David Jeremiah - Paul and His Friends
The story is told that George Bernard Shaw sent Winston Churchill a couple of tickets for the opening night of one of his plays. Shaw enclosed a little note with the tickets, and here's what the note said. It said, "Here are two tickets for the opening of my new play. Keep one for yourself and bring along a friend, if you can find one". Not to be outdone, Churchill returned the tickets with a nice little note, too. "I am sorry that a previous engagement precludes my attending your opening night. I shall be happy to come the second night, if there is one".
Don't you wish you could be that quick when somebody says somethin' mean to you, you could come back with somethin' like that? Friendship is really something that the Bible says a lot about, not all in one place but scattered throughout all the scripture, and if you want to know about friendship, you should study the life of Paul. Paul was not just a soul winner. He was also a great friend maker. Did you know that there are more than 100 different Christians, named and unnamed, associated with Paul in the book of Acts and in the letters that he wrote? One hundred names. And in Romans chapter 16 alone, he named 26 different friends. For Paul, friendship was an essential part of the Christian life, and he was a people person. I think that's one of the reasons he lasted for so long, doing what he did.
In the final verses of this letter to the Colossians, Paul sends his greetings and gives us a glimpse into the friends who encouraged him in his ministry. These are ordinary people like you and me, people whom God used to spread the gospel around the world, but let me tell ya somethin' I know: without these friends, Paul would not have been able to carry out the ministry that God gave him. To Paul, these people were indispensable. They made his ministry possible. Nobody can accomplish something great for God without the help of others. I know a lot of people act like it's all them and nobody else counts, but if you read the Bible and you read the history of Christian ministry, you'll discover that wherever there was greatness, there were a lot of people making it happen. Maybe one guy gets the credit for it, but he knows in his heart that it's not just him.
We all need teammates to support us and encourage us and help us along the way. If you read the Bible, Adam had Eve. Moses had Joshua and Aaron. David had Jonathan. Ruth had Naomi. Jesus had his 12 disciples and his inner circle, Peter, James, and John. I could go on. The Bible says that "Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another". Ladies and gentlemen, we were not meant to do this alone, we were meant to do it together. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor". So, if you study the book of Colossians and you come to the last chapter and you want to skip over the names, don't do that. In fact, Paul ends his letter by highlighting ten friends in his life who made his ministry possible.
Without these ten individuals, you and I wouldn't have the book of Colossians, we wouldn't have discovered this book, and we wouldn't have had access to the treasures of Christ, so let's go through these friends. Let's learn what we can learn about being a good friend. Let's also remember that friendship is a very diverse subject. All of these people are different, and they all brought somethin' to the table. So here's the journey. First of all, there was a dependable friend. Verses 7 and 8 of chapter 4 says, "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".
Paul describes Tychicus as a beloved brother, faithful minister, fellow servant in the Lord. He was to update the Colossians about Paul's circumstances in Rome, and he was to comfort them. Most likely, Tychicus was the messenger who carried the letter from Paul's prison to the Colossians. He was a dependable friend, a friend that Paul believed in so much that he had him deliver this letter, and also, if you read the book of Ephesians, in chapter 6, in verse 21, you'll discover he also delivered the letter to the Ephesians. And as Paul approached death, he sent Tychicus to take care of the church in Ephesus, 2 Timothy 4:12. So this was a pretty important friend that Paul had. And the Bible says accompanying him on the journey to Colossae was a new friend, verse 9. This man's name is Onesimus. Let me tell you about him: He was "a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you," Paul said, "who will make known to you all things that are happening here".
Onesimus confuses a lot of people because the Bible says he was a slave. And please understand, again, that whenever the Bible speaks of slavery, it's not endorsing it. It's discussing it because that's the way it was. So to write to the church, which was made up perhaps even half of slaves and not mention slavery would've been very unlikely. Interesting thing about Onesimus was that he had run away from his master. His master was a guy named Philemon. And he landed in Rome, and when he got to Rome, Paul won him to Christ. He became a Christian. In his letter to Philemon, Paul calls Onesimus, "My son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains".
