Colossians 4:7-18

We must study scriptures to discover the individual messages of the books before we decide the collective message of the Bible. Preaching, teaching, and study must focus on understanding the message of scripture. Much too often we do not study to understand the message. Much too often we study to "support" our convictions.

When we read a scripture that does not seem to "fit" our perspectives or our conclusions, we typically respond to that scripture in one of these ways. # 1: we decide what that scripture says is not important, and we give its message no consideration. # 2: we do not want to think about it or try to understand it because that would require too much effort. # 3: we feel a sense of fear because the scripture threatens an important conclusion we hold, so we put it out of our mind. # 4: we "explain it away" by forcing it to say something the writer never intended it to say. # 5: we accept the responsibility to consider the message.

This is a Bible. [Hold a Bible up.] We look at it as a one volume book in the same way we look at any other single volume book. We declare it has two major sections: an Old Testament or covenant and a New Testament or covenant. Most Christians pay token tribute to the Old Testament because we decided it is not that important. Typically in the Church of Christ we make no intensive effort to understand the Old Testament. The greater percentage of our efforts in studying the Old Testament are spent on what I would call narrative books: Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings. We take stories from Daniel, Jonah, Nehemiah, Job, and Esther. Typically, much of this material is taught in our children's classes. Perhaps the fact that shocks us as we consider how little emphasis we place on the Old Testament is this: the Church of Christ has never produced a series of commentaries on the Old Testament. An attempt was made, but not completed. Publishers cannot print what members will not buy.

As adults we typically concentrate our concern and study on the New Testament because we conclude it is essential.

We not only look at the Bible as a single volume book, we study it as if it were written by a single author as we study any other single author book. We rarely discuss the fact that its writings were produced over a period of about 1400 years and were written in different parts of the world. We freely, easily interchange verses from books as if they were all written by the same person in the same period under the same circumstances and situations at the same place.

If we just consider the New Testament, we are looking at a collection of letters written by different people to different people in different areas of the world. Look at a map and notice the distance between Rome (Italy), Corinth (Greece), and Antioch (Syria) are. Even today, do Italians, Greeks, and Syrians think alike and have the same culture?

First century Christians did not have a book called the New Testament. Concern for identifying the writings that should be accepted as scripture did not begin earnestly until the second century. From what I have read, it was the late fourth century before the twenty-seven books of our New Testament were widely accepted as the twenty-seven books of scripture.

Look at the obvious: there were Christians who died in the first century that never heard, never read, never knew about many of the books you and I read in the New Testament.

You and I would study the New Testament differently if we realized they were independent letters that were placed together. If we seriously consider the ignored verses in many of those letters, these verses would contribute powerfully to correcting our understanding. The ignored verses are the statements that end the letter.

