17. Gospel–Centered Friendships (Colossians 4:7-18)Related Media
“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” (Col. 4:7–18).
What should gospel–centered friendships look like?
In Paul’s letters, it is very clear that he had a lot of friends. In Romans 16 he mentions thirty–three friends,1 and in this passage we see eight friends who were with him in Rome while he was in prison, and he mentioned and greeted friends at two other churches, Colosse and Laodicea. The one thing that brought all these relationships together was Christ and the gospel they shared in common. They had all been saved by the gospel, and it was this gospel that energized them as they sought to reach the world for Christ.
What do gospel–centered friendships—friendships that are centered on Christ—look like? And, do our relationships with Christians reflect these characteristics?
Solomon said this about friendships:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? (Eccl. 4:9–11).
We all need friendships that enable us to be more effective in our callings and that pick us up when we stumble. Proverbs says,
He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm (Prov. 13:20).
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend (Prov. 27:17 KJV).
No doubt, the relationships Paul had with these people helped him become wiser and more effective in his service to God. They also encouraged him and sharpened his countenance. Paul could not serve God alone; he needed others. He had many friendships, and we can learn a great deal about specifically gospel–centered friendships through his conclusion to Colossians.
Big Question: What do gospel–centered friendships look like as we survey Paul’s list of intimate friendships at the end of Colossians?
Gospel–Centered Friendships Are Like Family Relationships
“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” (Col. 4:7–9).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul’s identification of Tychicus and Onesimus as “dear brother” say about their relationship?
One of the ways that Paul identifies both Tychicus and Onesimus is by the phrase “dear brother” (vv. 7, 9). Paul saw and related to both of these men as family. Tychicus and Onesimus were sent to share Paul’s circumstances with the Colossians as he was in prison, and they also went to encourage the hearts of the saints (v. 8). Tychicus probably carried the letter of Colossians to the congregation and possibly the book of Philemon as well (cf. 4:9).2 This duty was not unfamiliar to him, as he also was the one who Paul sent to the Ephesian church with his epistle. Ephesians 6:21–22 says,
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
Tychicus was a trustworthy friend. We all need friends like this whom we can trust fully with any situation.
Onesimus was the runaway slave talked about in the book of Philemon. He had left his owner Philemon at Colosse and ran to Rome. By God’s sovereignty, Onesimus met Paul in Rome and was probably converted there. Paul is sending him back, not just as a slave but more than a slave, as a brother in Christ. Listen to what Paul said in Philemon 1:15–16:
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
Here we see that gospel friendships are more than friendships, they are like family relationships. Christ said the same thing about his disciples: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34b–35).
Christ saw his relationships with those who were obedient to God as close or closer than regular family ties. In fact, Paul instructed Timothy to treat people in the church as regular family members in 1 Timothy 5:1–2. He said, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
Paul said treat older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers, and younger women as sisters with absolute purity. Gospel friendships should be as close as family relationships. That’s how Paul talked about these two men.
In fact, let us hear that these close family ties are considered a reward of following Christ. It is the reward of discipleship. Listen to what Christ said to Peter in Mark 10:29–30:
‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.’
Christ tells his disciples that gaining new family members is the reward of leaving home and family for the gospel. Those who have given up career, comfort, family, etc., for the gospel will receive a hundred times more in this present age. That reward includes homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields. What did Christ mean by this?
This means that those who take up the cost of faithfully building the kingdom will receive intimate relationships as their reward. New family members will open their homes to them. New mothers will clothe them, feed them, and care for them. It is a tremendous reward for gospel ministry.
I remember as an African-American youth pastor serving at a Korean church in Chicago (far away from my home in Texas) that the members of my church became like my family. As a single man, the mothers of the church would make sure I had enough food to eat. They would send me home after church with different Korean dishes and sometimes thank–you gifts. The older men became like fathers to me, looking after me, and even investing in my education. This was my reward as one who had left my own family to pursue serving the gospel.
This was Paul’s reward as well. He called them his dear brothers. They were his brothers and he cared a great deal for them.
Is the church like a family to you? Do you treat the older men as your fathers and the older women as your mothers?
