Men of God

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.” 18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:10-18)

I am fascinated with people who are mentioned in the Bible. The Bible is interesting in that way. Interesting in that we are not just given a textbook-like format in the Bible, of facts and instructions. We do get facts and instructions, but more than that it is a book of stories. Its primary story is one of redemption, of a loving yet just God who sends a Savior for an otherwise hopelessly lost humanity deserving of eternal punishment. That is the thrust of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We should read the Bible with that in mind. From Creation and the Fall of mankind into the grip of sin in Genesis to the final victory and our final salvation in the book of Revelation and all in between, we are directed to this glorious story of redemption, of salvation, of a wise plan of our God. We don’t want to ever miss that theme as we read and study.

So that is the grand theme. But all along the way as we read, we get to see a variety of people in the Bible. Some who are rebellious against God and His glorious plan, and others who embrace God and His provision of life through Jesus Christ. And some who are both rebellious and who eventually embrace God’s plan of salvation. 

We get to see how people live. We get to see parts of their stories. I like that. I think, I know it is helpful for us. Real people living out God’s Word, faithful to Him, and real people who also fall and stumble and repent, and fall and stumble and repent. We can identify with people in a variety of ways, and that can help us. We can learn how to live and how not to live as we consider other people’s lives in the Bible. We can see how they implement the Scriptures in their lives, and in some cases how they should have. We learn from each other in that way too, right? We can learn from other’s failures and mistakes, and we can see godly living and be encouraged to live that way.

And we know that these short accounts of people’s lives, like what we will look at today in Paul’s final greeting, even these verses are there for our benefit. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” So this would include the short blurbs we have about several men in our passage this morning. This too is given to be profitable for us.

We begin with a man named Aristarchus – “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you.” Who is this man? We know that he was a Jewish believer from verse 11 which says he was one of the men of the circumcision. We also know that he was from Thessalonica and he was with Paul in his ministry to the Ephesians. In fact, in Acts we read about some of what he faced because of his willingness to be a part of Christian ministry with the apostle Paul.

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” 

28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. (Acts 19:21-29)

This is what it was like to be Paul’s friend, to travel and minister with him! Being Paul’s friend and volunteering to travel with him in his missionary journeys became, generally, an invitation for persecution, hardship, and uncertainty. It was also a path to joy and peace, joy and peace that comes from giving oneself to Christ, the very one who has died for us and was raised again. Significant ministry is a venture in various kinds of risk, risk of all sorts. Risk that can range from minor discomforts that come from swimming against the tides of society, to physical torture or pain, or even death. Being with Paul meant facing both.

And what we read is that Aristarchus didn’t just try out ministry with Paul, face hard things, and quit. No, he continued on with him. We think he was with Paul all throughout his imprisonment during the time of the writing of Colossians. Paul refers to him as “my fellow prisoner.” There is debate on whether the term that Paul used for fellow prisoner meant that he was actually in prison, as a prisoner with Paul, or whether he shared Paul’s experience as a prisoner in that he chose to be near Paul and provide for him while in prison, but not as a literal prisoner. Others think that he was literally a prisoner just like Paul and even that he may have volunteered to join Paul in prison. Either way, he chose a hard life for the sake of his friend, and more importantly for the sake of the gospel. He chose this.

I don’t know about you, but I know for myself, I often choose on the side of something easy or comfortable. Think about it, think about why you chose the career you chose out of college or out of high school. What were you thinking primarily? Was it mostly about money, or comfort, or prestige, or status, or simply enjoyment? Why do we choose what we choose today regarding how we spend our time? Do we mostly make those decisions based on principle, biblical principles, or something else, something easy? How about retirement, for those thinking about retirement, what are you thinking about life during retirement? Maybe, “I’ve worked hard, paid my dues, now it’s my time to take it easy”? Or is it, “Now I am free to serve the Lord, to make Him known, to serve others”?

I am encouraged not just by reading of Aristarchus, but by observing many of your lives, faithful men and women who have not always chosen easy over what may be a rough road of sacrifice serving our Lord! Those of you who evangelize, who counsel, who teach, who encourage others in a variety of ways through cards, meals, meeting needs, childcare, so many ways! Many who model sacrificial service for our Savior and for the good of many around us, such a blessing to see! Our Lord saved us for this purpose, to live for Him.

Paul mentions another in this text – “and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him).” Mark is mentioned here and he has also been with Paul, but his story is much different. You may recall Mark and some problems mentioned in the Bible regarding he and Paul. He had been an early companion of Paul and Barnabas on the very first missionary journey. Now as we talk about Mark, you may recall he is sometimes called John or John Mark. This first missionary journey we read of in Acts 13:5, or the beginning of their first missionary journey – “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.”

