In this series of blog posts we are looking at a biblical example gospel partnership–working together to advance the gospel of Christ. Previously we saw that this involved being together in fellowship. In this post we will see that gospel partnership means being Together in Ministry. As Paul is sending greetings back and forth, describing his situation, he also describes what this ministry of the kingdom looks likes. So, as we think through what they did, we also need to see this as a pattern for how we should be ministering together. Let’s look at our passage again from the end of Colossians 4:
“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).
From these verses, we see an example of four ways that we should minister together in gospel partnerships.
Minister by Encouraging
Paul says, “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” (4:7-8). Paul says that he has sent Tychicus (and along with him, Onesimus) to encourage the hearts of the Colossians. What is this encouragement that he is giving them? Part of the work of gospel ministry—a ministry that we are all called to be a part of—is seeking the encouragement of one another. This word encourage means something like build up or strengthen. It’s a kind of proactive word that often includes some kind of teaching.
More than likely, this encouragement came on a very practical level. The Colossians know that Paul is in chains for the gospel and they themselves have believed the gospel and are spreading its message. So, are they next? You know that they have to be thinking about it, they have to be asking the question. Thus, Tychicus is sent to minister to them. He is sent to encourage their hearts—to strengthen them in their faith, calling them faithfulness and perseverance.
Likewise, for us, we are to have a ministry of encouragement to one another. We see this here and in several other places throughout the New Testament. We are to be seeking to build up one another in our belief in Christ, spurning one another on to faithful service and a life of godliness.
Minister by Comforting
In verses 10 and 11 we read: “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.”
Aristarchus was a Thessalonian who traveled with Paul on several occasions that we can read about in Acts 19 and 20. As Paul explains, he is a fellow prisoner—he was incarcerated with the apostle, more than likely for the same offence. Even as Paul prayed a few verses up, they were both fearlessly proclaiming the mystery of Christ (Col 4:3).
Then, if you’ve read the Gospels and Acts, you will remember Mark. He was with Jesus when he was arrested in the garden and fled with the rest of the disciples (Mark 14:51-52). He was with Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey but deserted the team to head home. When he wanted to try again, Paul didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Yet, years later, here he is—a trusted, valued part of Paul’s team. Later, Paul would tell Timothy: “pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim 4:11). With Mark there is Jesus who is called Justus. Jesus was a common enough name among the Jews. It’s the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Yeshua—or in English, Joshua.
Now, how were these two comfort to Paul? Well, let’s think about the situation for minute. Remember that Paul was a Jew who trusted Christ. The result was that he was rejected by many of his fellow Jews. Not just like ‘not welcome here’ rejected, but like ‘beaten and stoned’ rejected. Although he was courageous and determined and willing to endure whatever suffering came his way, he was also human. Paul was susceptible to discouragement and depression and disillusionment just like the rest of us. He was a man in need of comfort. And that is what God had given him. Here are two Jews—two men of the circumcision—who are laboring side-by-side by the gospel. Mark and Justus were two of his fellow countrymen who have also believe in Christ and with him, tending to him even in this Roman prison.
Part of gospel ministry isn’t just being out on the frontlines, learning tribal languages, canoeing miles into jungles where Americans have never been before just to share the gospel. That’s part of it—an important part. But sometimes, gospel ministry is comforting God’s people. If nothing else, Paul was likely comforted just by the sheer faithfulness of these two men.
Minister by Speaking the Word
Again, we see this from Tychicus. How? It involves the sending of this very letter. Tychicus was the first person to see, to touch, to carry, to deliver, and read the original copy of the letter you have bound in the Bible before you. Don’t miss this: the letter itself—this word from God—was the central means by which Paul expected the Colossians to be encouraged; that they would hear his words, the words of Scripture in this letter. Notice how this is affirmed at the end of the passage: “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” (4:15-16).
Here is a letter from Paul we don’t have. And as much as we would want to have that, it’s okay that we don’t. We are assured within Scripture itself, that what we have is all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). My point though is that Paul expected God’s Word—even the word that he was writing through Paul—to be the primary means by which the people of God were encouraged and built up. He says, ‘You read this letter and make sure you read the other letter I sent.’ Why? Because the Word of God gives life.
It’s essential that we get this. This conviction—that Word of God is powerful to change lives—is is central is everything we do in Christian ministry. We have to trust the word to bring change. And we need to know the Word well so we can wield it wisely for change. Earlier in chapter 3, he tells them, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (3:16). This is not directed toward the pastor, but the congregation as a whole. All of God’s people are called to minister with the Word to see sinners saved and the saved sanctified.
Minister by Praying
Hand-in-hand with the example of ministering by the Word is example we see here of ministering with prayer in prayer. Paul reminds says, “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” (4:12-13).
Now, many of us would never characterize our praying as struggle, but Paul did. Paul labored hard in his preaching and public ministry and he also labored in prayer. It was work, it was toil, it was spiritual exercise in the gymnasium of the soul. And apparently, that’s how he taught others to pray as well. Remember, he was the one who led Epaphras to Christ. He was the one who discipled him and modeled for him how to live as a Christian.
Now we get this glimpse of Epaphras himself. He left the church at Colossae to find Paul and seek his help and advice on how to handle this false teaching that was threatening his brothers and sisters (you can read about that in rest of the letter). And while he was away, Paul says he saw prayer as a means of ministering to his church. This means that his quiet time didn’t consist of a few moments over coffee where he mentioned a couple of quick requests. No, for Paul, prayer was this was spiritual work. It was toil and struggle as he interceded for the satins. Like Jacob, he wrestled with God in prayer.
When we pray for people, this is what our prayers should be like. Although all of life should be brought before God, throughout the Bible we see that our main concern should be the spiritual needs of people. So, when you pray, don’t start with someone’s health. Start with their soul. Start by asking God to be at work in their life, by his Word, that they may “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”