Much has been written about gospel partnerships. But does it actually look like to partner together for the gospel? What does that look like for a local church? What does it mean for leadership and laypeople? The end of Colossians may not seem like the most obvious place to go for help in answering these questions, but they actually hold a significant example of gospel partnership.
Beginning in verse 7, Paul writes, “Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’ I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (Col 4:7-18).
Notice this key phrase in verse 11. There, Paul talks about “my fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” Immediately, we have some implications. Not everyone can be at the center or the forefront of ministry but everyone can have a part in ministry. Paul was the one at the center of things here. He was the apostle, he was the one with the unique calling.
But what did he do? He gathered around himself a band of brothers. Paul put together his ministry cohort; his gospel posse. These people were a group of gospel workers that he drew alongside him and taught them what gospel work looked like. These people became fellow workers. Some stayed with Paul while others were spun out into their own ministry, being left behind to take up on-going work as Paul forged ahead where the gospel was not yet known. All had different gifts, different backgrounds—some were Jews and others were Greeks; some were common laborers and one was a doctor. But all of them were working together for the sake of the kingdom of God. All of them were working together for gospel growth.
In this, we have an example for us today. It’s an example that corrects so many mistaken ideas about what ministry is about and what it is supposed to look like. It helps bring clarity to how pastors in the pulpit and people in pew should think about the role in the on-going work of God in the world. So, what do we see? Three ways that we should be working together for the gospel in our churches and among the association and beyond. In this post, we will just look at the first and foundational way we can partner together.
Together in Fellowship
In the New Testament, fellowship is about more than meals and hanging. There’s nothing wrong with having meals together and hanging out together. But we shouldn’t think that’s what the Bible is thinking about when it talks about fellowship. True fellowship is about partnership for a common cause. In other secular writings in Paul’s day, you can actually see the word being used to describe business partners. And that’s getting at the picture we see here.
Fellowship as God’s people
First, we see that the basis for their fellowship is their common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 7, Paul calls “Tychicus . . . a beloved brother” and in verse 9, Onesimus is called the same. And I think the explicit statement made about these two men should be extended to everyone mentioned in the passage. Why? Because I don’t think Paul is saying, ‘These are my friends!’ I think he means they are brothers in Christ. Just read through the rest of the letters in the New Testament. You will see those who are on the inside of the faith referred to as brothers and sisters. You will see them called ‘loved ones’ or, as here, the beloved.
But I also don’t think he’s just saying they’re Christians. There is an evident care and concern for one another in this group. Their common identity in Christ has led to life interaction and care in the context of shared ministry. Likewise, today, as God’s people, we have a specific, defining relationship with God which we share with one another. We are all Christ’s people. That means, in part, that we should be looking at each other differently than we look at even the best of our friends who are not Christians. More than that, there should be an evident love for one another. By example here, we are called to be a community of believers that are lovingly committed to one another.
Just think about the fact that Paul is writing this letter. He’s in prison and he knows that they are concerned about him. And as much as he is writing to minister to them by reminded them of the gospel and applying it to their lives, he is also aware of the basic human concerns they have about him. And because he is concerned for them, he sends Tychicus to encourage them. The point we need to see here is that there should be a deep sense of connectedness between us as God’s people. If another member in our church is sinking into sin, we should be with them, loving them and helping them on to better things. If a pastor from another church is hurting or another church failing, we should all be seeking to encourage them. That’s fellowship. That fellowship should not only be seen in our love and care for one another, but also drives us to fellowship together for the sake of the gospel and the task of making disciples.
Fellowship for God’s gospel
Paul says that all of these people are his “fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” What’s the kingdom of God? Well, in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we read that after his baptism, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). So the coming of the kingdom of God is intimately tied with the preaching of the gospel. In fact, it is part of the gospel. The kingdom of God is his saving reign over his people—all people who would turn to him in faith, trusting Christ to be their Savior and Lord. Turning from our sin and rebellion to live under the provision and rule of our rightful King is good news. For he is a King who forgives sinners and shows mercy to rebels. He is a King who takes the worst of humanity and redeems them to be his own sons. And he does all of this through the Son—Jesus Christ, who died and rose back to the life to secure this salvation.
Paul says it is for this kingdom that they fellowship together in ministry. They are fellow workers seeking to advance this message of good news and spread the kingdom of Christ. The same should be true of us as well. Our fellowship isn’t about politics or music or anything else other than that gospel. That which should unite us more than anything is our common faith in Christ and our common desire to see that faith proclaimed.