Summary: #14 in series. What kind of qualities does Paul commend? What are we to do with this list? Convert to "checklistianity"?
Colossians 4:7-17 – With Friends Like These
Turn with me to the book of Colossians, almost for the last time. Today we are looking at Paul’s list of friends, as found in 4:7-17. Next week we wrap up the book, looking at 4:18, thinking of Paul’s chains, and our own. Today we will see the qualities that Paul considered helpful in his friends.
Maybe you’ve heard the one about the ship that sank in the ocean, and so three men ended up stranded in a lifeboat. They floated around for days without food or water. One afternoon a bottle floated up to the boat. The men grabbed the bottle and when they pulled the cork out of the bottle, a genie appeared.
“I'll grant each of you a single wish,” said the genie.
“I wish I was home,” said the first man. Then, poof! he disappeared.
“I wish I was home, too,” said the second man. Poof! He disappeared too.
The third man looked around. “Gee, I'm kind of lonely,” he said. “I wish my friends were here with me.”
Paul describes his friends in this passage in this passage – those who had helped or were currently helping him. One preacher had put them into 3 categories: those who stayed, one who prayed, and one who strayed.
We won’t spend long on the one who strayed, but I’ll mention him. His name is Demas – v14. We don’t know much about him, but we catch a glimpse of him maybe 3 years later. 2 Timothy 4 tells us that Demas “loved this world”, and had deserted Paul. Whatever level of service he was accomplishing for Paul and for the Lord at the time that Colossians was written, that vanished. I don’t say this to scare or threaten, but simply as a reminder that we can lose our effectiveness. We must not allow ourselves to fall into a trap of laziness. The resurrected Jesus told the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5: “Repent, and do the things you did at first.”
Now, moving on to this passage… Paul sends some personal greetings to the believers in Colosse, and commends some as especially helpful to him and to the cause of Christ.
First, Paul tells us about Tychicus, who was a believer from Asia. Paul describes him with glowing terms: a loved brother, a faithful servant and minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord. As well, Tychicus was trustworthy enough that Paul committed him to relay an important message of encouragement.
Paul also mentions Onesimus in verse 9. We know a little about this guy, whose name means “helpful”. Onesimus was a slave, we’re told in Philemon 16, belonging to a wealthy citizen in Colosse named Philemon. Onesimus defrauded his master and ran away to Rome. There he found Paul, whom presumably had been talked about by the Christian Philemon. Onesimus became a believer in Jesus, and Paul sent him back to Philemon to serve him in Colosse. From a runaway fraud to a useful believer, Onesimus was to Paul trustworthy and faithful brother in the Lord.
Next, Paul mentions Aristarchus, Mark, and a fellow named Jesus or Justus, who all send greetings. What Paul says about them carries a hint of sorrow: they were the only Jewish Christians among his co-workers. That’s tragic. Jesus was a Jew, and his own people rejected Him. Paul was a Jew, and the Jewish leaders tried unsuccessfully to kill him too. Sometimes the worst loneliness can come from inside your own 4 walls, from your own family. The times of greatest difficulty in living the Christian life are often when we try to witness to our own flesh and blood. The worst rejection comes from the ones you love the most. Paul was thankful to those who stuck by him in difficult times.
Next, Paul tells us about Epaphras, who was quite a guy. Back in Colossians 1:7, he is mentioned as the one who actually introduced the people in Colosse to Jesus. Likely, it was Epaphras who began Christianity in Colosse. And here he was, still wrestling in prayer for them. Without taking glory away from the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Lord Jesus, who loved us and reached out to us when we were still sinners, still, Epaphras played no small role in the faith of the Colossian believers.
And he was working hard for them too. He was praying and working. He was the one who prayed. You know, most of us fall into one ditch or the other when it comes to this. We either work hard, or we pray hard, but to find balance where we do both is tricky. As someone once said, “Work as if it all depended on you, and pray as if it all depended on God.”