Friday, September 11, 2020

Unity and Diversity

"Tychicus … Onesimus … Aristarchus … Mark … Barnabas … Justus … Epaphras … Luke … Demas … Nympha … Archippus …" (Colossians 4:7–17)

As we come to the end of our study of Colossians, we see one more subtle contrast between the Judaizing Gnostics who were troubling the Colossian church and the authentic faith preached by Paul. The Judaizers, as was their habit in tearing apart the church, were seeking to preserve all kinds of divisions in the church, divisions that had existed in a small way under the old covenant (though sinfully magnified by the Pharisees). Paul’s point was that in Christ, all members of the body are equal, and his list of names at the end of Colossians highlights this truth.

Paul, in his letter to the church, mentions Jews (Mark, Barnabas, Justus) as well as Gentiles (Tychicus, Aristarchus, Epaphras). He mentions a slave (Onesimus) as well as free men (Archippus, probably the son of Onesimus’ owner, Philemon 1–2). He mentions a woman (Nympha) as well as men. He mentions a man who had forsaken him in the face of danger and then returned (Mark, Acts 15:38), a man who was faithful at the time but who would later forsake him (Demas, 2 Timothy 4:10), and a man who never forsook him (Luke).

We see that God’s church is unified in Christ but radically diversified regarding her members. The visible church includes people who have sinned and then repented, and she includes people who will not persevere to the end. She includes slave and free, Jew and Gentile, man and woman—each worthy of honor to be enrolled in the Word of God. How terrible when any movement in the church seeks to divide the congregation into groups that have differing status!

Six of the people mentioned by Paul send greetings to the church at Colossae. And Paul says that the greetings are to be passed on by the Colossians to the Laodiceans (4:15). We see from this that there was unity among the various churches. They communicated with one another and prayed for one another. Though these churches were diverse culturally and might have been suspicious of one another, they practiced unity by keeping in touch. And just as Paul had written to them, he asked that they “remember my chains” and keep in touch with him.

Even in the church it is easy to be suspicious of people who are “different.” When someone visits who is of another people group or nation, or who dresses differently from what you are used to, how do you react? Make it your practice to greet such people. Express the unity that ought to exist in Christ’s holy body.