Superstar-less Christianity (4:7-17)
There’s a sickness in our society that has infiltrated and infected the church. I have in mind our modern obsession with superstars. Whether they be Hollywood actors, Wall Street moguls, or overpaid, egotistical athletes, they seem to fill our newspapers and dominate our headlines and have become, tragically in most cases, role models for our children.
The Church is by no means immune to this infatuation with celebrity. Mega-church pastors, health-and-wealth advocates, and best-selling authors are promoted and praised as if they are in better standing with the Lord than the faithful but unacknowledged housewife or the quiet pastor who tends a flock of less than a hundred folk in rural Alabama.
I think Paul would have been disgusted with it all. In fact, I know it. One need only read 2 Corinthians (especially chapter 11) to observe his disdain for those who fancied themselves “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5). It’s also evident from his commendations at the close of most of his letters. The kind of folk that most impressed him didn’t necessarily hold ecclesiastical office or write books or have their names bandied about among gossipers.
The people who impressed Paul were the likes of Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke (O.K., there’s one famous name), and Archippus. And the things Paul took note concerning them would hardly get their names on the evening news or generate enough money to subsidize a program on TBN.
Take Tychicus, for example, Paul’s special envoy to the churches of provincial Asia. Before I mentioned him here, had you ever heard his name? God had! He’s described here as “a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” (Colossians 4:7; see the meditations on 1:7-8 for an explanation of these terms), a man with the gift of encouragement (Colossians 4:8) who was trusted implicitly by the apostle Paul given the fact that he most likely delivered both the epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians to their respective congregations.
Then there’s Onesimus, another “faithful and beloved brother” (Colossians 4:9). That wouldn’t be noteworthy to most people were it not for the fact that this is probably the same Onesimus mentioned in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Yes, the slave Onesimus. Here’s a man with no possessions, no rights, no inheritance under Roman law, of no regard to the vast majority of people in his day, a man nevertheless whom Paul loves and describes as his spiritual son (Philemon 10), a man who diligently served Paul during his imprisonment and for whom Paul now willingly stands surety (Philemon 11, 17-19).
Aristarchus, a Thessalonian who traveled with Paul on several occasions (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:40), was incarcerated with the apostle, probably for the same offence: fearlessly proclaiming the mystery of Christ (Colossians 4:3). How would you like to be known to history for only one thing: loving Jesus so much that you willingly spent time behind bars? I suspect Aristarchus wouldn’t object.
Justus is included among only three Jews who are said to have assisted Paul as “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Colossians 4:11). But Paul is quick to point out that he, together with Aristarchus and Mark, were “a comfort” to him. Although Paul was courageous and willing to endure whatever suffering came his way, he was susceptible to discouragement and depression and disillusionment like the rest of us. These men comforted him! They spoke truth to his soul. They reminded him daily of God’s faithfulness and goodness and the heavenly reward that lay ahead. Such people Paul praises!
I’ve already discussed Epaphras at some length (see my comments on 1:7-8), so we move to Luke and Archippus. The author of the third gospel and the book of Acts is here referred to as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 1:14). Was he Paul’s personal doctor or is this mentioned only because “Luke’s profession was an unusual one” (O’Brien, 256). We don’t know.
As for Archippus, he is evidently in Colossae and is the focus of this exhortation: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17). He’s mentioned again in Philemon 2 and described as “our fellow soldier.” Some speculate that he was the son of Philemon, a reasonable deduction. What was his “ministry”? Was he a deacon in the church, perhaps an Elder, or an evangelist in the surrounding community? We don’t know, but to be singled out as the only Colossian to receive a personal exhortation from Paul indicates he had some degree of authority in the church. We can only hope he heeded the word!
Well, there you have it. Not exactly a spiritual Hall of Fame: no one like Moses or David or Daniel, but not for that reason any less precious to the Lord Jesus. I quoted Paul’s words to the Philippians in an earlier lesson, but they apply here again with equal force: “Honor such men” (Philippians 2:29).
Don’t be caught up in the feigned adulation of superficial and self-indulgent folk, whether they be in Hollywood or the church down the street. Seek out and support “beloved brothers and sisters” who are “faithful ministers” and “fellow servants” of the Lord Jesus and “fellow workers for the kingdom” who expend themselves and intercede for the saints. These are the true super-stars!
Honored to know such people,