So while he was a prisoner, Onesimus showed up, and Paul shared Christ with him, and he became a Christian. Now, he's a new friend to Paul and had been a believer for only a short period of time, but Paul is already calling him a "faithful brother" and a "beloved one". So what did Paul do after Onesimus became a Christian? You probably might think he put him in a safe place where his master couldn't find him, but no, Paul sent him back to his master, and even when he was under house arrest, he was making new friends, because what you will discover is that Onesimus became very special to Paul. He was a runaway slave, sent back to Philemon, and I'm gonna leave the mystery up to you. You wanna find out what happened? Read the book of Philemon. It's a real short little book, and it's intriguing because it's a story. Nobody could make up this story. It's a Bible story that is filled with redemption.
So you have a dependable friend and a new friend. In verse 10, you meet a loyal friend. This guy's name was Aristarchus. "My fellow prisoner greets you," Paul says. Aristarchus was a Macedonian from Thessalonica. We don't know very much about him, but from what we can learn, he was a good man to have around in a tight place. Here's what I learned about Aristarchus. He was there when the people of Ephesus rioted in the temple of Diana, and he was in the forefront that he was captured by the mob, Acts chapter 19. He was there when Paul set sail for Rome as a prisoner, Acts 27. And it well may be that he actually enrolled himself as Paul's slave in order that he could be allowed to make the journey with him.
Now, here he is, in Rome, and he's Paul's fellow prisoner. He's been arrested, and he's with Paul as a prisoner. And Aristarchus was a man who was always on hand when things were at their grimmest. Aristarchus reminds me of the story about a guy who was walkin' down the street one day when he fell in a hole, and the walls are so steep that he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, "Hey, can you help me"? The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole, and then he walks on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts, "Father, I'm down in this hole. Can you help me out"? And the priest writes a prayer and throws it down into the hole and moves on.
And then a friend, a friend walks by. "Hey, Joe, it's me. Can ya help me out"? And the friend jumps in the hole. And our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both in the hole". And the friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out". That's what a friend does. A friend jumps into the hole with you, doesn't he? That's what the Bible tells us Aristarchus was all about. Then there's a reconciled friend in verse 10. Let's notice him. Colossians 10 says, "with Mark the cousin of Barnabas, about whom you received instructions, if he comes to you, welcome him". Now, this is really an intriguing part of the story because on his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas had taken Mark, this guy that's in the text here. They took Mark with them to be their secretary, but in the middle of the journey, I don't really know what happened, but things got tough and difficult, and Mark quit and went home, and it was a long time before Paul could forgive him for that.
You know, you don't wanna be in the midst of trouble and have somebody you depend on quit on you, and that's what Mark did. He just quit. He couldn't take it. He went home. They were about to set out on the second missionary journey, and Barnabas wanted to make it possible for Mark to go with him, and Paul refused to take the quitter. He wouldn't take him. And on this issue, he and Barnabas had a big fight, and they never worked together again, as far as we know from the New Testament. Tradition says that Mark went as a missionary to Egypt and founded the church in Alexandria. What happened in the interim, we do not know, but we do know that he was with Paul in his last imprisonment, and Paul had, once again, come to look on Mark as a most useful man to have around. And Paul tells the church in Colossae, "Receive Mark and give him a welcome if he should come".
You know what I think about when I read this? How unlike the way we treat people is the Bible. How many of you know, somebody quits on you, your tendency is to say, "That's it. We're done forever. Don't show up around here again". You get into a spat with somebody who's been a friend of yours for a long time, and then you just never reconcile. For all of us who have failed in a ministry assignment at one time or another, John Mark is a model of encouragement. He didn't give up or pout. He got back on his feet, back into the ministry, showed himself to be a changed man, faithful to the Lord and to Paul. What a testimony he was. Just because you failed once doesn't make you a failure. There's a big difference between those two things.
And then there's a quiet friend, verse 11, "and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision, and they have proved to be a comfort to me". We don't know anything much about this man except he had an interesting name. His name was Justus, and his name was Jesus. Jesus would have been his Jewish name; Justus, his Greek name. And to say he was a comfort to Paul means he brought relief and consolation to him. How many of you know we need friends like that when we're goin' through stuff? As I said, they jump in the hole with us. They put their arm around us. They don't leave us until we get to the other side.
