Colossians 4:7-18

Paul ends the letter by sending greetings from those who are with him and giving instructions regarding the distribution of the epistle.  These verses do not contain doctrine per se, but by discussing people in the ministry they provide both encouragement about life in Christ and a sobering reminder of the fallibility of man.

Paul begins his closing remarks by giving instructions regarding the two men who carry the letter to the Colossians.  Tychicus apparently is Paul’s main representative and the man who not only brings the letter to the people, but also will give a report regarding Paul’s circumstances in Rome.  Paul describes him as a beloved brother, faithful servant, and fellow bond-servant – all showing the kind of person he is (and who would not want those adjectives to be true of them?).

We know Tychicus is also the one who carries the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 6:21-22).  This likely means he carries both letters on the same trip (perhaps also the letter to Philemon – see remarks on Onesimus).  He is a native of Asia (which could mean he is from Ephesus) and has been with Paul since the third missionary journey (Acts 20:4).  He will be Paul’s emissary not only to Ephesus and Colossae, but also to Titus in Crete (Titus 3:12) and back to Ephesus during Paul’s second imprisonment (II Tim 4:12).  He is clearly a man Paul depends on and trusts immensely.  He earns Paul’s adjectives of beloved, faithful and fellow bond-servant.

Interestingly, Paul says Tychicus will tell them about his circumstances but also will encourage your hearts.  Paul wants them to know about his situation but he also wants them encouraged in the faith.  He has done this in the letter but has given Tychicus the mission to do it verbally.  That Tychicus can encourage them while at the same time telling them about Paul’s imprisonment shows Paul’s attitude about his circumstances.  He is where God wants him, and the gospel continues to go forth so there is no reason to be disheartened.  Perhaps he knows Tychicus can encourage them with this perspective.

Along with Tychicus is Onesimus.  We know from Philemon that Onesimus is likely an escaped slave traveling back to his master – Philemon – in Colossae.  That Paul mentions him here as a faithful and beloved brother may be surprising to the Colossians.  These are not words typically associated with a slave (and the readers likely know him since he is from Colossae – one of your number).  By pointing him out, Paul very clearly illustrates his words from 3:11 – in Christ there is no distinction between slave and free.  Onesimus will inform them about Paul just like Tychicus – his social status has no bearing on the responsibility Paul gives him.

Those who are with Paul send their greetings.  These are Aristarchus – a Thessalonian who has  been with Paul since the third journey (Acts 19:29, 20:4), and likely accompanied him (along with Luke) from Jerusalem to Rome, and is apparently imprisoned like Paul (my fellow prisoner); Mark –  Barnabas’ cousin who deserted Paul and Barnabas on the first journey (Acts 13:13) and caused them to split up before the second (Acts 15:36-41); and someone named Jesus who goes by Justus (probably his Greek name – like Saul/Paul) about whom we know nothing.

Paul says the Colossians have received instructions about Mark but does not elaborate.  It is tempting to ascribe these instructions to something pertaining to Mark’s earlier desertion but there is no reason to assume the Colossians know anything about that (although it is interesting that they apparently know who Barnabas is – nothing is said about Barnabas after his split with Paul but apparently he has continued to minister in foreign areas).  Far more notable is that Mark is now part of Paul’s team many years after Paul was so disgusted with him that he refused to travel with him.  Mark has been completely restored in the faith and in Paul’s eyes.  He had his issues, but he recovered and is now useful enough in Paul’s ministry for special mention.

Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus are the only Jews who are with Paul.  All the others in Paul’s group are Gentiles.  With Paul’s ministry it is not surprising that most of his coworkers are Gentiles even though he is Jewish.  However, he considers these Jewish men fellow workers for the kingdom of God and says they have proved to be an encouragement to me.   They labor right alongside Paul for the sake of the gospel and minister to him as they do.

Paul sends greetings also from Epaphrus, the one he credits with taking the gospel to Colossae and starting the church (1:7-8).  The people are probably most familiar with this name among the men Paul mentions and perhaps are excited to hear from him.  Paul testifies that Epaphrus labors earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.  This is similar to what Paul said he prays for them (1:9), and goes right along with what he described as the purpose of his ministry (2:23-29).  So just like Paul, Epaphrus wants them to grow in understanding God’s will such that they stand complete before God and he prays continually to that end.

Note how Epaphrus prays.  He labors earnestly for the people.  This is what it means to be devoted to prayer (vs 2).  The one devoted to prayer is the one who works hard in it for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of others.  Nothing about prayer is easy.  It is one of the most difficult of the spiritual disciplines.  Yet Paul cares about the Colossians so much that he does not cease to pray for them (1:3,9), and Epaphrus loves them enough to continually work at prayer for the sake of their standing before God.  If we love others and love the gospel we will devote ourselves to praying for both.

