Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Paul finishes up his letter to the Colossians in verses 7 through 18 of Chapter 4. Normally these are sections we gloss over as Paul signs off and says: “say ‘Hi’” to a bunch of people we are not familiar with. In this case, however, there are some nuggets we can glean from these greetings as Paul re-enforce the vital truths he has imparted in Chapters 1 – 4:6.
It comes in three sections: Section 1 covers verses 7 through 9 and gives us a lesson in what to do with a life that has been transformed. Section 2 covers verses 10 through 11, which supports Paul’s anti-legalism stance. Finally, Section 3 covers verses 12 through 18 where Paul re-emphasizes actions disciples should take with their new character.
7 – 9
Tychicus was Paul’s courier of the letter. They didn’t have a post office in those days so letters had to be hand carried. But Tychicus, who accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4, 2 Timothy 4:12 and Titus 3:12), was more than a letter carrier. He was also to bring news of how Paul was doing and all that had happened to him. Paul refers to him as: “dearly loved brother, faithful servant, and fellow slave in the Lord.” Tychicus (who was from Asia, by the way, as were the Colossians) was precious to Paul, related to the Colossians as a fellow believer, a person who faithfully carries out God’s instructions, and a person who is a humble slave to Jesus, as Paul was. In other words: this is a guy you can trust.
So why say all these things? It was probably not for Tychicus’ sake alone, but for the one who accompanied him to Colossae. That person is Onesimus. Paul says: “He is with Onesimus, a faithful and dearly loved brother, who is one of you.” Notice that Paul uses much the same words to describe this person as he uses of Tychicus: “dearly loved” “faithful” and “one of you.” Why is this important? Because Onesimus is the subject of one of the companion letters Tychicus carried: along with a letter to the Laodoceans, a letter to Philemon.
Philemon was a prominent member of the Laodicean church. Onesimus had been Philemon’s slaves and had run away. Somehow finding his way to Rome and ending up encountering the Apostle Paul, Onesimus became a believer. Eventually Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, not as a slave only, but as a brother in the Lord. We’ll get more into that story when we look at that letter.
The Colossians would normally be pretty suspect of Onesimus. Being a runaway slave was a serious offense in those days. Just showing up at the doorstep would have raised serious suspicions. But notice two things here: 1) Tychicus and Paul vouch for Onesimus and 2) Paul describes this former runaway now as a precious brother in the Lord. He’s changed—and he’s showing this change in character by his actions with Paul and his coming to Colossae with Tychicus—now a man with a mission from the Apostle Paul himself.
This brings up an important thing for you and I. When we come into the body of Christ we come in broken. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the character change that occurs as God deals with the brokenness bit by bit and replaces it with the character of Jesus, a character of “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience” and love (Col 3:12). That character also has this component: “accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive (Col 3:13).”
Onesimus was not the same person as that runaway. He’s been washed in the blood of Jesus and all his sins forgiven. Forgiveness needs to be extended to Onesimus from the Colossians and Laodiceans. Is he completely pure? I doubt it – in practical terms he is a work in progress. But then, aren’t we all? So how do we treat those who we know are sinners who come into the body of Christ? Do we hold their former lives over them? Do we look down on them as less-thans? Do we withhold our trust from them? And what about those of us who come to Christ and then struggle or even walk away for a time?
Paul, I think, is providing a challenge to the church—an opportunity to live out the character of love God is working in them. It’s an opportunity for us as well.
Paul wants these brothers to “encourage” the hearts of the Colossians and Laodiceans—that God is in control, doing good things, and changing people. Isn’t that cool? Here Paul is in chains in prison—yet his goal is encouragement. He wants them to know that God is in control and the gospel is not chained. Is that the way we view difficult situations? Just asking.
10 – 11
There are two things I want to point out from these verses. The first involves Mark—who is most likely the Mark of Mark’s gospel—and the same man that abandoned Paul while on a missionary journey. This upset Paul so much that it broke apart the ministry team of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36 and following). Here, and also in 2 Timothy 4:11, Mark is restored—and Paul actually calls him useful in ministry to Timothy. What happened? We don’t know exactly—it’s possible that Paul grew, and possible that Mark matured. The point is—here is another example of what Paul wants the folks to do regarding brothers who have undergone character transformation. We don’t know what the “instructions” were but the suggestion is there: help him—don’t distrust him.
