Fellow Workers unto the Kingdom of God

A Study of Colossians 4:10–11

Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me. (Colossians 4:10–11)

The first of Paul’s fellow laborers is also called a fellow prisoner.  We might call him a cell mate, although being a fellow prisoner does not necessarily mean in the same prison, but in prison for the same reason.  Paul was a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1), and also a prisoner for the mystery of Christ (Colossians 4:3).  Aristarchus was a prisoner in bonds (not free to come and go as he pleased), somewhere near to the apostle so as he could add his salutations, but he is more a fellow prisoner for the same cause:  the mystery of Christ.

Aristarchus, and the next two men that we will meet, are an interesting story.  Let us see what we can learn from the Scriptures about them.

First, the Scripture here says that they are of the circumcision, i.e., they were Jews, Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah, and members of the body of Christ.  Now, according to Acts 19:29, 20:4, and 27:2, Aristarchus was of the Thessalonians in Macedonia.  This would put his introduction to the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:

Acts 17:1–4 — “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, Whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.”

That Aristarchus is numbered with these who are “of the circumcision” would make him also of the Jews in that synagogue that believed and consorted with Paul and Silas.  Now as Paul’s pattern was, as recorded in the book of Acts, he went “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16).  Yet here in Thessalonica, as in almost every other city that he went, the Jews rejected his message and in so doing continued to show the truth that Jesus Christ “came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).  But those like Aristarchus continued to illustrate the truth of the following verses:

John 1:12–13 — “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

There is also another important element in Acts 17:1–4 that should be addressed as we discuss these men “of the circumcision” who are of Paul’s fellow workers unto the kingdom of God:  the message that Paul preached in the synagogue.  The message has the following elements:

  • Christ (or Messiah) must needs have suffered
  • Christ (or Messiah) must be risen from the dead
  • Christ (or Messiah) has a known identity — He is indeed Jesus of Nazareth

This is consistent with the message that Peter preached in Acts 2, to the point that both messages speak of Christ suffering, being risen from the dead, and to indeed be Jesus of Nazareth. This that Paul spoke to the synagogue in Thessalonica is laying the foundation, especially for Jews in the synagogue.  The message that Paul spoke in the synagogue was much like that which he spoke to the synagogue in Acts 13, when he took them through Israel’s history, and led them to this important truth:

Acts 13:38–39 — “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

Paul, however, does not end in Acts 13 as Peter did in Acts 2, declaring the guilt of the nation and demanding that they repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins (Acts 2:38), but he makes it known that it is through the Lord Jesus Christ that forgiveness of sins is found.  Luke does not add this here, but we find out in Paul’s epistles that this forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14), and justification (Romans 3:24–26), are through the blood of Christ.  This is the only basis by which God would ever forgive or justify anyone.  He will “by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7), but all sinners can be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Paul does not speak to his brethren according to the flesh pointing out and stressing their blood-guiltiness, although he does lay at their feet that they demanded his death, but rather that it is in Him that salvation is found.  Paul’s message did not stress the guilt of the cross as Peter’s did (also a God-given message), but stressed that salvation is through the cross and because of the cross.  Indeed, Paul could take his place among those who were guilty of the blood of Christ, and those who did always resist the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51).  This fact of Paul’s past made him uniquely qualified for the work that God had for him as apostle of the Gentiles with the dispensation of the grace of God:

1 Timothy 1:12–17 — “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, Who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul, who was formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, could truly count himself as a blasphemer of the Holy Ghost in that he stood by and consented to the death of Stephen, who was “full of faith and power” (Acts 6:8), and appeared to the council as having the “face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).  Stephen was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:55) when the men of the council ran on him with one accord, cast him out of the city, and stoned him.  Saul went from holding coats and consenting to Stephen’s death, to making havok of the assembly of believers in Jerusalem.  But he still found mercy!  He could not be counted among the nation bringing forth the fruits of the Kingdom, for the blasphemer of the Holy Ghost would never be forgiven as such, but he could be and was saved by grace and grace alone!  This grace would drive the apostle to glory in sufferings and fill up in his own body the sufferings of Christ with joy (Colossians 1:24), “for the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14)!

