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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Archippus...a Small-town Cowboy Preacher

Recently while scanning some verses one really caught my attention. I have read it many times before. But, for some reason this verse really jumped out at me. It connected with me in a way that it never has. It comes from Colossians 4:17:

And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it."

At first reading, one might relegate this passage with a bunch of others that speak truth to those in leadership positions within the church. And it would fit well there, indeed. But a closer examination reveals just how fitting this verse might be to those who serve in rural communities. The first clues are found in the description and name of the man.

We learn from Philemon (vs.2) that Archippus comes from the household of Philemon and lives in small town Colossae. He is quite possibly the son of Philemon. Paul refers to him as a fellow soldier. The word translated fellow soldier is συστρατιώτης . The picture is that of a soldier with a cause similar to the writer (Paul). We can surely say Paul viewed Archippus as a man with equal convictions and zeal for Jesus Christ, as himself.

Our next observation as to the identity of Archippus is his name. It is actually a compound word comprised of two simple words arche, or leader, and hippos, or horse. His name literally means master of horses. Could it be that Archippus was a cowboy? We don't really know, but cowboys are masters of horses! And, Archippus was plowing the spiritual soil of his small-town sowing seeds of the Gospel. A rural-minded guy in a rural place. But not all was good.

Colossae might not have been the most desirable place to serve the Lord. Once a thriving community along a well-established trade route, Colossae had seen better days. The bustling trade center was now a few miles to the west in the wealthy city of Laodicea. The population declined and despair rose. How easy it would have been for Archippus to gaze at life in the neighboring city of Laodicea. The people, wealth, and cultural attractions would be an ideal place to minister. Opportunities abound in places where people exist! It is so easy to put our eyes on places and things around us, rather than on what is before us. Archippus needed a reminder. We all do.

As Paul closes his letter to the Colossians, he adds a personal message for Archippus. He tells the Colossians, "And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it" (Colossians 4:17).

First, Archippus is told to fulfill his ministry--the one he received in the Lord. Our ministries are from God. They originate from Him and they are entrusted to us--as a stewardship (1 Cor. 4:1,2). The word fulfill is from the Greek word πληρόω which means to complete in every detail, ratify, accomplish, and perform. It means to be filled to the brim--lacking nothing! The word fulfill is a present active subjunctive. As a student of God's Word, this should make you rise up on your heels. Here's the idea: Fulfilling your ministry is something to be continual and on-going in your life, but it means there are conditions associated with it. Why do some give up before the work is finished?

Giving up on ministry is an all-too-common occurrence in today's world. Especially for those who serve in the shadows. The spotlights of mainstream evangelicalism never seem to shine in the cracks and crevices of rural North America. Reports of mega suburban ministries with multiple staff and outrageous budgets fill the pages of their favorite magazines. Occasionally one wonders what it would be like--to work around such gifted people. To have auditoriums packed with successful, educated people. The mind begins to wander. Before long, the pastor slips quietly out of town. God has called him away, he says.

The key to fulfilling is found in the words take heed. Those words are translated from the Greek βλέπω which means to see with your mind's eye; to perceive, understand, contemplate, discover, to weigh carefully. It's a hard concept to grasp. The premise Paul makes is this: When I carefully consider the enormity of my calling to ministry...when I get a grip on what the LORD has asked me to do...then I am on the way to fulfilling the ministry. We are to keep our eyes focused on the task and understand the big picture. I trust these words will encourage you...and motivate you to keep going in your place of ministry. A cowboy preacher in the small town of Colossae needed these words. And we need them today as well.

You may not be a small-town cowboy preacher from Colossae, but you have been given a ministry to fulfill. And that fulfillment begins with eliminating the disillusionment that plagues our vision and looking to the ministry that God has given you.

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