Why We Need Each Other

Colossians 4:7-18

December 16, 2001 | Brian Bill

Two friends were out hunting.  As they were walking through the woods, one of them yelled and the other looked up to see a huge grizzly bear charging at them.  The first friend started to frantically put on his tennis shoes.  When his buddy saw this, he anxiously asked, “What are you doing?  Don’t you know you can’t outrun a grizzly bear?”  To which the first guy responded, “I don’t have to outrun him.  I just have to run faster than you do!”

This morning, as we conclude our study of the Book of Colossians, we’re reminded that our faith should affect our friendships.  Instead of just looking out for ourselves, we need to recognize that we really do need each other because we’re all members of one body.   That’s not easy to do.  As someone has said: 

To dwell with saints above

That will be glory;

But to live with saints below,

That’s another story.

Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians 4:7-18 and follow along as I read: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me.  He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.  I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.  He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you everything that is happening here. 

My 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.)  Jesus, 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.  Epaphras, 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.  I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.  Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.  Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.  Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.’  I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”


1. Paul did not operate alone. 

Paul mentions over 100 people by name in his New Testament letters!  In Romans 16 alone, there are 26 people listed.  Here, in Colossians 4, he mentions 10 individuals.  Paul was definitely not a lone ranger, but functioned as a member of a team.  By the way, this should give us incentive to work harder at remembering people’s names.  

2. Christians have always relied on networks. 

Paul was a great networker!  Without supportive friends and partners throughout the world, the gospel would not have spread as fast as it did.  My friend Ray Pritchard is great at this.  When he meets someone, he remembers their name and looks for ways to leverage his relationships for the sake of the kingdom. 

3. Friendship is part of our discipleship. 

Our sanctification should extend to all of our relationships.  As we live out the supremacy of Christ in our lives, it will affect our interaction with others.  In fact, our friends can help us grow.  Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  The church was created to be a community of interdependent people.  

4. Friendships develop through shared experiences.  

Most of Paul’s relationships were nurtured in the crucible of ministry partnerships.  Some of the best friends you will ever have are those who you meet as you minister together.

5. People are more important than programs. 

It’s important for us to remember that ministry always flows along relational rivers.  I’ve made mistakes when I’ve put programs above people.  If I’ve ever done that to you, I’m sorry.

6. It’s beneficial to have friends who are different from us. 

Included among Paul’s friends are a doctor and a runaway slave.  He had friends who were Jewish in background and others who didn’t even know who Abraham was.  He hung out with guys and had friendships with women.  He was closer to some than others, some were givers and a few were goers, several were old and a handful were new, some were up to the task while others bolted from their beliefs.

Five Groups of Friends

Paul was not only a soul winner; he was a great friend-maker.  As he closes his letter to the believers at Colosse, he mentions several different groups of friends.  As we go through this passage, ask yourself which category you would put yourself in.  Or, perhaps more importantly, what type of friend do others think you are?

  • The Faithful
  • The Fervent
  • The Faltering
  • The Fickle
  • The Forgiven

The Faithful

Paul had five faithful friends who lived out the truth of Proverbs 18:24: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  The first friend Paul mentions is Tychicus in Colossians 4:7-8: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me.  He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.  I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.”

As Paul’s friend, he had been given three responsibilities. 

  • He was to deliver letters to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, and to Philemon.  He was Paul’s personal FedEx man!
  • He would be able to tell people how Paul was doing.  As we learned last week, Paul asked the believers to pray that his imprisonment would turn into open doors for the gospel.  He didn’t mention much about his personal situation because he knew that Tychicus would fill them in once he arrived.  
  • He would encourage their hearts.  We all need encouragement don’t we?  Hebrews 3:13 reminds us that if we’re not encouraging one another, we may in fact be contributing to the slippery slide of sin in someone’s life: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  Are you an encourager?  Do you build others up, or do your words tear them down?
We’re all ministers and fellow servants

Paul was confident in giving Tychicus these three jobs because he was faithful.  I can think of no higher commendation than what Paul said about his character.  

  • He was a “dear brother.”  Paul was not afraid to be affectionate in the way he referred to people.  Tychicus was loved deeply by Paul.
  • And he was a “faithful minister.”  Paul counted on Tychicus on several occasions.  Nothing negative about him is ever stated in Scripture.  Did you know that the chief virtue of a believer is faithfulness?  1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”  God does not ask us be brilliant or beautiful but longs for us to be faithful.
  • He was also a “fellow servant.”  Paul didn’t pull rank on people just because he was an apostle.  Sometimes we get this mixed up, don’t we?  You might refer to Jeff and I as ministers, but actually that can create a false dichotomy.  Our job, according to Ephesians 4:12, is to “equip you for the work of ministry.”  We’re all ministers and fellow servants.   

