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Category Archives: Colossians

Sometimes I do speak idle words. Things come out of my mouth that either don’t convey well what I am thinking or do convey something that I didn’t mean to convey. It happens . . . sadly!

However, because I am convinced that the Spirit superintended the writing of the Scriptures(2 Timothy 3:16), I don’t think any of the words we find there are idle words. I believe every word matters–even those words I can easily pass over. But sometimes I have to think a bit to grasp what is being conveyed in what might, at first glance, seem to be mere idle words.

Here’s what we find at the close of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:18)

So, what are we to make of these words? Just idle thoughts? A “random” close? Relatively valueless? I think not.

Reflecting on what Paul wrote I notice at least three things.

First, in his writing to churches, Paul often dictated his letters and had a scribe or an amanuensis transcribe what he said. Paul apparently was doing this with the letter to the Colossians but then stopped and took time to write the closing greeting himself. Why do this? What is Paul saying in doing this? I think we can conclude that even in his busy-ness, Paul wanted ministry (even through a letter) to be personal. He took a hands-on approach to ministry. It wasn’t enough to just convey truth; Paul wanted a personal touch in this letter.

Then, in inviting them to “remember” his imprisonment, Paul says something about himself. In what way should they remember him? I’d suggest the remembering would have been a remembering in prayer. It’s more than a “don’t forget that I’m in prison”–it’s an invitation to connect with him in his imprisonment. This is the idea found in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 where Paul “remembers” (“bearing in mind”) the Thessalonians as the grounds for his praying for them. We hear echoes of this idea in Philippians 1 where Paul writes about the Philippians being “partakers of grace” with him “both in [his] imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:7).

And what is the last word? The last word is “grace!” And for Paul that is the heart of the message from start to finish. The letter begins with a prayer for “grace” for them (Colossians 1:2) and  closes with a benediction of grace. Grace is the anchor and root of all that Paul thinks about God’s work in his life and the lives of others.

So . . .

I want to be personally involved in this ministry in your lives. And I want you to be connected to me in what I am experiencing. And in all of it I long for us to live in grace.

Paul’s closing words in Colossians. Not idle words at all. They tell us a great deal about the heart of this apostle . . . and the kinds of things that we might cultivate in our own hearts.

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How would you speak of those you labor in “ministry”? Those who give themselves to the work of service are sometimes referred to as “ministers” or “workers” or “servants” or . . .

Reflecting on the closing verses of Colossians, I was intrigued by the reference to Archippus (Colossians 4:17)–as noted in a previous post. That drove me to spend a little more time looking into his story. And I realized there is very little. Except for a very intriguing “call.”

Archippus is mentioned in only two passages in the New Testament:

 Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17)

And [give our greetings] to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house. (Philemon 2)

Having thought through some of the implications of the Colossians reference, I’ve been giving some attention to the simple reference in Philemon. And what intrigues me is the reference to Archippus as a “fellow soldier.”

In the New Testament, only Epaphraditus is identified by Paul as a “fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25). In writing to Timothy, Paul refers to him as a “soldier,” using the same root word but not the identical compound word (1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:3, 4). The related words are only used a few times in the New Testament. One notable place comes in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Corinthians 10:3)

So, where does this lead us? What is the point? It seems to me that one of the ways that Paul thought about those who ministered with him is to think in terms of “warfare.” He thinks in terms of soldiers, fighters, those engaged in battle.

And that causes me to wonder. Why don’t I think about those who serve the cause of Christ–and that rightly includes all those who name the name of Jesus–in terms of the battle? The spiritual battle, the battle for truth, the fight for the faith–that seems to often be off my radar. It’s not that this idea is the only way to think about ministry and service and church and the faith–but it is one aspect of it . . . and one aspect that I seem to often overlook.

 

I have a generic hearing loss. A few years ago I was finally diagnosed. I got hearing aids. And I came to really appreciate what I had been missing.

The loss I had experienced had been so gradual, over time, that I had simply made adjustments to how my ears weren’t functioning. That is, until I had restored, in one “fitting,” what I had lost.

And that has given me a renewed appreciation for “parts of the body” working well–even though I have artificial parts now. When the battery goes out in a hearing aid (or you have a “technical difficulty” like I have been having over the past few weeks), it’s really obvious. Some part is not fully functioning! And because the loss is substantial and in a short window of time (rather than gradual over a long period of time), the loss is dramatic. It’s not that the loss I had prior to the hearing aids was not dramatic–I just hadn’t realized it.

I wonder how much the body of Christ is “under-experiencing” the life Jesus wants for us because some parts are not fully functioning. Typically, that loss of body function is an over-time kind of loss. Under-appreciated, under-utilized, loss of perspective, insufficient equipping–some members of the body stop functioning at optimum Holy Spirit enabled capability. And if that loss has been a long time coming or has just gradually crept into the life of the church, we might not realize how profoundly incapacitated we have become.

All these thoughts were prompted by a single sentence Paul tacked on to the end of his letter to the Colossians. There, in drawing the letter to a close, he wrote:

Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17)

We know very little about Archippus; he is mentioned only here and one time in Paul’s letter to Philemon. In Philemon, Paul identifies him as a “fellow soldier” (Philemon 2). But there are some things implied in this single sentence in Colossians that could really be of benefit to us.

