Colossians 4:7-18 | Workers for the Kingdom of God
SERMON FROM OCT. 31ST, 2022 - REFORMATION SUNDAY
Our Text this morning comes from the book of Colossians chapter 4 verses 7 through 18. These are the very words of God.
Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.
Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
This salutation by my own hand—Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.
Pray with me.
Gracious God. You have given us all we need for life and holiness in this book. We ask that Your Spirit would bless the preaching of Your revealed Word this morning. Cause our hearts to be transformed for Christ’s glory and cause our local community to be reformed into the likeness of King Jesus as His kingdom goes forth within our midst. We ask this in His name. Amen!
Before Alex Guiness became forever known as Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars he was Colonel Nicholson in the historical drama, Bridge on the River Kwai. In this film adaptation of the book by the same name, Colonel Nicholson, a British prisoner of war, is forced to work in a labor camp building a railroad bridge for the Japanese. Nicholson is a man of high honor, spirit and standards and he expects nothing less from his own men. After an initial battle of wills between himself and leader of the POW Camp, Colonel Saito, he is let out of solitary confinement. He finds that his men in the camp are in disarray. They have been doing all they can to sabotage and slow down the construction of the bridge. They have been doing shoddy work and as a result their own discipline has suffered into the same shoddy disrepair. They resemble a rabble rather than a regiment. Every man doing what is right in his own eyes with no order, no discipline, and no joy. Over the course of the story, Colonel Nicholson inspires the troops to band together and build a better bridge for the Japanese than they could have built themselves. He encourages his men to see that the war won’t last forever and that when the British inevitably win, they will inherit the very bridge they are building. A bridge he says that will ”… teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame.” Nicholson believes in the victory of the kingdom of the Brits and therefore understands that momentary setbacks such as being a prisoner of war don’t change his marching orders. He is still called to extend the glories of the british empire unto the ends of the earth.
Colonel Nicholson is a microcosm of the true reality that is present in the book of Colossians. Paul writes with similar conviction and certainty while in prison. He tells the Colossians of the victory of the gospel throughout the world. He speaks of it overthrowing thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, even while chained to a Roman guard. Paul is writing, from prison mind you, about the victory that has come and is coming for all who labor in building Christ’s kingdom.
He tells the Saints in Colossae to expect the gospel to bear fruit in Colosse just as it is bearing fruit in all the world. He is praying that these Saints, and all the Saints who read his letter, would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and would as a result, walk in wisdom and thanksgiving. He wants them to realize that the battle is already won even if the physical chains haven’t yet been broken. He wants us to work with zeal to build Christendom even if our circumstances resemble those of a POW camp. This is because, Paul tells us, Christ has been set as ruler over all creation in both heaven and on earth. Paul argues that Christ is preeminent (He is over all things), that Christ is sufficient (He is all we need for salvation), and that this reality changes everything. No longer must we be chained in the domain of darkness, held captive by Satan, but rather we’ve been made alive in Christ and transferred into His Kingdom by His resurrection from the dead. Our resurrection came about because we first died with Christ and with Him, the certificate of debt we owed because of our sin, was nailed to the cross of Christ and canceled forever. Even in what appeared to be a humiliating death of Christ on the cross, Paul tells us was rather the mystery of Christ revealed in which He “…disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them…”
Because of Christ’s victory, no longer are we held captive by our lusts, our anger, our blasphemy, our deceptions, or our lack of gratitude. No longer must we vainly attempt to make ourselves acceptable to God through, fasting and ascetic practices such as abstaining from certain food and drink. We can now have victory over these sinful practices, because we have died and our new life is hidden in Christ. In other words, the old is gone, and we can now put on the new man, Christ Himself. When we put on the new man, we find that we no longer have the same hostilities that we had before. Redeemed Jews no longer can hate Greeks or Gentiles but must see them as equals in the Gospel before God. No longer are there class distinctions between men and women, slave and free, barbarian and Scythian, for Christ is all and in all. This invariably leads to a complete change in the nature of our relationship with one another. No longer do wives seek to rule over their husbands but rather submit to them with the same joy as they would submit to Christ. No longer are husbands bitter toward their wives but now they love them in the same way that Christ loves His Church. Children honor their parents as though they were honoring Christ. Father’s encourage their children in Christ. Slaves work heartily for their masters because the work is really unto Christ. Masters are just to their servants because they know their master is Christ. If all of the law can be summed up in first Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself, then Christ is the only way we can possibly fulfill the law. Without the new nature His Spirit grants us, it is impossible to love our neighbor or love our Maker. However in Christ all things are being reconciled and He is making peace through the blood of His cross.
