Christian Fellowship

August 27, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Colossians 4:7-18 |


Christian Fellowship | Colossians 4:7-18
Brad O’Dell | August 27, 2023

We are finishing up the book of Colossians today! It’s been a joy to walk through it chunk by chunk over the course of the summer, and we are in these final words that Paul has, these final greetings that he has to close out this letter, and I wanted to see what that small, interesting section has for us as we look at what’s important there.

As we do that, I want you to think about the signatures of the letters that we do. Think about the signature line of your email. When was the last time you thought about the signature line of your email? You probably haven’t thought about it in a while, right? You got a new job and you just took the little masthead that they gave you and you’re like, “Alright, I’ll use that.” Maybe sometimes you’ve thought, “I don’t have something programmed in, so I have to figure out something to say every time I’m ending an email. What is that? ‘Sincerely’ seems a little much for that email.” Maybe some of it is you thought you’d be a little chill and you’re like, “Cheers.” Do you know the “cheers” people who sign their emails off like that? That seems nice, but it’s also kind of interesting.

All that to say, we don’t really think about our greetings too much or our signatures in our emails and letters. They’re just kind of something that help us sign off well.

Some of you, I’ve noticed, are like, “I want to put a little bit of meaning into it,” so you sign off your emails, “In Christ,” which is really nice, because you’re trying to remember who you are, how you communicate, what your presence in this world. But it doesn’t always apply, right? Sometimes you get an email from someone who has that in the signature, and he’s just like, “Hey, it’s Jim. You were supposed to send me that thing, but you never sent it to me, so just a reminder to do that when you get the chance. In Christ, Jim.” Right? You’re like, “Oh, wow, that’s nice. ‘In Christ.’ Well, now that I know it’s coming from the authority of Christ, I will send that thing to you, Jim, and I will do it promptly!” Right?

All that to say, the signature line of our letters and in our emails is not something we focus on a lot.

However, in the ancient Near East, that wasn’t quite the case. The signature lines weren’t just a simple phrase, they weren’t just a throwaway phrase that you could take or leave; there was content there. It was significant. It was important. There were things in there that they wanted to communicate to their listeners and also to communicate to others who would hear through them. So I think we see that in the passage we’re covering today. It’s an interesting passage. It’s just these final greetings in a letter, but I think there’s stuff for us to learn from it. So, with that, let’s read Colossians 4:7, and we’re going to read through the end of the letter. Colossians 4:7-18. Paul is closing out this letter to the Colossians, and he says this:

“Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”

It’s the sign-off of a letter. You see it’s a little more significant than we have in our day and age. You might be coming in here for the first time, maybe you’re a visitor, and you’re like, “That’s a really interesting passage. Why are we going to be learning from that from Scripture today?”

It’s really for this reason: our general approach in this church is to take a chunk of Scripture and to work through it progressively and to see things in its full context and not to take things that we want to focus on and leave things. We believe all the counsel of God is written for our upbuilding, for our teaching, for our reproof, for our being built up into the fullness of who we are in Christ, so we want to see what we can glean and learn from all of it. This is where we’re at in the book of Colossians, and that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning.

There are a lot of things I could draw out from this short text, and I just focused on a few of them that I think are interesting, that I think are important, that I think we can learn from as we dwell on them a little bit this morning. I’m going to focus on this (here’s my outline):

1. Colossians Is an Apostolic Letter—I want to dwell on the significance of that.
2. Christian Fellowship Is Vital
3. Our Current Walk with the Lord Doesn’t Guarantee Our Future Walk with the Lord

Let’s take those in order.

1. Colossians Is an Apostolic Letter

This is the first thing we notice when we come to this. When we come to these portions of Scripture they remind us that this hasn’t just been a collection of good, Christological thoughts or good theological musings or even just instructions to specific people, but this is a letter. We see that. We see that there is a greeting that came at the beginning of the letter. We see that there is a body of the letter, content. Now we see that there is a closing of the letter, as the author signs off and addresses to the specific people and communicates to them.

I think it’s something for us to remember here. As we read the book of Colossians, this isn’t just a historical document, it’s not a sermon that was preached, it’s not a theological treatise that Paul sat down and said, “I have a lot of things to say about Christ and how to live the Christian life.” It’s not necessarily even that.

