The Smoking Flax
As Paul concludes his epistle to the Colossians there is a matter to which attention must be given before he lays down his pen. A message is to be given to Archippus, who was of the household of Philemon, possibly his son or close relative (Philem v.2). This message was terse: "And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it" (Col 4.17), perhaps indicating that Paul did not expect him to be present as the letter was read to the saints. Archippus is described by Paul in the letter to Philemon as "our fellowsoldier" (v.2), and by this description it is clear that he had laboured faithfully in the past. In the present he had a specific work, the nature of which was known to the other believers, and he was, therefore, responsible for carrying it through.
The admonition seems to indicate that this "fellowsoldier" of the apostle may have been slacking in his diligence. The reason for this is unknown, but the fact that Paul makes this request in such a public manner indicates that Archippus carelessness was a serious matter. He appears to be no longer performing in the assembly with his past zeal; that which formerly drove him on is now absent, and all the saints are aware of it.
In assemblies we meet some who have never performed to their potential, and others who seemed to do so in the past, but no longer show the interest that once was theirs. The reasons are many. Some have become tired of the pressure of working in an assembly where they are little appreciated; some may have let the world encroach on their lives and that has caused the fire of devotion to grow cold; some may be affected by the apparent lack of response from others in the work in which they are engaged; some have let bitterness hold them in its vice-like grip; perhaps disputes have blunted the old fervour, or it may be that problems with which they have been faced have sucked the spiritual enthusiasm from them. No matter the cause, the servant is now under-performing. The assembly suffers, the family of the servant suffers, those who may benefit from the work suffer, and the servant suffers personally.
One thing is certain; each individual in this condition is aware of what has taken place and they know that the cause is fundamentally spiritual. If the reader recognises the symptoms in their own service, the call of Paul ringing down through the centuries comes with added power: "Take heed to the ministry". The injunction is to "look to" the work with which you have been charged. Give it the necessary attention. There is almost a note of warning here that it is vital to have the work fully completed. No half measures will do; it has to be fulfilled.
The epistle which contains this exhortation commences with teaching to rectify errors regarding the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. If one asks how flagging zeal can be full-hearted again, the answer starts with getting our eyes on the Lord, because declining interest, when all is said and excuses are exhausted, is caused by a low appreciation of and love for the Lord. When this is rekindled there will again be a desire to "fulfil the ministry". Do the meetings where you were once consistently present find you now absent? This short piece is a heart-felt plea to face up to the truth and determine to have matters put right. It may be that Archippus had not gone far down the pathway of declining interest, but Paul is warning that the process must be reversed.
I do not know if the reader is on that pathway, or, if so, whether at the beginning or well down the slope. There is coming a day when we must all give an account of how we have served, and what will we say then? What "reasons" will stand His gaze? We can make excuses to others, but deep down we do not fool ourselves. We can try to cover up, but the truth is plain in our own minds. The Lord desires us, for our own good, to be active in His service. You may be a smoking flax (Is 42.3), one that used to be aflame but is now reduced to a wispy smoke. Do not remain like that, "Take heed to the ministry and fulfil it".