ˇ°DON'T FORGET THE UNSUNG HEROESˇ± By Pastor Yau
Text: Colossians 4:7-18 October 19, 2014.
1) Paul and his helpers: Throughout the 2,000 plus years of Christian history, Paul was recognized as the most effective messenger of the gospel in the first century church. But Paul never ministered alone. He shared his ministry opportunity in the church at Antioch with four other men, and throughout the following years of his missionary travels, he always had companions. Even when he was a prisoner at Rome when he wrote the letters to the Colossians and other churches, he wasn't alone either. Most of the men Paul mentioned in the passage today are not well known figures. But each was a special person to Paul, and each was willing to pay the price of associating with Paul as a prisoner. To Paul, these men were indispensable assets to his gospel ministry. He knew he could not have done it alone; no one can. God's servants have always depended on others to support them in their work.
2) Moses and his helpers: Moses recognized he couldn't carry out the mission alone. God provided him two strong helpers, Aaron and Hur. ˇ°The Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua: ˇ°Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.ˇ± And Joshua did as Moses had told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and whne he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew grew heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and one on the other. Thus, his hands were steady until the sunset. So, Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.ˇ± (Exodus 17:8-13)
Unsung heroes come in all sizes and shapes. Here they are:
1) The man as a faithful companion: ˇ°As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved and faithful servant and fellow bond-slave in the Lord will bring you all the information.ˇ± (4:7-8) Tychicus means ˇ°fortunate.ˇ± Indeed he was so fortunate to be a fellow servant of the Lord with Paul for so many years. He is mentioned five times in the new Testament. He was first mentioned in Acts 20:4 when Paul planned to bring a few faithful Gentile believers to Jerusalem church, Tychicus was one of them. His willingness to travel to Jerusalem with Paul shows his servant spirit for traveling in ancient time was not some-thing to be taken lightly. As Paul wrote this letter to the Colossi church, he was with Paul in his prison life. How blessed Paul was to have a faithful companion like Tychicus.
2) The man with a changed life: ˇ°He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother.ˇ± (4:9) Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon, a leader of the Colossi church and highly likely the church met in his home. When he ran away to Rome, Onesimus met Paul and was let to become a believer of Christ. That is why Paul called him our faithful and beloved brother. The life of Onesimus was a testimony to the power of God to transform a life. This Onesimus was with Paul along with Tychicus when Paul was serving prison term in Rome. Some may think that those who have unclean records in their life are not qualified to serve God. With God's mercy everyone can serve the Lord if he is willing to be changed by God's power.
3) The man who sacrificed for Paul: ˇ°Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings.ˇ± (4:10) Aristarchus was a Jewish believer (4:1) but has a Greek name like many others at the time. His name first appeared during the three years ministry at Ephesus. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, he was with Paul in Rome. Paul called him ˇ°a fellow prisonerˇ± for a good reason although he wasn't actually a prisoner but he stayed with Paul, cared for Paul to keep him company and provided his needs. Aristarchus gave up his freedom to serve Paul, shared the life as a prisoner made him so special in Paul's heart. Many of God's servants went through difficult times in their ministry. They long for someone to understand them, stand by them, support them and even sacrifice for them. No wonder Paul was so grateful to include Aristarchus in the list of his unsung heroes.
4) The man with a second chance: ˇ°And also Barnabas' cousin Mark about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him.ˇ± (4:10) Mark, also called John had a more complicated experience in ministry. He at first a companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary trip in Acts 13:5. But he deserted them when the going got tough. The story in Acts 13:13 related the desertion. Mark's desertion later became a source of conflict between Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 15:37-39)
Fortunately the story doesn't end there. By the time Paul wrote Colossians, Mark had become a committed servant of the Lord. He has been restored to usefulness probably through the ministry of Peter. (1 Peter 5:13) The man once was rejected, became a great helper to Paul. (2 Timothy 4:11) Through the life of Mark, we see the fact that God is merciful and patient. He can restored a broken life and make it useful again if we are willing to return to Him. We also learn that we should not write off anyone, including those who had failed in the service of God in the past. God is the great potter and he can and will remake any life who is willing to come back to serve Him.
5) The man who is an encourager: ˇ°And Jesus who is also called Justus, also send greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow servants for the kingdom of God, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.ˇ± (4:11) There is nothing elsewhere mentions Jesus Justus. It is possible that he was converted to the new faith when Paul was in Rome. (Acts 28:24) During the years of gospel ministry, there wasn't much response from the Jews that grieved Paul's heart. In fact, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem rejected Paul and his message and denounced him to the Roman authorities. Much of the oppositions came from his fellow countrymen. Only these three Jewish men proved to be faithful to the Lord and to Paul. No wonder Paul counted Jesus Justus as a man of encouragement.
