7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 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.
10 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), 11 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. 12 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. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 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. 17 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. “
It can be a dangerous attitude. This attitude is often summed up in a very brief and self-inflated statement: “It is easier just to do it myself.”
I know those words very well. I have used them myself more than a few occasions. I’m not proud of that. This statement is true enough; at least it is in some cases. It is often much more comfortable to accomplish a task at hand without the collaborative input of others. How well I remember my first church planting activity in Overland Park, Kansas. What happy days those were! The excitement of the Great Commission being lived out before our eyes! However, I recall that there was a point, early on in the church plant, where something seemed wrong to me. There appeared to be a spiritual blockage that was inhibiting. It came to a head on our first Easter Sunday in public worship. I had arrived very early to make sure that everything was ready — the pulpit was in place; the communion table was in place and was properly prepared; the children’s Sunday school area was ready; and, the nursery was prepared. One thing that wasn’t prepared was my own spirit. I felt that there should be others there doing the work with me. I grew somewhat resentful that I had to do all of this work by myself. That Sunday of worship came and went. But my attitude became only more rigid: “There is no doubt, now: I must do it all myself.” This attitude began to leak out of my spirit and own to members of the core group. One of those members drew me aside and shared an insight he had observed. “Pastor, a number of us fellows have noticed that you seem to like to do everything in the church yourself. Why don’t you share the burden of ministry with us?” I was somewhat indignant by his comment. I responded, “Well, I would be delighted for you to participate and help me. Where have you been?” The core group member, a younger man than myself, looked downward. He was rubbing his chin with his index finger, as if in thought about how to respond. He broke the uncomfortable pause by looking up and looking into my eyes. He spoke softly but firmly: “well, the truth is, pastor, you have never asked.”
The consequence of doing ministry alone is not merely that you are overburdened, but it is that others cannot share the joy of service to God.
The epistle reading for today is from Colossians, chapter 4, verses seven through 17. The section is, of course, the closing portion of the letter to Colossians. The letter itself is not mentioned in the book of Acts. Some question about the provenance for Colossians. The Apostle Paul wrote the letter from prison, and, likely, from his two-year imprisonment in Rome. There are several other features of both the message and the section we are studying that invite questions and cultivate good conversation as well as needed sanctification. But our time is limited, and therefore our scope must necessarily be narrow. Therefore, I would like to take the sum of the closing statement to propose an expository truth for us here gathered. For God is showing us through the Apostle Paul that we who are in Gospel ministry must never do ministry alone. Now how do we come to this proposition? The answers to this question supply us with a biblical argument for how we should conduct our ministries. And I believe it is an excellent thing for a new interim Provost to hear. It is a perfect message for young church planters and old pastors.
The first response from Scripture to the question, “How is it that we never do ministry alone?” Comes from a survey of all of the names that are mentioned. So the first thing that we say is this:
- We never do ministry alone; rather, we minister in collaboration with others.
St. Paul mentions Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus, who is called Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Dimas. Also, the apostle gives greetings to members of “the church” in the house of Nympha, and to Archippus, who is in ministry at Colossae. The letter is to, also, be read to the Laodiceans. And the church at Laodicea had a message (the Epistle to the Ephesians?) that needed to be read at Colossae.
Let us take one or two of these figures to talk about them concerning the ministry of St. Paul. Let’s begin with the one who delivers the letter: Tychicus. We read, “Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant2 in the Lord.”
