Biblical Missions Partnerships: Paul and the Colossian Church

Paul’s letter to the Colossian church reminds us that developing strategic partnerships for making Christ known began in the New Testament.

Paul’s letter to the Colossian church reminds us that the idea of developing strategic partnerships for the sake of making Christ known in hard-to-reach places of the world did not begin with the modern missions movement, but in the New Testament. 

Consider that the original recipients of the New Testament letters were either entire congregations of church members, church leaders, or persecuted believers looking for spiritual guidance. From the meat of many of these letters we learn the doctrine that unites believers and the expectations for how churches should spread such teaching through their words and actions. These letters show us Paul’s primary strategy. He sought to come alongside the local Christians and their churches to influence them as they were faithful in sharing the Gospel with their own people.

The letters also commonly contain indicators of the relationships between the author and his readers. One such example is the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

The Colossian Church: An Example of National Partnership 

At first glance, these “personal greetings” in the book of Colossians and other Pauline epistles may not seem significant to a modern audience. But much can be learned from these sections. There are some interesting similarities between the end of Colossians and that of other Pauline letters.

  • The involvement of Tychicus for the purpose of passing along the letter and encouraging the church (Col 4:7-8) matches with what is said in Ephesians 6:21-22. The occasion for writing these letters and the way they were delivered seems to be the same.
  • The mention of Mark (Col 4:10) and Luke (Col 4:14) calls to mind Paul’s closeness to both of them in ministry and at the end of his life (2 Tim 4:11).
  • All of the men named in Philemon 23-24 are named in Colossians 4:10-14, indicating that Philemon’s church was likely located in Colossae. 
  • The clues regarding Paul’s imprisonment at the time of writing this letter (Col 4:10, 18) mirror what we find in Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; and Philippians 1:7.
  • Paul’s closing greetings of grace (Col 4:18) are typically found at the end of all his letters.

Alongside these helps, we notice three priorities that Paul possessed as he partnered with the Colossian church for the spread of the gospel.

  1. Paul Sought to Achieve Community and Fellowship

Paul’s relationships with the names that he listed were not trivial or superficial. He cared deeply for these people. He identified Tychicus as “a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” (Col 4:7). Similarly, he speaks of Onesimus as “our faithful and beloved brother” (Col 4:9). Paul partnered with such men because he knew they were on the same team, sharing the same priorities, and working toward the same goals. He trusted them, counted on them, and sought help from them, and they from him.

  1. Paul Encouraged His Partners Through His Intentional Communication With Them

Paul tells the Colossians that his explicit reason for writing this letter to them and sending it with Tychicus was “for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts” (Col 4:9). He wanted them to be informed and to be encouraged, and that could only happen if he communicated with them. Additionally, Paul sent greetings to them from other associates, namely, Aristarchus (v. 10), Epaphras (v. 12), and Luke (v. 14) along with his own personal greetings (vv. 15, 18).

These practices reveal Paul’s belief in the creation principle, “It is not good for man to be alone.” More than a mantra for marriage, Paul understood that this sentiment applies to the work we do for the Lord. 

We are not meant to bear ministry responsibilities alone, but should seek to collaborate with like-minded brothers and sisters. By modeling this for us, Paul emphasizes plurality and teamwork through the individuals he recruits to work with him, the way he makes disciples, and the way he seeks to raise up leaders for the Lord’s work.

  1. The Aim of Paul’s Work Is the Mission of God

Paul identified those who served with him as his “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Col 4:11). He conveyed to the church the prayer of Epaphras for them, that they “may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). He instructed Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (4:17). Taking those statements together, we conclude that all believers and churches are workers for the kingdom of God, that we are to labor to do his will, and that our ministry is received by his hand. Our work is ultimately his work, not our own.

This letter to the Colossians was to be read in multiple churches (4:16), showing that the task for this local church is the task for all of God’s people everywhere. And while Paul certainly arranged all of these partnerships from a human standpoint, all of his requests were carried out while he was imprisoned (4:10, 18). Paul was faithful with his responsibilities, but God is ultimately sovereign in bringing about his grace in the lives of his people. Paul knew this, which is why he bookended this letter the same way he did so many of his other letters: by wishing God’s grace upon those who read it (Col 1:2; 4:18). Grace alone brings about such partnerships and sustains us in them as we work together for the glory of God.

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