I believe many people miss the fullness of this reward because they are unwilling to sacrifice anything for the gospel. Church is just a community of people to them; they are not family members. A special intimacy develops with the church when one becomes serious about Christ and his kingdom. It is truly a hundred times better than anything you give up on this earth.
Application Question: How have you experienced the intimacy of family with people in the church? How can you better demonstrate this familial intimacy in your relationships?
Gospel–Centered Friendships Suffer And Bear One Another’s Burdens
“My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings” (Col. 4:10).
Interpretation Question: What can we learn about Aristarchus by the way Paul identifies him as a “fellow prisoner?”
The next person mentioned is Aristarchus. This person seems to be very special to Paul. Paul simply calls him his fellow prisoner. This does not necessarily mean that Aristarchus was in prison as Paul was. More than likely, Aristarchus had chosen to partner with Paul and care for his needs while he was in prison. He was bearing Paul’s burden and caring for him as if he were in prison as well.
This was not the first time Aristarchus had suffered with or for Paul. We saw him in Acts 19 traveling with Paul and then taken by a mob in Ephesus (v. 29). Aristarchus also was shipwrecked with Paul while traveling to Rome (Acts 27:2). He was the kind of friend who would suffer with you.
Trials Reveal Our Friends
It has often been said, “You can tell who your real friends are when you go through trials.” No doubt, this was true for Paul as well. While things were going great, churches were being planted, and people were being saved, he had many friends. But as soon as he went to prison for the gospel, he started to see who his real friends were. Listen to some of the things he said:
Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill (Phil. 1:14–15).
While Paul was imprisoned in Rome, some were preaching the gospel out of envy and rivalry. Preachers mocked him while he was in prison. In his second imprisonment, many of the Christians deserted him and wanted to have nothing to do with him. Look at what Paul told Timothy: “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim. 1:15).
Many turned their backs on Paul while he was in prison. People rejected him because if they remained loyal to him, it could potentially lead to their persecution. However, Scripture clearly teaches that we should remember those in prison as though we were fellow prisoners (Heb. 13:3). We should care for the persecuted church.
This is what Aristarchus did. He cared for Paul while he was in prison.
Carry Others’ Burdens
It should be no different for us in the church. We should bear one another’s burdens. We should reach out when somebody is sick, when somebody is in a financial difficulty, or when someone falls into sin. We should care for God’s people. Often, we have a tendency to not reach out and to not care for them. Sometimes we don’t reach out because we feel awkward or we don’t know what to say.
True gospel friendships stretch themselves past the initial awkwardness to care for one another, especially in hard times. Listen to what Paul said: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
We should be willing to bear one another’s burdens. We should be willing to take on their pain and take on their hardship because this is what Scripture and the example of Christ calls us to do. Christ took on the sin and pain of the world, and Christ calls us to love one another in the same way. He commands us to love one another as he loved us, which is sacrificially (John 13:34).
Consider how the early church, right after the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, sold all they had and gave to the poor in the church (Acts 2:45). This was radical, but this is what the gospel caused them to do. It should cause us to do the same as we seek to carry the burdens of others.
Scripture compares the church to the body (1 Cor. 12:13). When the body is sick, the whole body works together to heal itself. That’s what happens when you have a fever. The whole body is recruiting itself to bring healing to one infected part. This is what we should do as well.
We should all be like Aristarchus. If one member of the church is sick, we should be beside them. We should go to the hospital and care for them. If one person is mourning, we should mourn with them.
Humble Enough To Receive Help
In addition, we should be humble like Paul was while in prison. He was willing to allow others to care for him. Some people are too prideful to be helped by others. They can accept no gifts and no words of encouragement because pride closes the door. As followers of Christ, we should not only be willing to accept help, but we should also be willing to ask for help. Christ asked his disciples to pray with him before going to the cross. They partnered with him while he was “weary unto death” (Matt. 26:38). We should be willing to do the same.
We must be like Aristarchus as we bear one another’s burdens, and we must also be like Paul as we humbly accept the care of others.
Application Question: How can we better identify and suffer with other Christians? Do you struggle with accepting help from others? Why or why not?
Gospel–Centered Friendships Transcend Ethnic, Social, And Gender Barriers
“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. . . . 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 (Col. 4:9–12; 14–15).