Paul is now wrapping up this letter with his final greetings and instructions. His letter up to this point has been to encourage the Colossian Saints as well as those in Laodicea to be workers in the Kingdom of God. Paul has heard of the reformation going on these two places and he wants them to continue in it.
He begins by addressing Tychicus, calling him a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord. Tychicus was one of Paul’s most trusted letter carriers as he carried the letter to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. He is mentioned four other times in relation to Paul’s missionary work. To Paul, Tychicus is at least 6 things, beloved, faithful, and an equal in Christ, as well as a brother, a minister, and a servant all under the banner of Christ. Not only this, Paul recognizes that Tychicus has developed the spiritual gift of encouragement and so Paul is eager to send him onto to this fledgling church so that not only can he listen to how things are going but can also encourage them in the work. For those working to build Christ’s kingdom, these are ideal qualities to posses. Tychicus did much work for Paul and for Christ’s Kingdom and yet very few of us regularly recognize the tremendously important role he played in the early church. There is a timeless truth in this: The kingdom of Christ is made up of living stones not famous men.
Onesimus is also mentioned as traveling with Tychicus. He is referred to as a faithful and beloved brother and is considered “one of them” as in of the people of Colosse. It is interesting to note that John Calvin thinks it is unlikely that this is the same Onesimus who ran away from Philemon for he say “it can scarcely be believed that this is the slave of Philemon, inasmuch as the name of a thief and a fugitive would have been liable to reproach.”However, recognizing a thief and a fugitive as now a faithful and beloved brother sounds like just the kind of outrageous forgiveness offered by a Messiah who had come to reconcile all things and unite all His people under His Kingship. Whether this is the same Onesimus as the one we read about in Philemon or not is less important than the fact that the gospel makes it possible that it certainly could be the one and the same.
The next men to be described are Aristarchus who is a fellow prisoner with Paul as well as Mark the cousin of Barnabas and a man with two names called both Jesus and Justus. Kids, when you see the name Jesus in this particular verse, it is referring to someone besides Jesus Christ. These men were the last remaining remnants of Pauls fellow Jews who he describes as “workers for the Kingdom of God.” All the rest, at least of the Jews, had abandoned him. This puts the gospel victory of this letter into even higher relief. Not only was Paul languishing in prison and yet still expecting total world victory, but he was also abandoned by his fellow kinsman. He wasn’t some trendy political prisoner with a large following of supporters and his own hashtag on social media. He was a forgotten prisoner which is why he exhorts the Colossians to “remember his chains”. However, Paul understood the biblical pattern that prison invariably leads to reigning in victory. Joseph languished in prison prior to being set in command of Egypt. Daniel was carted away in captivity only to be set at the right hand of the king, twice. David, the true and anointed King of Israel, fled to the caves of Addullum hiding from Saul, and was then set on the throne and named a man after God’s own heart. There are many more examples of this concept throughout scripture but of course the ultimate example is that of Christ Himself. Handed over to the Romans by the Jews as a common criminal and crucified, Jesus was soon after set on high as King and ruler over heaven and earth. When you are in captivity, it is a sure sign that a glorious promotion is about to take place.
This situation that Paul and his fellow workers for the Kingdom of God found themselves in has many similarities to us today. A Christian philosopher by the name of Aaron Renn came up with a compelling way to think about the changes in how Christianity is perceived in America. He calls this his Three Worlds of Christianity. This is how he describes it:
Positive World (Pre-1994). Christianity was viewed positively by society and Christian morality was still normative. To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms was a social positive. Christianity was a status enhancer. In some cases, failure to embrace Christian norms hurt you.
Neutral World (1994-2014). Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person was not a knock either. It was more like a personal affectation or hobby. While Christian moral norms retained residual force they were quickly becoming outdated.
Negative World (2014-) In this world, being a Christian is now a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways is seen as undermining the social good. Christian morality is expressly repudiated.
Now you don’t have to agree with this model of thinking but it can be helpful in understanding the intense and chaotic changes that have ripped apart our society in the past few decades. I don’t know if Doug Wilson coined this phrase or not but it’s either Christ or Chaos. Our society has rejected Christ and so therefore we have Chaos.
