Colossians 4 – New Identity, Deep Roots – Part 15
Happy Mother’s Day!
I think we can all agree that Moms work tirelessly and sacrificially serving their families-the greatest job on planet earth! But to hear it spelled out like that is quite remarkable! I’m sure we can all remember our Moms staying up with us when we were sick, getting us medicine in the middle of the night, calming us down when we were upset. Or as you got older into high school, college, even as an adult-talking to your Mom and getting her advice about things-just knowing that your Mom was listening makes all the difference in the world. Nobody is more faithful than our Moms-and the topic of faithfulness is what we’re going to examine this morning.
But before we talk about faithfulness-I want to ask the opposite question-and probably the more convicting question-Are you a procrastinator? How would you answer that? How would your spouse or your kids or even your co-workers answer that about you? Here’s my theory on this-we’re all procrastinators at something. Now you might say-I’m not a procrastinator- especially if you’re somebody with lots of to-do lists, who loves efficiency and getting things accomplished. Maybe you’re a go-getter, someone who loves staying on top of things and hates feeling behind and rushed-but I still believe that even for those of us who are the biggest go-getters, there’s always something we’re procrastinating at, something that we’re always putting off-maybe it’s in order to get something else done, but there’s always something that we’re neglecting, or avoiding-or waiting to do until the 11th hour. I won’t ask if you were someone who studied at the last minute, pulling the all-nighter to cram for the test or to meet the deadline at work. But we say I’ll do it tomorrow. Or I’ll get to that when my schedule eases up and there’s more time. But somehow the time never seems to magically appear! I’ve heard the joke, “What happens when you give a procrastinator a good idea?” And the answer is Nothing. I want you to think for a moment-what’s on your procrastination list? I’m sure something comes to mind quickly-the things we’re avoiding usually do. Or if what you’re procrastinating doesn’t come to mind instantly ask your spouse-I’m sure they’ll tell you what you’re procrastinating!
My procrastination list includes: mailing late birthday presents to my siblings, nieces and nephews, organizing things in the garage, sorting the boxes of old cd’s in the basement, getting rid of old t-shirts in my dresser, organizing the drawer of all the cords and chargers that’s a tangled mess, trying to get that giant garden under control in the backyard, and supergluing random things around the house that are broken. Maybe you’ve got lots of projects at home you’re procrastinating too, or maybe it’s a project or a task at work you’ve been putting off. You know you should do it, but you just can’t seem to find the motivation to get it done. Or maybe it’s not a project, but a relationship that you’re avoiding, a phone call or email you need to make to someone, or maybe you’ve procrastinated an apology you owe someone. How about exercise-who doesn’t procrastinate with that? Or maybe it’s finances-you owe money to someone you need to pay back, maybe you’ve promised to help somebody out but you’re now avoiding them because you don’t have the time anymore. There are all sorts of things we procrastinate in doing? What’s on your list? I think of the Capital One commercials-What’s in your wallet? For Procrastination-What’s on your list?
And to take this to an even deeper level, did any spiritual things come to mind? Sad to say, as believers, spiritual procrastination can be a common problem. As I just said, maybe you’re a go-getter in every other area of life, accomplishing all sorts of tasks, marking things off your list with great efficiency, but when it comes to serving the Lord and seeking Him- that one lingers on your to-do list. Somehow it’s easy to let ministry and spiritual issues, even doing your devotions and taking time to pray, become something for tomorrow, something to do when things clear up and you have more time. We can be full of good intentions to seek God and serve Him with the gifts He’s given us-but all the best intentions don’t mean much without follow-through. Have you been there? I know I have. Spiritual procrastination is a real challenge.