Observation Question: What are the different types of people seen in Paul’s list of friends, and what might this indicate about gospel friendships?
It seems Paul had eight people with him while in prison. Onesimus, Tychicus, Luke, Demas and Epaphras are Gentiles; Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus are Jews. When Paul mentions that the latter are the only Jews supporting him, this fact seems to be particularly important. The major persecutors of the early church were the Jews. In fact, Paul used to be one of them, as he took Christians to jail and had them stoned (cf. Acts 8:1; 9:1–2). One of the great reasons for this persecution was the fact that Christianity opened the door for the Gentiles to come to God and put them on equal standing. At that time, a tremendous antagonism separated the Gentiles and the Jews, but in Christ these two, Gentile and Jew, had been brought together (Eph. 2:11–13).
However, the gospel did not just bring together those of different ethnic backgrounds; it also brought together those from different social backgrounds. In Paul’s list, we see Onesimus, a runaway slave, and Luke, the doctor. Luke is the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, but he also was a medical doctor. He used his skills in medicine to further the kingdom of God. As he traveled with Paul, he probably also ministered to him. It is clear, at least, in Paul’s early ministry in Galatia that he was very sick (Gal. 4:14). The gospel had brought the slave, the rabbi, and the doctor together across social lines.
We also see that the gospel removed the separation in gender in this passage. Paul sends greetings to Nympha, as the church in Laodicea met in her home (v.15). This was radical. Strict rabbis would not even look at women. “Some Pharisees were called ‘the bruised and bleeding Pharisees’ because they shut their eyes whenever they saw a woman and so stumbled into the street, incurring pious bruises.”3 Jewish men would wake up every morning and say, “Thank you God for not making me a woman; thank you, God, for not making me a Gentile.”
This is one of the reasons why the disciples found it strange when Christ was talking to the woman at the well (John 4:27). There was a tremendous separation between men and women. However, in this passage, Paul sends greetings to Nympha and other believers who were meeting in her home. The gospel removes gender differences that throughout history have often separated people. Listen to what Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
There is equality in Christ. Now, this doesn’t change male and female roles in marriage or in the church, for those are ordained by God (cf. Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:12). But it does teach the equality of the sexes, which historically hasn’t readily been accepted.
As we look at gospel friendships in the closing section of Colossians, we see that ethnic differences, social differences, and gender differences were removed. This is an aspect of gospel friendships.
It’s a shame to see that many people who profess Christ still hold on to many of these distinctions. They hold onto classism as they exalt the rich and dishonor the poor. James rebukes the Hebrew Christians for doing this in James 2:1–4 and declares they had shown favoritism and harbored evil thoughts in their hearts. Listen to what James says:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Scripture clearly teaches that we should not show favoritism toward the poor, the rich, the educated, or the non–educated because we are called to reflect God, who shows no partiality.
Sadly, many in the church promote distinction and separation among the races. It has been commonly said that the most divided time in the week is Sunday, as people gather amidst their own races to worship God. There certainly is racism in the church. This image does not fit with what Scripture teaches about Christ. In Revelation, we see a great multitude of every tribe and tongue worshiping God together.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:9–10).
The gospel exalts unity in diversity. We do not have to look the same, walk the same, talk the same, or dress the same. The reason we can be unified is because what we have in common is greater than anything that separates. Paul had intimate friendships with all these people because of their commonality in Christ.
Do your relationships reflect the unity that has come through the gospel? Is there diversity in your friendships? Or do you show favoritism toward people of diverse socioeconomic classes or races? This does not fit our heavenly position in Christ.
In fact, we even see our freedom in Christ in how Paul was willing to take on aspects of other cultures to better proclaim the gospel. Some have called this the “incarnational principle,” as it reflects how Christ took on flesh to minister to man. Look at what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19–22:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
Paul did not demonstrate any “ethnocentrism,” any pride in his own race. He was not clinging to his Jewishness. He was willing to be whatever and do whatever, so others could be saved. Many allow their culture or the cultures of others to be hindrances to Christ. You can’t come to this church because you don’t have the right clothes. You can’t preach unless you dress like this. We should not be jealous for our traditions and cultures, but jealous for Christ alone. Paul used culture as a door to bring people in instead of as a wall to keep people out.
