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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Kingdom Before Comfort


"Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.” Colossians 4:7-9

As we move into the final verses of the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Colossians we need to be able to feel a tension develop. It’s not a badtension - in fact it’s a God-glorifying tension - but it is a tension nonetheless.

The tension is between the comfort that Paul is benefitting from whilst in chains for Christ (v.18) in Rome, and the benefits the Colossians will receive if he parts with some of his own comforts.

What is going to be Paul’s loss, is going to be the Colossians gain. And if Paul withholds what he can give the Colossians in order to benefit himself, it will be for the Colossian’s loss.

The temptation to look after his own needs first must have been strong.

As he writes - or dictates - this letter, he is in the middle of a 2-year imprisonment during which time he was kept under house arrest, chained and guarded. Some have suggested that he may have been chained directly to the guard, and that, around the clock.

He was evidently allowed to receive visitors; to have parchment for writing; and to organise his associates. All of that is clear. But by the time of his letter, Paul is well into his 50’s and he has been through manyphysical ordeals - whippings, beatings, shipwrecks, and more. And now he stands accused of a capital crime with the likely prospect of Roman execution by beheading. In fact, as he writes, he is awaiting a hearing to determine his fate. So, the picture is bleak.

We know that Paul was a resilient Christian – he said in his letter to the Philippians that for him to live was Christ and to die would be gain.

Yet, he, like any Christian, received comfort, encouragement and strength from one particular source: precious fellow believers.

Twice in Acts we’re told that Paul’s friends were permitted to attend to his ‘needs’ – so clearly he had physical needs. The church in Philippi had sent Epaphroditus specifically to care for Paul’s needs. And, Paul was grateful for the help he had received from Onesiphorus and the encouragement he had received from Philemon.

In 1 Corinthians he confessed that he was weak as others are weak and that he was tempted just as others are tempted. And so, he must have been, under such difficult circumstances as he found himself in now.

However, standing in opposition to his own needs are the needs of the Colossian believers. Their needs are in opposition to his own because, in order to instruct them out of the heresies they were beginning to embrace, he needs to part with two of his beloved helpers – Tychicus and Onesimus.

Remember there’s no Royal Mail; no email; no WhatsApp, there are just foot messengers. And Tychicus was a good candidate for foot messenger, for several reasons.

First, when he came to faith in Christ he had accompanied Paul on his travels and served to advance the gospel in Asia Minor.

Acts 20:1-6 recounts that Tychicus went ahead of Paul during his travels through Macedonia. He may also have been a part of the group that collected the gift from the Corinthians to deliver to the believers in Jerusalem.

The impression we get is one who is well travelled; used to the hardship of long hours on foot, and to the perils of navigating both land and sea.

This is especially good because he has more than one task to complete on his trip to Colossae. Paul is not sending him only to deliver his letter. He has at least two other tasks and one of them makes his expertise in travelling particularly beneficial. Paul wants to send Onesimus back to Philemon.

We learn from the letter Paul writes to Philemon, and which Tychicus also delivered, that the church in Colossae, or at least part of it, met in the house of Philemon and his wife Apphia and that of Archippus, who may have been their son (Philemon, verse 2).

That letter is written to accompany Onesimus who was Philemon’s slave. Although we’re not told how it came about, it seems that Onesiumus, perhaps having stolen something from his master, ran away from his master Philemon. Now, what is amazing, and which links Paul unmistakably with the church in Colossae, is that Onesimus somehow, by God’s amazing providence, wound up meeting Paul whilst he was in Rome – even though Paul was imprisoned.

It seems that Paul shared the gospel with him and Onesimus was saved! And not only was he saved, but he also became a servant of the gospel in co-operation with Paul whilst in Rome. Staggering coincidence!

Under Roman law though, runaway slaves had to be returned to their masters, so Paul wants to return Onesimus to Philemon even though Onesimus was a ‘dear brother’ to Paul (v.9) and a ‘faithful servant’ (v.9). And, Paul doesn’t want Philemon to receive Onesiumus back as a slave - no, no. He wants him to receive him back as a brother in Christ and one who was useful to both Paul and Philemon (Philemon, verse 11). That’s why he has to send a letter to Philemon also – to explain these things. So Tychicus is responsible for guiding Onesimus back to Philemon – a fellow servant of the gospel in Colossae.

The second role that Tychicus was to fulfil is one that is well served by his other distinctive gifts.

Paul refers to him as a ‘dear brother’ in verse 7. The impression is one who was precious to believers; kind hearted; loving and good to be with.

And, Paul also refers to him as a ‘faithful minister’. This implies that he was the kind of believer who was committed to pressing his gift into service for the benefit of others. This phrase is the same as Paul used to describe Epaphras in Colossians 1:7.