The Apostle Paul, the ministry of the gospel was to be conducted within a college of preachers as well as a company of churchmen. Both the ministers mentioned as well as the noble lady, and the church meeting in her house are necessary to fulfill Paul’s direct apostolic commission from Jesus Christ. In a seminary environment, we labor with relationship hazards. Our ministries are conducted by specialization. We are systematic theologians, or we are church historians, are we are Biblical scholars of the Old Testament or the New Testament, specialist in the original languages specialist in pastoral theology or missiology, and their other disciplines representing comprehensive theological encyclopedia that we do not have here at our seminary. But we have enough to fall prey to the idea that, “I can do this by myself.” If this were an attitude that we carry, like a virus, then this virus will indeed erupt on numerous occasions as it may be provoked. But the apostle Paul is teaching us that we cannot do ministry alone. We must esteem others higher than ourselves. We must follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must seek the Spirit of God to eradicate self-reliance and exalt mutual dependence. I propose to you that the apostle Paul’s language in this closing section is quite intentional. In the passage that we mentioned he gives a threefold description of Tychicus, but to Onesimus, the former slave of Philemon who had been liberated through the intervention of the Apostle Paul, he gives only to descriptions: “our faithful and beloved brother” (4:9). Why is that? Could it be that he would not use a root word from the word for a slave? Tychicus is a fellow doulas. However, the former slave need not here that description addressed to him any longer. This is only one instance of the prudent way in which the apostle Paul addresses other people with whom he ministers.
We do not do ministry alone. We minister in collaboration with others. In this results in encouragement to each other. This results in learning how to live together in peace despite our sinful old nature. So how will you live together with your colleagues here?
The second answer to the question, “how do we not minister alone” is also found in the text:
- We do not minister alone; rather we minister in the Christian community.
Look at verse 11: “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.” And give attention, also, to the final verse, verse 18: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
Notice how the apostle Paul, who is writing to a congregation that is overwhelmingly Gentile takes the opportunity to give thanks for Jewish believers who are “my fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” The same men were responsible for comforting St. Paul. Paul never ceases to extend true Christian community to a wider population intentionally. For no one more than Paul, who once persecuted human beings for their faith, recognizes the inherent biases and prejudices, the divisions, and the tensions that divide human beings. And so the apostle Paul is living out his own words, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 ESV).
I shall never forget being in India with my wife and son and to young people that we brought to share our ministry with. I talked in the master of divinity course Monday through Friday, and then I preached in local churches on the Lord’s day. My first message on my first Sunday caused me to see the extraordinary power of the gospel at work in and otherwise diffused and diverse community. I even saw evidence of the old nature remaining. I’m speaking of the caste system and its pervasive power in separating human beings. For people seemed to be clustered in the congregation by dress, by the color of the skin, and other variables. The pastor of the church later told me that some of these were former Muslims and some were former Hindu came out of various caste systems. So skin color, vocation, education, social class, gender, marital status, and many other distinctive which formerly separated them continued to be appointed tension. The pastor told me, “these are things from their sinful past which God must work out through the power of his Holy Spirit across time” and I thought how that is so true in my own life. Their attitudes. That divides me from other people, other believers, that God must purge. By his glorious mercy, he most often does that across time.
We must never become so self-inflated that we say of our ministries, “I just as well do it myself” Instead, we, like the apostle Paul, must recognize our need for each other, our desperate need for a community of new life in Jesus Christ. For it is only when we pray “OUR Father” with spiritual awareness that we come to fulfill our ministries; to complete our humanity.
If there was ever anyone who could do ministry by himself, it would have been our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And yet, as he assumed his public ministry, he immediately went about gathering others to be a part. He conducted his ministry through them. He even said, quite surprisingly:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12 ESV).
What a beautifully magnanimous spirit is demonstrated by one who could indeed do all things by himself! But he has called us to share in the transformation of the cosmos. Surely, we can enfold others more deeply into our lives to fulfill the ministry of Jesus Christ by simple acts of hospitality and service to one another. For there might even come a time where we, like Paul, must turn to others—in collaboration and in community—to appeal for prayer, “Remember my chains.”
We do not do ministry alone because we are not meant to be alone. We need each other to fulfill the gospel, and to show us the loving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in those many times when we desperately need him.
Bruce, Frederick Fyvie. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Vol. 10. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1984.
McKnight, Scot. “The Letter to the Colossians” (2019).
Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008.
Dr. Michael A. Milton (PhD, University of Wales) is the Distinguished Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Chaplain Ministries. The retired fourth presidency and chancellor of the RTS System, Dr. Milton founded and shepherded 3 churches (KS, GA, and NC), and was the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Mike Milton is a US Army Chaplain (Colonel) retired, and remains President of the D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership. Dr. Milton’s life verse is from Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” Or, as Mike puts it in the title of his autobiography, “What God Starts God Completes.”