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Colossians 4: 7-18 – Paul and his friends

It is such a pity that we are often amazed by the wonderful truths in the letter to the Colossians, and then we skip over the last few verses, because it only sounds like greetings.

But in reality the last few verses put flesh and blood to the truths that are in the letter. Because it tells us that those wonderful truths were really believed and trusted by specific people and that it was written down for specific people to read. There were those who had to go and deliver the letter, there were those who would receive it, and those who would still receive it in the future! Yes, there were real-life, true Christians in those early days. And today we can get to know a few of them.

The Apostle Paul does FOUR things in these last verses: 1 > He is introducing the two messengers who were to deliver the letter in Colosse (in modern Turkey) 2 > Then he introduces 6 of his colleagues: Three were Jews and three were non-Jews (gentiles). Thirdly he mentions some of his other friends who would receive the letter, and fourthly, he talks about himself.

Tychicus > He is also mentioned in the Ephesians letter since he had to deliver their letter as well. Letters and mail were delivered by messengers/postmen. But note how Paul describes Tychicus. He is in the Lord. He is a dear spiritual brother to everyone.

This reliable man was a very beloved Christian. Why? He was a faithful servant of the Gospel. He was attached to the truth and he served/lived the truth.

And in addition he was a fellow-slave (Greek) in the Lord Jesus. He regarded himself as someone who belonged to the Lord. He was the Lord’s property – the way slaves belonged to their owners – bought at a price. No rights or will of his own.

That is the man who was to deliver the letter. Why? Paul says: “that you may know about our circumstances “. He is desirous for these people’s intercession, and therefore they must have information, because it is better to provide particular information rather than to just say: pray for me, pray for me. He is not only sending a letter to the Colossians, but also a living messenger who can tell them all about Paul and how they can pray for him intelligently.

Information has to be exchanged. Knowledge of each other is necessary for intercession and prayer. Look at the words Paul is using: “That he may encourage your hearts… your concerns may be removed”.

That is the great blessing of the mutual fellowship of believers. Because Christians have an ongoing need for encouragement. No Christian can live in isolation. What an encouragement it is to sometimes just sit and listen other people’s stories.

But there is another messenger/postman: Onesimus.

We learn a lot about Onesimus in Paul’s letter to Philemon.

Onesimus was from Colosse and was a slave, but he ran away from his owner. At that time he was still unsaved. Through circumstances he ended up in Rome and by the providence of the Lord, he met Paul. Through his contact with Paul he heard the Gospel message and came to repentance and faith in Jesus.

Now Paul is sending him back to Colosse accompanied by Tychicus. And the love of the Lord has bound their hearts together. Paul was his spiritual father and Onesimus his spiritual child.

Yes, the Lord CAN change a person’s life – completely change it.

Onesimus left Colosse as an unsaved man, he returned to the church of Christ as a fellow-Christian.

Redemption is not merely a theory, it is a reality! The Gospel really WORKS in real people whose lives are truly changed by the power of the Truth and the Word! Although it cannot yet be said of Onesimus that he was a slave and servant of Christ – as it is said of Tychicus! Because he was still a young Christian and did not have the experience of service to the Lord. He has not yet proved himself in servitude for the Lord.

There we have two Christians from the earliest Christian church: Tychicus and Onesimus – on fire with love for the Lord and His precious Truth! Two real people who really lived. The same as us being real people who really live today!

2 PAUL’S COLLEAGUES > Verses 10-14
We read these verses and it does not say much, but a gentile or Jew of the first century who read this, would be very surprised, because here we find three Jews (verses 10-11) and three non-Jews (gentiles) (verses 12-14) and they are all the best of friends! They regard one another as “brothers” and fellow-servants in the work of the Gospel.

What? Such a thing was unthinkable at that time when Jew and non-Jew did not sit next to the same fire. Serious prejudice and discrimination. The Jews referred to non-Jews as dogs.

