Summary: St. Paul appreciated, and needed his friends. Jesus needed friends. We need friends.
Almost 6 months after we began studying St. Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church here on Sunday mornings we reach its conclusion. This letter – or Epistle – was probably written between 52 and 56 AD; about 20 to 25 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus; and whereas together we have been studying it a few sentences at a time, it is very likely that the Church at Colossae – in modern day Turkey – would have listened to it in one sitting. It’s good to read chunks of the Bible in one go; like it makes sense to read a novel or a biography over the course of a few days so we don’t forget where we’ve got to!
I’ve got two books on the go at the moment. One is a novel I started before Christmas and I’ve got rather bogged down with it. The other is an autobiography – the moving story of Gracia Burnham & her husband Martin, kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines in 2001. In one week I’ve read most of it!
I’ve lost the thread of the novel I’ve had on the go for over 2 months but I’m enthralled by the autobiography I’ve been reading for a few days.
We’ve spent 6 months in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. On my audio Bible of the New Testament it takes 12 minutes to listen to the letter in one sitting; and it takes ten minutes to read quietly to myself. Can I encourage you to take 10 to 12 minutes to read it through this week? If you don’t have a Bible at home please feel free to borrow one from the Church.
Just a few years earlier St. Paul – previously known as Saul – had been an observant religious Jew; and he had persecuted the early Church (Acts 7:58). He had overseen the murder and imprisonment of many believers; but after a dramatic, life changing experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3ff where Paul heard the voice of Jesus) he became a believer; he planted Churches, and was imprisoned.
I think the worst I have experienced is a clipboard bashed on my head and a literal kick from behind on one occasion at Glasgow station, and a few swear words on another; but Paul (having imprisoned Christians when he was younger) is now in chains himself (Col 4:18). We don’t know exactly what conditions he was being held under, but in his closing remarks we get a feel for St. Paul’s appreciation of particular people, his concern for individual people, and his instructions concerning certain people.
Last Sunday here was session 1 of ‘Friends Rediscovered’ (a DVD resource by Jeff Lucas). Session 2 is this evening at 6.30 pm. Please feel free to come to as many or as few sessions as you can. Sessions 3 and 4 take place on 21st and 28th March and we are looking at the gift of friendship through the eyes of St. Paul. Tonight’s session is called ‘Hopes and disappointments’. There may be some overlap between tonight and this morning, but only a little.
St. Paul was in chains – under arrest – as a direct result of his proclamation concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. If Paul were alive today in the UK he would not have been very politically correct! He would have preached faith in Jesus to people who aren’t sure what they believe. He would have preached faith in Jesus to people of other faiths; and he would have preached faith in Jesus to Churches. Quite possibly he would have infringed the law because he would have offended some people. He would have upset some, and others may have complained to the authorities about him. Quite possibly Paul would have been imprisoned for being clear about his beliefs in Jesus; just as there are men and women in chains right now, as we speak, in China, Burma and other lands where there is persecution against Christians.
Paul’s letter was imploring the people of the Church to ‘keep the faith’ – but the bearers of the letter (Tychicus & Onesimus) also brought news about him.
Paul wrote: ‘Tychicus will tell you all the news about me’ (4:7), so ‘that you may know about our circumstances’ (4:8); and ‘[Tychicus and Onesimus] will tell you everything that is happening here’ (4:9).
Although Paul had an important job to do in writing this letter to the Church, he also wanted to share with the Church personal details about his circumstances, his imprisonment, his faith, and his ups and downs. He was not remote from the people he was writing to. Neither must we be remote from each other. Neither must we be remote from people we work with, or people who need us. Sharing our lives with others is essential; and I need to say it is something I’ve found hard to do since becoming ill in 2007. I need to share my life with you more than you probably realise. From prison St. Paul sent personal news about himself with two of his friends. There is news available of imprisoned Christian brothers and sisters via Open Doors and The Barnabas Fund.