Now this relates back to Paul because Paul was living in a time when Christianity was also seen largely as a Negative attribute. The influence of the Church was comparatively small in the world and embracing Christianity offered no social perks or status enhancement.
And yet in all of this, Paul never wavers. The kingdom he is working to build is one that is not “of this world.” And that doesn’t mean that the kingdom is something ethereal or only spiritual but rather that it has no comparison to any kingdoms of this world past, present, or future. Those will rise and will fall and yet As David says of Christ’s Kingdom: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” That is clearly not a kingdom “of this world” but certainly is a kingdom in this world.
Now in verse 12 Paul shifts gears from talking about the remnant of faithful Jews into a description of the faithful Gentiles. Ephaphrus is mentioned here just as he was mentioned at the beginning of the letter. He is, you’ll remember the pastor or the planter of this church. Paul, who has been describing the workers in the Kingdom of God, gives us an insight into how this pastor was working. He describes him as “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” In other words Ephaphras was working by praying. The kingdom was growing through his prayers. He wanted his people to grow and mature and not be tossed to and fro. He wanted them to be assured of the will of God and not waver as they labored to build His kingdom in a hostile world. He wanted them to never fall away from loving and serving King Jesus. Paul assures us that these prayers were a labor of love but they were in fact labor. Epaphras worked hard for the people in his church in many ways but specifically here by diligently praying for them.
Paul sends greetings from Luke as well as a man name Demas. Now of Luke, we are mostly familiar but you might not know that Demas at this point, when the letter as written, was faithfully laboring alongside Paul. However he would later desert Paul and the gospel for what Paul calls in 1 Timothy 4:10 “his love of the present world.” This is exactly the kind of disaster that Ephaphras was praying against, apostasy. Now as reformed Christians, on Reformation Sunday, I don’t mind saying that we believe in what is called the perseverance of the saints. This is the good news that Christ has truly saved every soul that makes up His Bride and that once saved, you will never be lost. This is absolutely true in every way, however, it is critical that such a glorious truth lead us to action and not apathy. Demas at the time of this letter certainly thought of himself as a Christian and yet we know that he deserted Paul and the faith. Now did he lose his salvation? Well no, certainly not, there was nothing we do to earn it in there first place and so its not ours to lose in that sense. He didn’t lose his salvation, he never truly had it. And yet, he truly lost something. While his desertion proved that he was not one of the elect of God we also know from Paul’s letter that he was a very real part of the workers of the Kingdom of God. I believe the author of Hebrews is speaking of those like Demas in chapter 6 verse 4 “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” Demas was baptized and was truly grafted into Christ in a meaningful way and yet was pruned and cast aside due to his unbelief. And this is not true of only individuals but of entire nations. Turn if you will to 1 Corinthians 10 1-14 Paul says “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
Paul couldn’t be more clear. There is no room in the Kingdom for “Christians” who are unwilling to submit to the rule of the King of the Kingdom. If you are unrepentant in your sexual immorality, then God is not pleased. If you are ungrateful and given to grumbling then God is not pleased. If you are an idolator and given to worshiping anything but God then God is not pleased. Paul is warning us, if you think you stand, give heed lest you fall. Every temptation that comes your way, you CAN overcome and for those truly found in Christ you will.
You must guard and care for your salvation not because you’ve somehow earned it and must keep it but rather that it is a precious gift that has been given to you and your actions show the reality of your soul. If you truly have been given this gift of salvation then you will bear fruit just as the gospel is bearing fruit and you will persevere in this fruit. This is what Paul is getting at in Philippians 2 when he says of Christ “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So he is telling us that Christ is King over all. His Kingdom has no end and then he says this.
“Therefore, my beloved,…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
Demas did NOT take this seriously because his heart was not actually changed. He was not careful to work out his salvation with fear and trembling because he was not given a new heart capable of doing this. And while he was never truly one of God’s elect the loss he experienced was real, tragic, and it was catastrophic.
So beloved, on this Reformation Sunday, rest knowing that it is Christ who has saved you. You didn’t earn it, you’re not earning it, and you won’t earn it in the future. But the entirely sufficient work of Christ in your life should free you to heartily give yourself unto good works. You have been saved unto this end not by this means.