It is a letter written to people, and here’s the important thing—this is a bit of a teaching point, right at the beginning; I’m not going to take too much time on it, but I think it’s important because it comes to our mind as we study this. It’s this: for letters, we are always looking at the fact that they are an occasional document. That’s a bit of a specific phrase, but I think it’s important. It means that there is a specific historical occasion and situation that necessitated this letter being written. There are historical people and there are historical recipients. There’s a historical situation into which this letter is communicating, and we must know something of that occasion if we’re going to know what the meaning is of the letter, so that we can then appropriately apply that meaning to our day and age.

It’s like picking up someone else’s mail. We’re not supposed to do that, but say you had permission to do so. Say it was an encouraging letter from a father to his son. There’s a lot that you can learn, there’s a lot that can encourage you, there’s a lot that you can apply to your life in that instruction, but it wasn’t written to you, it wasn’t written into your circumstances, and you automatically can be making some adjustments to apply it to your day and age. It’s like that when we read the New Testament letters, even as we understand that God is the author behind Scripture and he’s communicated this to all Christians at all times. It’s an occasional document.

Another way we can say it—this is the language of Gordon Fee—is that this isn’t a theological treatise, but it is task theology; that is, it’s theology that’s being written for or brought to bear on a specific task at hand. That matters for how we understand why Paul is saying what he’s saying and then how we apply it today.

Right at the beginning, we always need to remember a few rules when we’re reading New Testament letters. I think these are helpful. Maybe you haven’t heard these before. If you came to our Word Made Clear class last spring then you did hear these. But I think they’re helpful. You can take a picture of them on the screen or jot them down.

First is this rule that we always need to remember—it’s a foundational rule—a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its original author and its original readers. It cannot mean today what it could not have meant at all to its original author and to its original readers, because of the fact of this reality of it being an occasional document.

Second, it’s something that you should try with this being a letter. Try to read the letter all the way through in one sitting, and maybe even try to read it out loud, because that’s the way the letter was intended to be written. Remember, there weren’t chapter divisions and there weren’t verse divisions in the original letter here. This was just a common letter; they would have taken it and they would have read it from beginning to end, because that’s how you read letters.

It would be really weird if someone sent you a letter—Katie, when she was in England for a while when we were dating, we tried writing each other letters. It took a long time for those letters to get there; we covered more on Facetime. But we wanted to try it, right? It would have been really weird for me, getting a four-page letter from here where she’s talking about everything that’s been going on in life and everything she’s been thinking, it would be weird for me to take that and read the first few sentences. “Hey Brad, I’ve really missed you, I’ve been thinking about you a lot, and I’ve really been thinking about you a lot because of what’s been going on in my life—” and then I just put the letter down there and go, “Mm, that’s good. I’m going to think about that for a while; I’ll come back to it in a few days.” Wouldn’t that be really weird if I did that with a letter?

But we do that all the time with the New Testament letters, and we’re not supposed to always. We can study them in smaller chunks, but only after we’ve understood it in full. Try to read through it all in one sitting.

Third, try to read in paragraphs, thinking of how each unit of thought contributes to the whole, because that’s how we communicate, and that’s how we should understand the communication coming from us. We have to see things in context to be able to understand.

Lastly, always seek to read the Bible with things that help you and assist you in understanding the background of the text. You have to understand the background of the text. You have to understand something of the occasion before you can really understand how this might be God’s word spoken to you in your current situation.

Those are just a few rules that help us as we handle letters.

However, we don’t just see that this is a letter, we see that it is an apostolic letter. We see that in verse 18. Paul is very specific in signing off his letters in this way. It’s very consistent. He says this: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” He does that for a reason. He needs to say, “You need to know that this comes from me, Paul, and this is my handwriting, so you know that it comes from me, and that should communicate something to you. It’s not just any letter, it’s a letter that has come from me, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s an apostolic letter.

Because it’s an apostolic letter, it carries with it a special authority in the lives of those who are the people of Jesus. Paul writes this with his own hand.

I think he draws attention to this because he wants people to know, “These aren’t just mere suggestions for your Christian life. This isn’t just wise advice from a more mature Christian who’s been there and seen some things in life. No, no, no. This is an authority in your life, and you are to heed its instruction as if it comes from the Lord Jesus Christ himself.” That’s what it means that the apostle Paul is the one who is signing off on this letter.