So open up your Bibles to Colossians 4-and as we come to the end of our study in this book, we’ll see Paul talking about this issue. As with all of Paul’s letters, it’s easy to bypass the section of personal greetings. This is always the part with the really hard names to pronounce that no one can say very well and we’re not sure who the people are, so we just brush right through it. But I don’t want to do that this morning because here in Colossains as we read through this list of greetings, we’ll see a common theme emerge that’s very relevant for us today. And if you look at v. 7 the first name there is Tychicus. And he was a companion of Paul-they had traveled to Jerusalem together after he was saved and Paul considered him one of his most reliable leaders. So at this juncture Tychicus is now on a long journey traveling from Rome where Paul’s locked up in order to deliver this letter of Colossains. He going from Rome where Paul’s locked up all the way to the churches in Colosse and Ephesus, which was the region of Turkey. But what’s so great about Tychicus is that as he’s making this journey he’s literally carrying with him the letters of Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon. In his backpack he has 3 books of Scripture-the original copies to be read at those churches-talk about something priceless. If you liked LOTR as much as I did where Frodo the hobbit traveled all the way across Middle Earth carrying the great ring-that was fiction. This is reality-Tychicus has a big responsibility to pass on the Word of God. He can’t quit along the way or lose his backpack or get mugged by robbers. He needs to complete this mission. So listen to Paul’s description of him-v. 7-9a. And if you pause there-Onesimus was the runaway slave that Paul was sending back to Philemon-so Onesimus was the traveling companion with Tychicus-kind of like Sam went along with Frodo or Chewbacca traveled with Han Solo. But these two guys are making the long journey east with Paul’s letters carefully packed, and notice how Paul describes Onesimus-v.9b Two guys with two very similar descriptions-did you catch the word? Faithful servants of God doing the work of the ministry, which in this case was delivering God’s Word to the churches. Imagine if they decided to procrastinate? Imagine if they decided to wait, to make the journey some other time when they weren’t so busy, when the weather was nicer and travel was easier. Who knows what circumstances these guys faced, it would be great if we had a copy of their travel log so we could see the details of their journey and all the stops and adventures along the way. But what if they weren’t faithful and failed to the deliver the Word of God? Now obviously God is sovereign, we know that, if it wasn’t these two guys, if they would have procrastinated too much God would have certainly used someone else to deliver His Word so we would have the books of Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. But the point is that these two guys were faithful and therefore used by God. We now have the historical record of two ordinary men, one of them even being a slave, but two regular, most likely uneducated men who are forever remembered and described as being faithful to God in delivering His Word.
Look at how Paul goes on to describe others-v. 10-13. And Epaphras was the guy who planted the church in Colosse. He was saved when he was in Ephesus listening to Paul’s preaching and then went on to Colosse to start the church there. By this point which is several years after the church was planted he’s back with Paul in Rome. That’s why Paul passes on his greetings to them. But talk about faithful service. Epaphras also made the long journey-but he did it in reverse-going from Colosse to Rome in order to get Paul’s advice on a bunch of theological questions the church was facing. This letter is the result of Epaphras’s visit-Paul is writing to encourage them to stay connected to Christ and not be swayed by some false teaching that had crept into the church. Look at Col 2:8-10a. So that challenge comes because a faithful guy named Epaphras traveled a long way to ask Paul to encourage them. Go back to what is said about him in Col 4:12b-13. He’s working hard for others to see them grow in Christ! Look at v. 14-16. Here’s someone faithfully serving by offering up her house week after week for people to gather and worship God. She has to clean and prepare and get out the snacks-some 1st century coffee and bagels! But Paul has this long list of people in chapter 4 who are faithful to God, dedicated servants working hard for the ministry. And I ask the question-Could that be said of me? Could my life be described as faithful and hard working for God? Would I be willing to travel long distances and open up my house for the sake of the gospel? Could that be said of you? As a follower of Christ, isn’t that what you want to be said of you when someone looks back on your life? He was a faithful man of God; she was a faithful woman of God-workers of the kingdom. Absolutely we do. Who wants to be remembered as a half-hearted follower who just loafed along and did the bare minimum-if anything at all? Hopefully none of us do. But to become a faithful follower we have to be stirred up from our personal comfort and complacency, we have to be pushed out from our procrastination. And Paul’s final challenge does this. Look at v. 16-18.
Now Bible scholars are not necessarily sure of this guy’s precise identity, but many believe that he was the son of Philemon, who lived in Colosse and served as either a pastor or leader in the church. But great questioning has gone into the motive for Paul’s closing statement-in particular wondering if maybe this guy-Archie-wasn’t fulfilling his ministry. Even 500 years ago John Calvin made an insightful observation about Archippus saying, “So far as I can conjecture, perhaps he was not of such a disposition as to be sufficiently diligent of himself without being stirred up.” Meaning in today’s terms-this guy gets sidetracked, a bit of a slacker, a bit of a procrastinator, that when the going gets tough, he doesn’t get going. And I’m sure we’ve all been in his shoes-needing to be stirred up to do what God’s calling us to do. So if that’s the case with Archie-if he was slacking a bit-what I love about this passage is that instead of Paul telling the Colossians to give up on him and say he’s no good, go find somebody else to replace him, Paul is challenging Archippus to be faithful. That whatever the reason for any spiritual procrastination he might have had-Paul is saying-Don’t procrastinate any longer, brother, but fulfill your ministry that God has given you to do! And that’s exactly what the verse is saying to you and me.