When a man is speaking to God he is at his very acme.  It is the highest activity of the human soul, and therefore it is at the same time the ultimate test of a man’s true spiritual condition.  There is nothing that tells the truth about us a Christian people so much as our prayer life.  Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.  It is not so difficult to give alms – the natural man knows something about that, and you can have a true spirit of philanthropy in people who are not Christian at all.  Some seem to be born with a generous nature and spirit, and to such almsgiving is not essentially difficult.  The same applies also to the question of self-discipline – refraining from certain things and taking up particular duties and tasks.  God knows it is very much easier to preach from a pulpit than it is to pray.  Prayer is undoubtedly the ultimate test, because a man can speak to others with greater ease than he can speak to God.  Ultimately, therefore, a man discovers the real condition of his spiritual life when he examines himself in private, when he is alone with God.
(D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, When Ye Pray; Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 322.)

Paul sends word from two more people.  He says Luke the beloved physician sends his greetings.  This is the only description of Luke as a physician.  He is the one who accompanied Paul on two of his missionary journeys and traveled with him to Rome (and apparently has stayed with him).  He is also the author of Luke and Acts.  This text is how we know he is not a Jew (since he is not mentioned with the three Jews in verse 11).

The other person Paul mentions is Demas.  Demas is one of Paul’s fellow workers.  Paul identifies him as such in his letter to Philemon (Philemon 24).  This is not the last time we hear of Demas, however.  In Paul’s final letter – the one he will write during his second imprisonment that likely ends with his death – Paul tells Timothy that Demas has deserted him because he has loved this present world (II Tim 4:10).  That means that while Demas is with Paul now as a fellow worker and will apparently stay with him for several years, he will eventually choose the passing pleasures of the world over continued service to the gospel.

Some things to think about here.  First – Demas’ decision is perhaps understandable in light of the life Paul endures.  We know from Acts that living and traveling with Paul is no picnic.  Everywhere he goes trouble follows.  His ministry is such that no one is ambivalent about it.  He preaches the gospel and lives change, or he preaches the gospel and people become enraged.  He also tends to get into trouble with local authorities.  Perhaps Demas becomes worn out.  Paul will write of his desertion while he is imprisoned in Rome under much different circumstances than he is in as he writes Colossians.  Perhaps we need to be careful before we fault Demas too much for giving up.

However, there is a second perspective to consider also.  Demas is with PAUL.  He is serving with a man who writes divinely inspired epistles.  Paul literally speaks the words of God.  He is one of a handful of Christ’s apostles.  There is perhaps no one on the face of the planet with a better understanding of or a more fierce devotion to the gospel.  He eats, breathes, sleeps, speaks the gospel.  And yet Demas turns his back on it all because he ultimately finds the world more alluring.  Serving with the apostle Paul is not as attractive as enjoying the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.

Think about that.  Serving for years with a man who wrote large portions of the New Testament is still not enough of a vaccination against the shiny things of the world.  He hears the gospel probably every day.  He sees lives change, likely witnesses many miracles, sees the power of the gospel in ways that almost no one ever has or ever will.  And STILL walks away because he thinks this world has more to offer.  Do we see why we need to be devoted to prayer both for ourselves and for others?  And do we see why we need to guard our hearts?  And how important it is to walk by the Spirit and not in our own strength?  And why we need to set our minds on things above and not on the things that are on earth (3:2)?

In some ways, Demas and Mark are two sides of the same coin.  Mark failed but came back.  Demas served faithfully but eventually walked away.  Mark is a story of encouragement for any of us who have failed.  Demas is a warning to any of us who have served for some time and perhaps think we will never give up.  Mark is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and mercy.  Demas is a testimony to sin’s power and deception.

Paul tells the Colossians to greet the brethren in Laodicea (about 12 miles away).  He tells the Colossians to share this letter with the Laodiceans and to read the letter he sent the Laodiceans.  There is no way to know anything about the letter to the Laodiceans as it apparently has been lost.

We know nothing about Nympha outside of what is said here.

He instructs the Colossians to tell Archippus to take heed to the ministry which he has received in the Lord.  Just like with some other parts of this text there is no way to know what all this means.  However, Paul also addresses Archippus in the letter to Philemon (vs 2), and from how he is placed there it could be that he is Philemon’s son.  This is not necessarily all that meaningful, but something interesting to know in the context of all that is going on with Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon.  It could mean that Paul has instructions for both father and son in the family, and the instructions are important enough to warrant mention in two different epistles.

Paul writes the closing of the letter in his own hand (he apparently has dictated until now).  He tells them to remember his imprisonment.  He has a great perspective on his situation and is thrilled that the gospel continues to go forth, but that does not mean he is happy to stay a prisoner.  He asks them to remember his situation presumably so they will pray for him.  Tychicus has given them the full report – now Paul asks that they not forget it.

He ends the same way he began – by giving a short benediction of grace.  He said in his opening, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (1:2).  Now he ends by saying, “Grace be with you.”  They live in the age of grace because Christ paid it all.  Christ is all and in all.

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