In his devotional commentary on Colossians, pastor and author Sam Storms writes,
There’s a sickness in our society that has infiltrated and infected the church. I have in mind our modern obsession with superstars. Whether they be Hollywood actors, Wall Street moguls, or overpaid, egotistical athletes, they seem to fill our newspapers and dominate our headlines and have become, tragically in most cases, role models for our children.
The church is by no means immune to this infatuation with celebrity. Mega-church pastors, health-and-wealth advocates, and bestselling authors are promoted and praised as if they are in better standing with the Lord than the faithful but unacknowledged housewife or the quiet pastor who tends a flock of less than a hundred folk in Alabama.1
(In South Africa’s case, we might speak of “a flock of less than a hundred folk in Springbok.”)
We might think of Paul and Luke (perhaps even Barnabas) as superstars (though I’m sure that they would be horrified at the thought). But the rest of the individuals mentioned in the closing verses of Colossians are largely unknown in church history. And yet as one commentator observed, “Colossae has vanished from the earth, but the names of Tychicus and Onesimus are known and loved wherever the name of Jesus has won power with men.”2 I would add to this list the other names here as well.
In this study we begin to end our series in Colossians. What I at first deemed to be a one off sermon dealing with these verses has turned into a wonderfully enlightening journey and I am excited to take my time to expound the lessons that I have learned (and continue to learn) here.
These names represent real flesh and blood people who actually walked the face of the earth and who were important to the extension of the kingdom. And what is great about most of these individuals is that you and I can relate to them. There are not many Pauls and Lukes (even Barnabases) among us, but there are many who are or who can be Tychicuses, Onesimuses, Aristarchuses, etc. I am confident that you will be able to identify with at least one—and probably more—of these individuals who were so loved by the apostle Paul and, most importantly, were loved by their local churches and, ultimately, loved by their Lord.
Warren Wiersbe estimates that the New Testament mentions at least 100 people who were associated with Paul in his life and ministry. In fact in Romans 16 Paul mentions specifically 26 different individuals in his greetings to a church in which he had not even yet visited! Paul loved people and he knew that he could not do ministry alone. And so we should not be surprised that when he comes to the end of this letter that he mentions 11 individuals in the final 12 verses. There is a significant lesson for us in each of these persons. God has chosen to preserve their names, I suspect, in order to preserve a message to each of us in order to help us to persevere.
Let’s begin to look at these individuals who were honourably mentioned by Paul as he closes his letter. They are worthy of our attention because, for the most part, they lived honourably as Christians. We will examine them under several headings.
- Dependable Disciples (vv. 7-9)
- Committed Companions (vv. 10-11)
- Passionate Pastors (vv. 12-14a)
- Disappointing Disciples (v. 14b)
- Humble Hosts (v. 15)
The text begins with the mention of two men whom we might term dependable disciples.
Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.
The name “Tychicus” means “fortuitous” or “fortunate.” More than this, he was blessed by sovereign grace with salvation and with the privilege to accompany Paul on ministry. Along with Timothy and Titus, he was one of Paul’s “genuine sons in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).
Tychicus was from Asia-Minor (Acts 20:4) and accompanied Paul on both his third missionary journey and his journey to Jerusalem. He would have heard Paul’s discourse to the Ephesian elders, which no doubt would have impressed upon him the lesson of being a faithful servant.
He was with Paul during his imprisonment (Ephesians 6:21). He was one of the men that Paul was confident about sending to assist other churches (2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12). In fact v. 8 of our text tells us that this is precisely what Paul had instructed Tychicus to do regarding the Colossian church. Paul considered him a “beloved brother” and a “faithful minister”(Ephesians 6:21; cf. 2 Peter 3:15). He was trustworthy and reliable.
He shared Paul’s heart, as is indicated by the fact that he was a “fellow servant in the Lord.” No doubt Tychicus served Paul, but only an expression of his service to the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw himself as yoked with Christ and thus yoked with his fellow-slave, Paul. His ear was bored, so to speak, as was Paul’s (see Exodus 21:1-6).
Clearly Tychicus was a man who could be entrusted with the Word of God for he seems to have been the one entrusted with carrying this letter to Colossae. Tychicus had the gift of exhortation and his assignment was to come alongside and “comfort” the Colossians. (The Greek word for “comfort” is parakaleo, which is used in John’s gospel of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who acted as a Comforter to the disciples after Christ’s ascension.) But also note here the pastoral heart of Paul. He was concerned about them. He wanted a report from Tychicus.