Mr. Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives longer than any other man in history. There's a story about him that reveals the kind of man that he really was. The teenage daughter of a friend of his died suddenly one night, and early the next morning, the man heard a knock on his door. When he opened it, there was Mr. Rayburn standing outside. The Speaker said, "I just came by to see what I could do to help". The father replied, in his deep grief, "I don't think there's anything you can do, Mr. Speaker. We are making all the arrangements". "Well," Mr. Rayburn said, "have you had your coffee this morning"? And the man replied that they hadn't taken time for breakfast, so Mr. Rayburn said that he could at least make coffee for them. While he was working in the kitchen, the man came in and said, "Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to have breakfast at the White House this morning". "Well, I was," Mr. Rayburn said, "but I called the president and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn't come".
That's the type of friends that you want to have, because one thing I know about all of us, we all face trouble, don't we? We all go through stuff, and it's a lot easier when you have a Mr. Rayburn around, making coffee for ya. And then there's a praying friend. I love this guy because he's kind of the core of the book of Colossians. In verses 12 and 13 of chapter 4 we read these words: "Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis".
We met Epaphras in the first chapter of Colossians. He was the person who founded the church in Colossae. And he's also the one who started churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis, just down the road from Colossae. And Paul called Epaphras "a bondservant of Christ". You know, he only used that term for two people beside himself, and Epaphras was one of them. And in verses 12 and 13, Paul reveals that what Epaphras had been doing while visiting Paul in Rome was praying fervently and with great zeal. We don't know how long Epaphras stayed in Rome. Remember, he went to Rome because the church was facing all of this stress from all of these false teachers who were coming in.
Epaphras was kind of the founder and pastor, and he didn't feel like he knew enough to deal with it, so he took off, and he went to Rome to talk to Paul about it, and Paul couldn't come to Colossae 'cause he was a prisoner, so he wrote this book that we've been studying, and the letter that he wrote to the Colossians was based on the conversation he had with Epaphras. That's all Paul ever knew about Colossae. He never went there. He never met any Colossians, but he knew about them because Epaphras came and was faithful to tell him all that was going on, but that's not what the scripture wants us to remember about this man. He was a prayer warrior. The Bible says, first of all, he prayed faithfully. The word "always" is in verse 12. While he was away from his friends in Colossae, Epaphras did not fail to pray constantly for them and for Paul.
In fact, in Colossians 4:2, we are told, "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving". Most interesting thing to me about the directives in the New Testament on prayer is not that we are told to pray but that we are told to continue to pray. All of us pray, don't we? I mean, we pray when we're in trouble. We pray before we eat. We pray before we go to bed at night, or whenever, but the Bible says we're to always be in a spirit, always to be in an atmosphere where we can pray. Don't let things creep into your life that make you unwilling to pray or gets in the way of prayer. We're reminded in this regard of the story of Jacob because the Bible says that not only did Epaphras pray faithfully, he prayed fiercely.
The Bible uses the word "laboring". Have you ever thought about "praying" and "laboring" in the same breath? The Bible says that Epaphras labored when he prayed, and it's a word that means to wrestle. It means to strive, like Jacob wrestling with God in the Old Testament; remember, he said, "I'm not gonna let go till you bless me". Have you ever wrestled in your prayer? Maybe you've got a child that's gone south instead of north. Maybe you've got situations at work that are just overwhelming. When things are really difficult, you don't just pray, you wrestle. You say to God, "I don't know what to do, and if you don't help me, God, I'm not gonna let you go until you tell me what to do".
That's the way Epaphras prayed, and the Bible says he prayed "fervently," in Greek, "to stretch out, strain, or reach out; to be fervent". Fervency is part of the New Testament. The Bible doesn't say we should live our lives easily. It says we should live our lives fervently. We should be excited about our faith. That's what you love about new Christians, isn't it? When they find out how much God has loved them and saved them from their sin, they're so excited, and they stay that way until we tamp 'em down as Christians. We get in their life and say, "You gotta just cool it, man. You're overwhelming us with your excitement". May their tribe increase. I love to be around new Christians.
