September 26, 2010

God's Community of Grace - Sep 26, 2010

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What do you think of when you hear the word “community”? Maybe you think about the neighborhood where you live. Maybe when I say “community” you think of the small town that you grew up in. A town where you knew everyone, and everyone knew you.

Or, maybe you didn’t grow up in a small town, and when I say “community” you think of think of something else. Maybe you think of a church, or a school, or the circle of friends. The communities we are part of aren’t always located near our homes.

The word “community” comes from the word “common”. As in, having things in common. At its heart, community is about sharing. It’s about knowing each other. Caring about each other. It’s about supporting. Giving when there’s a need. It’s about a GROUP of people being ONE.

Today, we’re going to finish our sermon series on the book of Colossians. And as we hear Paul’s closing words, we’re going to see the faint outline of a CHRISTIAN community.

This community didn’t live together in one neighborhood. It’s wasn’t living on the same street that brought them together. These people were separated by hundreds of miles, but they were still one. God’s grace had brought them together.

Now, when I say that God’s grace had brought them together, I don’t just mean that it was God’s doing. When I say God’s GRACE brought them together I mean GRACE in the greatest sense of the word: God’s undeserved love for sinners had brought them together.

These people had come to know and believe the message of the Bible. That all people are damned because of their sins, but because of Jesus all stand forgiven. Through His sacrifice on the cross our debt has been paid. Through faith in Jesus we receive the gift of complete forgiveness. For every sin we’ve ever committed. For every sin we’ll ever commit.

Through faith in God’s Son, these people were brought into God’s community of grace. And in that community, they then shared grace with one another. Let’s read.

Colossians 4:7-18 (NIV)

7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
10My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
16After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
17Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”
18I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Before we talk about the Christian community we see here, lets took at the individuals pieces of that community.

Verse 7, Tychicus. Tychicus was the messenger sent to deliver Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Later in life he would travel to Ephesus to serve the congregation there.

Verse 9, Onesimus. Here’s an interesting story. Onesimus was the slave of a man named Philemon, who was part of the congregation in Colosse. Onesimus had robbed his master and had run away. Hiding in the bustling city of Rome, Onesimus met Paul and came to trust in Jesus. Here we find him, a run-away slave, returning to his master Philemon because it’s the right thing to do. He carried another letter from Paul, one for his master. You can read this letter, it’s the “book” of Philemon found in the New Testament.

Verse 10, Aristarchus. Once when Paul was in the city of Ephesus, a group of men started a riot because they were angry with Paul. His preaching of Jesus’ message was cutting into their profits from selling silver idols. There was a huge riot and two of Paul’s travelling companions were seized. Aristarchus was one of them. After being grabbed by the angry mob, they were swept into the city’s theatre where the mob chanted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (their false god) for two hours. This might have been slightly scary for Aristarchus.

Verse 10, Mark. This is the guy who wrote the Gospel of Mark. He was a cousin of Barnabas and a friend of the apostle Peter.

Verse 12, Epaphras. This is the man who came to faith and then started the church in Colosse. It’s likely that he was also instrumental in bringing Christ’s message to the surrounding cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis also.

Verse 14, Luke. Luke was a doctor who travelled with Paul on his missionary journeys from time to time. He wrote the Gospel of Luke after thoroughly researching the events of Christ’s earthly life.

Verse 14, Demas. Sadly, the only other word we hear about Demas is that he later abandoned Paul and Christ, because he loved the world more.

Now, when you read this section, it’s not hard to tell that Paul and his fellow workers care about the Christians living in Colosse. This last portion of Paul’s letter is dominated by one word: GREETINGS. Remember to say “Hi” to so and so.

Paul even sends Tychicus for the purpose of telling them all about what has been happening in Rome. Paul didn’t want to put this personal update on paper, instead he sent Tychicus to fill them in.

And there’s more than shows their love for each other. Did you notice that Paul specifically mentions that Onesimus is coming with Tychicus and calls him “our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you”. This was a runaway slave returning home. Paul knows it, and softens his reception by his tactful words.

