Faithful Ministry

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I guess most of you have seen or least heard of the quiz show Family Fortunes. If you haven’t don’t worry, it is basically a British quiz show where to win points you had to guess the result of a survey. 100 people would be asked a question and you had to try and guess what would be the most popular answer.

Well – very quickly – we’re now going to have a little quiz - family fortunes style! Earlier in the week I asked many of you to answer this question:

What ONE word or short phrase would you use to describe Jesmond Parish Church?

No prizes I’m afraid, just for fun. Take a minute to guess what you think the top answer to that question was. 128 people sent in replies – thank you very much if you were one of them!

OK. Got an answer in your mind? Here are the top results in reverse order:-

Joint 6th Outward Looking AND organised (6 each)
5th – Encouraging/Inspiring (7 people)
4th – Conservative/Traditional (13)
3rd – Big (14)
2nd – Biblical/Evangelical/Sound (21)
TOP – Family/home (23) which I have to admit I was slightly surprised at!

Well done if you guessed close one of those top answers! We’ll come back to those results, but without any further delay please grab a Bible from the shelf in front of you. Share if you need to, but please turn back to the reading we had earlier from the book of Colossians chapter 4 which was on page 1085. You’ll need to keep that in front of you so you can follow what I have to say for the rest of our time together.

Tonight we are looking at the final section of the book to end our series in Colossians and these final greetings are full of challenges for us as a church. My prayer is that God will encourage us to keep going in the areas we are doing well in and to change in areas that need to be improved.

This final section of the book gives us a fantastic picture into the life of those early believers.
But as well as that they helps us see how what Paul has been teaching throughout his letter affected them so provides us with a nice summary of some of the big themes of the book of Colossians.

For the rest of our time tonight I want to look at these verses under 3 short phrases that I think describe that church.

If we’d done a survey of that church I think (based on these verses) that these would have been the results:-

1. Close friends
2. Partners in God’s Work
3. Always praying for each other

Close Friends

The first thing I see in these verses is that they were close friends. Listen carefully as I read verses 7-9 and see if you can pick up on it too:-

7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

There are 5 reasons why I am convinced that these verses reveal the close friendships between Paul and all these people we read about with names that are so unfamiliar to us.

1. Colossians is a short letter. Yet relatively large amount of space is given to these greetings and exchange of news – all together about an eighth of the letter. I think that is significant. You might just think that was the custom in that culture at that time so we shouldn’t read too much into it. But the thing about customs is that they show us what the culture valued. And it is obvious that Paul valued people. It is a sign of our individualistic western culture that we often treat verses like these as wrapping paper – basically useless packaging for the real thing.

2. You cannot miss the warm, affectionate way that Paul refers to the others mentioned in these verses. Tychicus who is delivering the letter and Onesimus who is travelling with him are both referred to as a ‘dear brother’ (v7, 9). And in verse 14 Luke is called a ‘dear friend’. Again, I admit some of that is cultural: how we express our friendship is different in different cultures, but doesn’t change the fact that we see behind the language here that they were close friends.

3. Paul tells in v8 that what he wants to do is to encourage the hearts of the Colossians. But he also tells us twice –in verse 8 and again in verse9 - that he wants them to know how he is doing. That mutual love and concern reveals that these were a close group of friends, even though some of them had never met one another.

4. As you listen in to the conversations between them there are many clues to their close friendships
a. In V10 we have Aristarchus. Paul describes him as a ‘fellow prisoner’. It is most likely that Aristarchus himself wasn’t facing a prison sentences himself but was rather voluntarily sharing a prison cell with Paul to keep him company. That level of self-sacrifice is a great symbol of their friendship.
b. In v13 Epaphras: Paul tells us that he is working hard for the sake of the Colossians. That hard-work and putting yourself out for the sake of others is again a good sign of a close friendship.
c. In v17 Archippus: We’re not exactly sure what is going on in this verse but Paul is basically saying to him, ‘Look, get on with the job that God has given you to do’. What is Paul doing? He is holding him accountable. That are often negative connotations to that phrase, but really what is going on is that they needed to know one another well enough to know what is going on in each other’s lives and to care enough about one another to speak into one another’s lives.

