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Final Words of Colossians

November 12th, 2019

Greet the brothers in Laodicea, as well as Nympha and the church that meets at her house. After this letter has been read among you, make sure that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” This greeting is in my own hand—Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Col. 4:15-18 BSB)

The letter ends somewhat unceremoniously, and there is a very important message in this ending. Rarely does life seem to offer the “grand exit” for people. The old saying about old soldiers just fading away is true for most of us. But Paul gave us a great example in these final words in that he did not grandstand but just kept on saying what was on his heart to say until the end. 

Laodicea was not far from Colosse, and he knew they had contact with one another. He had also written to them and there has been significant speculation about that letter, that perhaps it is in our Bible under another name. Usually Ephesians is named as this possible letter. But it would not be surprising that the letter was simply lost. This does not mean that the promise of the eternal nature of the Word of God — “heaven and earth shall pas away but my words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35) — is made invalid. None of God’s word has been lost, but, perhaps, one of Paul’s letters did not seem worthy of God to include in the New Testament. This should not surprise us or upset us. The message of our salvation in Christ and all that we need to know to grow in Christ is in the New Testament. 

Nympha or Nymphos, depending on the translator, is mentioned as having a church in her (his) house. This is all we know of this person. It is important to remember to understand the New Testament, that the churches of the New Testament met often in private homes. It was rare in the first century that a church had a building dedicated only for their use. Here was someone who had hosted Paul and his comrades, perhaps, but in true Oriental tradition, proper manners demands that he at least greet this brother or sister in the Lord. 

But, again, it is important to follow Paul’s example and remember constantly that people who may not seem so important to others may be very much used of God to do significant things. We should hold all in the esteem of the cross where the blood of Christ was shed for them.

Achrippus is mentioned also in Philemon 1:2, but otherwise he is unknown. The short command was an encouragement for him not to despair in the work that he was doing for God. There is in this the idea that is often derived from “sanctified common sense,” here supported by scripture, that God leads and directs us in life to serve in a certain place for a certain season in order to achieve a certain thing for Him. The fact that we cannot always put rigid boundaries in terms of years or specific achievements, does not mean that there is not something specific God calls us to do. When we have completed our God-given task, then we may move on to the next task God has for us.

Sometimes these times or seasons are very short, and sometimes they are very long. Philip the deacon was in Samaria for only a short time, and in the wilderness with the Ethiopian Eunuch for even a shorter time, but he had apparently completed the tasks in those places that God gave him. But this teaches us about the freedom of the believer and the obligation of the believer. We go where God leads us, we stay where God puts us, until by the Holy Spirit we have done what God has commanded us to do. 

Chains and grace: What more appropriate way could there be to end this letter than this?  “Remember my chains,” was not a cry out of self-pity or for attention. Rather it was a statement that put before them both the needs of Paul and their obligation to him, and the importance of prayer. They had few examples of Christian fortitude in that day and age among the Gentile churches, so Paul’s example was important for them to know and to follow. 

The grace of God would sustain him and them through it all. Whatever befalls us, we can be confident that God will be with us to uplift us and strengthen us and to use us beyond what we could ever do in our own strength for Him. It is always good for every Christian to keep in mind constantly that the grace of God surrounds his life and his every waking moment, and will go before him into eternity and is even preparing a place for him there. And the grace of God will come along after we are gone from this earth to minister to others through our efforts and memories.  



The Gentile Fellow Servants: Epaphras, Luke, and Demas

November 11th, 2019

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in the full will of God. For I testify about him that he goes to great pains for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas send you greetings. (Col. 4:12-14 BSB)

Paul continues to mention these significant people whom God had used to in the church in Colosse. It is important for us to remain in contact with those whom God has used in our lives, at least to the degree possible. None of them are perfect, but anyone whom God has used to bless us stands as a representative of the Lord Himself in lives.

In this listing, he is specifically naming those non-Jewish companions (Col. 4:11). So these were Gentile servants of Christ and fellow servants of Paul. By naming them he was affirming what many had already accepted, that in the Church of Jesus Christ, God was using Gentile converts as greatly as He was using Jewish converts.

Epaphras was from Colosse and started the church there. We know more about him than others in this list. I discussed him earlier at http://nighttimethoughts.org/?m=20190802 

We have an insight here into his prayer life. He was consistent, “always.” He was serious, “wrestling.” Prayer requires a sincere and genuine sense of the urgency of the matters we bring to the Lord. He was unselfish, “for you.” Effective prayer takes the needs of others into our own hearts to the degree that we feel a divine burden for them, and we consistently bring them to God. He was biblical, “That you may stand … in the full will of God.” When we pray like this we will see God answer our prayers and God working in our lives to change us as well.

Luke was a companion of Paul and the human author of both the gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts.  Though clearly named as a Gentile here, his nationality is not mentioned. Tradition has it that he was Syrian, but we are not really informed. He was a physician with a medical view of things and in his writings he gave attention to the details of healings. For example, he wrote: “at once the man’s feet and ankles were made strong” (Acts 3:7), “a woman there had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was hunched over and could not stand up straight” (Luke 13:11), and describing Paul’s healing wrote:

At that instant, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and his sight was restored. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:18-19)

Some have theorized that the reason Luke received Mary’s account of the birth of Christ was simply because, as a physician, he was more interested in these matters, and also because Mary was more willing to open up and discuss these things with him. 

The contribution that Luke made to the spread of the gospel in these early days is difficult to know in full, but certainly it was substantial. He was a companion of Paul — notice the “we” passages in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 28:1-16 — and witnessed first hand of Paul’s work, and likely treated him for his “thorn in the flesh” (though this is conjecture). Luke was with Paul until the end (2 Tim. 4:11). He was described as a  “fellow worker” of Paul in Philemon 1:24, which meant he was also a respected teacher of the word. Luke represents for us the servant that quietly goes about His Master’s business, drawing no attention to himself, but serving as he has opportunity for the glory of Christ. May we all be more like him.

Demas was listed here as one of Paul’s companions, but no attribute accompanies his name. It seems that Paul had his own doubts about his character. Roughly the same time frame he was mentioned again in Philemon 1:24, along with Luke, as a “fellow worker,” so he had some ability to serve alongside of Paul as a teacher of the Word. Yet we get a final glimpse of his character in 2 Tim. 4:10, where Paul wrote that Demas had forsaken him, “having loved this present world.” We, of course, do not know the whole story, but it would appear that Demas, like John Mark earlier, had left the ministry, finding that accompanying and caring for an aging and perhaps increasingly grouchy Paul was not his idea of a good life. 

There is no record that Demas denied he faith, and we really do not know all the details of his life. Perhaps, like Jonah and John Mark and Peter and others, he had repented and returned. We should remember that God is a redeemer and He restores people and even nations to Himself. Micah the prophet, speaking for the nation of Israel, gave these inspired words:

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the LORD will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the LORD
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication. (Micah 7:8-9 ESV)

As Jeremiah wrote: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lam 3:31-32). Whenever any servant of God, or any Christian, seems to be rebelling against the Lord, pray for them that they would stand firm in all the will of God.