As a fellow worker and fellow prisoner with Paul, Aristarchus could also fill up in his own body the sufferings of Christ with joy.  Aristarchus and Gaius were caught by the mob in Ephesus and these religious Gentiles were out of control and many did not even know why they were there.  This was what Paul called “perils of the heathen” (2 Corinthians 11:26).  This fellow worker got to experience that first hand.  The only thing that kept the men of God from being torn limb from limb was that Rome was to be feared if order was lost.  This record could be found in Acts 19:23–41.  The silversmiths that made their money from heathen idolatry would not go down without a fight, yet God preserved His own through using the heathen town clerk with the threat of the heathen Roman government.  I would venture to assume that these men appreciated that God instituted human government at such a time as this!

Aristarchus continued faithful to Paul and was with him at Troas (Acts 20:4), and sailed with him to Rome, where he ended up his fellow prisoner.  He is again mentioned as a fellowlabourer in Philemon.  This man as he suffered with Paul, also had opportunity to suffer for Christ:

2 Timothy 2:12 — “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us…”

Philippians 1:29 — “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

We now come to the most well-known of the three, a man named Marcus.  Paul calls him “sister’s son to Barnabas”, or we may say “Barnabas’ sister’s son”.  In short, Marcus, or Mark, was Barnabas’ nephew.  He is also the man called to write the Gospel According to Mark, which Scofield points out is the “Gospel of Jehovah’s ‘Servant the Branch’ (Zech. 3.8)”¹.

We meet Mark in Acts 12, where we are actually introduced to his mother, another woman named Mary in the New Testament (Acts 12:12).  He is known as “John whose surname was Mark” in Acts, and in Acts 12:25, Barnabas and Saul took him with them from Jerusalem to Antioch.  When the Holy Ghost separated Barnabas and Saul, they took John Mark with them to Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos, and Perga in Pamphylia, and at Perga he returned to Jerusalem.  Acts 13:5 says that they “had John to their minister”.  There was opposition in Paphos from a Jewish false prophet and sorcerer named Barjesus or Elymas and it is quite possible that Mark was not ready to deal with this, for it was right after this that he is said to have returned to Jerusalem.

So Mark left, and “Saul, who is also called Paul”, and Barnabas went on.  After the “Jerusalem council” and their return to Antioch, Paul said to Barnabas that he wanted to re-visit all of the brethren in the cities in which they preached.  Barnabas wanted to take Mark, Paul said that it was not a good idea.  The contention was so sharp that they had a rift between them, and Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus with him, and that is the last we hear from Barnabas or Mark in Acts.  The rest of the history would follow Paul and new companions.  In Colossians, however, we find out that Mark was Barnabas’ nephew, and that is why this meant so much to him.  He took Mark back to Cyprus (his home, Acts 4:36), and he must have helped to ready him for the ministry, not with a “baptism by fire” as he received on the first trip.  This would be expected from the “son of consolation”.  The Colossians were told to receive him, and Paul told Timothy in his last epistle that he wanted Timothy to bring Mark with him because “he is profitable to me [Paul] for the ministry”.  He had become a faithful minister, but he needed time and training to grow.  It could not be forced at the time just because Barnabas wanted it so.

From 1 Corinthians 9:6, it seems that Paul and Barnabas did not remain at odds, even though we do not hear of them as traveling partners anymore.  Maybe the Lord was done using Barnabas as the son of consolation for Paul, and now would use him as the son of consolation for Mark.  As said earlier, Mark would go on to write the Gospel of the Perfect Servant, and the apostle Peter would mention a “Marcus, my son” in 1 Peter 5:13. Mark would rise from the place of a frightened helper to the place of a faithful servant to more than one of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The faithful men would need to prepare him for this service.

 Another man of this group, “of the circumcision” is Jesus, called Justus.  We meet a man named Justus in the book of Acts, whose “house was joined hard to the synagogue” in Corinth (Acts 18:7).  Conybeare and Howson, in their classic work on the Apostle Paul², say that this Justus was a proselyte who opened his door to the Apostle, but nothing more is known of him.  Many others make note that “some texts” — read 2 texts, the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus — read Titus Justus, or Titius Justus.  These make a point that this Justus was a Gentile, and that the addition that he worshipped God would have been an unnecessary addition if he was a Jew or a proselyte.  William M. Ramsay in his classic work on Paul³, following this interpretation, makes this Justus a Roman (the name is Latin), who much like Cornelius in Acts 10, was attracted to the synagogue.  The “Majority Text”, and the Textus Receptus, do not have “Titus”, or “Titius” as this man’s first name.  Myself, I tend to stick with the TR over the so-called “best manuscripts”, which are only the “best manuscripts” because someone said they are.  Enough said…