The second faithful friend is Aristarchus in verse 10: “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings.”  Aristarchus stayed with Paul no matter what the circumstances were.  He risked his life during a riot in Ephesus, sailed with Paul to Rome and suffered through a shipwreck.  And now he’s a fellow P.O.W. with Paul.  Commentators are not sure if Aristarchus was an actual prisoner who was charged with a crime, or if he voluntarily shared Paul’s captivity.  I tend to think he willingly served time with Paul in order to encourage and help him.  According to Roman law, a respectable prisoner was allowed two slaves to serve as his personal attendants.  If this is the case, Aristarchus was an unusual man.  I wonder if I would be willing to do that for one of my friends?  Do you stay with your friends through the tough times or do you bail on them?

The third faithful friend is Jesus Justus in verse 11: “Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings.”  The name Jesus was a very popular name in Jewish families.  In Hebrew it’s “Joshua” and means “Yahweh is salvation.”  Since Christians have always revered the name “Jesus,” he may have taken the Roman name “Justus” after his conversion in order to gain open doors in the Roman Empire.  In a similar way, Paul’s name changed from Saul when he was converted.  Along with Aristarchus and John Mark, Justus would have been among the first “Jews for Jesus”!

The fourth faithful friend is Luke in verse 14 where we read: “Our dear friend, Luke, the doctor.” Dr. Luke played a very important role in Paul’s life, traveling with him on the third missionary journey, and was responsible for writing the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.  I’m sure Luke helped to take care of Paul when he received beatings and when he suffered various ailments during his imprisonments.  He was well educated and highly trained and was a careful and exact historian.  Yet he chose to use his gifts for the kingdom because everything else was secondary to serving Christ.  We know that according to 2 Timothy 4:11, Luke stayed with Paul right up until his death when Paul wrote: “Only Luke is with me.”  Only a faithful friend will stay to the very end.

Paul’s fifth friend demonstrated her faithfulness by turning her home into a church.  Her name is Nympha.  Look at verse 15: “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.”   It’s not entirely clear whether Nympha was a man or a woman because some versions have a masculine ending, while others have the feminine.  I prefer the NIV rendering and believe that this is referring to a woman, much like the businesswoman Lydia in Acts 16:14.  Paul wanted to make sure that those traveling to Colosse would give a special greeting to Nympha.  Paul recognized her critical role in the kingdom.  

Likewise, when you open your home for Growth Groups, you are providing a wonderful service.  As we’ve said before, when you meet as a small group in someone’s home, you are the church!  This building is not the church, you are!  I am firmly convinced that before we can get bigger, we must first get smaller.  We do that by meeting as the body of Christ in small groups.  If you’re not in a group yet, I encourage you to make it a priority in 2002.

The Fervent

Paul had five faithful friends.  He also had a friend who was a fervent prayer warrior.  His name was Epaphras.  Take a look at verses 12-13: “Epaphras, 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.  I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.” 

We have already met Epaphras in Colossians 1:7.  He was the evangelist who first launched the church in Colosse and labored in teaching and shepherding as their first pastor.  He is called a “servant of Christ.”  This word in Greek is better translated, “slave.”  A slave of Christ recognizes that all of one’s possessions, aspirations, and time belong completely to Jesus.

Epaphras was “always wrestling in prayer.”  His prayers were constant, frequent, and intense.  He’s a great illustration of Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer…” The verb “wrestling” can be translated, “agonized” and is the same word used for the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This battle metaphor pictures prayer as a struggle.  

Notice that he’s praying for the believers in Colosse that they would stand firm against the false teaching and that they would become mature in their faith, having the full assurance of eternal life by grace, not works.  Paul can personally vouch for his hard work in prayer as he not only intercedes for the Colossians, but also prays for believers at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Friends, prayer is hard work.  Praying that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.  He didn’t pray only when it was convenient or when he had nothing else to do.  Of the10 people Paul lists in this chapter, only Epaphras is commended for his fervency in prayer.  That doesn’t mean that the others didn’t pray but it does suggest that prayer was his major interest and ministry.  Some of you here this morning are discovering that your primary ministry is prayer.  May God bless you and increase your tribe!  Keep doing what you’re called to do.  