So let’s start by getting some definitions jotted down this morning. First off, the definition of procrastination is probably one we all know a bit too well. Pt1:Procrastination: putting off the doing of something that should be done. You know what it is, you know it’s yours to do, but for whatever reason, and we usually come up with very creative reasons for our procrastination, we don’t do it. What’s the classic excuse for students-the dog ate my homework. Or as adults-there’s just not enough hours in the day (knowing that we always make time for the things we really want to do). So we understand what procrastination is-and in contrast, we understand that faithfulness is about loyalty and trustworthiness. A faithful employee is someone the boss can count on; a faithful student stays on top of their school work. So if we’re talking about faithfulness to God, when we direct it toward Him, then we come up with the next definition. Pt2:Faithfulness: actually doing what God’s called you to do. It’s quite straightforward-and isn’t that what Paul’s telling Archippus? Fulfill, that is do, complete, work at and finish, the ministry that you have received in the Lord. It’s very concrete, not theoretical or abstract. Paul isn’t making any comments on good intentions. Maybe Archippus is one of those people who makes lots of excuses and gives up too easily, or maybe he talks a big talk, telling everyone about his heart for ministry and his desire to serve God, but struggles with the follow-through. And maybe you’ve known people like that. But whatever Archippus’ tendencies, Paul is saying-Don’t be satisfied with just good intentions, don’t think that one day you’ll start serving when your schedule clears up, don’t keep making excuses. Rather he’s telling Archippus to actually fulfill the ministry and do it. He’s telling him to be a faithful minister. Now we tend to think of that word, minster, as a professional religious person-like a pastor or missionary. But according to Webster’s dictionary, a minister is simply defined as a person used to achieve something. It went on to say that a minister is somebody who attends the needs of someone or provides something necessary or helpful; an agent for completing an assigned task. Brilliant definition!
Look at what Paul says about himself in Eph 3:7-8. Paul is an agent for the task of proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles. Look at how he repeats this idea right here in Col 1:25. Paul is clearly saying he’s been given a job, a responsibility to faithfully steward-which is making God’s Word known. Likewise he says in chapter 4:7 that Tychicus is a faithful minister and servant in the Lord. So from a biblical perspective if a minister is an agent completing a task, then Pt3:Ministry: the specific task(s) that God has called you to complete. So Paul is giving a shout-out to Archippus to fulfill the ministry, that is, complete the tasks that he’s been given in the Lord. Notice he isn’t saying to him-Fulfill the ministry because I say so. He isn’t saying-fulfill the ministry so you don’t let the church down. He isn’t saying-fulfill the ministry so you don’t look bad. No, he’s saying-fulfill the ministry because God has called you to it. He’s reminding Archippus that his ministry is a gift that he’s received from God. And it’s no different for you and me. Each of us has received a ministry from God. Each of us has tasks to complete that He’s uniquely prepared us for. Look at Eph 2:10. I love that verse because it’s saying each one of us has a part to play, tasks to accomplish for the kingdom. As followers of Christ our purpose is to walk in them, meaning to fulfill the good works God’s prepared for us. If you’re a follower of Christ you’re not excluded. Those good works that God has prepared aren’t for other Christians or people who seem more spiritual than you. As we said-this isn’t just for the professional ministers-it’s for all of us. So from our perspective we need to be praying-Lord, help me faithfully fulfill the things you’ve prepared beforehand for me to do. Which means this isn’t some last minute thing on God’s part. Oh, that guy over there got saved-wow, I honestly didn’t see that coming. All right, so what sort of good works should I pull together for him? What should he be doing? No-God knew long ago, from before you existed, before the world existed, from eternity past, what good works, what ministry, He has prepared for you as His child. Your role is to faithfully do them.
