In Colossians 4, the Apostle Paul lists ten less-familiar names from the early church. Paul’s “shout-out” to these saints reminds me of the vast majority of Christians who quietly play important roles in the kingdom of God. Even though these mentions are brief, they contain life-long lessons for us today.
Tychicus – Encourage one another by speaking God’s Word.
Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful servant, and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and so that he may encourage your hearts.
Tychicus had a job to do. He was to deliver news about Paul, as well as Paul’s letter to the people in Colosse. The result would be the encouragement of the Christians’ hearts. I want to be like Tychicus. I want to be a herald of the Word, so much so that it overflows from my heart at the right time and place.
Onesimus – The gospel turns uselessness into usefulness.
[Tychicus] is with Onesimus, a faithful and dearly loved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.
Onesimus was a runaway slave. His name meant “useful,” but he had proven “useless” to his master, Philemon. Yet Paul commended him as a faithful and dearly loved brother, adding “he is one of you.” The cross unites what the world would keep separate. Early in life, Onesimus hadn’t lived up to his name. The gospel changed all that, and it changes us too. There is no way we can live up to the name “Christian” apart from the soul-sanctifying work of the gospel, the good news that takes useless sinners and turns us into useful co-laborers in God’s kingdom.
Aristarchus – Suffer with one another.
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you…
Aristarchus was one of Paul’s companions in ministry, and here he is shown as a companion in suffering. We need people like Aristarchus, who stay focused on the kingdom regardless of the consequences, who rejoice with us in times of joy and mourn with us in times of trial.
Mark – Keep getting up after you fall.
… as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)…
Mark was the cause of one of the early church’s major splits. Paul and Barnabas disagreed over Mark’s desire to join them on a missionary journey. Why? Because Mark had been a drop-out. He had started out with them on a previous journey and then had gone home. This passage indicates that Mark was already restored to Paul. Mark fell, but he got back up. In fact, it’s likely that he wrote one of the four Gospels! The lesson here? Keep getting up. The righteous man falls seven times, and yet he gets back up every time.
Justus – Make your Christianity your first identity.
… and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.
Justus willingly set aside his identity twice in order to spread the gospel. First, though his name was Jesus, he went by Justus, probably to avoid confusion with the Jesus he was proclaiming. Secondly, he left his own people, the Jews, in order to spread the gospel among those in Rome. Justus grounded his identity in Jesus Christ. He wasn’t first and foremost a Jew. Neither was his name unalterable. He was “in Christ.” What about you? What is your main identity? The Christian whose primary identity is Jesus Christ can cross cultures and boundaries on behalf of the gospel.
Epaphras – Contend for others in prayer.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills. For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.
Epaphras was a prayer warrior. Burdened by the spiritual immaturity he saw in others, he went before the throne of grace and “contended” for God’s people in prayer. He wanted the people in his church to have assurance of the will of God, to know how to act. So he took these burdens to God in prayer. What a privilege to carry the spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters to God!
Luke – Use your occupation for the glory of God.
Luke, the dearly loved physician, and Demas greet you.
Luke used his occupation as a doctor for God’s glory. Who knows how many times Luke treated Paul as he healed from terrible wounds to his back? Luke didn’t use his own gifts merely for his own gain. He gave those gifts to God. We learn from Luke that our vocations are not separate from our spiritual life. We are called to do all to the glory of God – with excellence, with beauty, with zeal.
Demas – Watch out that you do not turn back!
Paul’s letter to Timothy informs us that Demas fell in love with the world and turned away from God. Something other than God captured his affections. Demas’ example serves as a warning to us. Watch out that you do not turn back! Let his example warn us against turning away from God and abandoning our faith in the gospel.
Nympha – Do what you can with what you have.
Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home.
Nympha opened up her home and let the church meet there. She gave of her resources for the sake of the gospel. You may think you have nothing to give. But Christ can take the most ordinary thing and shape it into a tool for the advancement of His kingdom. He asked to use the boat of some fishermen, and that simple boat became a pulpit to preach to the masses. With a small boy’s packed lunch of bread and fish, Jesus was able to feed more than 5000 men alone. With a little dirt from the ground, He was able to heal the blind man. The borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea became the empty tomb that would prove Christ’s resurrection.
Archippus – Challenge one another to stay on the right track.
And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.”
Paul’s letter to the Colossian church contains this personal challenge to one individual. It reminds me a little of an ordination service, where the pastor preaches a message that is directed to the candidate. Since it’s not a message for the whole church, people wonder, Why not give this message in private? The reason is because the whole church is supposed to challenge the candidate afterward to live up to the charge given him. Archippus is an example of how Christians are to challenge one another, sometimes in private, sometimes in public. We need the exhortation of brothers and sisters in Christ, in order to grow in holiness and faith.
Aristarchus, Archippus, Nympha, Justus… just a few of the Bible’s unsung heroes, “unsung” because they were primarily focused on making sure that the praises of Jesus Christ were sung by people from all tribes, tongues, and nations. When your most passionate desire is that Christ’s praises be sung, you too can be an unsung hero.