  1. We need an improved awareness of long distance communication in the first century.
    1. Basically, the goal or objective of communication has not changed.
      1. The goal of communication is to share information, concepts, and understandings from those who have the information, concepts, and understandings with those who do not.
      2. Through the ages, communication needs and objectives have changed little: accurately share and inform to make aware and create understanding.
      3. The means of long distance communication have changed radically.
        1. In the first century, few of our means of mass communication existed: no printing, no radio, no television, no faxes, no copiers, no Internet, no telecommunication system of any kind.
        2. In the first century, the basic methods we use in personal communication did not exist: no postal service, no telephone, no e-mail.
        3. Can you imagine what our world would be like if we had no printing, radio, television, faxes, copiers, Internet, telecommunication systems, postal service, telephone, or e-mail?
        4. They used two primary means for long distance and personal communication: the hand-delivered letters and the spoken word.
          Colossians 4:7-9 As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.
    2. If a person was sending a hand-delivered letter any distance, he or she would commonly send it by friend or acquaintance.
      1. You did not write a letter and send it any day you wished.
      2. You sent a letter when someone you knew was traveling to the area where the recipient lived.
      3. Tychicus was to make the long journey from Rome where Paul was in prison back to Asia Minor.
        1. It is possible that Tychicus delivered four letters for Paul: one to Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21,22), one to the Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), one to Philemon, and this one to Colossae.
        2. We do not know why Tychicus was in Rome with Paul and Timothy.
        3. He was a native of the region of Colossae (Acts 20:4) who was in the group with Paul when Paul made his last trip to Jerusalem.
        4. Perhaps on that trip he was one of the delegates from the churches who sent a gift from Christians who were not Jews to Christians who were Jews (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:19-24).
        5. On other occasions, Paul also sent Tychicus with a personal message to Titus (Titus 3:12), and with another message to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12).
      4. As Tychicus came back to his home area with these letters, Onesimus came back with him.
        1. Onesimus was Philemon's slave who ran away from Philemon in Colossae and eventually found and was converted by Paul in Rome (Philemon).
        2. Paul thought it only proper for Onesimus to return to Philemon, so Onesimus traveled back to Colossae with Tychicus.
        3. Paul presented Onesimus to the Christian community at Colossae as a faithful and beloved brother who was one of their number.
      5. Tychicus and Onesimus would verbally inform the Christians all about Paul and what was happening to him in Rome; they would share the word of mouth message with the Christians.
    3. It was and still is common to send "hello" greetings from people who are with you.
      Colossians 4:10-14 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas' cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. 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. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.
      1. There were three Jewish Christians with Paul in Rome who send "hellos:" Aristarchus, Mark (Barnabas' cousin); and Jesus who was called Justus.
        1. These three men were Paul's encouragers; many Jewish Christians were Paul's enemy.
        2. Aristarchus also sent a "hello" in the letter to Philemon (verse 24).
          1. He was with Paul at that very dangerous time when there was a riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29).
          2. He was with Paul when Paul made his last trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
          3. Perhaps he was one of the delegates from Thessalonica who accompanied Paul as he took the gift to Jewish Christians.
          4. He also traveled with Paul when Paul was transferred from the prison in Caesarea to the prison in Rome (Acts 27:2).
        3. Only here are we told that Mark and Barnabas were cousins.
          1. That provides a valuable insight into why Barnabas and Paul had such a confrontation about Mark going on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41).
          2. It also gives another valuable insight: Paul refused to take Mark on his second missionary journey, but years later Mark is with Paul when Paul is in prison at Rome.
          3. We do not know any other information about Jesus who was called Justus.
      2. There were three Christians with Paul in Rome who were not Jews that said "hello" to the church in Colossae.
        1. Epaphras, who came from Colossae, was with Paul.
          1. He was deeply committed to and concerned about the Christians in that area.
          2. He was constantly praying for them--note he "labored" for them by praying for them.
          3. Paul said he was a witness to the fact that Epaphras was concerned for them, the Christians in Laodicea, and the Christians in Hierapolis (Laodicea was just ten miles away).
        2. Luke was with Paul, and it is here that we learn Luke was a doctor.
        3. Demas was with Paul.
          1. He was one of Paul's mission companions.
          2. But, when Paul faced execution, Demas deserted Paul and returned to Thessalonica because "he loved this present world" (2 Timothy 4:10).
    4. Paul sent personal greetings to the Christians in Laodicea.
      Colossians 4:15-18 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. Say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.
      1. He mentioned Nympha and the church that met in her house.
      2. After the church at Colossae read this letter, Paul asked them to swap letters with the church at Laodicea, and each congregation read the other's letter from Paul.
      3. Paul asked them to encourage Archippus.
        1. Archippus' name is in the address of the short letter to Philemon--the letter is actually addressed to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus.
        2. It is possible that Archippus was a member of Philemon's family.

  2. Paul wrote the last statement with his own handwriting and signed the letter.
    1. It was not unusual for a letter to be dictated.
    2. Paul closed the letter in his own handwriting with his own signature.
      1. This was a way of authenticating a letter.
      2. It was Paul's way of saying, "You know this letter truly is from me by looking at my handwriting and signature at the end of the letter."

When you study the "ignored verses," (1) you see this is a letter, (2) you see that it is from a real person, and (3) you see that it was written to real people.

The New Testament did not just fall out of the sky as a book. It is a collection of letters written by people who lived in the real world written to people who lived in the real world. Surely, they were guided by God's Spirit as they wrote. But just as certainly, they wrote.

We need to understand that God's word is for real people in the real world. We need to understand its message is for real people in the real world.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 13 August 2000
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