Take heed to the ministry . . .” Paul is calling Archippus to be attentive to, to notice, to get his eyes on his ministry. Why does Paul have to do this? Because it is really easy for us to lose focus, become distracted, get our eyes off of what really matters.

“Take heed to the ministry . . .” Paul wants Archippus to not merely look at his own life, but specifically look at the ministry he is to have. Ministry is a word that refers to the “work of service” that he has been gifted and en-graced to carry out. Whether he is or is not in “vocational ministry,” as a part of the body Archippus does have a particular part to play for the good and growth of others (1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12:4–6). And this is true for each of us as well.

“. . . which you have received from the Lord . . .” This thing that Paul wants Archippus to attend to is not an office he ran for or a natural talent he was born with or a skill he learned in trade school or a career he learned to master over the years through education and hard work. This ministry that Paul calls Archippus to give attention to is nothing short of an amazing grace gift granted to him by the Lord. Grace not only saves each of us, but grace gifts us for a purpose as well.

” . . . that you may fulfill it.” Paul seems to think that there is more to Archippus’ ministry than just keeping himself busy. Paul wants him to attend to this grace-given ministry to (literally) “make it continually full.” We get a sense of what Paul has in mind by how he has used this language earlier in this epistle. In 1:25, Paul writes that he was called to “fully carry out the preaching of the word of God”–all in, fully in, every opportunity. In 2:10, Paul asserts that Christians are made “complete” in Jesus–he is all that they need or will ever need. So Paul’s encouragement to Archippus to “fulfill” his ministry is a call to keep on maxing out what he is designed–by Jesus and through the power of the Spirit–to be and to do. And there are echoes in that word to Archippus for each follower of Jesus as well.

We can’t let our part in the life of the body slip away. It would not be good for the body for it to be deprived of the gifts and grace and benefit of what each one of us provides. Ultimately, the body does suffer . . . even if the loss has been nearly imperceptible.

Do you ever wonder about what you are to do with what you the Lord teaches you? When in grace Jesus shows you something, leads you to some fresh understanding, what are you to do with what you come to understand?

I often find myself thinking that what He shows me is solely for my “personal consumption.” That is, I think that what I am learning is, primarily and perhaps entirely, for my growth and benefit. But there could well be more to it than that.

As he draws his letter to the Colossians to a close, Paul makes a few remarks that suggests there might be more to what we learn than that view of personal consumption of truth. Paul is not specifically teaching the Colossians how they are to think, but as he offers his closing remarks we can learn something about how he thinks about this matter.

Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:14-16)

Although Paul specifically wrote this letter to the Colossians, with a view toward their particular challenges, with the intention of addressing the doctrinal matters they needed to better understand, he apparently did not think that the benefit of the truth imparted ended with the Colossians. There is a community of faith, connected by the truth. There are others who would benefit from what Paul wrote to the Colossians–and the Colossians would benefit from what Paul penned for the church in Laodicea.

There is a communal impact, a common benefit, to the truth we learn. There is an “us-ness” about what we have come to understand about life with Jesus, about the Gospel of grace, about the revelation God makes to us through the Scriptures.

Such thoughts call for me to reflect upon what Jesus is teaching me. How will I become a conduit for Gospel truth into the lives of others? In what ways will I intentionally pass on to others those things I have come to value in what Jesus is showing me?

Do I let what I have come to see of the glories of our Savior and the wonders of his message end with its impact on me? Or do I live with the realization that there is a communal benefit, a common sharing in, this journey into truth?

There is a healthy way to think of our own uniqueness in Christ. We are each gifted by the Spirit for a particular kind of work of service for the benefit of others. (See 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12-16; Romans 12:3-8.) There is something that–by grace and through the Spirit–we “bring to the table” of ministry. We do contribute to the life of the body through the gracious gifting of God.

But there is also a dangerous way to think of our own uniqueness. Although we are each gifted, we can end up in troubling waters if we believe ourselves to be absolutely unique, if we think that no one could do what we do in the lives of others, if we over-value our own significance and importance in the life of the body.

When we live as if we are irreplaceable, when we privilege our particular way of saying of doing things, if we end up believing that the body would be irrevocably harmed if we weren’t around, we are at risk of wrongly understanding our own place in the body.

Although Paul is not purposefully addressing this idea, what comes through in his words about Epaphras in the close of his letter to the Colossians does help us keep perspective.

Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12-13)

Paul calls Epaphras a “bondslave of Jesus Christ”–a term Paul often uses for himself (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Titus 1:1). Paul touches on Epaphras’ fervency in prayer–something Paul highlights in his own life and ministry (Romans 1:10; Ephesians 1:16). Paul writes about Epaphras’ “earnest labor”–using the very language he uses to speak of his own work in ministry (Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 4:10). Paul notes that Epaphras’ desire is for the Colossians to “stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God”–echoing Paul’s description of his own ministry (as seen earlier in Colossians 1:29).

Taking together, it is clear that Paul sees Epaphras no different from he sees himself. Paul recognizes his own giftedness and his own unique call. But Paul also sees clearly that he is not the sole gifted minister to the Colossians, he is not the only one who cares for and shares with and builds up the Colossians in the grace of God.

In Paul’s words of appreciation, we catch a glimpse of Paul’s understanding of his own call and his own ministry. Although he knows his own call, Paul also sees himself as one among others. A very healthy self-awareness that is seen in a very honest expression of appreciation.

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