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Lesson 30: How God’s Team Operates (Colossians 4:7-18)

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July 3, 2016

Stored in a safe place at the Library of Congress is a small blue box. The label reads: “Contents of the President’s pockets on the night of April 14, 1865,” the terrible night when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

The box contains five things: (1) A handkerchief embroidered “A. Lincoln”; (2) A country boy’s pen knife; (3) A spectacles case repaired with string; (4) A purse containing a $5 bill—in Confederate money! (5) Some old and worn newspaper clippings.

The clippings mention the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. One of them reports a speech by John Bright, a British statesman, saying that Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time. That’s not news for us who live over a century later. We all know that Lincoln was a great man. But in 1865, the jury was still out. The nation was divided and Lincoln had fierce critics on both sides as he made decisions that he hoped would restore the Union. Remember, Lincoln hadn’t read the history books on himself!

There is something poignantly pathetic about picturing this lonely figure in the Oval Office reaching into his pocket and spreading out these newspaper clippings as he re-read the encouraging words of a man who believed that Lincoln was a great man. It gave him the courage and strength to go on (Charles Swindoll, in a newsletter, First Evangelical Free Church, Fullerton, California.)

All people, including great leaders like Lincoln, need encouragement! So did the apostle Paul. We need to remember that Paul didn’t know that his life and teachings would be included in the New Testament to be read by millions and radically change the course of world history. From his perspective, he was under house arrest in Rome after two years of house arrest in Caesarea. He had seen the Lord use him to plant a few small churches around Asia Minor and Europe. But some of those churches had major problems. Critics in Corinth were attacking Paul and his ministry (see 2 Corinthians). In Rome, some were preaching against Paul out of envy and strife (Phil. 1:15-17). His main critics, the Judaizers, dogged Paul’s steps wherever he went, trying to get his Gentile converts to conform to the Jewish laws. Rather than accumulating honors, Paul had received numerous beatings, imprisonments, and other hardships as he served the Lord (2 Cor. 11:23-29).

And now Epaphras had brought word to Paul of the false teaching that was threatening the young church in Colossae. In his final greetings to that church, which Paul had yet to visit, he mentions three men, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus, and then adds (Col. 4:11), “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.” God used these three men to shine a ray of sunshine into Paul’s dark situation.

We saw in our last study that Christians are on a team devoted to serve Jesus Christ. Every Christian is to be committed to serving the Lord. The church is not a one-man-show, but a team effort. The team consists of men and women from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The team is the family of God, with every member being a servant/slave of Jesus Christ. The team is focused on prayer and the Word with the aim of helping every member stand mature in Christ. And, with a healthy dose of reality, we saw that the team has members who often will disappoint us. But, how does the team operate? The final principle is:

The team operates in an atmosphere of encouraging each member to become all that God wants him or her to be.

First, there is the goal that each person should become all that God wants him or her to be. Second, the atmosphere in which team members grow is encouragement.

1. The goal of the team is for each member to become all that God wants him or her to be.

Paul says that this is his aim (Col. 1:28): “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Just a few verses before, he said that this is God’s aim in saving us (Col. 1:22), “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” To be “holy, blameless, and above reproach” is the same as being mature or complete in Christ.

Our church’s purpose statement is: “At Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, we aim to build a community of joyful believers in Jesus Christ who love God and His Word, love one another, and love those without Christ by bringing them the good news of salvation.” The overall aim is to build a community of joyful believers in Jesus Christ. This can be broken down into three components: Love for God and His Word; love for one another; and, love for the lost, both here and abroad, expressed by bringing them the good news of salvation. Paul has emphasized these three goals in this short letter:

A. God wants us to be rightly related to Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:1-3:4).

Colossians is a Christ-centered book because the false teachers whom Paul was confronting were emphasizing their legalistic philosophy over and above Jesus Christ. In the opening paragraph Paul mentions not only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also love for one another and spreading the gospel to the lost (Col. 1:3-6):

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.

Faith in Christ Jesus is the beginning point of a relationship with God. By birth and by behavior, we all are alienated from God because of our sins (Rom. 3:23): “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Furthermore, no amount of good works or promises to try harder can bridge the chasm between us and the holy God. So, how can we possibly be reconciled to God and have our sins forgiven? Paul continues (Rom. 3:24), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

To be justified is to be declared righteous by God. It’s a gift, not something that we earn by our good behavior. It comes through God’s grace or undeserved favor. Redemption means that by His death, Christ paid the penalty we owed to buy us out of the slave market of sin. We receive this free gift simply through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 1, Paul goes on to mention his prayer that they would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that they may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects (Col. 1:9-10). Then he extols the preeminence of Jesus Christ over all creation (Col. 1:15-20). As we saw when we studied that passage, Paul isn’t just talking theology—he is worshiping Jesus Christ!

