Raise your hand if you enjoy reading the “Acknowledgements” in the back of a book. How many of you stay through the credits at the end of a movie? I didn’t think so.
Unless you are related to the author and want to see if he/she mentions your name, there is no reason to read the acknowledgements. Unless you are watching a movie from Marvel Studios, there is no reason to stay in your seat once the movie credits start rolling.
It’s this approach to life that keeps us from reading the last 12 verse of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This section reads like a verbal group photo at the end of the letter. The credit start rolling, Paul’s thanks the “little people” who made his ministry possible, and we check out.
Author and business leader Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
Throughout his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul defined the reality of who Jesus Christ is—fully God and fully man. Consequently, Christ followers are complete in him. As he closes the letter in 4:7-18, Paul says thank you to his ministry team. He speaks of the messengers (7-9), the encouragers (10-11, 14a), the prayer warrior (12-13), and the defector (14b).
The messengers (7-9) were Tychichus and Onesimus. Paul describes both as “dear brother” and “faithful.” Tychicus was servant hearted and skilled at giving encouragement. Onesimus is the poster child for a transformed life. He went from a useless runaway slave to a brother in Christ who was useful for ministry. Paul tasked them with delivering his letter to the church in Colossae. Their lives illustrate the truth that momentary things done for Christ will last for eternity.
The encouragers (10-11, 14a) were made up of four Jews and one Gentile. Aristarchus stuck with Paul through thick and thin. He risked his life during the riot at Ephesus (Acts 19). He traveled with Paul to Rome which meant he was shipwrecked with Paul. Now, he was a fellow prisoner.
John Mark is the poster child for second chances. The cousin of Barnabas, he bailed out on Paul during his first missionary journey. He recovered and was now considered to be useful for ministry.
Outside of his name and nationality, we know nothing of Jesus Justus. But God knows and his membership in Paul’s ministry team is recorded.
Dr. Luke was a Gentile, the forerunner of the modern medical missionary. He was a valued companion of Paul and stuck with him to the very end.
Epaphras was the prayer warrior of Paul’s team (12-13). He worked hard, praying fervently and specifically that the believers in Colossae would grow to spiritual maturity.
The saddest entry is where Paul speaks of Demas. He is mentioned three times in Scripture. In Philemon 24, he is a “fellow laborer” of Paul. In Colossians 4:14, he sends greetings along with the rest of Paul’s team. But in 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul says that Demas “loved the world” and deserted Paul. Demas started well, but finished poorly.
These verses give us several important principles about ministry:
- Ministry is best done in teams. Get involved and serve alongside others.
- Surround yourself with faithful people you can count on.
- God uses ordinary people to accomplish his work. Make yourself and your gifts available to God.
- There is greatness in the smallest things done for Christ.
- Don’t be surprised when people fail. If Jesus had Judas and Paul had Demas, don’t think you will be exempt.
- When the last chapter is written, may you be found faithful.
On March 2, 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. According to Leon Jaroff in Time, the satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and beam data to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, for at that time no earth satellite had ever gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target.
But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Swinging past the giant planet in November 1973, Jupiter’s immense gravity hurled Pioneer 10 at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; Neptune at nearly three billion miles; Pluto at almost four billion miles. By 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun.
And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. “Perhaps most remarkable,” writes Jaroff, “those signals emanate from an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light, and takes more than nine hours to reach Earth.”
“The Little Satellite That Could” was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of just three years. But it kept going and going. Pioneer’s last, very weak signal was received on January 23, 2003, some 31 years after it launch. By simple longevity, its tiny 8-watt transmitter radio accomplished more than anyone thought possible.
The same thing happens when we offer ourselves to serve the Lord. God can work even through someone with 8-watt abilities. God cannot work, however, through someone who quits.
Let us serve faithfully, and be people whom God can count on.
This is a synopsis of a message preached on May 5, 2013 at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. It is the final message in a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.