Without the Tychicuses of this world, there could be no Pauls. I am busy reading a book on spiritual leadership by Jerry Wragg. I doubt that very many reading this are familiar with the name Jerry Wragg, but for a long time he served as a Tychicus to the more well-known John MacArthur. Martin Luther benefited from the Tychicus-like ministry of Philip Melanchthon. And beside every “superstar” pastor today—Mark Dever, John Piper, Conrad Mbewe—stands someone in a Tychicus-like role.
Leaders need others to hold up their arms (see Exodus 17). There is no higher commendation than to be a “beloved brother” and a “faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23; Psalm 12:1; Proverbs 20:2). Make sure you are both! That is, make sure you are in the Lord, not merely claiming to be serving the Lord, and then serve the Lord!
A beloved brother must earn this “honourable mention” by faithful and humble service (see 1 Corinthians 13; John 13). Let me ask, whose commendation are you seeking? Tychicus got his commendation from a prisoner!
On the other hand, let us learn from Paul to be an open book; to be transparent. One assignment that Tychicus had in Colossae was to tell the church all the news about Paul (v. 9). May what people read in our lives be a source of comfort to them!
The church must always be developing men and women like Tychicus: those who are faithful and fruitful and fervent and focused.
Like Tychicus, Onesimus was a disciple of Paul (of the Lord!) and was faithful and beloved. Paul did not know him as well as he knew Timothy, Titus and Tychicus, but he knew him well enough.
Paul was acting here with a pastoral concern for Onesimus. To have him identified with Tychicus would give him more acceptance in the eyes of those in the church at Colossae who may have been sceptical if not downright cynical about his profession of faith. By informing them that Onesimus would bring them news from him (v. 9) Paul was letting the believers in the Lycus Valley know that he counted Onesimus as a close friend. What a friend Onesimus had in Paul!
Curtis Vaughn writes, “Paul is now sending Onesimus back to Colossae—with no mention of his past, but with the heart-warming phrase that he is now ‘one of you.’”3
We too need to seek to be such friends to others. We must seek to help people to feel accepted. We need to reach out to people and help them to feel that indeed they are “one of us.” Did Paul perhaps learn this from Barnabas?
The church that properly sees the supremacy of Christ (let us not forget the theme of this letter!) will be a place of deep and meaningful forgiveness. Regardless of your past, in Christ both your present and your future are hopeful!
The second category of persons that Paul mentions here is what we might call committed companions. He speaks in these verses of Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus Justus.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.
We are going to look at these verses and thus these individuals mentioned here under two headings: (1) Courageous Friends, and (2) Conflicted Friends.
First we should note the statement in the middle part of v. 11: “These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision.” This indicates that Paul was pretty much an outcast when it came to his fellow-Jews. Robertson notes, “One has only to recall the activity of the Judaizers in Rome against Paul to appreciate the force of this compliment to the three loyal brethren. The venom of these Judaizers is alluded to in Philippians 1:15-20.”4
Hendriksen adds, “It must not escape our attention that the apostle’s statement with reference to these three men as the only Jewish-Christian fellow-workers who had been a comfort to him implies deep disappointment with other people of his own race.”5
These three men took the risk to openly identify with a man who was in prison. They risked losing relationships and even their lives by openly identifying with Paul, who was identified with Christ. All three showed real courage—but none more so than Aristarchus.
Wiersbe helps us with the biography of this dear brother.
This man was identified as Paul’s fellow prisoner and fellow worker (Col. 4:11). Aristarchus was from Macedonia and was one of Paul’s travelling companions (Acts 19:29). He was originally from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4) and willingly risked his life in that Ephesian riot (Acts 19:28-41). He sailed with Paul to Rome (Acts 27:2), which meant that he also experienced the storm and shipwreck that Luke so graphically described in Acts 27.6
John MacArthur notes that “‘fellow prisoner’ . . . literally means ‘one caught with a spear.’” He observes that, in all likelihood, Aristarchus was not a prisoner of Rome, but a willing prison companion of Paul, and concludes, “That he chose to make Paul’s lifestyle his own speaks of his sympathetic, caring heart. He gave up his own freedom to minister to Paul’s needs.”7
And Storms helpfully observes, “How would you like to be known to history for only one thing: loving Jesus so much that you willingly spent time behind bars? I suspect Aristarchus wouldn’t object.”8
We too need to develop such courageous commitment to come alongside our friends; especially when their lives are “imperilled.” How will you stand with your church when she is slandered? With your leaders?
Note that Aristarchus was sacrificial in his love for Paul no doubt because Paul’s life “earned” such loyalty. Are we such men and women of God? Are we willing to suffer for Christ’s sake?
