COLOSSIANS – LESSON 5
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,” Colossians 1:3–4 (ESV)
The apostle Peter wrote, “But living as servants of God, love the brotherhood”. 1 Peter 2:16b-17. For the most part the early church displayed brotherly love towards each other. It is no wonder that God, who is love, expects the church of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ, to love one another. The apostle Paul expressed his admiration and love for the church and for individual members of the church frequently. The book of Colossians is no exception.
The church in Colossae had members from every segment of society. That is as it should be with all congregations. There was Epaphras, Colossians 1:7, a beloved fellow-servant and a faithful preacher of the gospel. The apostle reminded the brethren that although Epaphras was with Paul he was truly one of “them”. He will be mentioned again in Colossians 4:13 as a hard worker and a man who prayed diligently on behalf of his “home” church.
Then there was Philemon. We read about him in the small one chapter book that bears his name. He was a church leader, a man who offered his own home as a meeting place for the church, Philemon 1:2. This man had a slave named Onesimus, a slave who ran away from him. This runaway contacted Paul at his prison house in Rome, was taught the Gospel, and became a Christian.
Severe punishment was usually doled out to runaway slaves. Sometimes they were even put to death. However, Paul requested that Philemon forgive this slave and allow him to stay with Paul as a co-worker. In Colossians 4:9 Onesimus is called “a faithful and beloved brother”. It is interesting that Paul sent this converted runaway slave back home, along with Epaphras, to deliver the book of Colossians to Philemon.
In Philemon 1:1 we are introduced to a fellow-soldier (preacher) named Archippus who served the congregation in Colossae. In Col 4:18, we see Paul encouraging this gospel preacher with these words, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord”.
It is interesting to read about some of Paul’s co-workers in Colossians chapter four. Here, and in other scriptures, Paul never elevates himself to a place of prominence while considering his helpers as mere underlings. To the contrary, Paul lists them as co-workers and fellow-soldiers. That is because of the mutual respect and love that existed among believers in the early church.
From this loving First Century brotherhood we can learn about the need to help those who are in need. Healthy congregations do not live in a world unto themselves. They co-operate with each other financially in many different ways. Here are a few examples from the early church:
- BENEVOLENCE: When sister congregations had financial needs, other churches sent funds to help them take care of their needs, Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-29.
- LOCAL BENEVOLENCE: Individual members of a local church should rise up and donate funds in order to provide assistance for those of their own number who are in need, Acts 4:32-37.
- SUPPORT FOR PREACHERS: The early church co-operated with each other in supporting preachers and missionaries, 3 John 1:5-6. Paul asked the church in Rome to support him in a trip to Spain, Romans 15:24. Paul was also assisted financially by the church in Philippi, Phil 4:15-16. The church should spend money for the support of both local ministers and missionaries, 1 Cor 9:14; Acts 13:1-3.
- SUPPORT FOR NEEDY WIDOWS: In times gone by, widows suffered many financial hardships. Many First Century widows needed help from the church in order to survive. One of the first problem in the early church came about because some of the widows were being neglected, Acts 7:1-7. Read 1 Timothy 5:3-16 for guidelines for churches on helping widows in need. Perhaps churches of today need to speak with their widows in order to learn if they need financial assistance from the church. James wrote, “Religion that is pure, and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,” James 1:27. To “visit” suggests supplying what is lacking. To leave a widow in her affliction is of no value to her whatsoever.
The important force behind the great relationship early churches had with each other was brotherly love. Jesus commanded us to love others as we love ourselves, Mt 22:39. Paul wrote that faith, hope, and love were the greatest attributes of all. However, love is the greatest of the three, 1 Corinthians 13:13. Love begins with a proper attitude. It is an acceptance of other people regardless of their race, financial prosperity, education, or anything else that might separate us one from another. Practicing the kind of love described in the Bible will cause us to stand apart from those in the world who do not know love as it is described in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen.
I am so thankful the apostle Paul showed his affection for the brethren he served. He even loved believers he had only heard about – people he had never met. From Paul we can learn to feel the same kind of connection to those we know and to believers we hear about but have never met. Yes, we can love them all. Lord, I pray that each of us will increase our brotherly love. May the world know us by our love!