Instead of allowing culture to bring division, Paul took on other people’s cultures to better relate to them and spread the gospel. To the Jew, he was a Jew; to the Gentile, he was a Gentile; to the weak, he was weak. Paul used culture as an avenue for the gospel instead of a roadblock to the gospel. This brought him very colorful and rich relationships, as it should for every member of Christ’s church.
The gospel transcends social, ethnic, and gender divisions.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced how the gospel transcends social, ethnic, and gender divisions? In what ways have you seen these divisions still exercised in the church? How can we better apply this in our daily relationships?
Gospel–Centered Friendships Encourage Prayer
“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 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” (Col. 4:12–14).and fully
Observation Question: In what ways does Paul describe Epaphras’ ministry to the Colossian church, and what can we learn about gospel friendships from his example?
Another aspect of gospel friendships is that they should encourage prayer. Epaphras is probably the founder of the church in Colosse and one of its elders. He left Colosse to share with Paul the problems happening in the church and to get his counsel. It was in response to Epaphras’s visit that Paul wrote the letter.
Paul describes Epaphras as “always wrestling in prayer” for the Colossians (v. 12). His prayers were constant and fervent for this church he loved. He is praying for the church to stand firm in the will of God so they would not be led astray by the false teachers attacking the church. He is praying for them to be mature and fully assured of their faith.
Even though Epaphras is far away from the church, Paul says he is “working hard” for them (v. 13). This should be a characteristic of every gospel friendship. We should work hard for one another, even when separated, and especially in the area of prayer. No doubt, Paul and Epaphras often prayed together for the church in Colosse, as Paul uses a similar athletic word to describe his service and prayers for the Colossians. Look at what he says: “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally” (Col. 2:1).
They both are struggling and wrestling for the church through prayer even though they are not with them. These words both have the same Greek root, agon, which is where we get the English word “agonize.” This should be a consistent characteristic of gospel friendships. They should always struggle in prayer for one another. They should also be partnering in prayer over issues or burdens.
In fact, Paul called this church to pray for him specifically in Colossians 4:3–4. Look at what he said: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”
Do you commonly pray for your friends? It is one of the best things you can do for them. Are you lifting up their spiritual lives, praying for them to become mature in Christ, and to stand firm in the will of God?
These are the types of prayers we also see Paul pray for the churches he ministered to. For the most part we don’t see him lifting up temporal prayers, but prayers that have to do with one’s spiritual life. He prays for the Ephesians to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know God more (Eph. 1:17). He prays for them to be strengthened in the inner man and to know how much Christ loves them (Eph. 3:16–19). He prays for the Philippians that their love would grow in knowledge and discernment so that they may choose what is best (Phil. 1:9–10).
Do you pray these types of prayers for your friends? Do you wrestle over them? Do you agonize over them?
An important principle that is necessary for gospel friends to wrestle in prayer for one another is transparency. Many Christians cannot have these types of relationships because they are unwilling to share with one another. Epaphras knew and shared the problems happening in the church. Paul shared his prayer requests with his friends in Colosse. They were willing to share their pain, successes, and difficulties that they were going through. In order to have praying friendships, we must have transparency, which includes the confession of sin. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
There is a lot of healing missing in the church because we are unwilling to confess our sins and problems. When sin came into the world, Adam and Eve put on fig leaves and hid from one another (Gen. 3:7). Because of sin, we struggle with transparency and intimacy. We would rather act like everything is all right and sometimes even lie rather than share our problems. I’ve seen parents hide their financial difficulties and their sicknesses from their children. In order to wrestle in prayer for one another we must have transparency.
Do you struggle for your friends in prayer? Are you willing to share your worries, cares, and sins in order to have intercessors?
Application Question: What are some reasons that Christians neglect sharing their prayer requests? Who are the friends with whom you share that pray for you? How can we become more effective intercessors for the church?
Gospel–Centered Friendships Encourage The Study Of Scripture
“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” (Col. 4:16).
Here is another aspect of gospel friendships. Gospel friendships encourage the study of Scripture. This is seen in how Paul expected the Colossian leaders to read this letter to everybody in the church and expected the Colossians to share it with the Laodiceans. It seems very clear that the early church was very connected. They would circulate the apostolic letters. After they received them, they would probably copy the letter and then send it by an official messenger to other nearby congregations.
