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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: July 03, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome back to HBS’s verse-by-verse study of Colossians.
The last two sessions were committed to Paul’s letter to Philemon based on its relevance to Colossians 4:7-9: “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.”
Paul personalized his letter to Philemon by writing it in his own hand (v. 1, 19). It concerns the interactions of three people primarily: Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul. Onesimus was a runaway slave and a thief, having stolen something of value from Philemon (v. 18). But no one can be certain as to what that something was. Onesimus made his way to Rome, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why. Some people suggest he intended to get lost in the crowds there. Others say he journeyed to Rome for the sole purpose of meeting up with Paul. We know Paul was allowed to have visitors so it’s quite likely this is where they met: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31).
Paul converted Onesimus sometime after they met (v. 10) and then Onesimus proved helpful to Paul (v12-13). In other words he became a “useful” asset so Paul wanted him to remain in Rome with him (v. 13). But here’s the thing he also recognized Onesimus’ duty to Philemon. So, he sent him back to Colosse with this letter and the companionship of Tychicus who performed a double-duty, as it were, because he also carried Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:7-9). In Philemon Paul implored his friend to accept Onesimus back, not as a runway slave and an outlaw, but as though it were Paul himself, i.e., a “brother beloved” (v 16). Paul graciously told Philemon he would assume Onesimus’ debt and pay it in full (v 18).
This letter is a valuable contribution to the N.T. Below I offer three reasons as to how it impacts the lives of every true Believer. By the way, this is not an exhaustive list:
Christian Ethics – Both Paul and Onesimus were in agreement. The right thing to do was for him to return to his master in Colosse and own up to his mistakes no matter the outcome. This says much about Onesimus’ character and courage in the face of adversity. According to Roman law Philemon would have been within his rights to have Onesimus scourged, brand his forehead with the letter “F” for fugitivus (a fugitive), or have him put to death. Make no mistake Philemon was the man in charge of the situation. Onesimus’ fate therefore was uncertain, but he forged ahead anyway; that’s bravery folks, and in a practical sense demonstrates what it means to have “the mind of Christ.”
(Philippians 2:2-5; Colossians 3:17, 23).
Christ Jesus changes relationships - Though people have different stations in life, the Lord Jesus Christ alters those relationships forever for Christ is all and in all:
“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:10-11).
Plainly said, we are not to look down on people because of their social standing or with their past failures in mind. In God’s eyes we are all equal and in Christ we are one.
Evangelism – Onesimus was from Phrygia (Colossians 4:9). The slaves from that region had a bad reputation. In fact, people believed if you beat a Phrygia slave routinely they were more likely to behave. When Paul looked at Onesimus, he didn’t see a worthless sinner he saw a potential servant of the Lord, and he was not disappointed, proving the gospel can work its power in any heart, regardless of their ungodly background (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul stands as both an example and a testimony of this biblical truth (Acts 9, 22:1-21; Galatians 1:11-14).
The opening verse of Romans announced Paul’s vocation, that is, the work God called him to do. He proclaimed the gospel of God to all nations: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:16-17).
For Paul the gospel is more than words, it’s “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” So, this salvation is not meant for a select group of people; it’s intended for all those who recognize the hope that is in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:24-30).
Please open your Bible at Colossians 4:10.
Paul’s Companions in Travel
“Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)”
“Aristarchus (Ar-is-tar'-kus) my fellowprisoner” – In Acts 27:2 we learn Aristarchus is a Believer from Thessalonica. In Acts 19:29 Luke identified him as “Paul’s companion in travel.” He was with Paul on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:4); and he was with Paul on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). At some point in time he was imprisoned with Paul (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 23). We aren’t told why, but in Philemon 24 Paul referred to him as a “fellowlabourer.” This might indicate Aristarchus was involved in the ministry and for this reason he was incarcerated with Paul, but again we’re not sure. He was martyred during the persecution of Nero as was Paul.
“Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas” – Marcus is Barnabas’s nephew. Perhaps he’s better known as John Mark the author of the gospel of Mark. The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that mentions “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), which essentially means he and Jesus were best friends. More and more people are of the belief you can change future history by destroying or disconnecting from the past. I’m inclined to disagree. History, including church history is there for “our learning” (Romans 15:4). With this thought in mind, church History reveals Mark lived into the AD 90’s and was the last surviving apostle (See John 21:22). But that’s the end of the story. We need to look at Marcus’ history with Paul and his ministry.