David Platt is a 32-year-old pastor in Birmingham, Alabama. In the November-December edition of Mission Frontiers, Robby Butler writes an article on Platt entitled, “Going Radical: Young Megachurch Pastor Ignites a Movement to Radical Discipleship.”
Platt has observed the comfortable Western church’s tendency to reinterpret the teachings of Scripture in order to justify neglect of the nations, the lost and the poor, while heaping up treasures on earth. He calls the Western church to abandon its materialism. He has even suggested that his own church consider selling its multi-million-dollar campus and give the proceeds to the poor.
In September 2008 he began an eight-part sermon series on “The Radical Demands of the Gospel.” He challenged his people to join him in caring for the poor. In 2009, in response to his own preaching, he and his wife, together with their sons Joshua and Caleb (adopted from Kazakhstan), downsized to a smaller home. Butler records an encounter of Platt with a church member following this.
“I think you’re crazy for saying some of the things you are saying.” Then he paused, and Platt wasn’t sure what direction the conversation was going to. He continued, “But I think you’re right. And so now I think I’m crazy for thinking some of the things I’m thinking.”
For the next few minutes, he described how he was selling his large house and had decided to give away many of his other possessions. He talked about the needs in which he wanted to invest his resources for the glory of Christ. Then he looked at Platt through tears in his eyes and said, “I wonder at some points if I’m being irresponsible or unwise. But then I realize there is never going to come a day when I stand before God and He looks at me and says, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.’ I’m confident that God will take care of me.”9
The mention of Mark in this list is an interesting one. The book of Acts knows him as John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas. We learn from Acts 12:12 that “the house” so often mentioned in Acts (and possibly even the Gospels) where the church met to pray was in fact Mark’s mother’s house (12:12). In 12:25, having completed their assignment from Antioch in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas took Mark with them. Mark travelled with the two men on their first missionary journey in Acts 13, but for whatever reason (the text gives no clues) he abandoned them in Pamphylia (13:13). In chapter 15, as they were preparing for their second missionary journey, Barnabas suggested that they take Mark with them. Paul was of quite another opinion, and when the two could not agree they parted ways. Paul took Silas with him, whilst Mark went with Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). It is the last time we read of either Mark or Barnabas in Acts.
Mark’s name is mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 as Peter’s “son.” There is a persistent tradition in the early church that Mark spent much time learning from Peter, and that in fact the majority of the material contained in Mark’s Gospel came directly from Peter. Paul himself names Mark as one of his “fellow labourers” in Philemon 24. But perhaps the most telling text in all Scripture regarding Mark is 2 Timothy 4:11, where Paul, in his last inspired letter as a Roman prisoner, writes, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.”
As noted above, we are not told why Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia, but clearly Paul was not impressed. Some have suggested ill health of some sort—perhaps malaria. Others have suggested discouragement or disenchantment. Still others have suggested that he was jealous for Barnabas’ sake because Paul had taken the leadership role; or perhaps even jealousy for his own sake because he felt he was not being used enough. Other suggestions include home-sickness, fear, and a problem with authority.
The bottom line is, we do not know. All we know is that he turned back at some point and, for whatever reason, Paul no longer saw him as an asset to his particular ministry of church planting.
But Colossians 4 was written 12 years later. Mark had grown. He had persevered and now was willing to openly identify with Paul in the face of much danger. He understood the priority of the kingdom of God (v. 11).
At one time he was deemed by Paul to be a liability but now an asset. (The word “comfort” in v. 11 is a medical term, which mean “to assuage a wound.”)
People can change for the better! We are all at times like an earlier version of Mark. But persevere and be productive for the kingdom! This will require prioritising the kingdom (see Matthew 6:33).
Courageous Jesus Justus
This may well be the only time in Scripture where Jesus Justus is mentioned by name. We read of a “Joseph called Barsabas, whose surname was Justus” in Acts 1:23 and of “a certain man named Justus” in Acts 18:7, but we cannot be certain that either was the same Justus mentioned here by Paul.
The surname speaks of “righteousness.” This Jewish believer had a wonderful name and it appears that he lived up to it. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” wrote Solomon (Proverbs 22:1). Jesus Justus was a wonderful illustration of this truth.
Referring to Jesus Justus, MacArthur comments, “That Jesus Justus was willing to leave his people to identify with Paul demonstrates his strong commitment. He was willing to take a stand alongside Paul for Jesus Christ no matter what the cost.”10
The church is in great need for such members: those who count the cost and then get on with serving! The church needs members who are committed to God’s saving work and His sanctifying work of righteousness—in spite of the cost.