And Jesus highlights this truth very clearly. Flip back in your Bibles to Matt 25-and when I think of this guy Archippus needing to be faithful, when I think about you and I needing to be faithful, the parable of the talents instantly comes to mind. Look at what Jesus says-v. 14-15. Now this is a sizeable chunk of money. A talent is roughly ten thousand denarii, therefore making it equivalent to around twenty years worth of wages. Don’t think that the guy who received one talent got this one measly little coin like a quarter or a penny-Gee thanks. Not at all. By today’s standards, 1 talent works out to be about $1,000,000. So the master gives one servant $5,000,000, another $2,000,000 and a third, $1,000,000-that’s a lot of responsibility, even for the third servant. So once the finances have been distributed, the master goes on his journey-and the servants are left to sort of scratch their heads and ask-What to do next? Here I am with this big bag of money. What would you do having received $1,000,000? Spend it, invest it, save it, guard it, use it, waste it? The parable describes two approaches the servants take-v.16-17. No hesitation here-notice the words at once. These two servants go right to work. They don’t procrastinate or set it off to the side for later. They use the money in oder to invest it and make more. In fact, the parable says they both doubled what the master gave them. So then there’s the third servant-and the text gives a huge warning sign with him because the verse begins by saying But-meaning in contrast to the other two-v.18. Cleary a very opposite strategy from the other two. Instead of putting the money to work, he hides it; instead of investing, he did some digging and buried it. And as they say, nothing risked, nothing gained. That’s this guy. His allotment of money is sitting quietly underground. I remember as a little kid in church hearing this parable thinking that was smart to keep it safely tucked away. But is it?
At this point in the parable, we have to do some reflecting and look to ourselves asking-What approach would I take? What approach am I taking right now? And this is where the master’s response becomes crucial-v.19. Here’s the day of reckoning. Maybe the servants were tempted to think the master’s arrival was far off in the future-as we often tend to think. Maybe they began to wonder if he ever would return-but despite being gone a long time-he did return. And we can’t miss that point or ignore it. The master did return-and He immediately wants to find out how faithful his servants were-and he doesn’t have to wait long because the enterprising servant with five talents steps right up-v.20-21. The master clearly sees the faithful work and what we have now is this amazing glimpse of the glory and joy of heaven-that God has great things in store for His servants who faithfully serve Him here. And the same thing happens to the servant with two talents-v.22-23. The issue wasn’t that one got more than the other-the issue was faithfulness-that each servant was faithful with whatever the master had given him. The guy with two talents didn’t need to earn five-like the other guy, he just needed to faithfully invest the two he was given. Both of the first two servants revealed their dedication to the master and their hard work and industriousness was rewarded with abundant blessings and joy. Off they go to a great destiny of serving the Lord. And then servant #3 steps up-v. 24-25. Notice how this servant’s approach is totally different. The first two said-You delivered to me five talents, two talents-and I’ve invested it. They’re acknowledging the master’s blessing and responding to it with their faithfulness. But this 3rd guy launches right into excuses-Master, I knew you were tough, you’re hard, no funny business with you! What’s he doing? What do we always do with an excuse-make a case to get ourselves off the hook, we’re trying to come up with some sort of reason to rationalize our unfaithful behavior.
And we’ve all done it-think back as a kid when you didn’t get your chores done and then your parents came home. Now, before you get mad at me, I have a very good reason why my room is still a pit… And then the creative excuses come. Or it’s like saying to your boss-Don’t get upset-I know I missed the deadline but I know you’re particular with these expense reports so I decided it’s better not to even attempt them than to make a mistake-so I set them here until you returned. It’s procrastination, it’s excuses-and that’s this guy. His desire to bury the money is only a smokescreen, a pathetic way to rationalize his failure in serving the master. And of course the master sees right through it. He doesn’t buy his excuses for a moment-v. 26a. Pause there a second-do you remember those word comparisons from the SAT test? Dog is to Cat as Apples are to…? And of course the answer is Oranges. It’s a comparison of opposites. Palette is to Painter as Scissors is to Barber. So I think Faithfulness is to Procrastination as Squirrels are to…Sloths. One animal is feverishly working away, storing up nuts for the winter and scurrying about-that’s the first two servants; while the other is basically laying around like a sloth, doing nothing. Here’s a pic-that’s the third servant. Now if you have the NIV the master calls him a lazy servant-but slothful is such a better word. Here’s a slow moving sloth not getting anything done-that’s this guy in relation to the master. He may have been industrious and worked hard in other areas of his life-just like lots of people are in the world-but when it came to the Master, when it came to spiritual things and serving God-he was like a sloth-and that’s the great tragedy-v. 26-28, 30. This third servant failed in serving God, for whatever reason he puts it off, he buries it, he procrastinates and he’s punished. His lack of faithfulness revealed his heart as an unbeliever so he’s cast away from the presence of God. I find this to be an extremely convicting and scary parable-because it highlights the requirement of faithfulness. Back to-Eph 2:10 That’s our purpose as followers of Christ. Faithfulness to Him is essential.
