August 10, 2014

The Other Workers

Colossians 4:10-11 10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); 11 and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.

In our country we are conditioned to think about independence. Our country’s founding document was the Declaration of Independence. Our founders fought against tyranny and taxation by the British, and we hold freedom in high regard, as we should. And in the Christian church, we are also independent. We are not obligated to follow a creed, or any denominational standards that dictate to us how we must operate,and what we must believe.
So we are very sensitive and protective about the concept of independence. Don’t mess with my independence. But what if we carried that spirit of independence into our church? If you call to put a family member on the prayer chain, I might say, well we all have problems. Let me know how it all works out. Or you call another member of the church and say, “It really cold in my house. Do you have any extra coats I could wear?” And they say “Well, I need all of my coats. I’ll pray for you. Go in peace, and be warmed.”
We get into trouble when we apply that idea of independence to the church.
1 John 3:17 says “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Believers are not to be independent, but rather interdependent. That is how God designed the church. As members of the body of Christ, we are also members of one another. God designed the church to bring together people of different backgrounds, cultures, and races, because we have a common bond in Jesus Christ.
So as Paul finishes this letter to the Colossians, he shows that he is not independent. He relied heavily upon the help of other believers. Many helpers worked with Paul, and greatly increased the effectiveness of his ministry. Paul relied heavily upon them, and he also acknowledged their help in the closing comments of the letter to the Colossians.
We saw last week what Tychicus and Onesimus did for Paul. And now Paul focuses on others who wished to send their greetings.
Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’ cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him);
Aristarchus – was a Greek name. He was from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4; 27:2). We hear about him during Paul’s three-year ministry at Ephesus. He was seized by an angry mob who recognized him as one of Paul’s associates. (Acts 19:29). He was with Paul on his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4) and on his trip to Rome (Acts 27:4). He may have been with Paul throughout his imprisonment in Palestine also. When Paul writes Colossians, Aristarchus is still with him.
Paul calls him, “My fellow prisoner” – “Fellow prisoner” indicates that he may have been charged with a crime by the Jews and was in prison with Paul awaiting trial.
Roman law gave the prisoner a fair amount of freedom to meet and speak with others. Acts 28:30-31 tells us a bit about that:
Acts 28:30-31 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
Paul says that “Aristarchus… sends you his greetings” – This is a man who sacrificed his freedom for the sake of the gospel. He was willing to pay the price, to be able to minister to Paul.
Paul mentions Mark next:
Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’ cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him);
John Mark was a companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5), but he deserted them when the going got tough:
Acts 13:13 Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
When John Mark deserted, it caused a bit of friction between Paul and Barnabas, later on. Barnabas wanted to take Mark on the second missionary journey, but Paul refused. Mark’s prior desertion led to such a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they parted ways:
Acts 15:37-39 And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.
Mark was “the cousin of Barnabas” – so that was no doubt why Barnabas was willing to take Mark with him. He was family. So Barnabas could overlook this moment of weakness in Mark.
When Paul wrote Colossians, Mark was different. He changed. In Philemon 24, Paul names him as one of his fellow workers:
2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.
Paul told the Colossians that if Mark came to them, they were to obey their instructions and welcome him. The church most likely knew of Mark’s past desertion; and they needed this recommendation from Paul about Mark. They were to accept him and not judge him by his previous failure. Mark would later share in the privilege of writing one of the 4 gospels. Can you guess which one?
So Paul was reconciled to Mark at some point, and he also recommends Mark to the churches. This is certainly an example of a forgiving spirit, that we are to have as believers. If someone was guilty of a sin against us, we should not keep holding that sin against them. We follow the example of Jesus Christ when it comes to forgiveness:
Col 3:13 “…bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Eph 4:32 “…forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Paul continues:
Colossians 4:11 and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision; and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
In the NT, there are three places where the name “Justus” is mentioned, and each one of them refers to a different person. Justus was one of those nominated to replace Judas Iscariot.
Acts 1:23, So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
Acts 18:7, a man by the name of Titius Justus is mentioned in the city of Corinth, who was a “worshipper of God”; a title which seems to be a betrayal of him as being a non-Jew.
We don’t know much about Justus except for what Paul tells us in our text. He says “…these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision…”
We know what the Kingdom of God is. In the NT, this kingdom is called the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of His beloved Son, and the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now it would be incredibly confusing if these all referred to different kingdoms, but they don’t. They are one in the same kingdom. And it was this kingdom that Jesus came to earth to establish. It was that stone made without hands that came and smashed the iron and clay feet of Daniels vision, and expanded into the entire world. It was that Kingdom that both John the Baptist and Jesus preached, saying “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” It was that kingdom that Jesus mentioned when He stood before Pilate and said “My kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my disciples would be fighting for me.” It is that kingdom that is marked by “righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” as the apostle Paul says in Rom 14:17.
But what does Paul mean by this term, “the circumcision?” In Genesis 17, circumcision was given as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant. In Exodus 12:44, it was also made a requirement of the Mosaic covenant. As time went on, the word came to be just a title, for one who was a Jew. They were called “the circumcision.”
Acts 10:45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
The Jewish believers who are called “the circumcision” were astonished, because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles.
Acts 11:2-3 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
The Jews, “the circumcision,” were upset, because Peter ate with the uncircumcised, the Gentiles. The Jews still viewed the Gentiles as unclean, and a people to be avoided.
And remember that the apostle Paul said that this was the mystery of Christ that was not revealed in earlier times. The Gentiles were fellow heirs in salvation, with the Jews.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In our text this morning, Paul is saying that it is only these three Jewish men who are kingdom workers with him. The lack of sympathy and support from his fellow Jews must have saddened Paul. The Jews in Jerusalem rejected the gospel, plotted to kill him, and complained about him to the Roman authorities. A lot of the opposition that Paul had received on his missionary journeys was from his fellow countrymen.
Paul goes on to say that these three Jewish believers “have proved to be an encouragement to me.” The word “encouragement” is from the Greek word παρηγορία, which means: solace, consolation, comfort. It refers to comfort that is given to someone in distress.
The English word paregoric, meaning “soothing medication,” comes from this Greek word. In the early 18th century, Jakob Le Mort (1650–1718), a professor of chemistry at Leiden University, prepared an elixir for asthma and called it “paregoric.” It was something that would sooth a person’s respiratory system when they took it.
When we think about how Paul must have felt in prison, lonely, and abandoned by many, what an encouragement it must have been for him to have these three Jewish believers there to minister to him. Their preaching and labors in the kingdom of God were a great comfort to Paul in a time of distress.
And I want to end on this note: how many believers does it take to encourage us? Just one, right? So how many of us does it take to encourage another believer who is under stress and various trials? Just one, right? We should remember that. Are we an encouragement to other believers? Or are we more of a critic? I think we are all natural critics. It’s easy to do, and requires no training. But to encourage one another means we need to be sensitive to one another’s situation, and needs. I think we all would like to be encouraged, wouldn’t we?
Matthew 7:12 “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
In other words, if we want to be encouraged, we need to be one who encourages others.