By Sam E. Stone
When reading Colossians, it is important to remember that this is another of Paul’s letters written from prison. This makes every word even more meaningful. In this final lesson of our current study, his counsel is especially challenging.
Prayer has always been of great importance to Christ’s followers. Jesus is our perfect example. He taught his disciples to pray during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-14) and demonstrated prayer’s importance throughout his ministry. Being watchful pictures a guard on sentry duty, always alert lest an enemy attack (see also Matthew 26:41; 24:42-44; 25:13). Such prayer includes requests for one’s self, as well as for other believers who need God’s help in their lives (see Ephesians 6:18, 19; 2 Thessalonians 3:1).
When Paul asked his readers to pray for him, he was not saying, “Pray I’ll get out of this terrible prison cell.” Instead he was concerned that God open a door for our message wherever he might be located. Such a door had been opened previously as he told the Philippians (1:12-14). His concern was that his message always be clear. Along with prayer, wisdom is needed (compare James 1:5). Even everyday conversation needs to be always full of grace.
This closing section of Paul’s letter introduces a number of faithful church leaders and friends. (Their names appear here in boldface type.) Though they are less well known than the apostles, their lives reflect God’s power to change believers in the first-century church.
Tychicus was obviously a trusted man, Paul’s personal representative. The apostle calls him a faithful minister and fellow servant. He would be able to supply all necessary information about the apostle and his companions to the church (see Ephesians 6:21, 22). Perhaps he shared a report similar to the one Paul gave the Philippians (1:12-14).
Along with him Paul sent Onesimus, calling him a faithful and dear brother. He was an escaped slave belonging to another believer, Philemon. Since running away, however, he had become a Christian. Now Paul is sending this new brother back to his master. For background, it would be helpful to read again the book of Philemon.
Aristarchus is called a fellow prisoner. Perhaps he shared Paul’s captivity voluntarily. Certainly he was a captive of Christ. We know that he was a worker in the kingdom. William Barclay remarked, “Whenever Paul was in bad trouble, Aristarchus was there . . . a man who was indeed a good companion.” Elsewhere he is mentioned as one of Paul’s assistants in mission work (see Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2).
Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, is also called John Mark. Michael Weed suggests, “The kinship between Mark and Barnabas helps explain the complications underlying the ‘sharp contention’ mentioned in Acts 15:39, which resulted in the separation of Paul and Barnabas.” By this time, Mark had redeemed himself after deserting Paul earlier, and had become a valued and trusted colleague of the apostle. Another coworker, Jesus, also known as Justus, is mentioned as well.
Epaphras is singled out as one always wrestling in prayer for you. Isn’t it a help to know people like him who faithfully remember other Christians in prayer? He not only prayed, but he evangelized as well. He helped establish the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (see Colossians 1:7; 4:13; Philemon 23). The beloved doctor Luke is also mentioned. He wrote both the Gospel bearing his name and the Acts of the Apostles. He was one of Paul’s closest colleagues in ministry. At this time, Demas was still a faithful coworker, but later we learn that he had forsaken the faith (2 Timothy 4:10). The church met in the home of Nympha. Meeting in private homes was typical in the first-century church. They had no church buildings.
Colossians 4:16, 17
Verse 16 explains how the content of the New Testament was shared and collected, one book at a time. The inspired teaching of Paul and the other writers obviously had tremendous value beyond those to whom it was addressed. His letters were copied for believers in other places to read, then shared, and finally collected into the group of authoritative and inspired books that form the New Testament today. Laodicea had also received a letter from Paul. (Some scholars think this may refer to the letter to the Ephesians.) Just as the messages of a teacher or preacher today may bless Christians in other places, so did these valued words.
Archippus is singled out for encouragement by the apostle: See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord. Although we don’t know specifically what his responsibility was, it reminds us that every Christ-follower today has an important work to do for his Lord!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.