Where do I get that, the idea that we’re supposed to receive apostolic teaching as if it comes from the Lord Jesus himself, if it’s been in Scripture here? I think it’s a couple things. First of all, you get it from the word “apostle” itself. The word “apostle” indicates something of a messenger who doesn’t have authority in himself; his authority is from the person who has sent the message through him. I got this from the Ligonier website, and I think it’s good. It says this:

“The term apostolos is a Greek term for apostle, and in the first century Roman world it was used of those delegated to speak for a person of authority. The Caesar and other ruling officials could send apostles (or messengers) to speak for them in other places, and when those apostles spoke, their words carried the authority of the official who sent them. To reject those apostles was to reject the authority of the one who commissioned them for service, and therefore to deny the apostles of Jesus was to deny the authority of Jesus himself.”

The apostles did not have authority, necessarily, in themselves; they had the authority of Jesus given to them. Jesus said when he ascended to heaven, “Listen, you need to wait for the baptism of the Spirit; you need to wait for the Spirit to come. When he comes, he will remind you of everything I taught, and he will teach you concerning how to apply this to the church or how to lead the church in these ways.” That’s what we see happen in Scripture, and the apostles are the ones who carry those words for the new age people of Christ, who are called to live in the reality of Christ.

We see this in Ephesians 2:20-21. It says that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” That’s the foundation, the teaching of the apostles and prophets. Then it says, “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”

You see how the foundation of the apostles and prophets only comes from the cornerstone, which is Christ. The cornerstone is the most important part of the building. The foundation is essentially an outbuilding of the structure that the cornerstone is meant to set; and we see that reality with the writing of Paul and the writings of Peter in the New Testament.

In the Nicene Creed we say this: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” We are an apostolic church. If we are the people of Jesus, as a church gathered together, then we are people who stand on the teaching of the apostles.

Here’s the point—it’s a bit of a technical point and I’m driving it home, but here’s the point. I think that often we can approach the word of God and approach these New Testament letters just a bit casually. I think we can fall into this error that we’re just a bit too casual in our approach. I think that it’s as we gather together in the church and listen to the preaching of the word, but I also think it’s in our individual times as we read the word of God. Sometimes we don’t approach the word of God seeing as instructions, marching orders from our Lord, the judge of all the earth, he who sits enthroned above the cherubim. We don’t see it as words with that authority that we’re supposed to respond to. Instead, sometimes we see it as a to-do item. “Well, I know I’m supposed to do this,” and it’s kind of like assigned reading in a classroom. It’s kind of in one ear and out the other, but “I know I’m supposed to sit down and do it because they keep telling me in church I’m supposed to do it.”

Sometimes we approach it as a historical document. It’s interesting, it’s nice to study, it’s interesting to think about all the connections and to see what’s happening; but we aren’t trembling before it with a holy fear of the Lord but also a holy reverence and joy in the Lord to hear what our King Jesus has for us today. “What’s he going to call me to today? How is he going to reveal himself to me today?”

We can read it as a self-help book. Sometimes we’re gleaning through there. “What’s encouraging? What can I grab? What can I apply? What can I maybe read my own desires onto to encourage myself in the things I’m already assuming about my life, instead of hearing from the Lord and letting it shape what I think about my life?”

I think we can fall into this error when we come and listen to sermons, right? It’s a routine. We do this every week. Our minds are full of a lot of things. We know it’s good for us, but sometimes we come in here casually and we kind of sit in the chair almost with a disposition of a judge, saying, “Hey, I’m going to make an assessment. What’s worthwhile of listening to, what isn’t worthwhile of listening to? What’s encouraging to me and what are the things that I don’t really like? What can I accept and write down and what can I just dismiss offhand?”

Listen, my words up here as a preacher are not the words of the Almighty coming to you, but we have labored over the text, to try to bring it faithfully to you and to try to say, “This is what the word of God said then and this is what it says to us in the here and now.” As you hear that, I think you should respect it as something like, “The Lord Jesus has something for me in this. This is something I need to pay attention to.” I need to come in not just saying, “Hey, what did I like that the preacher said? I like that he was funny in that moment. I liked it when he started waving his hands a lot and got loud, and then I didn’t really like the way he said this.” Instead of taking that out of the sermon, instead say, “What does the Lord Jesus have for me? He has something for me in this word, and I want to get it, and I want to feel it, and I want to hear it, and I want to respond to it. I’m bringing a heart of obedience into this place, and I’m wanting to hear where the Lord is calling me to from the word of God this week.”

