Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers (Philemon 23-24)
Today we are bringing our series on Philemon to a close. The title for today is Fellow Workers with Christ. I took this from the last phrase of v.24.
As a way of recap of the series, we started with an introduction to the letter and said Philemon is a letter of reconciliation pointing out that Paul wrote to Philemon to bring reconciliation between himself and a runaway servant Onesimus ( Philemon 1:10). Other sermons in the series were A Praying community (v.4), A Loving Community (v.5), A Peace Seeking Community(vv.18-20), The Big Picture (vv.15-16) and last week we addressed a Call To Obedience (v.21)
Now in the verses we read (vv.23-24), Paul closes off his letter and extends greetings from his fellows: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. I am sure mostly when we read names of people in Scripture, we just gloss over them. We don’t bother checking who they are. These names are traceable in other parts of Scriptures and indeed there are things we can learn from them. Paul identifies them as “fellows.” They were his fellows: his partners, his associates, his companions, his helpers. Paul worked together with them. They were a team
Look at the number of times the word fellow is used in the text:
V. 1 beloved fellow worker
V.2 fellow soldier
V. 17 Partner (that word carries the same meaning of fellow)
V.23 Fellow Prisoner
V.24 Fellow workers
Five times this phrase runs through the whole text. This clearly tells us whoever Paul was, he worked with others. He worked with a team. Indeed, not only here, but if you read through all of Paul’s letters, you consistently see him mentioning the names of people he was working with and grateful for. For their lives.
Note that these fellow workers of Paul are not just fellow workers of Paul pursuing Paul’s personal and private agenda. And then he calls them alongside to help. No. This work we are talking about is the work of Christ. And all the fellows of Paul were together with Paul pursuing the agenda of Christ.
These guys were not pursuing their personal agenda. They were pursuing the agenda of Christ. The agenda of sending the gospel to sinners. The agenda of reconciling men to God. The agenda of raising or making disciples. Paul speaking about Christian ministry describes it as a ministry of reconciliation in cooperation with God (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:1).
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
20Therefore, owe are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
In 6:1, Paul speaks of himself and others as workers together with God. This is true of all believers. Those who have been reconciled to God. have been given a ministry of reconciliation to reconcile others to God.
These days we hear all kinds of things that has nothing to do with gospel proclamation. Absolutely nothing! People claim they have a call to raise billionaires. What kind of Christian assignment is this? Where in Scriptures can we find such calls? Others say they are called to raise champions and take territories. What kind of territory are they taking?
See, Scripture is clear what is the call of God.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOly Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age
This charge is for raising disciples and obedient followers of Christ. It is not for raising billionaires. Any ministry whose focus is not on making obedient disciples is no ministry at all. All we have been called to is relationship with Christ and obedience to him.
Again, though by now you have heard this several times, I will have to repeat it. The one common denominator or the common thing that binds the people in this text together is their relationship with Christ. They are fellows who have a relationship with Christ. They are in Christ. They have faith towards Christ. They have reconciled to Christ by grace through faith and repentance from their sins. Christ died for sinners that whosoever believes in him will be saved. This is the Christian message. The common ground in this text is CHrist.
I took my time again to count the number of references there are to Christ in Philemon
v.2(Lord Jesus Christ),
All these references to Christ, tells us one thing: they are fellows in Christ. As fellows in Christ, they are working together in Christ’s vineyard. One analogy used to describe believers is the human body. We are, individually, counted as members corporately of Christ’s body. This means that, just as the human body has individual parts with individual functions, the body of Christ is made up of individuals who together work as fellows for the cause of the gospel. You remember in the first sermon; we saw that when God saves us or reconciles us to himself; he places us in a community of believers. This community of reconciled members are all working towards the reconciliation of others to Christ. Christ himself will say “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” John 10:16). So we are one flock working together (Romans 12:4-8;1 Corinthians 12)
I hope that all of us here will begin properly thinking about our place in the body of Christ and how together we can be co-labourers with Christ and of course in the mission of this ministry: “That we will reach our community and beyond with the gospel.” This is our mission and I call upon of us to be involved in response to what Christ has done for us. He has saved us from our sins. He has redeemed us. He has sanctified us. He has reconciled us to the father and we are no more enemies of God. What best can we do than respond to his love in love.