5. The final thing to notice about this whole section is the mixed and varied nature of his friendships – a doctor (Lukev14) and a runaway slave (Onesimus v9), Jews (Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus Justus v10-11) as well as Gentiles (Epaphras, Luke and Demas v12-14), both men and women (Nympha v15). Pairs made unusual friendships in those days and still often make unusual friendships today!

So we see that they were close friends.

How does that link to what Paul has been teaching so far in Colossians?

Right from the beginning Paul has been teaching them about what happened when they become Christians. As they became Christians they became part of a family! Maybe close friends is too weak a phrase – I debated changing that to ‘close family’ instead. Look back to 3:15, he mentions that they are now ‘members of one body’. Those who become Christians are now part of ONE body. They are family together. That is the reality of the situation they are in! What does that mean? Look at chapter 3v11:

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

So we should not be surprised at the warmth and affection between these people– they are all family – all of them are ‘in Christ’! They are part of the body of Christ. Love, concern, self sacrifice, putting themselves out for one another, holding each other accountable – not of these things should be a surprise because they are family!

So what about us? Think back to the JPC survey. I admit it wasn’t the most scientific or rigorous of studies, but never-the-less, how we can learn from the example of this church:

Well, I think it is very encouraging that the number one answer that people gave is family or home – because that describes the reality of who we are! If we are in Christ, we ARE family.

And the most important thing we can do is to be better at that is to remember the truths that Paul has been teaching us his letter. When we remember what Christ has done for us, when we remember what that means, that is the way to love one another better and to mix better. There is a danger – and we need to watch out for it – that we become segregated. That we don’t mix across the ages, across different nationalities and men and women.

What are some of the things that might stop us having these kinds of relationships and friendships? Well, interestingly one of the answers that came up in the survey is that we are big – is that a barrier to being close? It adds, I admit, various logistical issues that need to be dealt with. But I don’t think it is necessarily a barrier to being close! So why are we not as close as we could be? That we don’t share that kind of family relationship in the way that these people did?

Well let me mention a couple of things in passing. I can’t expand on them as much as I would like. But just a couple of observations about how we have allowed our culture to influence us in the way we relate to one another more than we have allowed the truths of what Paul has said to us about what has happened when we become Christians to feed into how we relate to one another. I think our culture doesn’t value or help those kinds of friendships to happen. We can easily absorb the values of the culture around us without thinking about it.

One of the things that many of our friends and brothers and sister who come from other countries notice about the UK and the West is that we are obsessed with sex. You see it throughout advertising and in many aspects of the culture. I think we become immune to that to be honest. But what has happened in our culture is that we have tied together intimacy and sex. So the culture thinks that in order to be intimate or have a close friendship with someone that becomes quite sexual. That is very sad because it devalues friendship and means we tend to focus on those kinds of relationships alone – the people we are going out with or are married to. We invest more heavily in those that we do in other relationships and friendships.

But also our sex-crazed, obsessive culture can sometime be a real distraction in other ways. Coming from an Arabic background and from a country that isn’t so sexualised I have noticed that people are not constantly worried about whether our friendship might be perceived in a sexual way. That can often inhibit us and is a danger that we need to be careful of in our culture.

There is also a real fear of commitment and a lack of accountability. What I might call a ‘tourist mentality’. You meet people – a bit like you do on a holiday – you enjoy their company but you’re not going to be with them that long so you don’t invest in the relationship. There is a very strong sense of individualism. “I don’t need anyone else”. Those things can, and do, influence the way we think and the way we act, so we need to come back to the truth that we are family and allow that to change and influence the way we relate to one another.

