living within it, is a work completed by God alone.

Questions for Discussion

• Before we get into the passage, what’s been a big takeaway for you from our Colossians series?

• Could someone read Colossians 4:7-18 for us?

• There are a lot of names we don’t know here, but how does this passage describe the relationships that existed within the early church?

• What things were these people doing for one another? How do you think they felt about each other?

• How do you think this passage relates to 3:16-17?

• Look at verse 12. What are some of the people that God has used in your life to help you mature in your knowledge of him?

• Who has God called you to serve that same way?

• Let’s close our time by reading Ephesians 3:14-21. Could someone read that for us?