We also see this connection in how the early church supported one another financially. In 2 Corinthians 8 we see how the poor Macedonian churches sent funds to the Jerusalem church and how the Corinthians were encouraged to do so as well (vv. 1–7). A great synergy radiated from the early churches, which no doubt explains why the gospel spread so rapidly.
But specifically in this scenario, we see these two churches called to share the Word of God with one another, essentially encouraging one another to study it.
What was this letter from the church of Laodicea that was to be shared?
We cannot be sure. But many theologians believe it was the letter to the Ephesians. The earliest manuscripts of the Ephesian letter actually do not contain the Ephesian’s name as seen in Ephesians 1:1. If this is true, then this letter was probably meant to be a circular letter that went to all the churches and not only to the Ephesians.4
When we study the book of Ephesians, we see very little personal information as typically seen in other letters. We are never told of any problems in the congregation, and no specific individuals are ever mentioned, even in the concluding greeting. This might support the case of it potentially being a circular letter instead of a letter sent to one congregation.
Regardless of whether it was the book of Ephesians or not, no doubt it was at least a doctrinal letter from Paul. These congregations supported one another in the study of the Word of God. This should be true of all gospel friendships. They should encourage and promote the study of Scripture. Listen to what Paul told Timothy in their friendship: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).
Paul encourages Timothy to be devoted to the reading of Scripture and to the preaching and teaching of it. This is essentially the same thing Paul is encouraging the Colossians and the Laodicean churches with.
Let our friendships be centered around the Word of God. Let us not neglect getting together in groups to study it. Like Deuteronomy 6:7 encourages us, let us talk about it when we get up, when we lie down, when we are at home, and when we are on the way.
Let our relationships have accountability questions such as, “How has your devotional time in the Word been?” and “What has God been teaching you lately in his Word?” Let our relationships in the church encourage the study of Scripture.
Why is the study of Scripture so important? It is because it is through Scripture that God makes us into the men and women he has called us to be. It is through Scripture that he reveals our sins; it is through Scripture that he encourages righteousness, and, most importantly, it is through Scripture that we meet with God for fellowship. It’s there that we hear his words.
Listen to Christ’s prayer for the church: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Gospel–centered friendships encourage the study of Scripture even as Paul encouraged the two churches and they encouraged one another.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced accountability relationships that encourage the study of Scripture? Why is this important?
Gospel–Centered Friendships Sometimes Discourage Us
“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.) . . . 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” (Col. 4:10; 14–16).
Observation Question: What can we learn about gospel friendships from knowing the stories about Mark, Demas, and the Laodicean church (Acts 13:5–13; 2 Tim. 4:10; Rev. 3:14–20)?
Another aspect of gospel friendships we must recognize is that sometimes they discourage us. Becoming a Christian does not deliver us from being human. We still have struggles with our flesh; we still make mistakes. Christians often mess up terribly. Paul himself cried out, “The things I wouldn’t do, I do, who can save me from this body of sin?” in Romans 7. Similarly, though gospel friendships have tremendous advantages, they also have the most potential to harm us. When we open ourselves to others through transparency, when we pour ourselves into others through love, we become vulnerable.
We see pain and discouragement in Paul’s friendships through several examples in this text. The first one we see is in the person of Mark. Mark had a tremendous impact on the early church; he obviously wrote the Gospel of Mark. But his beginnings were not so good. In Paul’s first missionary journey, Mark abruptly left Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5–13). We are not told why. Maybe the task was harder than he initially thought. But what he started, he did not finish. In fact, later on this led to a split between Paul and Barnabas, as Mark wanted to go on another mission (Acts 15:36–39).
As mentioned, this story of discouragement has a good ending. Here in this letter Paul tells the Colossians to “welcome him” (v. 10). In fact, in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul says that Mark is helpful to him. Look at what he says: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
Mark is an encouragement to all people who have started out in ministry and blown it. It is never too late to finish well. Our God uses even the worst failures for the good of those who love the Lord (Rom. 8:28). The pain Paul experienced with Mark was certainly worth it, as it was part of the process of enriching and training Mark to be a faithful servant.
