Remember My Chains

Colossians 4:7-18 

At the end of each of Paul’s letters he writes greetings to people in the church with whom he has a special relationship or who are especially significant to the church to whom he is writing. He also sends greetings from people with whom he is travelling or who are in prison with him or who have a special connection to the church.  These final verses in the letter to the Colossian church include these greetings to and from:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.” I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:7-18)

At first you feel like an intruder – listening in on someone’s personal mail – greetings and thoughts to and from unfamiliar names.  Or like looking through someone else’s family album – Paul tells you the names of this person and that, but they just don’t connect without the kind of relationships that have obviously been developed between Paul and these people he mentions as best friends and co-workers. 

But in the midst of all this there is something that sounds strikingly familiar.  These are brothers and sisters in Christ – separated by long centuries, but dealing with similar struggles, consumed by similar dreams, united in the same Lord.  And after a while you begin to feel at home among these folks to whom Paul has entrusted this wonderful message of grace and the care of this precious church in Colossae. 

Let me share the little bits that we know about each of these men and women who were a part of Paul’s life and the life of the Colossian church. 

Tychicus

Tychicus was from the province of Asia.  He was one of Paul’s close traveling companions in the book of Acts. Paul mentions him several times as them being in prison together.  

He was often Paul’s trusted messenger – Paul sent him to Ephesus to deliver his letter to the Ephesian church and encourage them in their faith and to tell them how Paul was doing.  Paul sent him also to Titus to encourage him and speed Titus on his way to meet Paul at Nicopolis. 

Tychicus was more than a messenger boy, though. Paul says this is “the express purpose” for which he sends him to Colossae – “that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.” 

He is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord (Paul uses both the Greek words diakonos and doulos, servant and slave – and that is Paul’s highest compliment). This is a man to whom Paul would (and did) entrust his life.   

As strong-egoed and self-sufficient as Paul seems to portray himself at times, he always brings us back to the people upon whom he depends and whose love and loyalty sustain him. 

Those are the kind of men with which Paul surrounds himself (occasionally he is disappointed, as with Demas), but Paul realizes and acknowledges how important others are to his ministry.   

Onesimus

Onesimus was a runaway slave belonging to Philemon, a Christian in Colossae. Onesimus had run away, but had somehow come in contact with Paul while he is in prison in Rome. 

Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a separate letter – one that will transform the relationship between this slave and his owner, who are now brothers in Christ – with admonitions such as what we read in Philemon 10-19: I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 

The mention of Onesimus reminds us of the inequalities that existed in society in the 1st century.  It also reminds us of how Jesus, through his church, can break down those barriers and unite people who would otherwise live in hostility outside of Christ. But in Christ, slave and master can live in harmony and brotherly love, Jew and Gentile can share their lives, knowing they are co-heirs of the kingdom of God. 

And perhaps Paul mentions Onesimus and bestows upon him this blessing: “our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” in the more general letter sent to the church, so that, if Philemon is of a mind to punish his runaway slave, the church might encourage him to do otherwise. (Paul is never above using a little peer pressure.) 

These first two men are Paul’s messengers to Colossae. Paul writes: “They will tell you everything that is happening here.” 

Aristarchus

Aristarchus is from Thessalonica in Macedonia.  He was another one of Paul’s close traveling companions on his missionary journeys.  He also is mentioned frequently as a fellow prisoner with Paul while he is in prison. 

Mark

This is John-Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, the one who abandoned the mission team on their first missionary journey, and became the cause of disagreement when they prepared for their second trip.   

Mark is later reconciled with Paul in friendship and now with Paul in prison. In 2 Timothy, it will be John-Mark that Paul begs Timothy to bring with him when he comes because “he is very useful to me.” 

Mark is also known as the close companion and co-worker of Peter, and it is this Mark who penned the second Gospel.

Apparently, the Colossians are already expecting Mark’s visit, and Paul is encouraging them to welcome him warmly.

Jesus, called Justus

Justus has no other distinction than being a fellow Jew, one of Paul’s countrymen.  These Jews among his fellow workers, from the same religious roots, who share his background and his way of looking at things – Paul says, “they have proved a comfort to me.”   

Working among the Gentiles, while a joy to Paul, I’m sure it was also a continual source of cultural tension.  You know how when you are away from home and folks just don’t do things the way you are used to and think the way you are used to thinking.  What a joy it is to find someone from home and just exult in each other’s company.  Paul never ceased to be a Jew culturally – it was as much a part of him as was his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles. 

Epaphras

Epaphras, you will remember from chapter one - he is the one who brought the gospel to Colossae.  Paul writes: “He is always wrestling in prayer for you.” There is something tremendously encouraging about knowing that someone is praying for you – that you are the object of their thoughts and prayers.