James 5:16 says, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much". "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man". He prayed faithfully, he prayed fiercely, he prayed fervently, and here's the interesting thing: he prayed factually. "That you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God". If you have a church and it's filled with people who are rooted in the Word of God, and they know what the Bible says, they will spot error immediately. If you're in a church where there's no truth, where there's no Bible, where there's no stability, error can get in, and sometimes I watch churches across the country and it just seems they go from one thing to the other. Someone once told me it's related to the last conference the pastor went to. He comes home with a new idea, and all of a sudden, the church is here, and then it's here. It's all over the place.
If you have the Bible as the core of your life, you will not be overwhelmed by false doctrine, and so Epaphras was praying that the church in Colossae would be filled with people who are mature in the faith. What a great prayer. And then Paul had a talented friend. He mentions this man in Colossians 4:14, "Luke the beloved physician". Luke was a respected and important man in the early church. He was a Gentile. He was a doctor. And he wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. In fact, he is probably the only Gentile writer for any book of the Bible, and if we go simply by word count, if you just count every word, Luke also wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. In verse 4, we learned that he was a physician and he was beloved by Paul. Medicine was important to the Greeks, and physicians were held in high esteem in their culture.
So here was Paul's personal physician and coworker in ministry. Here are two of the most impressive individuals in the entire Bible: Paul and Luke and their buddies. I don't know about you, but the older you get, you kind of wish you had a doctor as a close friend, right? Somebody that you can call up and say, "I'm feeling kinda rotten today, what should I do"? We know that Luke first joined Paul at Troas, in Acts 16:10, and he traveled with Paul to Jerusalem, and he was with Paul on his voyage to Rome. As a Christian doctor, he would have been able to provide Paul not just personal encouragement for his soul but healing advice for his body. What a blessing for Paul. And at the end of Paul's life, listen to this, we get the most moving portrait of what Luke meant to Paul. In 2 Timothy, Paul wrote, "Only Luke is with me".
Luke was Paul's soul brother. Like the physician was a talented and respected man; he was an author, an historian, a physician. He used all of these skills to serve the Lord, but most of all, he was a friend to Paul, a friend who stayed with him until the end. The Bible says, "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother". Luke was that friend. A dependable friend, a new friend, a loyal friend, a reconciled friend, a quiet friend, a praying friend, a talented friend, and a difficult friend. Here, in verse 14, we meet one of Paul's difficult friends. His name was Demas. Demas is mentioned three times in Paul's letters, and the progression tells a difficult story. In Philemon, Paul calls him a fellow laborer and includes him in a list of four other good men.
Here's what Philemon says about him: "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers". Here, in Colossians 4:14, Paul has simply called Demas without any special word of praise or appreciation, but the final reference to Demas describes what eventually happened to the relationship between the two of them. 2 Timothy 4:10, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica, Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia". The Bible says that Demas, who was a close friend of Paul, forsook Paul because of the materialism of the world, the comforts of the world. He didn't like travelin' around, livin' like Paul did, never knowin' what was next, never knowin' where he was gonna stay. He had all of this thing in the back of his mind about all of his contemporaries who were living in luxury.
So instead of following the will of God in his life to be with Paul, the Bible says he forsook Paul and went away. Once in a while, maybe once in your lifetime, somebody that you really think is your good friend will forsake you, and sometimes, they walk away not only from you but from Christ, and this is one of life's most difficult experiences, but perhaps reading that Paul had that experience will help you to understand it's not about you. It's not unique to you or to me. This happens, and it happened to Paul. Here's the next one, a hospitable friend. In verses 15 and 16, we read about this guy named Nymphas. "Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea".
Now, I'll just tell you about this guy quickly. He must've been a mature and hospitable leader in the church. He must've enjoyed receiving people in his home 'cause the Bible says the church was in his house. So often, in the New Testament, the churches were in the homes of the believers. He probably had a decent-sized home. We can assume that. I think he was a great connector of people, the type of friend who brings other friends together, the type of friend who multiplies the friendships in your life. In verse 16, Paul mentions a letter that he wrote to the Laodiceans. There's a great mystery surrounding the nature of this letter 'cause we can't find it in the Bible.