Because they cared about each other, this community also supported one another. Paul says that he has sent Tychicus to tell them about all that has happened, and to ENCOURAGE THEIR HEARTS. Let me remind you that it was nearly 1,000 miles from Rome to Colosse as the crow flies. This wasn’t a trip that was made lightly.

And those who couldn’t make the journey were still supporting the Colossians. Paul says that Epaphras was constantly “wrestling in prayer” for them. At the beginning of the letter Paul said that he was praying for the Colossians also, and he had never even met them!

Sometimes our attitude seems to be, if you don’t have any BETTER way of helping, you can always pray. Maybe we aught to flip that around. Maybe we should think, when we’ve prayed it from every angle, then maybe we can do something else to help. You know, use the power tools first, then the finishing brush?

I suppose that one of the best examples of this community’s support is the fact that Paul wrote this letter in the first place. He took the time, penned the letter, sent the messenger – all to encourage his fellow Christians in the faith.

One of the signs of a strong community is it’s ability to work through inner problems without disintegrating. Its one thing to band together against threats from the outside, its something altogether different to face inner conflict and work things out. This community did that.

Twelve years previous, Paul had a serious disagreement with Mark. On Paul’s FIRST missionary journey Mark had come along, only to turn back at Pamphylia. Paul didn’t think Mark had a good enough reason to turn back and refused to take Mark along on the SECOND missionary journey.

But by the time of Colossians, there are no bad feeling lingering between Paul and Mark. Paul even tells the congregation at Colosse that if Mark comes to visit they should be SURE to welcome him.

In the future they would have more internal problems. Demas would abandon the faith and embrace the world. Who know what damage and pain this would cause in this fellowship. But they would work through it. They were one in Christ, and they would look to Him for comfort and guidance.

Community does not work if people function alone. This is true of the Christian community as well. Look at the Christian community here in Colossians. They didn’t function alone. They considered themselves to be ONE. It wasn’t a bunch of separate people who happened to believe in Jesus. They were ONE IN CHRIST. That meant they were involved in each other’s lives.

How can we care about each other, or support one another, or pray for each other’s needs if we don’t KNOW each other? If we can’t TALK to each other? How can we be UNIFIED if we think the faith and the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ are their own business and not ours also?

This community in Colossians didn’t function alone. They were all about being in each other’s business. Paul says, Hey I’m sending Tychicus to tell you what’s going on here with us in Rome. Paul says, Onesimus, you gotta go back to Philemon. Paul says, Mark, you’re not coming on the second mission. You shouldn’t have turned back. Epaphras is praying for his home congregations like a mad man! All these guys are sending their greetings to Colosse and Laodicea. Paul tells Archippus to make sure he’s doing the work God gave him to do in Colosse. Paul asks them not to forget that he is in prison.

THEY DIDN”T FUNCTION ALONE. It wasn’t, Hey I know my sins are forgiven through Jesus so now I don’t need this community anymore. Not at all. They stayed connected. They worked as a unity.

At the beginning of Colossians Paul wrote,
“1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:1-2 NIV).
Paul began this way, calling them “holy” because they were holy through Christ’s all cleansing blood. Their sins were forgiven, and through faith in Christ they were acceptable to God. Paul ends on that same note. The last verse of Colossians reads,
“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18 NIV).
After all this talk about Christian community we need to end on the same note also.

Being part of God’s family does not depend on how well we succeed in living godly lives. I’ve been calling it “God’s Community of Grace” for a reason. We don’t deserve to be in it. But we are, because Jesus’ death and resurrection have made a place for us in this community.

For this, let’s give thanks.

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have drawn us here together to hear your word. To learn of sin. To learn of grace. To know our sins have been erased, and to see our place in your community of grace. Help us to mature in our relationship with you. Help us to mature in our relationship with each other. Open up our hearts toward you and each other. Make us the Christian community you want us to be. And keep us always in Christ, the one who bought us. The one who cleansed us. The one who sought us out and found us. The one who unifies us in peace, forgiveness. Amen.

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