I think that this is an area that we can grow in. It’s a tendency we can fall into. I get that these are rhythms in our lives and they can become rote, but let’s always try to remember and assess, how are we approaching the word of God? Am I approaching it as the authority and as the words of Jesus himself to me?

2. Christian Fellowship Is Vital

Another thing we see in this text that I think is obvious in the text is the reality that Christian fellowship is vital. The vitality of Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship is vital, and we see this in all of Paul’s closing letters, and we see, first of all, the fact that Paul is not alone. That’s so obvious from these letters. He’s talking about all these people that are around him. “I have this whole host of people; they want to greet you, they want to hear how you’re doing, they’ve been praying for you even as I’ve been praying for you.”

Paul isn’t this rogue agent. We know Paul, right? If he was all alone, he would have charged off. He would have done it. He would have followed the Lord through all the trials and tribulations that were ahead of him, but he didn’t [charge off]. He always had people alongside him. He had this community of fellowship that was alongside him. What do we see? We see these words “comfort” and “encouragement.” He says in verse 8, “I’m sending people to you that they might encourage your hearts.” He says in verse 11, “I have some fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.” People who are an encouragement, who are a comfort to him, and he is seeking to give encouragement and comfort to others as they seek to walk in the Lord.

What we have is the idea of Christian fellowship. It’s this word koinonia. That’s a Greek word: koinonia. This isn’t a word that’s in the text here, but the idea is captured here. That word communicates more than what we think of with fellowship. It connotes something of a sharing or a participation in something.

I think we see this in 2 Corinthians 8:3-4, where that word is used. It’s talking about people who want to take part in a giving campaign for some believers who are in need, and he says, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” They wanted to take part. They wanted to share in this thing; they wanted to participate in this offering that had been collected for these people that were in need. They were sharing it.

What we see is that Paul’s life, his walk before the Lord, is a shared reality. Others are participating with him and he is participating with others as they’re all on the journey together. I think it’s instructive for us.

We see this principle in Ephesians 4. I think it’s another good place where we get some good language for it. It talks about this as we talk to one another. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Listen, you’re supposed to be speaking to one another as Christian believers, and he’s saying, “Don’t let that be corrupting talk, but instead, speak words of grace to one another.” Do you know that this morning? Do you know that the Lord can use you as an instrument of his grace in other people’s lives? How you communicate, how you pour into them, how you walk alongside them matters for how you are pouring grace into their lives as an instrument of the Lord. You have an opportunity to help build others up in their faith even as they are building you up in your faith. It’s a shared reality.

What does this involve, this fellowship of the body? I wrote down a couple things, and then I’m going to spell it out a little more.

(1) First—I think we see this in the text clearly—it’s entering into one another’s lives. You see that in Colossians 4:7-9, if you would look there again. Everything he’s talking about, he’s trying to share what’s going on in his life. He saying, “This is what’s happening, and I’ve heard about what’s happening for you, and I want us to know what’s happening in each other’s lives, because this helps us know how we can walk alongside each other better, how we can pray for one another, what’s been going on even as we’ve been apart.”

Look at this. “Tychicus will tell you all about my activities.” That’s why Tychicus is coming. “You need to know what’s been going on. You need to know about my imprisonment, you need to know what else is happening here, because you don’t know, and as you know more then we have walked alongside and we have shared, we have walked in fellowship in these things.” “He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”

Verse 8: “I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts.”

Why is Tychicus coming? Because “you need to know how we are. As you hear how we are in the midst of these things, it’s going to encourage your hearts and you get to share with us in what God is doing, even as you’re away from us.”

There’s another one in verse 9. Onesimus is also going to come. He says, “They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.” That’s why they’re coming. “They want to tell you of everything that’s taken place here.” Entering into one another’s lives.

We see something of this with spouses. At the end of a day we do this naturally, or we should be doing this naturally, where we’ve been at different places—you’ve been at work all day, you’ve been in your job all day, one of us has been taking care of the kids with sports activities, the other one’s been taking care of house chores. At the end of the day, you usually start by saying, “Tell me about your day, hon. Tell me about your day.”