Regarding this Justus, could this be the same man in both Acts 18 and Colossians 4?  Maybe.  If he was a Roman named Titus and not a Jew or proselyte, he would not be the same person, for the man mentioned here in Colossians is “of the circumcision”.  If he was a proselyte, or even a natural born Jew, he could be the same man.  A proselyte would be made one “of the circumcision”, and a born Jew would obviously be of the circumcision.  If this were the case, the fact that it states that he worshipped God could be saying that he was a Jew who believed as opposed to those in 1 Thessalonians 2:15–16 who “please not God, and are contrary to all men”.  It is hard for me to believe that one in a house joined hard to the synagogue in Corinth was not a Jew, from the point of view of the synagogue or of the man to whom the house belongs.

This Justus, with his house joined to the synagogue, opened his door to the apostle of Jesus Christ.  This would not make him repudiate his “Jewishness”, for Jews who accepted the promised hope of their Nation, and all that the prophets have spoke truly became Jews indeed, in spite of the majority of the nation, who were uncircumcised in hearts and ears.  These believers of the circumcision are “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

In either case, this Jesus called Justus also brings out another very important point:  “Jesus” was a common name, yet we know one Jesus, Whose Name is above every name, and He is our Lord Jesus Christ.  This JESUS Who died for our sins on the cross and rose again is the same JESUS that will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords one day.  While many platitudes are made to “worshipping Jesus”, and “loving Jesus”, and “following Jesus”, we should with our words honor the Name above all names and worship Him as LORD, for that is truly the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Many even seek to reverence His Jewish pronunciation and only refer to Yeshua, but even this, as they seek to be true to “Hebrew roots”, should certainly own Him as Adonai — LORD.

In this introduction to these men, Paul says that “these only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me”.  Depending on which translation is used, there is a different meaning to this.  Some make it to mean that these are the only Jewish believers working with Paul unto the kingdom of God, some make it sound that they are the only fellow workers that he has, and others stress that they are the only ones that are a comfort to him.  There were others “of the circumcision” working with Paul, one being Timothy who was “of the circumcision” by Paul (Acts 16:3).  Paul had other fellow workers, who he will continue to list, and others who would be of comfort to him: consider Luke.

So how should this be understood?  These men of the circumcision who worked closely with Paul, one being even a fellow prisoner, are a comfort to him in his grief over the majority of his “brethren according to the flesh” and their unbelief.  The word translated comfort here (παρηγορία — parēgoría) is found only here and indicates “a soothing solace” (Vine’s).  The sense is that these men working with Paul, being of the circumcision, have brought him a soothing relief from the pain of the rejection of the kingdom of God by the nation of Israel.

Now before leaving this study, I will briefly touch on the kingdom of God.  This is that which God rules over as Sovereign.  In our day, God is reigning in grace, and even in believers, the strength of His reign is dependent upon our yieldedness to Him.  Some may find horror in this statement, limiting the sovereignty of God, but God is not ruling over the nations with a rod of iron today.  God is letting man have his own way today, for all the nations of this world are in rebellion, ruling as they see fit.  This is not the kingdom of God, neither is “the Church” advancing His reign as king here.  Some may think and preach it, but that is not what God is doing in this dispensation of His grace.  God has reconciled the world to Himself through Jesus Christ our Lord and His finished work on the cross, and is calling all men without exception or distinction to be reconciled to Him.  But keeping consistent with the reign of grace, He is not forcing anyone, but appealing to them in grace by the gospel, that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, and that through THIS MAN sins are forgiven and all of us can be justified from all things.  We are saved by His grace though faith, that is, when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, He credits His righteousness to our account and He delivers us from the power of darkness to the kingdom of His dear Son.  We are given eternal life as a gift, through Jesus Christ our Lord, when we place our faith entirely in Him, and not in ourselves, for it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (reference 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, 2 Corinthians 5:18–21, Romans 4:5, 6:23, Ephesians 2:8–9, Colossians 1:13–14, 20–21, etc.)

What will YOU do during this gracious reign?  Will you accept His offer of grace and peace, or will you try and do it your way?  Your way will fail.


References

  1. Scofield, C. I., et al, (1945). The Scofield Reference Bible. New York: Oxford University Press. 1045
  2. Conybeare, W. J., & Howson, J. S. (1908). The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s.
  3. Ramsay, W. M. (2001). St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

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