Let us understand that this is normal for gospel friendships. Christ many times became discouraged with his disciples. He said, “O unbelieving and perverse generation . . . how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matt. 17:17). Throughout their three years of serving together, these men blew it often. In fact, in the hour that counted most of all, they denied Christ.
However, their story is also a story with a good ending. All the pain and discouragement Christ encountered was not in vain as all of these men (save one) were used greatly to build the kingdom of God. Let us be sure of this: gospel friendships do come with pain, but they also many times come with some of the sweetest encouragement. Christ said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
But, it must be known that not all we minister to and minister with will be faithful in the end. In Paul’s list of friends we see two others who do not fare as well as Mark. Demas, who was an associate of Paul in many of his missionary journeys, in this passage is the only one who gets no form of identification or commendation. It just says, “Demas sends his greetings.” He isn’t called a fellow prisoner or a dear friend. At other times in the Scripture he did use these forms of identification. In Philemon 1:24, he is called one of Paul’s “fellow workers.”
Some have suggested that implied in this greeting from Paul is the fact that Demas was already showing areas of unfaithfulness. Look at what ultimately happened with Demas as stated in 2 Timothy 4:10: “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.”
Though he worked beside Paul and ministered with him, he ultimately fell away. Second Corinthians 11 vividly explains all the sufferings Paul went through. He was shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned, homeless, hungry, etc. He suffered a great deal for the kingdom of God. Maybe this life of suffering became too much for Demas. He loved the world and its creature comforts (cf. 1 John 2:15), which turned him away from serving with Paul and probably, ultimately Christ. No doubt, this was a tremendous discouragement for Paul. While Mark started off bad and finished well, Demas started off well but ultimately did not finish at all. In both of these friendships there was pain.
We also see pain in the ultimate end of the Laodicean church that Paul was also writing to. Look at Christ’s final words to them in the book of Revelation:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:14–19).
This church was lukewarm. It seems that this church around AD 90 had essentially died. They previously were very wealthy (v. 17). They were one of the historic churches where the gospel had initially gone and Paul had ministered to. Maybe this led to some of its popularity and wealth, but inwardly they were dead. Christ stands outside the door of this church and knocks (v. 19).
These are harsh words that Christ gives to this church. Many commentators believe that these words meant there wasn’t one true believer in the entire church. Instead of being rich and having every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3), they were poor. Instead of having eyes that had been opened by the gospel, they were blind. Instead of having robes, which represent Christ’s righteousness, they were naked. Instead of being indwelled by Christ, he was outside of the church knocking. Perhaps there wasn’t one truly born-again person in the entire church. They had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5). At the end of their story, all they had was a profession but no life.
Much pain can come with gospel friendships. Christianity should decrease sin, but it does not eradicate sin, at least not on earth. The people you love, serve, and share with will at times fail you. No doubt, even through these failures, many of them, like Mark, will rise from the mess and one day be used greatly for the kingdom of God. However, some of them will not; some will ultimately fall away. It’s a sad reality of ministry.
I think Christ was trying to prepare the disciples for this when he taught them the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. As the disciples sowed the seeds of the Word of God, only one out of four ground types would ever produce fruit (v. 8). This was a discouraging reality, but it is the reality of every minister of Christ. Serving God will bring much discouragement and pain. Even Christ had a Judas around him, as Paul had a Demas.
We must not have rose-colored glasses on as we serve God and partner with others in ministry. True friendship is not based on what you get in return. It’s based on what you can give. You give because you love, regardless of what is received in return. That’s what agape love is and that is how Christ loves us, even though we fail him.
We must have a realistic view of Christian friendships. They are not perfect. One of the things that helps me serve while knowing and seeing this reality is having a strong theology of sin. Things are not the way they are supposed to be and that is why Christ had to die.
However, even with this reality of sin, we should know “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). We should love these people anyway and serve them in hopes of God bearing fruit in their lives. The results are up to God. We should plant and water, trusting that he is the one who brings the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced this pain or discouragement in the church? How do you stay faithful to God and continue to serve others in the midst of these failures?
Gospel Friendships Encourage Us In Our Callings
“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” (Col. 4:17–18).