Why do we do that? It’s to know what happened. What do they do? They list all kinds of things. “Well, I started the day like this . . . I was pretty tired, I wasn’t doing very well. I got angry at this and this and this. But the kids were really good, and that encouraged my heart. And you won’t believe who called! This person called, and we were talking about this and this and this.”

Do you really need to know all of that as a spouse, all the details that happened? Do you need to know all the weird things that people at work said throughout the day? Probably not, but it is important, because what it does is it lets you share in those realities that you didn’t get to share in alongside them. Because you share with one another, you get to enter into one another’s lives and you get to have fellowship in those things that you wouldn’t have had fellowship in otherwise.

We see Paul doing this in this letter. I think this is something that we’re called to do, to remember we are not islands unto ourselves, just floating out there, but we’re a land mass, and we share in these realities together as the people of Jesus.

I think there are things that are important for us to remember if we’re going to do this well in this church; to enter into one another’s lives, to have a fellowship with one another. I have a list of just a few things here.

The first is this: if we’re going to fellowship well together, I think it’s important to appreciate the Christian relationships God has brought into our lives. See, I think a lot of us miss a lot of the graces of the Lord that are available in Christian fellowship, in this gathering, with these people around us. We miss that because we under-appreciate these people that God has put alongside us. We think, “I don’t really connect with these people. I don’t know if I can really be friends with them. We don’t really share that many interests.” We can go for years, maybe, in a church and say, “I feel like I don’t really know people very well and I don’t have any community.” I think a lot of it is because we’ve under-appreciated the people God has put around us.

We can be like people who are immature and they’re single, and people outside of their sphere say, “Listen, there are people all around you. There are potential spouses all around you. There are wonderful people. They have a lot of good character; you have a lot of shared interests.” But we all know the person who can’t commit to anything and they won’t date anyone because they have vague notion that there’s someone better out there. There’s someone better out there, and they can’t commit to what’s in front of them or they can’t even appreciate who’s in front of them and give them some time.

I think a lot of us can be like that in the church, right? We’re kind of pining away, thinking, “Man, who’s going to come alongside me and be an encouragement and a good friend in my life?” and we’ve looked over everyone who’s sitting alongside us in the pews week after week. I think we need to appreciate who the Lord has brought into our lives.

C.S. Lewis says it like this—I think it’s really good. He says,

“For a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no changes. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.’”

Do you see that we’re not here by accident this morning? I don’t know if you’re here for a week, if you’re here for a month, or if you’ve been here for years, but you’re not here by accident. There’s a master of ceremonies who has been at work, and he has brought us together. We are the Christian fellowship for one another. We are the brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to walk alongside each other, to enter into one another’s lives, to support one another, to fellowship together as we pursue the Lord together in this church. It’s time we start appreciating that if we haven’t yet.

Another thing that I think is important, and it’s demanded by what we just talked about. If we are called as believers to open up and walk in community with one another, then I think it places a high importance on this, and I think this is important, so listen to me: we have to be a people who are trustworthy. We need to be a people who are safe for people to open up to and to really share about what’s going on in their lives.

As people share with us, we need to be a people who care and give time. If someone’s talking to you about what’s going on in their life and they start to open up a little bit, don’t take something and be like, “Yes, I have that in my life, too!” and talk for fifteen minutes about your situation. You didn’t care, you didn’t listen; you just wanted to share about what’s going on in your life. That makes you an untrustworthy person. That makes you someone that next time they won’t open up to you because they don’t really think that you care and you’re listening. We need to be a people who listen well.

We need to be a people who hold confidences. That’s really important. If we are going to experience the grace of the Lord Jesus that is available in fellowship with one another, then we need to be a people who hold confidences well. When people open up to us, when they share with us, when they unburden their hearts in some way, we need to be a people who have the discernment to know, “Who can I share this with? Who can I not? I will not break my confidence with this person.” We cannot ever become a church that gossips in the form of sharing prayer requests, or we share behind other people’s backs when we know they wouldn’t appreciate it, because it makes us untrustworthy people, and when we become untrustworthy people we shut down the grace of the Lord Jesus growing us up into his image through this Christian fellowship that he gives us.

We need to be a people who speak truth into each other’s lives. We can’t just be people who fill people up with fluff that we know won’t last, and we can’t be people who just enable others in their false thinking. We need to be people who kindly, humbly speak truth into people’s lives. That makes us a trustworthy people, because people know that we’re going to speak substance to them when they open up, and that’s something that matters.