Some practical tips. Those kinds of friendships take time, so be patient and don’t expect it to happen overnight. They also take effort and we need to be intentional: they are not automatic. There is a need to spend time together. And we need to give that some attention! We need to plan how we can do that. Maybe we need to invite people round for lunch and to give time and space for those friendships to happen. Particularly in a church of our size, small groups (and meeting together regularly with the same group of people) and meeting together around God’s word and to pray together are key in building those relationships.

Partners in God’s Work

The Second thing I see in these verses is that they were partners in God’s work. Listen carefully as I read verses 10-11 and see if you can pick up on it too:-

10My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.

Notice that phrase ‘fellow workers for the kingdom of God’. That is how Paul describes the 3 Jews that he has just been talking about. And this theme comes up throughout these verses. In v7 we see the phrase ‘faithful ministers’ and in v12 we see a ‘servant of Christ’.

Paul used that description – a servant of Christ – of himself. He knew what he was supposed to be doing in life. He knew what God has called him to do. Look back to Col 1:23. He has been teaching us about the gospel that has transformed his life and the gospel that he preaches. He says this:

This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Paul was, if you like, a professional Christian doing God’s work. What is God’s Work? Making sure every single person in the whole world hears about what Jesus had done. That’s God’s work.

What had Jesus done? Look at chapter 1, verses 13 and 14:

13...he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Paul had made his entire life’s focus telling people the wonderful truths of the gospel. That once we were lost, we were dead because we had rejected God and refused to listen to him and allow him to take his rightful place as our Lord and our King and our creator! But the wonderful news is that God didn’t leave us in that dominion of darkness. He brought us into his kingdom to be part of his people. He has forgiven us our sins; he has saved us through what God has done for us on the cross.

Paul made it his entire life’s focus to give that message to everyone in the entire world. That didn’t stop once people had hearing once people believed in it and became Christians – it is not just talking about evangelism. He continues to preach that message, which is why he wrote this letter to the Colossians. He wanted to ensure that those believers were not pulled away by false teaching.

But Paul did not operate alone. He realised that he needed to be part of a team. He was part of a team. He expected that this wasn’t just his task that God had given him. Rather it was a shared task that God has given everyone in the church. Not just those professional Christian workers. He recognised that they were partners working it out together, as a team, to ensure that everyone in the world heard about this message.

As we read the description, of these people we see that they were a team, doing God’s work. And the question is: are we? One of the survey results did say that we were ‘outward looking’. And we praise God for that. Let’s pray that will happen more and more. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing in life, let’s remember what needs to be our primary focus: to do all that we can, as a team, to play our part in ensuring that everyone hears the good news of what Jesus has done for us.

What are the things that stop us doing this? Maybe there are some things we need to stop doing. What are some of the things that are in danger of distracting us as a church? What are they things that are maybe good to do, but are actually distracting us from that outward focus of taking the message to those who don’t know it.

What are some of the things that we are doing – individually – that are basically just distracting us from that primary focus of our lives.

They were partners in God’s work.

Always praying for each other

The third thing I see in these verses is that they were always praying for each other. Listen carefully as I read verses 12-13 and see if you can pick up on it too:-

12Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

These verses focus on Epaphras and his praying ministry and we see that he was someone who prayed for other people. But it wasn’t just Epaphras. Paul too was praying and as part of these verses he asks the Colossians to pray for him- we saw that in the section just before this one that we looked at last week. And if you look down to v18, you see Paul says to them ‘remember my chains’. What does he say that? What does he mean by that? He says, ‘remember that I am in prison’ and pray for me. They were always praying for one another.

They were always praying for one another.

But Epaphras – let’s focus on him for a minute - gives us a great example to follow. Notice in these verses that “He was always wrestled in prayer”... for himself? No. He was wrestling in prayer for the Colossians – for other people.

If you are like me, then you are so naturally self-absorbed and easily you prayers draw to your own needs, to your own concerns. It is so easy to wrestle in prayer for yourself! Maybe an unpleasant thing that is coming up. But do we – like Epaphras – wrestle in prayer for others and their needs?