And the content of his prayers: “that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”  Paul’s prayers were always for the spiritual growth and maturity of the churches – Epaphras has taken this same cue. 

Epaphras, a minister at Colossae, who had originally preached the gospel and established the church there, had been sent by the church to report to Paul about the progress of the church and has remained with Paul.  Paul also wants to assure the church that Epaphras is representing them well –he is a hard worker and a faithful servant with Paul. 

Luke, the doctor

Paul mentions Luke, the author of the third Gospel and the book of Acts.  Luke was a constant companion and friend of Paul’s. During Paul’s second missionary journey, Luke travelled with the group until they came to Philippi, then stayed for some time in Philippi strengthening the church there, until they came back through on their way to Jerusalem. 

Demas

At this point, Demas was present with Paul, but by the time of his last Roman imprisonment that he writes about in 2 Timothy, Paul will say that Demas “loved this world and has deserted me.”  

Those are the ones who are with Paul and to whom Paul is entrusting his life and this message.  On the receiving end, in Colossae Paul sends greetings to: 

Nympha

Nympha was a woman, apparently of significant means, in whose house the church met in Colossae, and when we read the letter to Philemon, we also learn that the church met in his home as well. 

Nympha, like Priscilla and Lydia and Phoebe and so many others, is representative of all those women who served in relative anonymity, but whose contribution and impact in the early church were enormous. 

Archippus

Archippus was a resident of Colossae, and is mentioned also in the letter to Philemon as being a “fellow soldier with Paul.” 

Archippus had been given some specific ministry which is yet to be completed. Perhaps this is a note of encouragement with a subtle little nudge included to quit procrastinating. 

We also learn at the close of this letter of the close connection between the churches in Colossae, Laodicea and also Hierapolis.  Paul also wrote a letter to Laodicea, though it did not survive and was not included in the NT.  In fact, we know that Paul wrote many letters, only a few of which were preserved and included in the canon of scripture. 

These letters to Colossae and Laodicea were to be exchanged between the two churches, which really emphasizes the universality of the message. These are not isolated, provincial letters with limited usefulness.  And even though thousands of miles and thousands of years separate us from this church in Colossae, its message is just as relevant and timely for Christians today who struggle with the same kinds of issues and obstacles.  It is a powerful testimony to the timelessness of the gospel. 

And after all of the personal greetings and messages, Paul authenticates this letter as coming from him: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.” 

In several of his letters, Paul makes reference to his authorship and in signatory fashion says, “I write this with my own hand.” 

What this reference reflects is that he has written these letters through a scribe (and in fact, occasionally the scribe will identify himself such as Tertius does at the end of the Roman letter) and then when the letter is finished, Paul will conclude it with a short personal note and his name – In Galatians, he concludes, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand.”

And some suggest the reason is that Paul suffered a physical malady, and perhaps specifically poor eyesight or an injury or disease of his eyes as the thorn in the flesh he references in 2 Cor. 12, and that would certainly necessitate him using a scribe. 

And just as common in Paul’s letters as his greetings is his concluding benediction, “Grace be with you.”

Those words are more than a perfunctory, trite, “Good luck.” They are heartfelt words that come out of Paul’s own deep conviction and dependence on the grace of God, and his desire that it would be a part of everyone’s lives. 

What is most intriguing to me is Paul’s concluding words, “Remember my chains.”  For Paul, his chains and imprisonment symbolized God’s working in his life.  If Paul had written the script, he would have traveled freely and without hindrance.  He would have gone everywhere and preached freely without opposition. 

But time after time, Paul finds himself in prison, not because of wrong doing, but because of his faith and his preaching of the gospel.  And what seems to amaze Paul the most, is that rather than stop his preaching and contain the gospel – it spreads all the more rapidly and even more opportunities are granted to him – and this was God’s plan from the beginning. The Lord sent this message through Ananias, three days after Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus: But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  (Acts 9:15-16) 

If you live your life by “what ifs,” chains would be a symbol of shame and the halt to anything productive in life.  For years afterward you would carry the scars and exempt yourself from serving in God’s kingdom.   

And I wonder this morning – what are those chains in your life that have quenched your spirit?  What keeps you from serving God?  And I guess what I’m really asking is, when you look at Paul’s outlook and his attitude toward the things that threatened to shut life down – do they really?  Even in chains Paul could write, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”   

Have done with your imprisonment and chains – Christ has broken the shackles and knocked down the prison walls. Remember Paul’s chains – not for how they bound him, but for how they set him free.