We need to be a people who respond to difficulties. When people share hardships, when people share serious sins in their lives, we need to be a people who receive it steadily, because we are grounded in the hope and the realities of the gospel. As people share, we can look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for sharing. Listen, I am confident in the Lord Jesus Christ that we can have victory in these things. I am confident in the Lord Jesus Christ that the moment that we’re speaking of now does not have to be the future, because I know my Jesus and I know that he’s a deliverer, and I know that he’s a Savior, and we’re going to go to him in the Lord and we’re going to walk alongside this together.” We have to be a people who receive that steadily and that people see that in us.

Here’s a quote by Ray Ortlund that captures this. I think it says it really well, and we’ll leave the point at that. It’s a bit of a long quote, but I think it’s good. It’s broken up into small statements, so that makes it easier. I think this is what our church should be. He says this:

“Gospel plus safety plus time; it’s what everyone needs. A lot of gospel, a lot of safety, a lot of time. The gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures, constant immersion, wave upon wave of grace and truth according to the Bible. Safety: a non-accusing environment. No embarrassing anyone, no cornering anyone, no shaming, but respect and sympathy and listening and understanding, so that people can exhale and open up and unburden their souls. A church environment where no one seeking the Lord has anything to fear. Time: no pressure, not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. Urgency, but not hurry, because no one changes quickly. A lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. God is patient.”

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel and safety and time, because that’s where we’re free to finally grow.

One more thing here; it’s the counterpart of what we’ve been talking about. If we are to be a people who are trustworthy and we are to count on our brothers and sisters in Christ to be trustworthy, it’s also important that we entrust ourselves to them. If we are counting on them to be trustworthy, we also need to entrust ourselves to them. A lot of us remove ourselves from the grace of God that’s present in this community by not entrusting ourselves to others, not opening up, not sharing openly. We kind of wear a mask. When we come in here after a terrible week and people ask us, “Hey, how are you doing, brother?” we just say, “To God be the glory; things are good.” And to God be the glory, but things are not good in your life, and you need to share that with someone and trust them with it and see what the Lord has for you in that person.

When you’re showing up to your small group and prayer requests come around, don’t come around and be like, “Nothing much this week.” Share! Share what’s on your heart, share what’s going on in your marriage, share the doubts that you’ve had, share the struggles, share the joys and the high times so that people can partner with you and participate with you in what God is doing in your life, and they can be God’s instruments in your life.

One other thing. What does this involve, this Christian fellowship? I think it’s another thing we see in the text: it’s intercessory prayer. It is praying on behalf of others. We see that in the example of Epaphras in this passage, but we see it in all of Paul’s letter. This is something he gives himself to regularly.

Look at verse 12. He says, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

He’s struggling on your behalf in his prayers, and do you have that in your life? I’m asking you, do you have a list of people in this body of believers who you are praying for regularly, who you are struggling on their behalf, you are laboring over them in prayer because your heart feels deeply what’s going in their lives and you’re bringing it before the Lord as if you’re carrying it for yourself? Do you have that? Do you have it for believers outside of this body? Are you laboring over them in prayer? Are you interceding on their behalf?

Another question is, do we ever pray these kinds of prayers for them? Do you ever pray these kinds of prayers—do you see the language there? He prays that they may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

Paul, at the beginning of this letter, as he’s praying for the Colossian believer, he asks that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.

Do you pray those types of prayers for anyone in your life? I know we pray over people’s circumstances, and that’s good. God delights to hear that. But more than that, do we pray that they would stand fully affirmed in the Lord, that they would grow up into the fullness of who they are, and that they would be holy before the Lord in the midst of those circumstances?

Another example of this is in 1 Thessalonians 3. Paul prays this: “that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

D.A. Carson has these comments, and I think they’re good comments for us to take away. He says,

“When we pray for people, we must do so knowing that these people and we ourselves are inevitably moving toward the last day when we will give account to God. From that perspective, there is no prayer we can pray for others more fundamental than this: that God might strengthen their hearts so that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father on the last day.”

Then he simply asks, and I ask us here this morning, “When was the last time you offered up these petitions for the people of God?”

Let’s learn from Scripture; we’re supposed to be praying for others, and they’re supposed to be high, exalted prayers like these prayers here.