Maybe that would be the key to having those relationships where of care , accountability and putting ourselves out for others. Maybe that would be the key to keeping our focus on the mission that God has given us. If we pray – and wrestle in prayer – for others. That word, ‘wrestling in prayer’ reminds us that it is hard. It is not easy or relaxing. It is hard work. But he prays for them, he wrestles in prayer for them to stand firm. It is exactly tied in with what the team were working towards. They knew what God has called them to do. They didn’t just to that end, they prayed about it too. And we are reminded that he always wrestled in prayer for them. If you remember back to last week and 4:2 where Paul reminded them to be devoted to prayer. To always pray. It is that same theme that comes back again.

The link to what he has already been teaching in Colossians is very clear and very obvious. What he tells us that Epaphras is praying for us that they stand firm in the will of God, mature and fully assured.

You remember that the BIG theme of Colossians is that the Christians in Colosse were in danger of being unsettled. They were in danger of losing their confidence in Jesus Christ alone, of growing in maturity in Christ. And that is exactly what Epaphras prayed for and why Paul wrote this letter: to ensure that happens. It is that same concern that fuels Epaphras’ prayers. He prayed because he knew that was something that can only happen with God’s help.

How does that compare to our concerns and prayers? Do we just pray for ourselves? Or do we pray for others? And when we do, are our prayers dominated by a cold, or upcoming exams. Or do we have as our primary concern for other people that they would be grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ, and stand firm, mature and fully assured as Epaphras prayed.

Well, what about us? Interestingly, not a single one of the 128 responses mentioned prayer. It is maybe not the kind of thing that fits very easily to the question. But maybe it is an area that we as a church most need to work on. We do pray. I was very encouraged to hear last week of a member of our congregation who has set himself the task of praying for the entire UK. City, town, village, street at a time. Working his way throughout the entire country. It is a great example to us all.

But what are some of the reasons we don’t pray? An obvious answer is: we feel no need to pray. If you pick up some more of those encouraging answers from the survey: people said that we were holy, godly, Christian, blessed, solid, consistent, sound. Doing well – but we need to make sure we don’t slip into a mode where we feel we don’t need prayer.

It is also easy to be influenced by the culture around us, which doesn’t really believe in God and so doesn’t believe in prayer or that it works. So often people seem to treat prayer as a kind of placebo. If it keeps you happy or makes you feel better about things then pray. It may have a good effect on you, but it doesn’t really do or change anything. That is NOT true! God is a powerful God, he hears what we say. Our prayers matter.

It’s a real privilege in my role at the church to see good numbers of international brothers and sisters coming to faith, coming to know Jesus for the first time. I have always been struck when I get talking to them how many of them mention somebody in their family who is a Christian who has been praying for them for years. Very often it is a grandmother, or a cousin or an aunt or an uncle. Some relative who has been praying for years. And it is such a joy to be seeing the answers to pray of someone else when that person becomes a Christian. Prayer does change things.

Sometimes we don’t pray because we don’t plan to pray. And the discipline of arranging a time to meet someone else to pray is an extremely helpful one. I find it helpful. And something like the church prayer meeting and the prayer diary are there to help us to be disciplined in this area. Do we wrestle in pray for others?

Another thing we need to think about is: do we pray for those God has given specifically under our care? Maybe members of our family, maybe our children, maybe the small groups that we help run at church.

1 Samuel 12:23: “far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.”

It is a challenge isn’t it? I find it very challenging. Do I pray for my small group Bible study? Do I wrestle in prayer for them? Do I wrestle in prayer for my wife, for my son and for my child who is yet to be born? Do I wrestle in prayer for those God has entrusted into my care?

Do I wrestle? Or do I give up too soon? It is a challenge for all of us.

Well we have seen 3 things in this church. They were close friends, they were a team doing God’s work and they were always praying for one another. I pray that those things will be true of us, more and more and we go through this year!

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