Yes, the amazing Gospel-message of Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection does not only demolish the barriers between people and God, but also demolishes the barriers between man and man – the social barriers and prejudices. Christ has done it. Now God has only ONE mankind – those who are IN Christ. Come let us get to know a few of them…

There is Aristarchus (verse 10). “My fellow-prisoner”. We also find him in Acts 19 where he was prepared to be attacked by a hostile crowd so that Paul could escape. He was in Rome as a fellow-prisoner with Paul in the sense that he voluntarily went to live with Paul under house-arrest to be a comfort to Paul. A wonderful spirit of brotherhood in Christ. And sacrifice. It was common in the church at that time. Supernatural!

And then there was Mark (verse 10). He was the cousin of Barnabas. Also called John Mark.

Fourteen years previously there was a dispute between Paul and Barnabas concerning Mark, because Paul did not want Mark to accompany him on his second missionary journey because he had deserted them on the first journey. But Barnabas wanted Mark to go with them. So they parted ways. But not with dissension. Here Mark is now in Rome with Paul. And Paul is pleased with him. The church must receive him with open arms as servant of the Gospel. Previously he caused problems, but now he was a reliable servant of Christ. What a change the Lord can bring about. The same Paul who had problems with him before, now recommends him! Because there is such a thing as the process of sanctification and the Lord who walks a distance with His own – come what may!

We need never have to give up in despair. Someone who was down today can be on top tomorrow. Because we are dealing with the living Lord and He changes lives. Christians GROW, praise the Lord for that. Their opinions can change, their behaviour can be renewed, their sins can be conquered.

And then there is another person: Another Jew named Jesus, but who is called Justus. In those days Jesus was a common name. But if you were a Jew at that time, and your name was Jesus and you came to repentance and faith and became a Christian, what would you do first? Change your name, of course! Here is Jesus who follows Jesus! That is why this man chose another name for himself: Justus – a non-Jewish name. And it means: The one who is made righteous/is justified.

“These are the only Jews among my fellow-workers for the kingdom of God” Paul writes.

Yes, the unsaved Jews caused Paul much hardship. But these three men have been saved and were changed by the Lord. Chosen and elected believers who could work alongside the Apostle so that the Lord’s reign may be established in the lives of other people. That was the passion of their lives.

It is a great comfort and encouragement to be with other Christians. It is such a significant sign of true regeneration: The indispensable longing for other Christians, and the fellowship with other Christians. One of THE signs that someone truly did pass over from death into life. Christians who struggle and fall easily are usually those who are trying to stand alone and who neglect fellowship with other believers. Remain standing by standing with others!

Those then are Paul’s Jewish colleagues. But who were his non-Jewish colleagues? Let us meet them.

First there is Epaphras – who comes from Colosse (verse 12). He was the one who planted the church in Colosse. Paul writes about him as the servant of Christ Jesus. What an epitaph to have engraved on your tombstone one day!

In addition to that, Epaphras was a man who CONTINUOUSLY laboured for the church in Colosse – while he was in Rome! How did he manage that? They were some distance apart. He contended for the Colossians in PRAYER! Distance cannot restrict prayer! Prayer is work! Often it is a struggle. Intercession drains a person. But Epaphras wrestled on his knees for the welfare of the Colossians. Every single day! Despite the distance of hundreds of miles separating them, he was a source of blessing for the Colossians. In prayer. Is that not wonderful. To think that you can be a blessing to people thousands of miles away. Even people you have never before seen or met.

Epaphras prayed that the Colossians would stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured (Greek). It is like a child who completely obeys his parents’ wishes. That is what Epaphras is praying. That the Colossians would not only absorb all the great truths of the Word, but also would obey the Lord as obedient children. To strive for complete obedience, not only half obedience.

In verse 13, Paul says that Epaphras was filled with zeal for the Colossians. Zealous. It means to be eager, but also to have pain. Epaphras had a passion for the Colossians and the Laodiceans and the believers in Hierapolis, which caused pain at the same time. He was eager for prayer and more prayer. How very dramatic is the change the Lord can wrought in the life of a sinner!