After saying hello from Demas a future apostate Paul says to say hi to the saints in Laodicia. Paul had no way of knowing this at the time but these saints in Laodicia would soon be put through a fiery tribulation and Christ would find their devotion to Him pathetic. We know this because in revelation we hear about this church. This church seems to be filled with “Christians” who are not working out their salvation with fear and trembling. They are not busy building the kingdom but are rather deluding themselves with visions of grandeur for themselves and not of Christ’s kingdom. However they started out, they have ended up as luke-warm Christians and Christ finds them revolting warning them to ”…buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
These Laodician Christians still have hope but they are sternly warned not to delude themselves any longer. There are other workers mentioned as well Nympas and Archippus and Paul says hello to them all and encourages them to continue in the faith. All of these people were fellow workers for the Kingdom of God and Paul finishes his exhortation by reminding them that he is in literal chains for the gospel. There is no hypocrisy in Paul. Everything he calls his listeners to, he is willing to do himself and more. He is willing to suffer and die for the glory of Christendom and he wants his listeners to be just as ready.
As we close, I want you to remember that the advancement of the kingdom of Christ is inevitable. As image bearers of the King of this realm we ought to pray for eyes to see the glorious future, for a mind to work toward it, and for a heart that harmonizes the work with thanksgiving and doxology unto Jesus throughout the whole journey. Colossae belongs to Christ and so does Lewis County. Even though we find ourselves working for this Kingdom in a negative world openly hostile to Christ and His truth, we have the distinct advantage of knowing that our work is not futile. While the world busies itself laboring to increase riches, power, and fame, we will work a different way. We will worship God, we will pray for, serve and love one another, we will plant churches, establish schools, build hospitals, care for widows and orphans, win people to Christ, and we will work out our salvation with fear and trembling, keeping ourselves unstained from the world. Throughout it all, the promise of Ephesians 3:20 will remain that Christ will always be able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, so that to Him will be given glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Will you turn in your hymnal to #3 Why Do the Heathen Nations Vainly Rage.
Please be seated
One of the primary ways that the Kingdom of God grows is through saints practicing intentional gratitude directed unto God and spilling out upon our neighbor. Thanksgiving is evidence of fruit not simply a pleasant emotion. Our prayers, our songs, our worship, our work, our forgiveness, should all be eucharistic. They should all be planted firmly in thanksgiving. While we make space at the beginning of worship for confession of sin, we immediately follow it by singing the doxology and then the remainder of the service is rooted in thanksgiving. Just like our liturgy, the vast majority of our lives should not be introspective confession but extroverted thanksgiving. Doxology is our food and drink and it is the why and the what of our weekly celebration at the Lord’s table. This table is a table of thanksgiving that is why it is called the Eucharist. For those who have been baptized and are not under discipline of their local church, this is a table of blessing and of thanksgiving and we warmly invite you to partake. If you are not yet in union with Christ through baptism or are out of union with Christ through church discipline, then we would ask for your own sake to wait to commune with Christ until you bear His name. A glorious feast awaits and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for this righteousness for they shall be satisfied. So come, and welcome to Jesus.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread (Pick up the loaf) and gave thanks.”
“Father, thank you for giving us more than we could ever ask or think. Grant us hearts that are firmly established and rooted in the faith of thanksgiving as we partake of this bread which is the body of your Son, Amen.”
Having given thanks, he broke it and gave it to His disciples.
As we distribute the bread we will be singing the first three verses of # 83 - As the Hart about to Falter
(After everyone has it and I am back at the table)
And Jesus said (hold up the bread), “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.”(Eat)
Likewise, Jesus took the cup (lift up the cup) and gave thanks .
“Father, the cup of blessing we hold is the potent fruit of the gospel. The blood of Christ that it represents will make even the darkest soul new. Thank you for giving us wine to make the heart glad and for the wine of the new covenant which make our souls sing. We thank you for this in Jesus name, Amen.”
He then gave it to His disciples (Distribute & sing).
Remind them about the wine and which ring it is in.
As we distribute the bread we will be singing the last verses of # 83 -
(After everyone has it and I am back at the table)
Jesus said (hold up the cup), “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (Drink)
Take a moment to look around you at those seated. These people are the body of Christ. Discern His body and remember that they belong to You and you belong to them because we belong to Jesus.
The charge is this believe, work, and give thanks. We have so much work to do building Christ kingdom and it requires us to stay focused at whatever good work Christ has put before us to do. Believe in its value, work hard for the glory of Christ, and thank God for giving you good works to accomplish.
Now here the benediction and commission out unto the world.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And All God’s people said: