Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"With a Little Help From My Friends" (Colossians 4:7-18)

When God promises to meet the needs of His children, we may safely assume that He includes our need for meaningful friendships.

In his book To China With Love, missionary Hudson Taylor told of being in Shanghai and feeling the Lord wanted him to enter a dangerous region of China and do ministry there. But Taylor didn’t want to go, for he didn’t want to leave his mentor, the minister William Burns, on whose friendship Taylor depended for his spiritual and emotional well-being. He and Burns had become very close, and their friendship was dear to Taylor.

Then one day while taking afternoon tea in Shanghai, a missionary sang a hymn entitled, “The Missionary Call.” The words spoke of being willing to give up friends and “every tie that binds the heart” for the sake of the Kingdom. Taylor was deeply affected by the hymn, and that evening he invited his friend William Burns for a talk. Of that talk, Hudson writes…

With many tears I told him how the Lord had been leading me, and how rebellious I had been and unwilling to leave him for this new sphere of labor. Well, my friend listened with a strange look of surprise, and of pleasure rather than pain; and answered that he had determined that very night to tell me that he had heard the Lord’s call to the same region, and that his one regret had been the prospect of severance of our happy fellowship. We went together; and thus we recommenced missionary work in that part of China, which in later years has been so abundantly blessed.”

Dear friends, my prayer is that you would have the kind of spiritual friendship that Taylor and Burns had. This morning’s message is the final one in our Colossians’ series, and I’ve titled it “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Here in Colossians 4:7-18, we will see how the Apostle Paul had a great capacity for people and for spiritual friendships.

In today’s passage, the Apostle Paul reveals something of his own heart. The personal references tell you that this church is more to Paul than simply some body of people. He's concerned about them individually. Paul knows what it is to be a spiritual friend. So let’s look together at four principles from this closing passage from Colossians, and consider how we can we can be better spiritual friends and ministers here in Christ’s body at Plymouth.

I. The fulfilled Christian has a genuine concern for people.

Now, the first principle is this: The fulfilled Christian has a genuine concern for people. Note that Paul not only remembers the names of these folks, he is genuinely concerned with them. Now there are many ways that I could demonstrate that to you, just from this passage, but let me just choose one way. Notice why he says he is sending Tychicus and Onesimus. Look with me briefly at verse eight, “I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts.” He repeats that idea again in verse nine, where he says when Tychicus and Onesimus arrive, “They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.”

Now remember, Paul is in prison as he writes this letter. But Paul is not telling this church about his situation in prison because he wants them to have sympathy for him. Paul wants to tell them something about what is going on because he knows that these people are desperately interested in what his condition is. And Paul, even though in a letter where he is going to minister the majestic truth of our Lord and Savior, he addresses the human concerns that they had for him and that is why he sends word back giving specific details about himself.

Friends, Paul knew how to talk both about the great truths of scripture AND those things that concern us as human beings created in the image of God. Notice in verse eight that Paul sends them this servant Tychicus because he wants to comfort and strengthen them. He says, “that he may encourage your hearts.” Think of this. Paul in his bondage, desiring to encourage those who were free.

Do we have that same kind of concern for people? If we did, my friends, as we ought to do, this city would not be able to stop its tongue in speaking of how the love of Christ is manifested at the Plymouth Church of Christ. I know that God will do great things in your hearts as He expands your concern for one another, and in so doing there's a witness to the world for Christ.

My friends, when I came to Christ, I discovered an amazing new kinship with other believers, who were now my brothers and sisters by Biblical definition. My heart not only was drawn freely up to God, but outwardly towards other Christians. They loved the same things I loved. They wanted to talk about the same things I wanted to talk about. They understood. I was experiencing, of course, the fellowship, the Biblical koinonia, which every believer experiences as an outgrowth of knowing Christ. The shared mystery of Christ has been the basis for my relationship with my wife, Rachel, as well. In him our hearts beat together. She is not only my wife, but my best friend, my confidante, my counselor and joy. You see, in Christ, we have developed mutual soul friendships with others which are among our dearest treasures. Indeed our regular prayers focus on them. Christian fellowship, and as a result friendship, is one of the principal blessings of knowing Christ.

II. The fulfilled Christian shares his ministry

Notice, secondly, in this passage, we learn that the fulfilled Christian shares his ministry. Paul willingly shares his ministry, and he acknowledges those who work with him, notice “fellow servants” in verse seven, “fellow prisoners” verse ten, and “fellow workers” verse eleven. The apostle Paul is no lone ranger. Yes, he is gifted by God, in an extraordinary way, supernaturally by the Holy Spirit, so that he brings the very revelation of God. But notice that his ministry, as he sees it, is to be a corporate ministry. He is not off on his own. Perhaps we need to be inspired by Paul? Do you ever have a tendency to sort of protect your turf in your area of ministry? You've got something that you do well for the Lord and you don't want anybody else in on it. You're going to do it yourself. Well, Paul is not like that. Paul is always sharing the ministry that he does, and acknowledging those who are involved in the ministry, acknowledging them with the glorious titles of fellow servants and fellow prisoners and fellow workers.

III. The fulfilled Christian appreciates and supports his co-workers

Finally, notice also, that in this passage we learn that the fulfilled Christian appreciates and supports his co-workers. We see that in how Paul is sincere in his compliments to those who are working with him in the gospel. First in verse seven he speaks of Tychicus as his beloved brother, his faithful servant, his fellow slave. What beautiful words of appreciation of his character and his service.

Notice his words about Mark and Jesus Justus, two Jewish Christians who were serving with Paul. Of them, he says, “these were the only fellow workers from the circumcision.” In other words, he says, everywhere I've gone, I have upset the Jews. They have gotten upset with the message that I'm preaching, but these Jewish Christians encouraged me and they worked along side me and I'm thankful to God for them.

Notice in verse twelve his words about Epaphras. He says that Epaphras is a servant of Christ. And he furthermore says that this man Epaphras is always faithfully laboring in prayers. Think of being called a faithful servant of the Lord and a man of prayer by Paul. What a compliment. How encouraging, how supportive, how appreciative was Paul as he labored.

Look again in verse fourteen, where Paul's even going to mention his doctor. In his greetings he speaks of his beloved physician. We perhaps don't always think of our physicians in that way, do we? But Paul speaks of his beloved friend and physician, Luke.

And notice his exhortations in verse ten and in verse thirteen. He tells the congregation, ‘welcome Mark,’ and he tells the congregation, I want you to know about how deeply concerned Epaphras is for you. Can you imagine the pressure of these two young ministers, going into a congregation where Paul had served? Think of the pressure, and Paul says, ‘Well I know, but I want you to welcome this young man, Mark, if he comes, and I want you to know what a faithful man and how deeply concerned for you Epaphras is. These are men worthy of your esteem.” Paul is encouraging of all those who work with them. What a generous spirit he has. He doesn't have to hoard the glory to himself. He isn't trying to build up his own name. He's desirous of encouraging those who work with him. Do we encourage one another in well doing that way? Are words of appreciation and encouragement frequently on our lips? Do we build up the saints by those types of words of encouragement? Paul did. And so ought we.

CONCLUSION As Paul closes Colossians, he encloses with his letter a kind of verbal group photograph. He includes in it a number of those who helped him in his ministry while he was imprisoned at Rome. He gives recognition to some of the unsung heroes of the New Testament, and by so doing uses them as an encouragement to those of us who read this letter. To Paul, these people were indispensable assets to his ministry. He knew well that he could not do it alone; no one can. In the end, what Paul teaches us is that the key to the quality of our earthly fellowship is the quality of our fellowship with God. Those with the richest fellowship with God have the richest fellowship with each other. 

Mr. Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives longer than any other man in our history. There is a story about him that reveals the kind of man he really was. The teenage daughter of a friend of his died suddenly one night. Early the next morning the man heard a knock on his door, and, when he opened it, there was Mr. Rayburn standing outside.

The Speaker said, “I just came by to see what I could do to help.”

The father replied in his deep grief, “I don’t think there is anything you can do, Mr. Speaker. We are making all the arrangements.”

“Well,” Mr. Rayburn said, “have you had your coffee this morning?”

The man replied that they had not taken time for breakfast. So Mr. Rayburn said that he could at least make coffee for them. While he was working in the kitchen, the man came in and said, “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be having breakfast at the White House this morning.”

“Well, I was,” Mr. Rayburn said, “but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn’t come.”

My friends, let us have a genuine concern for other people, let us share our ministries, and let us support our co-workers in the faith. Above all, let us have a rich fellowship with God so we can have a rich fellowship with each other. As we do so, not only will we be like the Apostle Paul, but we will be like our Lord, Jesus Christ.