John Mark was a helper on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey in 45-47 AD (Acts 13:5). However, he did not stay the course. He deserted Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia before their work was completed (Acts 15:38). Luke doesn’t give us the reason for his sudden departure, so anything you read or hear is likely to be nothing more than conjecture. Sometime after Paul and Barnabas had returned from their first journey, Paul expressed a desire to return to the cities where grace churches had been planted to see how they were doing (Acts 15:36). Barnabas agreed, apparently, upon the provision that they take Marcus with them. Paul refused citing his previous negative attitude. He didn’t want a quitter with them. A “sharp disagreement” about Marcus ensued between Paul and Barnabas (v. 39), resulting in them separating and going their different ways. Barnabas took Marcus with him to Cyprus, i.e., Barnabas’ old stomping grounds. Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia, the latter being Paul’s birthplace, confirming the churches (Acts 15:39-41). Luke, the writer of Acts, does not present either Paul or Barnabas as being in the right. He simply recorded the facts. It’s worth noting, in the end, two groups of missionaries were now preaching the revelation of the mystery instead of one.
So, John Mark sailed off to Cyprus but his story doesn’t end there. Years later, he is again with Paul who recognized him as a “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). Near the end of Paul’s life, he sent a request to Timothy from a Roman prison saying, “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Clearly, Marcus had matured over the years and had become a faithful servant of the Lord. Paul acknowledged his progress and considered him a valuable resource.
Now let’s look at Paul’s companion Barnabas. He first appears in Acts 4:36 as a Levite named” Joses” from Cyprus. He apparently had some wealth; he sold a field and gave the money to the twelve for their “all things common” program (v. 32). Apparently, he got to know the apostles fairly well for the next time we see him in the Bible he’s boldly introducing a former persecutor of Jewish Christians, named Saul of Tarsus, to the twelve as a brother in the Lord (Acts 9:27). This is a short time after Paul encountered the risen Lord on the Damascus RD and his subsequent conversion (Acts 9).
Later, Barnabas was sent to Antioch to lead and encourage its young church (Acts 11:22-24). At this time he recruited Paul for the work in Antioch (Acts 11:25). From the church (ekklesia – a called-out assembly) in Antioch, Barnabas and Paul visited the church in Jerusalem with a financial gift for those suffering from a famine throughout Judea (Acts 11:30), and returned to Antioch with John Mark (Acts 12:25).
It was during this time in Antioch that Barnabas and Paul were selected by the Holy Spirit for missionary work (Acts 13:2). I mentioned above their first stop was Cyprus and its city of Paphos (Acts 13:6). After ministering in this city, they sailed to Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). We then we see the hand of the Lord working in their lives for Paul had risen to prominence in their missionary effort. We note subsequent Bible references refer to this missionary team as, “Paul and Barnabas” where once it had been “Barnabas and Paul” (Acts 13:42).
In time Paul and Barnabas finished their missionary labors and returned to Antioch (Acts 14:26). During this time, the circumcision controversy and the Jerusalem conference took place (Acts 15). Interestingly, during this discussion Barnabas assumed the prominent role again, probably due to his long relationship with the twelve (Acts 15:2, 12, 25). After this matter was resolved, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and carried on the ministry there for some time (Acts 15:35 - See also 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1, 9, 13; Colossians 4:10).
“And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These (three) only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.”
Now we arrive at the next name on Paul’s list, namely, “Jesus, which is called Justus.” The phrase, “who are of the circumcison,” ought to tell you something right off. Paul’s saying, “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner,” Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas” and “Justus” were his fellow kinsmen, that is, they were Israelites, here referred to as “the circumcison.” (See Ephesians 2:11-16)
Justus’ name appeared along with Matthias on a short list of replacements for Judas: “And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.” Justus had been with this group since the beginning. We know this because it was one of the requirements for being an apostle (Acts 1:23-26). He was not selected as the twelfth apostle but the Lord apparently had other ministerial work in mind for him. In 62 AD he is recognized as one of Paul’s “fellowworkers,” which means he was involved in the same ministry as Paul. Luke does not record what happened to Justus but some believe he too was imprisoned for preaching the gospel of grace to people who didn’t want it. It’s believed he was martyred for his faith.
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.”
Epaphras (E-paf-ras) was a gentile. He founded the church at Colosse. In Colossians 1:7 Paul said he was a, “fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;” and in Philemon 23 Paul said he is “my fellowprisoner in Christ.” Tychicus and Onesimus were Colossians and so was Epaphras. Tychicus and Onesimus were headed back to Colosse each carrying a letter from Paul. Epaphras thought it best to remain with Paul because he needed his help. So, in the Bible passage above Paul assured the saints in Colosse saying, “I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal (love) for you…” as well as all the Believers “that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis” or that general vicinity.
Paul then cites his reason for writing this: “…always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Note Paul said, “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Paul isn’t just talking about understanding how God wants them to live their lives. God’s will for them includes having knowledge of His purpose and plan for the Body of Christ in the dispensation in which they live. Sometime back I said, “Not only should the Believer know what they profess to believe they should be able to explain why they believe it.” For instance, if someone asked you how can I be sure I’m saved, what would you say to them? This is what Paul’s talking. The Colossians were to mature “in all the will of God,” in order to defend the faith when necessary and when the opportunity presents itself be ready and able to explain Christ’s purpose and plan for His Church, dispensationaly speaking.
“Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it. The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.”
“Luke, the beloved physician” – Luke wrote the gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, but he was not one of the twelve. In Luke 1:1-4, he makes it clear he was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ earthly ministry. Furthermore, he never includes himself in the gospel that bears his name. He became a Believer after the Lord’s death. Some people think Paul led him to faith in the Lord, but I’ve yet to come across a Bible verse substantiating that belief. More than a few folks also believe Luke was a gentile. They base this notion on Paul’s statement in Colossians 4:11-14. This is where Paul said Aristarchus, Marcus, and Justus “are of the circumcision…,” or Jews. Luke was not included in that grouping so that means he’s a gentile. Since all the other writers of Scripture were Jews, I find it more than a little strange that God would make this one exception and use a gentile to write scripture. Furthermore, when Paul was at Jerusalem the Jews charged him with bringing a gentile into the temple and polluting the holy place. They had seen Trophimus (a gentile) with him and supposed he had brought him into the temple. We know Luke was with Paul in Jerusalem at that time and in his company more than any others, yet the Jews did not get upset about Luke, evidently knowing, or believing, that he was a Jew. In my opinion, it’s wrong to build a belief on a puff of smoke. Obviously, some do but we’re not counted among them here at HBS. There isn’t one verse in the Bible that says Luke was a gentile.
From the Book of Acts and Paul’s writings we know Luke became a companion of Paul. In Acts 16 he inserted himself into the narrative: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts 16:9-10).
In Philemon 24, Paul referred to Luke as one of his “fellowlabourers…” More than 30 years after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead we find Paul presenting Luke to the Colossian assembly saying, “Luke, the beloved physician…” According to the KJV Dictionary “beloved” means: loved; greatly loved; dear to the heart. Before he is beheaded by Nero in 68 AD Paul said, “only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul most likely said this because others had forsaken him. Luke’s companionship and prowess as a physician, therefore, must have been a great comfort to Paul. He treated his physical infirmities which no doubt included pain relief due to all the beatings he endured.
On the other hand there was “Demas.” Of all the individuals mentioned in verses 7-14 only Demas is given no commendation by Paul. It’s as though Paul only mentioned him in passing. Perhaps Demas had already started showing signs of wavering faith. I base that comment on my understanding of 2 Timothy 4:10: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia” (2 Timothy 4:10).
“Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas (Noom-fas), and the church which is in his house. And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”
In verse 15 Paul mentioned a home Bible study in nearby “Laodicea” saying, “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” Nymphas was a Believer and a person of means, evidently, because a small house could not have accommodated all the men and women who gathered there. Small groups have been meeting in homes since people first heard of the Lord Jesus Christ for the purpose of learning all they could about Him and His once-and-done sacrifice for them on Calvary’s cross. In mentioning Nymphas here, Paul is crediting this man from Laodicea for his willingness to hold this Bible study in his home, or “the church which is in his house.” And in connection with this Laodicean assembly he said, “And when this epistle is read among you (at Colosse), cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”
“And say to Archippus (Ahr-khip-uhs), Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.”
According to Philemon 2, Archippus was a “fellow soldier” of Paul. Some people believe he was a citizen of Colosse and Philemon’s son while others believe him to be Nymphas’ son. Truth is, we don’t know, but we do know he was a teacher in the house church at Laodicea. Here Paul strongly urged him saying, “…Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” The question is why did Paul feel the need to prod Archippus in this letter? Perhaps he was getting lazy and negligent in respect to his responsibilities as a teacher. I mention this possibility based on Paul’s encouraging words to Timothy, “Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee” (2 Timothy 1:6). This message is applicable to every saved saint and not just those with a teaching responsibility. I know more than a few people that began their daily walk with the Lord with a fire in their heart for the things of God, but soon thereafter, that flame became a burning ember, and then a spark that eventually died out. Perhaps this was the case with Archippus. Paul wanted him to use the gifts God gave him and improve on them every day to the glory of God the Father.
“The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.”
“The salutation by the hand of me Paul” - It was customary for Paul’s to authenticate his epistles by writing the closing salutation in his own hand. To the church in Thessalonica he wrote: “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (2 Thessalonians 3:17)
“Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.” – Grace be with you or to you are Paul’s opening and closing words in almost every one of his letters. Grace to save, Grace to enable the Believer to live a life pleasing to God, Grace to carry us through the trials and tribulations of life, and Grace to keep (2 Corinthians 9:8, 12:9; Titus 2:11-14).
(To be Continued)
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