Some think it is actually the letter to the Ephesians, but most likely, it was a letter that wasn't included in the canon of the New Testament. Whatever we believe about the letter to the Laodiceans, Paul's point is very clear: he wanted his friends to read God's Word. He wanted the Colossians to read the letter that was written to the Laodiceans, and he wanted the Laodiceans to read the letter that he wrote to the Colossians. Here is a wonderful way for them to know the heart of the great apostle. And then, finally, he had a discouraged friend, Colossians 4:17-18. "And say to Archippus, 'Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.' This salutation by my own hand, Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you".
When we compare Colossians 4:17 with Philemon 2, we get the impression that Archippus belonged to the family of Philemon; possibly, he was Philemon's son and the pastor of the church that met in Philemon's house. Paul's last words before his salutation are directed as an encouragement to continue faithful in the ministry. Let me just pause here and say one of the great sadnesses of our life in the church are the many guys who start out in ministry and then walk away from it.
And people ask me all the time, "Why does that happen"? I'll just tell you what I know. Ministry is hard. It's not for wimps. It's not just a place to go and enjoy life. Sometimes ministry can be brutal. Sometimes it can be discouraging. Sometimes it can just really turn you inside out, and apparently, Archippus was about at the edge. Paul wrote him not to quit. He wrote to him to continue, that his ministry was a gift from God, and that he was a steward of God who would one day have to give an account of his work. Since the Lord gave him his ministry, the Lord would also help him carry it out in the right way.
The word that he uses here to "fulfill" is the idea that God has a definite purpose for every church and for every servant, and he works in us and through us to complete those good works that he has prepared for us. "Fulfill" means "to finish, don't quit, don't stop, don't give up, don't wilt, don't lose heart," continue to do the work that God has called you, and that's not just true for pastors. That's true for all of us. Whatever you're doing to serve the Lord, I promise you, you can't do it for very long before you face discouragement. Somebody doesn't show up. You don't get the funds you thought you were gonna get. Maybe somebody does somethin' that kind of throws a wrench into the whole deal, and it's so easy just to turn away from it.
Well, we need some God-honoring determination, some God-honoring stubbornness that says, "If God has called me to do this, I'm gonna do it. I don't know what's gonna get in my way, but by the grace of God, I'm going to fulfill this ministry". That's what Paul prayed for his friend Archippus. And that's what all of us need. We need divine determination, saintly stubbornness. Those are good words in that context. For 32 years, between 1920 and 1952, seven major expeditions tried and failed to make it to the top of Mount Everest.
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was on six of those expeditions. His fellow climbers joked that he had a third lung because of his ability to climb tirelessly by carrying heavy loads. During those climbs, he earned everyone's respect. In 1953, Tenzing embarked on his seventh expedition to Everest with a British group led by Colonel John Hunt. The strategy was simple, but it was grueling. Two-man teams would work their way up the mountain, finding a path, cutting steps, securing ropes. And then they would be done, having spent themselves to make the next leg of the climb possible for another team. And the team of climbers, using the "mountain way," ultimately made it possible for two pairs to make their attempts at reaching the summit.
The first was Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans. When they tried and failed, it was time for the second team, Tenzing and Edmund Hillary. Tenzing wrote of the first team, "They were worn out, sick with exhaustion, and, of course, terribly disappointed that they had not reached the summit themselves. But still, they had done everything they could to advise us and help us. And I thought, yes, that is how a mountain makes men great. For where Hillary and I have been without the others? Without the climbers who had made the route and the Sherpas who had carried the loads? It was only because of the work and sacrifice of all of them that we were now to have our chance at the top". They made the most of their chance.
On May 29, 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary accomplished what no other human being ever had: they stood on the summit of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. Tenzing Norgay was thankful for the climbers and Sherpas who went before him on that fateful trip up Mount Everest. They made it possible for him to summit the world's highest peak. As we close our study of the book of Colossians today, I feel something similar about Paul and his ten gospel friends. I am thankful for their life and ministry. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to scale the Everest that is the book of Colossians. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to experience the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. He really is above all. He is excellent in all his name, and in him, we have everything we need.