The Faltering

A number of us are faithful.  A few of us are fervent.  And some of us are faltering.  This was the case with Archippus in verse 17: “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.’” Here’s another name you don’t hear very often!  When we compare this verse with Philemon 2, we can conclude that Archippus belonged to the family of Philemon.  Some commentators suggest that he was also the pastor of the Colossian church in the absence of Epaphras.  For some reason he was neglecting the ministry he had been given, so Paul reminds him to “complete the work.”  This phrase means to “fulfill it completely.”  

He may have needed special encouragement to keep at it.  Perhaps he was sliding spiritually, feeling tired, or had simply lost his focus.  Sometimes we need to be challenged to follow through on what we have committed to.  Other times, we need a nudge to get more involved in discerning what ministry the Lord has for us.  It reminds me of the Prayer of Jabez that we began the year with from 1 Chronicles 4:10: “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!”

Are you faltering right now?  Have you not been laying it out for Christ like you were at the beginning?  If so, make a renewed recommitment to complete the work God has given you to do.  

The Fickle

Paul also had at least one friend who we could categorize as fickle.  His name was DemasCheck out verse 14: “…And Demas sends greetings.”  We can’t tell much about his inconsistencies from this phrase but we can learn more from a couple other passages.  It’s interesting that Paul gives no commendation about Demas and just simply states that he “sends greetings.”  It’s like Paul is saying, “Oh yeah, and Demas says, what’s up?”  

In Philemon 24, he is called a “fellow laborer.”  He was from Thessalonica and was part of the original band of Asian interns who traveled with Paul.  Here in Colossians 4:14, he is simply called “Demas.”  Perhaps Paul is beginning to see the seeds of his fickle faith as he notices the beginnings of the disease called “spiritual drift.”   2 Timothy 4:10, written about five years later, tells us what became of him: “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.”

A spiritual weakness, or fatal flaw, led to his downfall.  His sin was that he was more in love with this world than with the One who made the world.  We don’t really know what happened, but we all recognize how it can happen.  1 John 2:15-16: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world.”

We have within us the seeds of a fickle faith because we all have some fatal flaws.  It’s so easy to maintain a religious veneer and yet be living for the things of the world, isn’t it?  Do you know what it is that could trip you up?  Is there a sin that you seem especially vulnerable to?  Are you messing around with anything this morning?  Are you trying to serve two masters?  Decide today whom you are going to serve so that you don’t end up like Demas.

The Forgiven

While Demas tubed out spiritually, there are two others on Paul’s list who made some pretty serious mistakes, and yet were forgiven.  

The first forgiven friend is Onesimus.  We read about him in verse 9: “…Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother.”  For a more complete understanding of this forgiven friend, I encourage you to read the Book of Philemon.  Onesimus was from the city of Colosse and was a runaway slave.  Somehow he had made his way to Rome where he came in contact with Paul and was saved.  Even though he had been a believer for only a short period of time, Paul referred to him as a faithful and dear brother.  

Christ had forgiven Onesimus and Paul urged him to go back to his master, Philemon, and make things right with him.  Philemon was a leader in the Colossian church and so Paul made a beautiful appeal to him in Philemon 12: “I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.”  In verse18, Paul offers to pay for anything that Onesimus has stolen.  And he wanted Philemon to not only forgive Onesimus, but to receive him back as a “dear brother.”  Onesimus was wrong for running away but God forgave him, Paul forgave him, and we assume that Philemon did too.  

The second friend who was forgiven was Mark in verse10 where we read that he sends his greetings.  Mark was a cousin of Barnabas and was the writer of the Gospel of Mark.  Mark’s track record was not very good with Paul.  When Paul and Barnabas launched their first missionary journey, they took Mark along as an assistant.  But, when the going got tough, Mark bailed on them and returned home.  Later, when Paul and Barnabas were getting ready to go on their second trip, Paul refused to take Mark with them.  This caused so much tension and disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they decided to split up into two teams so Barnabas could be with Mark.  

Evidently, Paul was able to extend grace and offer forgiveness to Mark.  He didn’t make him wallow in his failures or remind him of his mistakes.  In fact, Paul trusted him implicitly and wanted Mark to be with him at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

This past Friday I was able to play some basketball at the gym during my lunch hour.  Towards the end of our time I decided to pressure one of my friends as he was bringing the ball up the court.  I was guarding him like a glove and even did some trash talking as I taunted him, “Come on, and just try to bring the ball up the court.  Bring it on, big boy.”  

