Friday, September 05, 2008

Colossians 4:10-18

10My 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.) 11Jesus, 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. 12Epaphras, 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. 13I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16After 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. 17Tell Archippus: "See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord." 18I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Let’s point out a few more things from this passage: Aristarchus, a Jew from Thessalonica, accompanied Paul often and was in prison with Paul for the sake of Christ. Paul says to welcome him if he comes to visit. It is sadly the case that the best teachers are coldly received. It’s the charismatic false teachers that receive the warm-welcomes and standing ovations. By the mention of Mark, we note that Paul’s relationship with him had been healed. Indeed, they were reunited in Christian love, “the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), not merely neutral toward one another. V10 and v14 mention Mark and Luke, respectively. Consider that these theologians – combined writers of over half of the New Testament (16 of 27 books) – sat in prison together in Rome. Paul, who had been carried up into the heaven of heavens, Mark, who had been with our Lord on the night in which He was betrayed, and Luke, who had investigated these things for himself, must have edified one another tremendously. Can you imagine their conversation as they considered the life of Jesus and the Scriptures?

In v12, we read that Epaphras, the pastor of the Colossian Church, worked hard and always wrestled in prayer for his believers, for Laodicea, and for Hierapolis, that they would stand firm in God’s will, mature and fully assured. That prayer alone sums Paul’s letter – that the believers would remain in Christ as supreme, would find their growth in Him as sufficient, and would be assured in their knowledge of their completion in Christ as fullness. What an encouragement that must have been for the believers, knowing their beloved pastor had not forgotten them! In v13, we see Laodicea and Hierapolis mentioned in the Colossian letter. These cities were near the Lycus River, in a region called the Lycos Valley, part of a larger area called Phrygia, about 100 miles southeast of (inland from) Ephesus. See the map:

Demas, mentioned in v14 with Luke, later deserted Paul during his second imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:10). He is also mentioned in Philemon 24 with Luke. Perhaps he was one of those Christians who rode the coattails of the more mature brother, Luke in this case, depending on him too much for his own spiritual maturity and growth in grace; when the challenge came, perhaps he found just how empty his commitment to Christ was and fell away. The very mention of his name reminds us that, no matter how far along the Christian journey, we must always make our calling and election sure. Finally, Nympha is mentioned in v15, as the hostess of a church. House churches were the norm until the third century. And this reality teaches us that our houses are to be house-churches as well. Our family exists to glorify God as an entity.

Some say that the letter to Laodicea that Paul mentions here in v16 refers to Ephesians, which Tychicus also delivered perhaps on the same trip. But the fact that Ephesians is more reflective and detailed makes it likely that Colossians and the missing Laodicean letter came first and that Ephesians was written a little bit later and delivered by Tychicus on the next go round through the region. Regardless of the history, Paul’s instructions to have this letter read to other congregations shows that his teachings are not for the specific audience alone, but that they are for all the believers worldwide – even us some 1950 years later.

In v17, Archippus is thought to have been the pastor or spiritual leader while Epaphras was away. Or perhaps he was the pastor of the house church that met in Philemon’s house, one of two or more house churches in Colosse at the time. Instructing him to complete his work received in the Lord may have been an exhortation to shepherd the sheep, to keep the Colossian believers safe from the lurking false teachers.

Finally, Paul’s letters often contain his own writing at the end, and this is generally for one of three reasons. Either he desires to strengthen the audience by issuing a genuine personal greeting, or he briefly summarizes the contents of the letter, or he writes to guarantee the authenticity of the letter. Here it is likely that both the first and last reasons are the case. Paul wants the Colossians to be strengthened for the battle ahead of them, so he says, “Remember my chains.” Why would Paul tell these people to remember his chains? He desired no sympathy. Rather Paul wanted these people to remember why he was in prison: for preaching the message that we are complete in Christ and in Him only. And furthermore, he wanted them to remember for whom he was imprisoned. He was not the prisoner of Caesar, or of Rome. He was the prisoner of Christ. He wanted them to remember the message and the Master who had enchained him, because he wanted them to be loyal to his Master and to cling to the truth of His message, Christ’s message delivered through Paul. Remain in Christ; He is supreme. Grow in Christ; He is sufficient. But be ready and willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Amen.

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