Throughout the first two chapters, Paul magnifies Christ as he contrasts his ministry with the false teachers who threatened the Colossian church. He wanted every person to come to a true knowledge of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3). He wanted each person to continue walking in Christ Jesus the Lord even as they had received Him (Col. 2:6-7), because “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:10). All that we have received from God centers in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:11-15). We are totally identified with Him (Col. 3:1-4) so that (Col. 3:4), “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

So being rightly related to God through faith in Jesus Christ is our top priority. Everything else depends on that. All that we do as a church should aim at helping each person become mature or complete in Christ.

B. God wants us to be rightly related to one another as we walk in love (Col. 3:5-4:1, 7-18).

After extolling Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:1-3:4, Paul applies this to our relationships. We are to put to death the members of our body with regard to sexual immorality and greed (Col. 3:5). We should also cast off all anger, abusive speech, and lying (Col. 3:8-9). In place of these practices of the old man, we are to put on the behaviors of the new man, which may be summed up as love (Col. 3:12-14). In our families, wives should be subject to their husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands should love their wives and not be embittered against them. Children should obey their parents and parents should not treat their children harshly, so that they lose heart (Col. 3:18-21). Slaves should obey their masters and masters should treat their slaves with justice and fairness (Co. 3:19-4:1). If we are Christ-centered, it will show in loving relationships.

C. God wants us to be rightly related to those without Christ through prayer and wise witness (Col. 4:2-6).

Our third priority as we aim at each person becoming all that God wants him or her to be is that we would love those without Christ by bringing them the good news of salvation. Paul hits that in Colossians 4:2-6. Prayer is the foundation for our witness. Pray for those you know who do not know Christ. Pray for open doors for the gospel. Pray that we all could make the message clear (Col. 4:2-4). Then, walk with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities God opens up. Use winsome, gracious, interesting, sensitive words to communicate the gospel (Col. 4:5-6).

So, that’s what we’re aiming at: We want each person to become all that God wants him or her to be, specifically: to be rightly related to Him through faith in Jesus Christ; to be rightly related to one another in love; and to be rightly related to those without Christ through prayer and wise witness. To do that, there must be an atmosphere permeating the local church:

2. Encouragement is the atmosphere in which we help one another become all that God wants us to be.

This passage oozes encouragement! Paul was a master at giving genuine affirmation to others so that they would be motivated to grow to their full potential in the Lord. Here we see nine factors involved in creating that kind of encouraging atmosphere:

A. Encouragement thrives with open communication.

Paul sent Tychicus and Onesimus to inform the church of his situation so that they would be encouraged (Col. 4:7-9). He had nothing to hide from them. Remember, he was in prison and other Christian workers in Rome were criticizing him (Phil. 1:15-17). Paul could have made it sound bleak to elicit sympathy or he could have hid the truth to try to make it sound like he was more successful than he really was. But Paul didn’t camouflage his situation by making it sound as if things were better or worse than they really were. He believed in open, honest communication.

Here’s how this relates to encouragement: You’re struggling with discouragement over some problem and someone you know asks, “How’s it going?” You don’t want him to think that you’re struggling, because that makes you look like a defeated Christian. So you say, “Everything’s great! God is faithful!” But you haven’t been honest in sharing your struggles. You just missed an opportunity for that brother to encourage you and to pray with you. For encouragement to take place in the body, we’ve got to be open in communicating the truth.

B. Encouragement is fostered when we interpret trials by faith.

Paul says that Tychicus will tell the Colossians about his circumstances (Col. 1:8), “that he may encourage your hearts.” How would learning of Paul’s situation encourage the Colossians? The great apostle was in chains. Can’t you hear Tychicus tell them, “It’s just awful! He’s chained to a guard 24 hours a day. He can’t go anywhere or do anything. Other Christians in Rome are preaching against Paul out of envy. It’s a grim situation!”

But Paul didn’t interpret events that way. He saw his imprisonment as a great opportunity to present the gospel to the Roman guards. He had a captive audience that changed every few hours! As for those preaching out of envy, at least they were preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18). Because Paul interpreted his circumstances by faith, he could send Tychicus with a word of encouragement for the churches. If we will interpret our problems through the eyes of faith, we spread encouragement among the Lord’s people and help them to view their problems from God’s perspective.

C. Encouragement involves standing with a brother or sister who is unjustly being attacked.

Paul says (Col. 4:11) of the three Jewish brothers (Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus), “They have proved to be an encouragement to me.” The Greek word translated “encouragement” here is different than the word Paul uses in verse 8. It only occurs here in the New Testament, but it’s used in secular Greek as a medical term in the sense of alleviating pain (J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [Zondervan], p. 239).

Mark, by recovering from his failure and now working alongside Paul, alleviated the pain that he had caused Paul when he deserted Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Barnabas, whose name means, “son of encouragement,” had helped Mark recover by giving him another chance. So Paul was encouraged by the ministry that the son of encouragement had invested in Mark!

Together, these three men “from the circumcision” gave encouragement to Paul because they didn’t join with the circumcision (the Judaizers) in their attacks on Paul and his ministry. Paul’s critics, including the preachers in Rome who were attacking him, were probably saying, “If he were a true apostle, he wouldn’t be in prison. God isn’t behind his ministry.” But these three men believed in Paul’s gospel and his ministry. They didn’t let his critics’ attacks stop them from serving alongside him.