Those were my last words because at that very moment he ran me into a blindside pick and I wound up flat on my back, with the wind knocked out of me, and little birdies chirping around my head.  As I lay there seeing stars and trying to catch my breath, a couple guys came over and helped me to my feet.  

Failure happens, but failure need not be final

Are you knocked flat this morning?  Do you feel like someone knocked the wind out of your sails?  You don’t have to stay that way.  It doesn’t matter what your background is or what sin you’ve committed.  Maybe you’ve run away from something like Onesimus, or maybe you’ve let someone down like Mark did.  If you ask for forgiveness, you can have it.  The Christian life is a series of new beginnings.  You are not disqualified because of what you’ve done.  Failure happens, but failure need not be final.  You can come back to Christ if you want to.  You can serve as a forgiven friend because God is the God of the second chance.  I hope you see this church as a place where you don’t have to be perfect.  We are a church full of forgiven sinners, and a hospital for the hurting. 

This also challenges me to make sure I’m not holding someone hostage to something they’ve said or done in the past.  I need to set them free and be willing to give them grace and encouragement just like Barnabas did with Mark.  God may be asking you to be a Barnabas to someone today.  Do you know anyone who needs a second chance or a third chance or a fourth chance?  Are you willing to come alongside and help a teammate get back on his feet? 

Closing Thoughts

As we wrap up this message and this series on the supremacy of Christ, what category would you put yourself in?  Are you faithful?  Fervent?  Faltering?  Fickle?  Or, are you forgiven?  If you find yourself to be faltering or fickle, let me draw some practical application points from the final verses of Colossians.

1. Respond to Scripture. 

In verse 16, Paul says, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”  We need to remember that Scripture is to be read out loud.  It’s hard to believe that it was two years ago when we did the Bible Reading Marathon in which we read every verse in the entire Bible over the course of 90 hours, without any breaks.  That was an incredible experience.  Paul tells the Colossians to pass the Scripture along to the church at Laodicea as well.  

The letter “from Laodicea” may well have been the Book of Ephesians.  Since the New Testament had not yet been assembled, the young churches circulated the different letters among themselves.  Just as churches back then needed to respond to Scripture, so do we.  That’s why I like to do expository preaching, in which we take a passage of Scripture, or a book of the Bible, and walk through it verse-by-verse.  

Are you responding to Scripture in your life?  You might want to simply begin reading a section of Scripture out loud every day. Are you passing along the Word of God to others?  If you haven’t finished all your Christmas shopping, why don’t you take advantage of the open doors in our country and purchase a Bible for someone in your family?

2. Reflect Jesus.  

In the first part of verse 18 Paul tells his readers that he wrote these closing words in his own hand.  It was Paul’s normal practice to dictate his letters to a scribe and then he would include a short note in his own handwriting at the end.  These closing comments were often done in a unique style as we see in Galatians 6:11: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!”  His signature would prove that the letters were genuine.  We need to be genuine Christians in large type for people to see.  Are you reflecting Jesus in an obvious and authentic way to those who don’t yet know Him?

3. Remember those who are suffering. 

Paul tells the Christians at Colosse in verse 18 to “remember my chains.”  Paul did not sit down with his laptop in a comfortable office when he wrote these words.  You can almost hear the chains clanking on his manacled wrists as he writes.  Friends, we often forget how much people suffered in order to bring the Word of God to us.  As we learned from Colossians 1:24, when the gospel is carried to the ends of the earth, it is always accompanied with difficulty.  

4. Receive grace. 

Look at the last part of verse 18: “Grace be with you.”  Did you know that every single one of Paul’s letters begins and ends with a word of grace?  It’s his trademark.  These bookends of grace summarize the entire letter of Colossians.  The false teachers elevated legalistic self-effort at the expense of the doctrine of grace.  I’m so thankful for grace, aren’t you?  Have you received grace yet?

5. Recommit your life to the supremacy of Jesus. 

I want to close this morning by giving you the opportunity to recommit yourself to Jesus.  Do you need to receive grace for the first time or do you need a fresh start?  Jesus does not just want to be prominent in your life; He deserves to be preeminent.  Is He?  

We’re called not to outrun each other, but to run together.  We need each other because we can’t make it on our own.  And, we need Jesus or our sins will consume us.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?