The second thing I want to mention is the part about “These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.” Earlier in the book Paul addressed one of the two main problems in Colossae: namely that Jewish Christians were saying that in order to be a good Christian you need to be a good Jew first. See especially Colossians 2:16-17 and 2:20-23.
What Paul might be saying is that he has Christians who came from Judaism there with him and, like him, they are also not concerned about following the Jewish traditions. If they aren’t worried about it, why should you?
Aristarchus, by the way, was a Macedonian who was with Paul in his travels (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2) and likely a fellow prisoner with him.
12 – 13
Epaphras was from Colossae and first brought the gospel to them. Notice what Epaphras is doing—“contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.” Does this ring a bell? Just after Paul mentions Epaphras in Chapter 1, he says this:
Col 1:9 “For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, 10 so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.”
Then in Chapter 2 “Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.”
Epaphras prayed for their maturity, and then he encourages the Colossians to pray as well. To put on the character of Jesus, then pray that you will be used in service of the Lord is what this letter focuses on—and Epaphras is a great example of that. Sometimes prayer is hard work—it’s hard to “stay alert” in it—but the rewards are great.
14 – 16
Luke, of course, is the author of the gospel of Luke as well as Acts. It is here that we learn that Luke is a physician. In 2 Timothy Paul says that only Luke remained with him—what a faithful brother! Demas, on the other hand, abandoned Paul later on (2 Timothy 4:10).
It’s thought that Nympha was a woman. Often the early church met in homes. It wasn’t until the third century that the church actually purchased property and built churches.
This letter was to be read at Laodicea—and their letter read in Colossae. Wait – what letter? Either we’ve lost the letter that was sent to the Laodiceans, or, as some scholars think—Ephesians is actually that letter since it is not addressed to any particular church body (in many manuscripts).
Something else to notice—Paul meant for these letters to be kept and distributed. That’s one of the reasons they became part of the canon of Scripture.
17 – 18
We don’t know what Archipus was supposed to do but I like Paul’s instructions, as they could apply to us as well. God has given us each a ministry. Paul says to “pay attention” to it “so that you can accomplish it.” The Holman translates the Greek word “to see”. It’s written in the imperative—and can mean to literally “see” or “understand”. The New King James says: “take heed”. The Message paraphrase says: “Do your best job.”
Our ministry for the Lord isn’t casual. It isn’t something to be taken lightly. As a disciple of Christ you are His ambassador, His representative in everything you say and do—in every relationship and part of your life. Don’t take it for granted. Seek to see God’s best done everywhere and in everything. It doesn’t have to be a formal ministry, by the way. Just walking around and talking and living you are ministering for Him.
But perhaps He has laid something specific on your heart. Keep at it. Don’t give up. Paul could have easily given up in jail—but he didn’t. And neither should we.
Finally Paul takes the pen from his secretary and signs the letter himself—giving it authenticity. It really was from him!
What’s Colossians about? In it, Paul details the two biggest barriers to the growth of a Christian: legalism and emotionalism. Legalism says you’ve got to follow an external set of expectations in order to be pleasing to God. Many Christians get caught up in that today. It might not be following the Jewish dietary or calendar but it’s legalism just the same. Our security comes from our obedience to a set of expectations, rather than on what Jesus did in fulfilling God’s expectations.
Emotionalism is when we gin up emotional enthusiasm as a substitute for an ongoing relationship with God. There’s nothing wrong with expressing or feeling emotions—but many churches today use emotion—and even spiritism along with emotionalism—to sustain a secure relationship with God. So if the emotion or the “Spirit” isn’t there, they are disappointed and disillusioned.
The two things we should focus on instead are: transformation and utilization. Transformation means we are mindful of the presence of the old nature; use the power of the cross to render it ineffective in an ongoing and relentless campaign—and at the same time actively substitute Christ’s agape love to replace the self-centered flesh.
Then we allow God to use that character to further His kingdom—through our relationships inside and outside the church—in our homes and workplaces. We pray for opportunities and for a softening of the battlefield so that hearts are open to the gospel.