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
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 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 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 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.
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, 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
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
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
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 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 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
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
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.