3. Our Current Walk with the Lord Doesn’t Guarantee Our Future Walk with the Lord

The last thing we see from these closing words of Colossians is this reality: our current walk doesn’t guarantee our future walk with the Lord.

We see this positively and negatively in the lives of two people who are mentioned very briefly in this, and that’s Mark and Demas. Mark and Demas are both mentioned, and what’s really interesting is that they’re mentioned in three New Testament letters. They’re mentioned here, they’re mentioned in the closing of Philemon, and they’re also mentioned in the closing of the letter of 2 Timothy. As we look at all those we can glean something of a lesson to be learned about the lives of these men.

(1) First is Mark. I think what we can learn from Mark is this, that even if the story of our lives heretofore, or even the story of our lives right now, even if it’s one of us falling and failing and being faithful to the Lord, our story moving forward truly can be one of spiritual success as we walk in the grace of the Lord.

I think we see that in the life of Mark—John Mark; he has a Gospel after his name. He came with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, and he was with them planting churches, being persecuted for the sake of the gospel. But about halfway through that journey, at some point, he decided, “I’m out. I’m going to go home.” We don’t know what made him do that, but we do know that in Acts 15, a couple chapters later, when Paul and Barnabas are going to leave on their second missionary journey, Barnabas (Mark is his nephew) says, “Let’s bring Mark along again.” Paul says, “No, no, no. He’s not coming along.” He’s adamant in it, and it becomes such a sharp disagreement that Paul and Barnabas actually split ways and Paul takes other men with him and Barnabas takes Mark with him on the next wave of missionary work.

I don’t know what happened to Mark. I don’t know what was going on in his life. But I do think we can see something in the language of Paul and something in Paul’s reactions to what Mark had done to assume that in some ways in these decisions Mark had shown himself to be an unreliable messenger of the gospel. His conduct was not what Paul thought a messenger of the gospel should be. He was one who put his hand to the plow and then took it away and stopped plowing, and that’s not the kind of person you’re supposed to be, especially in the eyes of Paul.

Here, though, we see Mark mentioned in the closing of this letter. Look what it says about him in verse 10. He says, “Aristarchus [is with me], and Mark the cousin of Barnabas,” and then he has some instructions about Mark, that they’re supposed to receive him. He indicates to them that they’re supposed to welcome him when he comes. That’s interesting. He says, “These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.”

You see that Mark is one of these people that has been restored in relationship to Paul, such that he is now a comfort to the apostle Paul as he labors for the Lord, even from prison. We see that great truth that, whatever your story is right now—I don’t know what it is—and whatever your story has been, your future story can be one of magnificent success in the service of the Lord Jesus as you follow him and as you lean on his grace and as you see him be faithful even though you were faithless. I think it’s an encouragement.

(2) There’s also Demas who’s mentioned here, and I think in the story of Demas we see something of the counterpart and maybe a warning that gets presented to us in his life. I think this is the lesson we can learn from Demas: even if right now your Christian walk is going really well, you’re running well, and maybe you’ve had a good season—maybe in the past you’ve had a good, solid spiritual walk—that current success in your spiritual walk does not guarantee that your future walk will remain a success.

Now, this isn’t talking to the fact of our perseverance in the Lord or our preservation by the Lord, the fact that if Jesus has started our salvation he will surely complete it. But in our experience with the Lord, the success of our current spiritual walk does not guarantee the success of our future walk.

Listen to what it says about Demas in 2 Timothy 4. I’m going to draw a contrast, because I forgot to mention what I said about Mark there. Mark in 2 Timothy 4—this is one of Paul’s last letters, some of his last words in a hard imprisonment, and he wants people to come visit him to comfort him in a deep time. He says to Timothy about Mark, “Hey, would you come visit me?” And then this: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” We see more of where Mark has come to.

But here’s what it says about Demas in the same passage. He says, “Timothy, you need to come to me soon,” because “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.”

Listen, we don’t know the circumstances. We don’t know what that meant. We don’t know what happened in Paul’s and Demas’s relationship; we don’t know what’s going on in Demas’s heart. It could be that Demas, down the road, was restored to the Lord, restored in fellowship even with Paul. But these are the last words we get about Demas in Scripture, that, in love with this present world, he deserted Paul.

I think we can see that something was going on in Demas’s life, and we know from Paul his understanding of what it is to have a love for the present world such that we see that Demas likely deserted the ministry of the gospel and fell into great unfaithfulness in his walk, maybe even apostasy.