Before leaving this point we need to consider an underlying reality in these verses. Note again the names of Paul, Barnabas and Mark. As we touched on earlier, things were not always well between them. In fact, they had experienced a serious row many years earlier (Acts 15:37-39) and yet here the three were quite obviously in harmony. We can learn a lot here about the reality of conflict in the church. Storms writes, “One of the admirable things about the Bible is its often brutal honesty, its refusal to gloss over the glitches in believers’ lives.”11 It also reveals to us that, in the face of such conflict, amazing reconciliation can take place.
It is interesting that Scripture does not take sides in the disagreement that erupted between the three men in Acts 15. We are not told of the precise nature of the disagreement. Storms uses some sanctified imagination in presenting a possible picture of what unfolded.
“Paul,” [said Barnabas], you’re being unreasonable. I now you’re a man of conviction, but for heaven’s sake, ease up a bit.”
“I may be reasonable in your estimation, Barnabas, but you are showing a distinct lack of wisdom. Don’t let the fact that he’s your cousin blind you to his failures. We need to think first and foremost about the welfare of this ministry God has entrusted to us.”
“I am thinking of the ministry. Mark is a sensate and a loving young man. Your inflexibility could crush his spirit. Must you be so harsh?”
“Must you be so soft? I love Mark. Really, I do. But you’re letting your compassion override your convictions.”
And you’re letting your principles override your pity.”
Regardless of precisely how everything unfolded, we now see that Mark was very valuable to Paul. He became a trusted companion. In fact, at the end of Paul’s life he specifically requested Mark’s presence. How did Mark come to this point? William Hendriksen offers the following helpful insight.
“What factors or agencies did the Holy Spirit use in bringing about this favorable change in the life of John Mark? In all probability one or more of the following:
a. “The kindly tutelage of Barnabas, that true ‘son of encouragement.’” Not entirely was it due to this but “no doubt in great measure” (F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 305).
b. The stern discipline of Paul, shown in refusing to take Mark with him on the second journey. Perhaps Mark needed exactly that seeming harshness.
c. The influence of Peter who calls Mark “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). A consistent early tradition links these two men. Peter knew by experience that there was hope for those who had fallen into the sins of disloyalty and cowardice.
The Holy Spirit may well have used all three factors and others also to perform his marvelous work in the mind and conscience of the “man who came back.”12
Several lessons may be gleaned from this.
First, differing personalities and dispositions are a reality of church life and these can lead to disagreements. Deal with it!
Second, don’t be so quick to give up on people. Who knows what their future will hold in usefulness in the kingdom of God.
Third, the local church needs both Barnabases and Pauls. It is not either-or; it is both!
Fourth, do all you can to guard a believer’s reputation and to help his restoration. Lightfoot notes that “the studious recommendation of St Mark in both passages indicates a desire to efface the unfavourable impression of the past.”13
Fifth, don’t be surprised that godly people disagree and even divide. Stormes observes that “Acts 15:39-40 . . . testifies to the historical reliability of Acts that Luke makes no effort to cover up his dispute. He’s not afraid to face reality or point a finger at warts on the face of the church.”14 We should not lose heart or be disillusioned when believers disagree and sever relationship with believers and with their local church.
The local church does not require “superstars.” What it requires is spiritual servants—in the fullest biblical sense of both words. That is, the church requires Spirit-filled members who are committed to serving others in the Lord. And it requires servants who are committed to partnering with other servants for the fulfilment of the Great Commission; servants who are so consumed with the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ that they care not who gets the credit (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6); servants who realise they are sinners who must serve with other sinners but they can do so with joy because they share in the salvation of the Saviour.
May such attitudes and disposition increasingly and intentionally characterise our local churches: devoted disciples and committed companions.
- Sam Storms, The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 345-46. ↩
- A. T. Robertson, Paul and the Intellectuals: The Epistle to the Colossians (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1959), 135. ↩
- Curtis Vaughan, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 11:223. ↩
- Robertson, Paul and the Intellectuals, 137-38. ↩
- William Hendriksen, Colossians and Philemon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 190. ↩
- Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 2:150. ↩
- John MacArthur, Colossians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 194. ↩
- Storms, The Hope of Glory, 347. ↩
- Robby Butler, Mission Frontiers, November-December 2010, 6. ↩
- MacArthur, Colossians, 196. ↩
- Storms, The Hope of Glory, 333. ↩
- William Hendrisken, Colossians and Philemon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 188. ↩
- J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 237. ↩
- Storms, The Hope of Glory, 336. ↩