Interpretation Question: What can we learn about Archippus through Paul’s encouragement to “complete the work” he had received from the Lord?
Finally, we see how Paul encourages a man named Archippus. He simply says to him “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.” We don’t know exactly what work God assigned to this man. What we can discern is that he was probably discouraged. Maybe he felt like giving up.
Since the church had been infiltrated by false teachers and a cult, many of the members were probably discouraged, and some had even left. Obviously, this man had a prominent role, and maybe he was one of the pastors. Paul encourages this man in the ministry God had given him.
This is a good picture of how gospel friendships should be. Gospel friendships do not deny reality or try to act like problems never happen or don’t exist. Ministry is full of ups and downs and discouragements. Moses had times where he prayed for God to take him home. He didn’t want to live anymore. Job said it would have been better if he were never born. Elijah, after a great victory, became sorely discouraged. He felt lonely; he told the Lord that he was the only prophet left. He also prayed that his life would be taken. Even greater than these, we see Christ who was weary unto death.
Each one of these great saints needed to be encouraged at times in their ministry, and it’s the same for us. We need godly Christians who are praying for us, who are speaking words of encouragement into our lives and challenging us to keep going in the callings that God has given us.
Aid In Discerning One’s Gifts And Calling
For those who do not know what their callings are or the way that God has gifted them, many times these things are revealed in the midst of gospel friendships. The prophet Samuel was used by God to tell Saul he was called to be king and also later David. The elders helped in discerning that Paul and Barnabas were to go on their missionary journey in Acts 13. Paul and the elders encouraged Timothy in his calling to be a pastor and conferred a spiritual gift to him (1 Tim. 4:14). Typically, God uses the body to help confirm the giftings and callings he has placed on us.
If we don’t know God’s gifting and calling on our lives, then we should get more involved in the body of Christ. Get involved with serving others and building up the church and you will typically find your gifts revealed as people confirm them. They will confirm the gift of teaching, worship, helps, administration, etc.
Do you have friendships that continually confirm and encourage you in your calling?
I love how one of my pastors always used to say, “In this church you have a license to gossip. You can say as many good things about people as you would like. Please gossip all the time.” We need to be a people who gossip, but only about good things.
Are you encouraging people in their callings? Are you encouraging those who serve and lead in your church?
Let’s add this: we often think that the people serving us in leadership don’t need encouragement, but the reality is that they do. They face the brunt of many attacks in the church, both from within and from without. Satan always works to discourage our leaders and their families. Therefore, we need to find ways to encourage them. Listen to what Paul said to the Galatian church: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Gal. 6:6).
Paul says if we receive the Word of God from somebody, we should share all good things with our instructor. This is not just talking about supporting pastors financially but in many different ways. That’s why it says, “all good things.”
Those who serve us need encouraging words. They need prayer, they need help with their families, they need time to get away, and they need to know that they are loved. Paul, as one who understands the difficulties of ministry, speaks to Archippus and encourages him to not quit and to finish his ministry.
Are you encouraging your friends in their calling and ministry? This is what gospel–centered friendships do.
Application Question: Share some of the ways you have experienced discouragement in serving the Lord. How has God encouraged you through others? In what ways can you encourage the leaders of your church?
In the letter to the Colossians, Paul taught this church the centrality of Christ. He is the maker, the sustainer, and the firstborn above all creation. He is the head of the church—the hope of glory. We were crucified with him, raised with him, and therefore we should daily seek to look like him. As we finish this letter, we see Paul’s friendships and the difference that Christ had made in them.
We see eight people who ministered to Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. But we also see the people he loved at Colosse and Laodicea. These relationships teach us a great deal about how the gospel should affect our friendships.
What do gospel–centered friendships look like? Are my relationships gospel–centered?
- Gospel–centered friendships are like family relationships.
- Gospel–centered friendships transcend ethnic, social, and gender differences.
- Gospel–centered friendships suffer with one another and bear one another’s burdens.
- Gospel–centered friendships encourage us in prayer.
- Gospel–centered friendships encourage us in the study of the Word of God.
- Gospel–centered friendships sometimes discourage us.
- Gospel–centered friendships encourage us in our callings.
Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown
1 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 294-295.
2 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 192.
3 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 149.
4 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 198.
Related Topics: Christian Life