2019-2-17 E Pluribus Unum

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          February 17, 2019

E Pluribus Unum
Colossians 4:7-18

Do you know the official motto of our great country?  That motto, which will surprise some, offend others, and encourage still others, is In God We Trust.[1]  The long-time (since ca. 1782) unofficial motto is the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum—“Out of many, one.”  This has been a great hope in our country across the decades and centuries—a hope realized with more or less success across our history.  We see a similar dynamic in these final verses of Colossians.  In this greetings-and-salutations section at the end of Colossians, we see that we who are in Christ, though many and each somewhat different from the others, are one in Him.[2]  Let us see this displayed as we hear God’s Word read once again in this place.


Paul gives to the Colossians quite a list of people: including those coming to Colosse, those greetings them, and those whom they are to greet.  Look at all the differences among the people that Paul lists here.  There are four Jewish-background Christians mentioned here: Mark (likely John Mark, the author of the second Gospel) Barnabas (Mark’s cousin, who receives elliptical mention here), Jesus—called Justus, and Paul himself.  The rest of the people mentioned here are Gentile-background Christians.  The animosity between the groups in the New Testament period is both intense and of long standing.  I imagine it would surprise any knowledgeable first-century observer to see representatives from these opposed people groups together.

Notice also that the roster includes at least one, Onesimus, with history as a slave.  Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, ran away from his master.  In God’s providence, he was converted to Christ under Paul’s ministry.  The short New Testament letter to Philemon is, in large part, Paul’s plea unto Philemon to free Onesimus once he, in effect, turns himself in to Philemon.  We don’t know if, at the time Paul penned Colossians, if Onesimus remains a fugitive from Philemon, or if he has returned to Philemon and yet remains a slave, or if he is now free.  In any case, a slave (or former slave) is in fellowship with all the others.  Another division closely resembles this one—namely, the sub-group including Paul and Aristarchus, who are in prison, against the rest, who are not.  Here is yet another division—yet the parties on the each side of this divide, as with the other divides, yet somehow are one.

Here are two more divisions to note.  There is noted here the potential (and, alas, all-too-often actual) division between male and female.  Nympha is the only woman here mentioned (along with the church meeting in her house), whereas all the other parties are men.  Yet she, somehow, is one with all the others listed in our text.  There is also the division between folks “from ‘round here” and outsiders (or locals and strangers, if you prefer).  Onesimus and Epaphras are from Colosse, and Nympha and Archippus either are from Colosse (or nearby regions) or are in the area from somewhere else.  Everyone else is from somewhere else.  In particular, Paul—so far as we know—never has been to Colosse.  We know the tensions that exists between old-timers and newcomers in a place—whether the place is town, church, or somewhere else.  Yet these folks, too, despite this division, are somehow one.

Now, for all these divisions, let us look at their common bond—namely, good standing in Christ Jesus.  They relate to each other on the basis of family.  They are children of God and brethren one with another because of Christ’s Person and work.  This is true despite their evident differences.  This groups union with one another—because each and all are united with Christ—gives rises to an important truth: That which binds us together in Christ is greater than any proposed difference between us.  Let us ponder this—in any season, to be sure, but especially in seasons where non-fundamental things threaten to tear us asunder.
Let’s look briefly now at the inter-relationships present in this roster.  There will be exchange of news.  Tychicus and Onesimus will bring news from Paul, at Rome, to Colosse.  Perhaps in time there will be news taken back to Paul at Rome, if he tarries there—though there is no explicit mention of this in the text.  There also will be exchange of letters.  The letter in our hands that we know as the letter to the Colossians is to be read publicly in the nearby Laodicean church—and the letter sent to Laodicea is to be read at Colosse.  We noted already the exchange of greetings from today’s text.  These inter-relationships further testify to these folks—though of widely disparate backgrounds and current stations—being fundamentally one in Christ.

This is true across the wider visible Church today.  People in Christ’s church exist with differences in language, customs, demographic facts, and the like—yet they are, and remain, one in Christ.  The same is true here at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.  We are men and women, we are young and less young, we are life-long residents of Franklin and we are relative newcomers, and we are both scrapping for every dime and comfortable and to spare.  Yet we are one in sentiment and purpose—we are one in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Unity, especially amid diversity, is both a great strength of the Church and a compelling witness to the world.  Let us, then, rejoice in God’s rendering us e pluribus unum—out of many, one.


[1] This occurred on approval of both houses of the U. S. Congress.  President Eisenhower signed this into law on July 30, 1956.


[2] I am indebted deeply to Rev. Dr. Robert S. Rayburn, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA); Tacoma, Washington, who alerted to this insight in his sermon on Colossians 4:7-18, preached on Sunday evening, December 30, 2012 (faithtacoma.org/colossians/2012-12-30-pm, accessed February 11, 2019).