Summary: Exploring development and implementation of church to church interaction.
“When this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
Sometimes we forget that the letters Paul wrote are not mere theological treatises, meant to provide sermon fodder for preachers desperate for something to preach. They are personal letters to churches composed of men and women known and loved by him. This is apparent in the final statements of his letter to the Colossians.
“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord’” [COLOSSIANS 4:10-17].
The Apostle is writing to friends—greeting them by name, encouraging them, forwarding greetings from people known to members of the congregation. This is an excellent example of the forgotten art of correspondence. I do not mean, however, that there is nothing of theological value in what the Apostle has written. Rather, his letters to the churches are designed to provide instruction in godliness and encouragement to be righteous while addressing specific problems.
There are at least three treasures suggested through these closing words of Paul’s letter to the saints of Colossae. These theological gems are the focus of our study today. “When this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” The gems I urge you to consider provide an account of the transmission of the New Testament, remind us of the relationship of the churches and reveal the blessings that lie hidden within difficulties. Open your Bible to COLOSSIANS 4:16 and together, let us mine the riches of God’s Word.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT — Consider just a few informative facts about the New Testament. This portion of the Scriptures is comprised of twenty-seven books. There are four Gospels—MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE and JOHN, one historical account of the early church—ACTS, thirteen books written by the Apostle to the Gentiles, eight letters we refer to as the General Letters, and one prophetic book—REVELATION. All these were written within a relatively brief period. Before the First Century ended, the New Testament was complete and was widely circulated among the churches.
The Bible is both a divine book and a human book. It is divine in that it was given under the guidance of the Spirit of God. Peter says that the Book is the result of men speaking “from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” [see 2 PETER 1:24]. We make no fantastic claim such as the words of the Bible were inscribed on palm leaves with a golden pen. We do, however, accept God’s declaration that His Spirit superintended chosen men to ensure that what was written revealed the mind and the character of God. Everything that is necessary for spiritual wholeness and to ensure the joy of those who believe has been revealed through this written Word.
Have you ever noticed how frequently Scripture claims divine origin? Consider but a few of the instances when those writing Scripture claimed that God directed them. In his first letter, Peter writes that the Spirit of God was speaking through the Prophets [see 1 PETER 1:11]. On the day of Pentecost immediately preceding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter made the same assertion to the assembled church [see ACTS 3:18]. When the nascent congregation was choosing an apostle to replace Judas, Peter asserted the same truth that the Spirit of God spoke by David [see ACTS 1:16]. In saying this, Peter was but echoing David himself, who wrote,
“The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me;
His word is on my tongue.”
This truth is iterated in Scripture: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” [2 TIMOTHY 3:16].
I have often pointed out the distinguishing assertion of the Prophets as they delivered their stinging rebukes to Israel. The Major Prophets alone speak in the Name of the Lord with the characteristic refrain, “Thus says the Lord,” over 345 times. The Minor Prophets use that same formula 80 times to emphasise the origin of their message.