What Makes A Great Church
Colossians 4:16ff reads,
And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.
What is astounding about this command to have the letter to the Colossians read in the church of the Laodiceans is that the Colossian church was a much smaller church and Laodicea a much larger one. The Laodicean church is given one letter in Scripture, and it is in Revelation 3:14–22,
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The problem in Laodicea was self-sufficiency. They would depend on no one except themselves, and certainly not on Jesus at this point. Their letter relates to the Colossian letter in that the false teaching that Colossae was facing involved Christless philosophy, ritualism, asceticism, and mysticism which are said to have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col. 2). In essence, the false teaching in Colossae was a teaching of self-sufficiency and non-dependence in order to achieve spirituality. Thus when this letter was read to Laodicea it would strike hard. Moreover, when the Laodicean letter was read to Colossae it would encourage greatly, because after all, they were told to tell their pastor to fulfill the ministry he received, and by name! Archippus was his name (Col. 4:17). Presumably, this is the same addressed in Revelation 3. It is falsely presumed that small churches as having no right to correct larger churches on the basis that they are unsuccessful. However, unsuccessful in whose eyes? In God’s eyes, Colossae received a larger letter from the Apostle Paul that was full of glorious truth and protection and little rebuke. Laodecia received a letter full of rebuke and reinforced by a smaller church being witness to them of their failure to depend on Jesus. Surely mutual benefit would be intended in the exchange of letters, but the small Colossian church was indeed built up as something bigger than the world and even some churches could recognize.
Some time in ministry I asked another pastor of a much larger church his opinion on a certain teacher and program being espoused to pastors. He told me that you just need to stick with the Bible; Jesus has enough wisdom on that to keep you busy and successful. A couple of years later I read this same pastor incorporating that program into his church. I wondered what changed. The truth did not change, but the pastor did. He was a pastor of a big church, just not a great church. What makes any church great is their dependence on God.