While in prison in Rome for the first time, Paul picked up his pen, at the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to write a letter to a congregation in the city of Colosse. Paul addressed the letter generally to the entire congregation, but he also referred specifically to numerous individuals. There is something that we can learn about church membership from this.
Paul addressed the letter: “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse…” (Col. 1:2). The city of Colosse was located in the Lycus Valley, along with the cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. So here in this valley were three cities, located six to eighteen miles from each other, and there was a congregation of the Lord’s church in each of those cities (Col. 4:13). That sounds like a county here in the States, where there might be separate congregations about six to eighteen miles from each other but in the same region.
Here is an important point to understand. Paul is writing the letter of Colossians to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse.” He did not write this letter to the saints in Laodicea or to the saints in Hierapolis. Thus, by the very addressing of the letter, we understand there is a distinction to be made between congregations. Again, we see at the end of the letter that he makes a distinction between the church at Colosse (“you”) and “those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis” (4:13). Different congregations in different places.
As Paul closes this letter to the saints in the church at Colosse, he mentions several people by name. Note carefully that he mentions Onesimus (who was with Paul at the time of the writing) and says of Onesimus, “who is one of you” (4:9). He later mentions Epaphras with those same words, “who is one of you” (4:12). That teaches us several things: (1) These men were from Colosse. (2) These men were members of the church in Colosse. (3) Even though temporarily more than 1,000 miles away from home, they were still considered members of the church in Colosse. (4) They were not a member of either of the congregations close by (Laodicea or Hierapolis). (5) They were not members in Rome.
The Lord’s church globally is made up of hundreds of congregations locally. And each local congregation is made up of individual Christians who are members specifically of that congregation. When the Lord looks at the local congregation, He sees the individual Christians there as being identified as “one of you.” That little expression, “who is one of you,” is just one of the ways in Scripture that the Lord emphasizes the essentiality of being a member of a local congregation.