God creates all people with equal value-but we aren’t all created the same. The gifts and abilities He gives aren’t always even-just like we see in the parable. There are people who are always more talented or smarter or wiser or better than we are-which is humbling. Yes, some people are smart and good looking-but then if they’re also nice-that takes the cake, doesn’t it! No wonder you’re nice-you’re smart and good-looking! But seriously, the truth of the matter is that you have no control over the way God’s designed you or what gifts or talents you were born with. That’s His job. What you do have responsibility for is whether you will faithfully use what God has given you, whether you will actually fulfill your ministry, or whether you will neglect or procrastinate or abandon your ministry. Which path are you taking? Which type of servant from the parable describes you? It comes down to willingness, it comes down to trust. It’s a heart that says-If God’s called me to this, if He’s designed me this way, then He’ll help me carry it out, He’ll help me do what He’s prepared me to do. Faithfulness is saying to God-Have your way in me. So I want to add one final point to our definition-Pt4:Ministry: not something you do for God, it’s something He does in and through you. You are His workmanship. God wants to fulfill His purposes through you. He wants you to invest the very talents He’s blessed you with-Chan quote. Look at this incredible truth from Phil 2:13. So let it happen. That’s what Paul is telling Archippus. We’ll put it up on the screen-Col 4:17.
So what is it? What ministry has God given you? If you’re married it includes ministry to your spouse, if you’re a parent it’s ministry to your kids, as a Mom it’s ministry to your kids in the way you tirelessly and sacrificially love them-and for the rest of us it’s ministry to our Moms on Mother’s Day! But it’s ministry to your co-workers and neighbors, ministry to one another here at Dix Hills Church. God calls us to a ministry of reaching out and loving others. He calls us to a ministry of forgiving one another, bearing with one another, admonishing one another. Like it or not-ministry always involves people. Ministry would be a whole lot easier if it didn’t-because people are messy, hence ministry is messy. Lord I want to serve you and never talk to another soul-but that’s not how God designed it. Ministry always involves people. So is there someone you’re neglecting? Maybe a bitter attitude or critical spirit stands in your way. Repent and reach out to them. Is there someone God is calling you to minister to that you’d rather avoid? Ask God to give you a heart of love? Are you wanting to just quit and throw in the towel? Ask God to give you His strength and perseverance. Maybe He’s encouraging you to take a step of faith by using your spiritual gifts in a new way-and it really scares you. Don’t be like that third servant consumed by fear. A fear in serving God is all about pride; it’s being concerned about how you look in front of others and worried about failing. But in God’s eyes, failure isn’t whether you find earthly success, that’s in God’s hands. Failure is neglecting to fulfill your ministry. Failure is procrastinating, thinking there’s always tomorrow. I’ll start serving God one day when things slow down and let up at work and I’m not so stressed out. That day will never come. Start serving now, because just like in the parable our master is going to return. What’s on your procrastination list? Home improvement projects, cluttered garages, disorganized closets? Those things will probably always be on your procrastination list, but don’t let it be serving Christ.
As we conclude our time in Colossians this morning, I don’t find it to be coincidental at all that Paul ends this great letter-which is all about our new life in Christ-by commanding a young man to live out that new life He’s been given in Christ. And we don’t know if he did, we don’t know what happened to Archippus; how his story ends-did he fulfill the ministry? Was he faithful? Maybe, maybe not. But our story has yet to be finished, our story, yours and mine, isn’t over yet, so let this closing verse in Colossians be a reminder, an encouragement, a challenge for you to say-Yes, Lord, I want to fulfill the ministry you’ve given me. Help me to faithfully do what you’re calling me to do. Let me walk in the good works that you’ve prepared for me. Let me reach out to the people you’ve put in my life. Let me be a picture of Christ to the world around me. Will that be you? What’s holding you back?
Colossians 4 – New Identity, Deep Roots – Part 15