Summary: This sermon introduces the Prison Epistles. It is followed by a ten week series on the book of Colossians.
The Anatomy of the Church – A study of the prison epistles
We are starting a new series based out of the book of Colossians. The series is called “The anatomy of the Church” and in reality the series will go beyond Colossians and end up covering four of the books from the Apostle Paul. We will be looking at Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians and Philemon. And then, time willing this year, we may crack open the book of Galatians as well. I also have a couple short series that will be interspersed here and there.
But the four books in particular that we will look at, Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians and Philemon, are all from the NT and they are in a group of letters called the prison Epistles.
By the way we will use the word epistle quite often in this series. Epistle is one of those churchy words that you will usually only hear in a sermon or Bible study. But it’s from the Greek word epistol; which means 'to send a message to'.
But the prison epistles or prison letters are called that because they were written at the same time by the Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned in the city of Rome.
He took these four letters, entrusted them to four faithful messengers, and then sent them off to their respective destinations. These four letters, when taken as a whole, give us the anatomy of the church, the makeup of a true Christ follower. That’s where we get the title for our series.
And what I want to do this morning it introduce those messengers and letters, and then spend a few minutes talking about how we need to receive the word of God as we travel through this series here in 2010.
But jumping back almost 2000 years ago to the year 62 AD. Four messengers are chosen because of their trustworthiness and dedication and Paul entrusts to their care four of the most valuable documents in the history of mankind. These messengers leave Rome carrying a document that, although they can’t have any idea, will influence millions of people in the centuries to follow.
Who were those four messengers?
Well, the first was a man named Tychicus (Tik-i-kus).
(often mispronounced Tich-i-cus because of the spelling) was carrying the letter to the Ephesians over in the city of Ephesus where he would later become the pastor or the leader of that church. (possibly and probably carried letter to Colossians as well – confusion on this part – did he just visit on behalf of Onesimus or did he carry the letter.)
And of the four messengers we probably know the most about this one. Tychicus is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament. He was a Christian convert from Asia and a friend and companion of the apostle Paul.
At different times in the NT we find Tychicus delivers apostolic letters to Ephesus and Laodacia. We find him making a visit to the Colossian church. He later, at the request of Paul took over the ministry duties of Titus on the island of Crete and then later took over for Timothy as Pastor of the church in Ephesus. This freed Timothy up to go be with Paul.
Tychicus was a faithful companion of Paul and servant of Christ right up the very end and he was instrumental in the spread of the early church. And for a guy that did so much and was so faithful to Christ it’s amazing that so few people know of his existence.
Before this sermon I doubt that 80% of you had ever heard, or remembered hearing, the name Tychicus. No one names their kids after him like we do with the other great figures of the New Testament. No one seems to acknowledge the great work that he has done.
And yet he faithfully carried out his duties. The obvious application here is that we need a lot of people like Tychicus in the church…..
Well, the second guy was named:
And Epaphroditus carried Paul’s letter to the Philippians
Epaphroditus is mentioned only in the letter he carried and from that letter we gather that Epaphroditus was the pastor of the church in the city of Philippi. He had been sent with a gift from the church to aid the Apostle Paul while he was in prison and now Paul was sending him back to the church with his letter of encouragement.
On his arrival at Rome, Epaphroditus devoted himself to "the work of Christ," both as an assistant to Paul personals as well as an assistant in the missionary work. And the Bible tells us that he worked so hard that his health eventually broke. He was near death but managed to rally in his health. It was at this point that Paul sent him back to Philippi with this letter.