But there was also Luke! The medical doctor. Whom the Apostle loved. The writer of the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. Yes, he was a physician, but also a wonderful absolutely reliable historian. Luke and Acts contain exact detail descriptions. He was present with Paul and his fellow-workers on several of their mission journeys. How often in Acts does he not mention us/we. He was so on fire for the Lord. Busy with establishing churches and missions, and here in Rome to care for his beloved apostle, Paul.

There is also Demas.

When you read through these verses you will notice that the apostle is saying something positive about everyone, but not about Demas. He only mentions him by name.

Four years later Paul would write to Timothy: “Demas has deserted me, because he loved this world”.

There must have been something in Demas that bothered the Apostle at the time. It was as if Demas had to be spiritually supported by someone else – perhaps Luke. But remove the support, then Demas’ devotion weakened and the world drew him away. Tragic.

The people who were at the receiving end of this letter. They are Nympha and Archippus and the church in Laodicea.

Laodicea was not far from Colosse, but a much larger city. We do not know how many Christians or how many churches there were in Laodicea, but one of the churches used to meet in Nympha’s home.

For the first almost 300 years, the Christian Church functioned without any church-buildings. The first church-building was erected in 230 AD in Jordan. But for at least two+ centuries the churches of the Lord gathered in people’s houses – without Sunday as a holiday. Sunday used to be an ordinary working day in the Roman Empire until Emperor Constantine declared it a holiday.

Therefore the Christians had to make great sacrifices to get together. They had to gather after work – Sunday afternoon or evening. Added to that it was not a joke to make your home available for services week after week. But Nympha was willing. Those Christians truly lived for each other.

The instructions from Paul to the Colossians was that this very letter he is writing to them must be read in the church of Laodicea as well. That is the reason we have studied this letter. Because a letter which comes from the Lord and given through His apostle to one church, must be read by others. In turn, the Colossians should read the letter that comes from Laodicea! Yes, Paul wrote two letters at the same time, and the same messengers went to deliver them. One to Colosse and the other to Ephesus. And the letter to the Ephesians was read and passed on from place to place to be read everywhere until it arrived in Laodicea. And now the Colossians had to read that one also.

That other letter is what we have in our NT as the letter to the Ephesians. That is the reason why the Ephesians-letter does not contain greetings to the Ephesians in particular. That is why Paul tells the Colossians to send his greetings to the Laodiceans – approximately 20km away – because the Ephesians-letter does not contain greeting-messages. That is how authoritative these apostolic letters were (and still is). It was – together with the OT – God’s Word to the churches. And therefore also to us! A letter of the Lord to one church, is a letter to all the churches – right into the 21st century. Think about it!

And then there is Archippus. From the letter to Philemon we know that Archippus was Philemon’s son. And he was the presiding elder (pastor) of the church in Colosse and possibly also in Laodicea.

And what should this minister know and hear? The Apostle says: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.” Thus: Do not be complacent. Commit your entire life to focus on this work. Do not be satisfied with anything less than your best. Paul knew how easy it was for teachers of the Word to become despondent and that is why he is encouraging Archippus.

And now as we close the letter to the Colossians, we lastly meet Paul.

4 THE APOSTLE PAUL > verse 18
Paul did not write the letter himself, but he dictated it to someone who wrote down his words. Perhaps he walked up-and-down the room while he spoke.

But now he takes the pen from the hand of the secretary to write the last sentences. He signs the letter with these words: I, Paul write this greeting in my own hand.

That is the authenticating mark which is proof that the letter really is from Paul. It is not a forgery.

“Remember my chains” writes Paul. “Remember me where I am kept a prisoner. And grace be with you”.

Is it not moving? The free church must always remember the suffering church – the Christians who are suffering for the sake of their devotion to Christ. Not all Christians are free. Many are imprisoned – in some way or another. REMEMBER them…

But whether you are a free or a suffering Christian – only one thing decides the issue : God’s free grace, His free undeserved favour.

Your Christian-life began by His free favour and you grow by His free favour and you will enter eternal life by His free favour. Everything is about HIM and nothing about oneself!

Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Stuart Olyott

Category Colossians Series

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