And there is significance in that parallel between Tychicus and Epaphras. It is this: Epaphras was the one who evangelised the valley that Colossae was located in. It seems he evangelised Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis – all mentioned in verse 13.

So, for the Colossians they could know the character of Tychicus by remembering the character of their own evangel Epaphras – Paul thinks the two men are one of a kind.

This gift of ‘faithful minister’, that Thychicus possesses, makes him well fitted for the purpose of delivering a very important oral report to the Colossians.

Paul’s letters don’t contain everything he, Paul, needs to convey. They contain the authoritative word from God’s chosen delegate, and they have the Apostolic mark, but they don’t convey a lot of the circumstantial details of his efforts for the gospel.

But Paul is very keen for the Colossians to hear about the circumstantial details too, and we can tell that from all three of the verses in front of us.

Verse 7 – ‘Tychicus will tell you all the news about me’. Verse 8 – ‘I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and they he may encourage your hearts’.

And verse 9 – ‘He is coming with Onesimus…they will tell you everything that has happened here’.

We hear in this repeated phraseology Paul’s main desire, namely that the Colossians hear about what is going on in Rome – news, circumstances, and events - and that by those details they are encouraged in their hearts.

That, I think is the overriding point of these verses.

‘I Paul, in chains for Christ here in Rome, am sending my best man for the job, who is himself precious to me, to encourage your hearts by sharing with you all the Lord is doing here’.

In other words, ‘what was gain to me, I part with for the benefit of youmy dear brothers and sisters’. Remember Paul had never met them! It wasn’t him who evangelised them, it was Epaphras. So, this is love indeed.

The question is though, how will the news of Paul and his associates in Rome serve to strengthen and encourage the saints in Colossae?

The letter, we get, I think. The letter is full of doctrine, instruction, and warning designed to steer the church out of harms-way if they embrace its content.

But I’m going to argue that the letter in and of itself wasn’t enough.

It’s not enough to be told what to do, we need to be shown what to do also. Paul believes that the account of what faith in Jesus looks like in the midst of the most challenging circumstances, is the very report that will commend his letter to the Colossians. Why should they respond to Paul’s letter of admonition? It is because the way he is living commends the very message he is sending.

Remember the main problem in Colossae. It was, that the believers were being enticed to wander away from their pure devotion to Christ, and were being seduced by the worship of angels, the philosophies of men and the observance of religious rituals and regulations. And they did all this in their freedom. They did all this whilst under little compulsion. The only influence on them it seems was the pressure of religious voices.

Paul and his associates by contrast were under much greater pressure. The pressure brought to bear upon them was the pressure of discomfort, of pain, of persecution, of threat, and even, of death. Here’s how Paul articulated it in his second letter to the Corinthians, ‘We do not want you to be uninformed brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under greatpressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself’.

That was before he was arrested and put in chains for Christ. Now he finds himself under the sentence of death and those associated with him risk the same fate. So, if you ask, who is under greater pressure to throw the towel in and wander away from Christ? Then there is no doubt – it is Paul and his friends.

In fact, Paul tells us, that is exactly what happened to some of his group. In his second letter to Timothy – his last, and written after his legal hearing – he writes,

everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes’. He also tells us that Demas had deserted him to go to Thessalonica and, that at his defense, no one came to support him, but everyone deserted him.

So, when push came to shove and the walls were closing in on the followers of Jesus, who were associated with Paul, their pressure served to scatter the group - just as Jesus had found in his own hour of greatest trial.

It was probably after the great fire of Rome in AD64 which emperor Nero used to persecute Christians, that the sentence of death became more real for the Christians.

The Roman historian Tacitus records in his book Annals the verypersecution Paul and his associates faced:

"To stop the rumour [that Nero had set Rome on fire], he falselycharged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormitiesChristus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition - repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also…accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted.”

So, when the walls were closing in, the pressure of following Jesus became a life and death reality.

Granted, when Paul was writing to the Colossians things hadn’t got that bad, but for Paul himself they were looking bleak. And yet it was Paulwho was standing firm and the Colossians who were bending under the weight of expectation – not execution like Paul was experiencing.

The intention of Paul in sending Tychicus and Onesimus is to testify to his steadfastness for Jesus in the face of severe opposition, as an example of what it looks like to remain true to Jesus no matter the pressure. If Paul can demonstrate that he himself is standing firm – and in worse circumstances than the Colossians are facing – then he could commend to them his letter of exhortation. If not, then they can turn around and say to Paul, ‘But Paul, you just don’t understand the cost of remaining true to Jesus here’.

He did understand! More than they would ever have to experience, probably, and so his letter could carry the weight it needed to carry in order to influence their thinking.