When you’re involved in ministry, you will be criticized. You expect it from the enemy, but it stings when it comes from professing believers who attack your motives. At a time like that, it’s a great encouragement to have brothers like Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus stand with you in ministry.

D. Encouragement is a mutual need.

Even though Paul was an apostle and one of the most gifted men in church history, he acknowledges that these three men had been an encouragement to him. He didn’t view himself as being on a pedestal where he ministered to everyone else, but he didn’t need their ministry to him. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said that he longed to see them so that he might impart some spiritual gift to help establish them. But then he quickly added (Rom. 1:12), “that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Paul not only wanted to give encouragement; he also knew that he needed to receive it.

E. Encouragement is given through verbal affirmation.

Paul let people know verbally that he cared about them and appreciated their ministries. He affirms each of the workers here, except for Demas. Paul wasn’t afraid to promote others’ ministries. We need to remember that we’re all on the same team and that if a team member is doing well, that’s great! Tell others in the church how much you appreciate the work they are doing.

F. Encouragement flows through prayer.

Paul encourages the Colossians by telling them of Epaphras’ prayers for them. It’s always an encouragement when you hear that someone has been praying for you. I encourage you to get a church directory and pray through it. When you see those you prayed for that week at church, tell them that you prayed for them. That says, “I’m with you in the battle! We’re on the same team!”

Also, Paul’s final request (Col. 4:18), “Remember my imprisonment,” was probably a prayer request. He needed the encouragement of their prayers. It also showed the cost of discipleship: Following Christ often leads to increased trials. Thus we need to uphold one another in prayer.

G. Encouragement is extended when we grant forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In his letter to Philemon (sent along with Colossians), Paul asked him to forgive Onesimus, his runaway slave. But Paul practiced what he preached: he had forgiven Mark. Forgiveness is encouraging to experience and to see in others. It broadcasts hope for those who have failed. It says that the past can be set aside; there can be a new beginning. Yes, Onesimus had wronged Philemon. But now he was a brother in Christ. Yes, Mark had failed by deserting Paul. But now he was to be welcomed as a faithful fellow worker. We need to be forgiving each other the hurts and wrongs that are bound to happen as we work together on the Lord’s team.

H. Encouragement sometimes requires gentle correction and challenge in a context of affirmation.

Note how Paul carefully exhorts Archippus (Col. 4:17): “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.’” Why didn’t he address him directly: “Archippus, get with it”? By addressing the church, Paul gently corrected and challenged Archippus, but he also affirmed his belief in Archippus’ call to ministry. We don’t know why Paul felt the need to exhort Archippus. Perhaps Epaphras had reported some concerns to Paul. Perhaps, like Timothy, Archippus was timid and needed the confidence to do what God had given him to do. In one brief sentence, Paul both challenged Archippus and, in effect, said to the church, “You guys get behind him.” Sometimes encouragement requires the gentle correction and challenge of saying, “You’re doing well, but you can do better.”

I. Encouragement is bathed in grace.

Literally, the final sentence is, “The grace be with you.” (That sounds like, “The Force be with you,” but “The Grace” is far better than “The Force”!) This was more than a perfunctory way of closing the letter. Grace was the theme of Paul’s gospel, the motivating force behind all he did for the Lord. Grace means that God blesses us apart from any merit on our part. He saves us by grace and we grow in His grace. By grace, we must strive to be holy vessels for God to use. Beneath all that we do in serving the Lord is His abundant grace.


Years ago in California I came under intense criticism because I had decided that I could not endorse certain “Christian” psychology programs that some wanted to use in the church. One night, feeling rather discouraged, I went into our bathroom to get ready for bed and saw a yellow sticky note from our 14-year-old daughter, Christa, with Jeremiah 29:11 in her handwriting: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

Then, shortly after I began as pastor here, four elders at that time tried to get me fired because I firmly opposed one of them who was pro-choice on abortion. Many in the church sent me encouraging notes, expressing support for my ministry, which meant much to me. But the note that meant the most came from our then 13-year-old daughter, Joy. She wrote,

Mom & Dad, I just want you to know that I really appreciate you even though some other people don’t! Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what they’re talking about! Dad, I’m really glad you only preach the truth and don’t compromise what the Bible says. Your sermons have helped me lots! A lot of other people have said the same. Just hang in there and both of you keep up the good work! Look up these verses: they’ve been an encouragement to me: Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28. I love you lots! Love always, Joy.

That’s encouragement! That’s how God’s team should operate! We want to develop an atmosphere of encouraging each member to become all that God wants him or her to be.

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important in all of our relationships to have the goal of presenting each person mature in Christ? Practically, how would this change your existing relationships?
  2. Is it right to focus on our own needs before we focus on serving others? Where is the biblical balance?
  3. What has God used most to encourage you in your walk with Him? How can you be an encouragement to others?
  4. Jesus (and the Bible) often commands, “Take courage!” (e.g. Matt. 9:2, 22; 14:27) Study all of the biblical references and answer, “How can we take courage when we’re discouraged?”

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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