This man, who is listed here in Colossians and Philemon right alongside Luke the beloved physician, right alongside Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant of the Lord, right alongside Mark and all these people who were alongside him, we see that he didn’t continue in the faith, and he didn’t persevere, and he fell away at some point—maybe not ultimately, but at some point.

I think there’s a warning and an exhortation for us there. Just because our walk with the Lord is going well now it doesn’t guarantee that it will always remain so, and we need to heed the instructions that Paul has given us in this letter that we must remain watchful for the schemes of the enemy, because they will constantly seek to devour us and to lead us astray. We must continue steadfastly in prayer, and we must be seeking and setting our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated, instead of the things that are on earth, and we need to constantly, constantly be grounding ourselves in the gospel realities and in the hope of the gospel that Paul has tried to drive home so fervently in this letter.

I want to close out the book of Colossians like this: I titled this sermon series “Christ in You, the Hope of Glory.” That’s a phrase from Colossians 1:27, and I titled this whole series that because I think it says in reduced form everything that Paul wants us to take away from this letter—the reality of Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Let’s remember the flow of the letter, really briefly. He starts by talking about who Jesus is and what he’s done, and it’s this exalted presentation of Jesus and the work he’s done in history. He says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” He is the source of all creation, and therefore rightly the Lord of all creation. But not only that, he is also the source of new creation and the Lord of new creation so that in everything he might be preeminent. This great Jesus was not just one who stayed far off, but he came near and he died for our sins. Not only that, but he was raised to new life in victory over those sins, and then he killed and conquered in our lives if we believe in the work that he has done on the cross and in his resurrection. He reconciles us to God in his body of flesh by his death—that’s the language of the book. Then Paul says that we have been raised to new life in him, that we might be presented holy and blameless and above reproach before God in the final day.

This is the word of truth, the gospel. That’s how Paul opens in Colossians 1. He reminds them of the word of truth, the gospel. Constantly in this book he’s trying to remind them of this, and he’s laboring to reveal it to them fully. It’s a mystery, he says, that was once concealed but is now revealed, and the mystery is that this Christ, who has done these things, and this Christ, who has called you into this salvation, this Christ is in you, and your life is a hope of glory. You are in Christ and he is in you.

The implications of that reality are what motivate all of Paul’s commands and all of his exhortations. It’s layer upon layer in this latter half of the letter that we’ve been dwelling on. The reality is that we are in Christ and that Christ is in us, and it changes everything. It changes where we place our hope. It changes how we receive and pursue righteousness. It changes how we maintain peace in this chaotic world. It changes how we view sin and also how we deal with sin as it crops up in our lives. It changes our attitude, our character, our identity. It changes our actions and our words. It changes how we behave in the home and how we understand ourselves in the home, and it also changes how we conduct ourselves in the work sphere. It changes our priority in every sphere of life, and it changes our priorities every day we live this life, until we stand before the Lord in glory and come into the fullness of who we are in Christ.

Christ is in us, and we are in Christ. There is a life of glory to experience as we walk in these realities, and there’s a life of glory to manifest to others as we call them into the same reality day after day.

Church, as we wrap up this letter and as we move onto other passages of Scripture, I don’t want us to move on from these great realities. I want us to dwell on them regularly. I want us to rejoice in them and continue to rejoice in them regularly, and I want us to daily, day after day, as long as it is called today, exercise all the energy that God powerfully works within us to walk in these realities. Jesus has accomplished it, he has promised it. He is in us and we are in him, and as we pursue him by faith we can trust him to work this grace out in our lives more and more until the day we see him face to face.

That’s the message of Colossians; I don’t want us to walk away from it this morning; I want us to take it with us and let it infuse every aspect of our lives. Amen? Let’s pray.

I’m going to read Paul’s prayer from Colossians 1 over us as we close this morning.

Lord Jesus, in the light of these great truths from your word that we have studied over the course of the summer, we pray in the name of Jesus that we may be filled with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus, fully pleasing to you. We ask that by your grace we might bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God; that we would be strengthened with all power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy, giving thanks to you, who have qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Lord, we thank you that you delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of your beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. May you be glorified in our lives as we seek to live faithfully, according to your word. In the name of Jesus alone we pray these things together. Amen.