Without exception, all God's servants had times of discouragement and fainted hearts one time or another. It is a real blessing to have someone close to share your problems, to draw sympathy, to receive encouragement, support and sometimes a shouder on which you can cry. These are people who stay with you through the ups and downs, who understand your problems and needs and are willing to stick with you no matter the circumstances.
6) The man who is a prayer warrior: ˇ°Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bond-slave of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, and you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.ˇ± (4:12) Epaphras was the founder of the Colossian church and most likely the pastor of that church at that time. He went to Rome brought with him the danger of false teaching among the churches in Lycus Valley. While he was away from the church, Epaphras continued to serve the church through his committed prayer ministry. His prayer wasn't just routine, but in agonizing and fervency. The goal of Epaphras prayer is for the saints in his church to stand perfect (firm) and be fully assured in all the will of God. It's nice to have people who believe in the power of prayer and pray for those who are fighting in the battle field of the Lord. If you feel you don't have any thing better to support your pastor and all those who are fighting the spiritual battle, one thing very important you can do: pray for them that they will stand firm and be assured of all the will of God will be done in their lives.
7) The man who is a professional: ˇ°Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings.ˇ± (4:14) Dr Luke was Paul's personal physician, and his close friend. He was a Gentile believer (4:11) who traveled frequently with Paul on his missionary trips. It may have been Paul's recurrent illnesses on his first mission trip that prompted him to take Luke along on the second. Like Paul, Luke was an educated, cultured man, evidenced by the literary quality of his Greek in his gospel and the Book of Acts. Luke's name were mention three times all in his prison writing, most likely to take care of Paul's health needs.
Luke was the prototype of the medical missionary. Not all missionaries in the Lord's service has to have a seminary degree. God's work needs many kinds of specialists too. Luke surrendered his life and dedicated his special talent to God, giving up what might have been a lucrative private practice to serve the needs of God people, in this case, Paul, a faithful servant of God. In return, God gave him the privilege of writing a sizable portion of the New Testament, and of being the beloved companion of the apostle Paul.
Since the time of Luke, countless God's faithfuls engaged in the mission of God, giving up their profitable career or business, surrendered to the call God extended to them. It is certainly a sacrifice on personal benefits. But it is far more meaningful and glorious to embark on saving souls, serve the Lord, than making money or building fame in this world. How do you know the real reason for God to allow you to have the specialized training is not for the need of today's mission work? Can you be a Dr Luke for today's church?
8) The man who loved the world: Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send you greetings.ˇ± (4:14) Demas is the last name in Paul's list of companions. Demas had made a substantial commitment to the Lord's work, and was with Paul in both of his imprisonments. Unlike others, Demas made a tragic decision that left his name a sad and shameful mark in history. Paul recorded the desertion of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:9-10: ˇ°Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved the world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.ˇ± Evidently Demas was still with Paul when he wrote the letter to the Colossian saints. But soon, he couldn't stand the hopelessness of Paul and his ministry, he left Paul in the prison to find his own life in the world. The pull of the world eventually became so irresistible to Demas and he abandoned his long time friend and broke his own vow, turned back to his old world. Anyone who has been in the ministry long enough has shared in that heartbreaking experience. Jesus had his Judas, and Paul had his Demas. It is comforting to note that even the two greatest leaders the world has ever known had those who failed them.
LESSONS WE CAN LEARN:
1) If you are a Paul: If the Lord has blessed you and your ministry in ways you can't imagine and prospered the harvest for his kingdom, you need to know that you are not the only one who made all that had happened. You are to remember those whom God has placed around you to support you, help you, counsel you and encourage you to bring you to this point. You need to remember not just their names but all that they have done to make it possible for you to achieve what you have achieved. Never forget those unsung heroes who are the very parts of your success. Learn from Paul, his keen awareness of his many friends and helpers and give them their deserved position in his life and ministry. Acknowledge their contribution when it is due.
2) If you aren't a Paul: God didn't make all his people like Paul with high level of gift, great sense of vision and all the leadership skills to be a historic figure in the history of gospel advancement. Yet, you still has your position in the kingdom of God by being helpers, supporter, servers and care takers in God's ministry. Many of the names listed above were not well known, but they are all important to God's work given to Paul. Paul would never be able to have done it without the help of these people. God has a purpose for you in this church so you can participate in ministries with whatever talents God has given you. You are an indispensable part of God's work here.
3) Just don't be a Demas: Serving the Lord in his church isn't as glamorous as you may think. It takes strong commitment and obedience to God to continue your service to God. The pull of the world and all distractions are always here to change mind, to give up. Think of Judas and Demas and the tragic ending of their life. Once you present your life on the altar, never ever contemplate of taking it back.