But John Mark ended up deserting them along the way. Just a few verses later, down in verse 13 of Acts 13 we see this – “Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” John Mark leaving them at this point became a big issue with Paul. In fact, Paul didn’t trust John Mark, refusing to include him on his second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to include John Mark, but Paul refused. You may recall this happening from Acts 15.

37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39)

As we talked about earlier, missions work for Paul and the travel involved was difficult, dangerous, and it was important to know who you could trust. And Paul recalled Mark’s past and doubted his trustworthiness at the point of his second missionary journey. But the story does not end there. Yes, there was disagreement, there was mistrust, but eventually, at least by the time of this writing in Colossians, Mark, and really Paul too, had a change of heart. Mark had been restored, and restored probably through the ministry of Peter, as we read in 1 Peter 5:13 – “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.” If his restoration occurred through Peter’s leadership, that is interesting, I think, given Peter’s past as one who also had deserted his Lord and was also gloriously restored to ministry usefulness.

So the man whom Paul had once rejected now becomes a faithful companion in his work, the difficult work of ministry. Paul says, “Welcome Mark,” in other words, “Don’t shun him over past failures, welcome him as a brother and servant of Christ!”

This is what I was saying in the beginning. These are real people, real ministry, real difficulties, real restoration, stories of redemption. God does not lift up perfect men or women in the Bible. We don’t get fairy tale stories of perfection. God isn’t constrained by sinners. No, to the contrary He uses sinners to do His work, and that too is a picture of redemption. Many people, maybe you, many think they cannot be used by God because of…whatever. Look, none of us deserve to be used by Him or are good enough to do His work. We’re just not. But He is gracious to put us to service, to allow us to do His work here on this earth. But we must do it with an eye on Him and with humble hearts relying on Him. 

There is another – “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.” Aristarchus we know some about. John Mark we know a little more about. But who is this guy Jesus who is called Justus? We don’t know anything about him except for what is written right here. He was a Jew, a fellow worker in the kingdom of God, and was a comfort to Paul in his ministry. That is all we know. But wow, isn’t that a lot? Isn’t that great? He is a brother in Christ, a worker in God’s kingdom, a man of faith. And even Justus, we will all see him and meet him, all of us who believe!

As I think about this man Justus, only mentioned here, it makes me think of all the millions of believers whom we have never heard of. Think of all those who have come to Christ, served Christ in various ways, who have gone unknown really. Few people know them, and yet they have been faithful. This probably describes most of us. We aren’t here to make ourselves known, to be well-known people, we aren’t here to promote ourselves. If we go relatively unknown, well okay! But while we are here, are we making Him known?

Many are tempted to make a name for themselves. I hope that each of us can lay that aside and be like John the Baptist, who humbly and rightly said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

One more is mentioned, for today – “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. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” Epaphras was mentioned already in this book back in chapter 1 verse 7. He was the one who brought the gospel to the Colossian church and was a faithful minister there. He was one of them, and is described as a servant of Christ, or a better translation would be a slave of Christ. He had invested a lot of time and energy with the church there. He had a pastor’s heart for the people, and we see this from Paul’s description of him in regard to the church.

Paul says that Epaphras is always struggling in prayer for them. That word translated “struggling” here is where we get our English word “agonize.” Epaphras would agonize in prayer for them. It is the same word found in John 18:36 where Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” You can picture this man on his knees, agonizing in prayer, fighting for them in prayer. He is going to God on their behalf, ministering to them through prayer. He was a man who knew his own inability to make a difference on his own. He knew he needed God, the strength of God, so he prayed earnestly for them. But what did he want for them? “that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” He desired that they be fully persuaded and satisfied in the will of God. He wanted them above all else to believe God. They were facing trials, the church was, they were being inundated with false teaching. They had many reasons to fall away, to give into false teaching, temptation was all around to give into their fleshly desires and live for themselves, but this man prayed, agonized in prayer that they would be assured that God is God, and that God is true, that their faith would be strong.

Real people doing real work in God’s real kingdom.

Aristarchus – A faithful companion for the long haul.
Mark – Started strong and fell away, but returned, praise God, to finish the race.
Justus – Little known, but a man of God serving well.
Epaphras – A prayer warrior, missionary, church planter who loved God and loved His people.

Regular people put into service by Christ and for Christ. Where is your place? What is your work? How will we live faithfully for our Lord who has given Himself for us? By God’s grace and in His strength, may we, each one of us, love Him and serve Him together.