Paul was willing to part with those men who had been a great comfort and help to him, in order to impart to the Colossians a first-hand witness account of the faithfulness of himself and his associates in the face of great suffering, in order to powerfully commend his letter of instruction to them, and thus galvanise their re-commitment to Jesus.

So, let’s summarise what we’ve gleaned: Tychicus and Onesimus are dear to Paul but also necessary for Colossae. Paul loves the Colossians, though he’s never met them, and he wants them to be freed from the heresies they’re beginning to entertain. So Tychicus must go. He must travel the dangerous road, deliver Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter from Paul and deliver to the church an exhortation to stand firm, committed to Jesus, and not tossed around by every wind of teaching. And Tychicus who is like their very own evangel Epaphras – a faithful minister - along with Onesimus, will be able to give an oral report of Paul’s commitment to Jesus in the face of severe opposition and that will serve to commend his letter to them.

Now, on the back of that, I want to suggest seven quick applications to take away from these verses.

Application number 1 – And this is a word mainly to leaders, but it has wider applications to the whole body – for you are all ministers of Christ – let your theory be always undergirded with practice. The way we often say it is, ‘practice what you preach’. Back in chapter 3, verse 16 we have, ‘let the message of Christ dwell amongst you richly as you teach and admonish one another’.

So, admonition in accordance with the truth of Christ is necessary amongst us, but only as those truths dwell - are lived out in practice. Otherwise, it looks like hypocrisy and the admonition will have no effect except to create bitterness in the other party. So that’s the first application – practice what you preach. The oral report of Tychicus would testify to the practice behind Paul’s preaching.

Second application – Sharing our experiences with each other serves to encourage one another. Paul was very eager for the Colossians to know the news about the gospel in Rome, and their faith in the face of suffering. And I imagine Tychicus would have conveyed failures as well as triumphs. But all the sharing of news was about how their lives lived out related to Jesus. And that is such a good thing to reflect on.

Think of some news you might share with a brother or sister – let’s say, you’re looking to buy a new house. If you merely say, we’re looking to buy a house and proceed to talk only about how expensive the market is, and how bland the houses are, and how hard it is to find something in the right location, and how the kerb appeal is lacking, then you’ve done nothing to encourage your brother and sister.

But, if you say, we’re looking to buy a house and we want God to be at the centre of this massive decision and we are just committing it to him every night in prayer. We want the motivation to be the kingdom of God as we look to move, and we know the temptation is to run with the world and look for that fleeting pleasure of ‘bigger and better’ and that’s something we’re really grappling with at the moment – would you praywith us about this. What an encouragement you bring to that brother or sister. You’re expressing the rising and falling of your faith in real life and you’re folding them into your circumstances for Jesus. So, that’s number 2 – share your faith, as it rises and falls, with your brothers and sisters, for their encouragement.

Application number 3 – Exercise your gifts faithfully for the benefit of others. Tychicus was a faithful minister of God’s gift to him. He seems to have been a man of great encouragement. We all have Spirit-given gifts and we need to exercise them faithfully – without ceasing – for the good of the wider body.

Application number 4 – Kingdom before comfort. Tychicus and Onesimus were dear to Paul and undoubtedly part of the ‘comfort’ he expressed in verse 11. Yet Paul’s sights are set on the Kingdom of God for which he was a worker (verse 11 also). Now which will be first in Paul’s affections kingdom or comfort? The temptation is assuredly to put comfort first, but Paul shows us, kingdom must come first. Jesus said, ‘seek first the kingdom of God and all these things [comforts] will be added unto you’. So, application 4 – kingdom before comfort.

Application 5 – Always do what is right even when it costs you.

Paul had a decision to make about Onesimus. There was evidently no one telling Paul to send Onesimus back and there were some strong reasons not to: Onesimus was dear to Paul and useful to him. But the law of the land said slaves must be returned, and Paul taught that we must obey the God-appointed authorities. And so, Paul does practice what he preaches: he sends Onesimus back at expense to himself. So, number 5 is, always do what is right even when it costs you.

Number 6 – Think of service in God’s kingdom as a co-operation not as a one man show. Paul has the apostolic authority which Tychicus doesn’t, yet Paul refers to Tychicus as ‘a fellow servant’. He thinks of himself and Tychicus as equals in the cause of the kingdom. And that’s what we are, we are all equals. We have different roles, but none of us are dispensable. So, we must treat each other as indispensable equals in the service of the kingdom – that’s application 6.

The last application is, be a dear brother or sister. I have a brother in Christ who is not part of this fellowship and when he texts me, he often calls me ‘dear brother’.

We work ourselves into the affections of our brothers and sisters by being there for them – attending their needs. As we pour ourselves out for each other, like a ‘drink offering’ Paul says elsewhere, we commendourselves in love to one another and we become dear to each other – regarded with deep affection. We should all be a dear brother or sister to the fellowship of believers, and beyond.


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