“Aristarchus, who is here with me in prison, sends greetings. So does Mark the cousin of Barnabas. You have received instructions concerning him and if he visits you give him a hearty welcome. Joshua, who is also known as Justus, sends greetings. These three are the only Jewish Christians who have worked alongside me here for the Kingdom of God and they have been a great encouragement.
Epaphras, a member of your church and a servant of Christ, greets you as well. He is continually and earnestly pleading in prayer that you stand mature in the faith with a firm conviction concerning God’s will. I can testify he has worked hard on your behalf, as he has for other Believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Luke, our beloved physician, and Demas also send you greetings. Give my regards to the brothers in Laodicea as well as Nymphas and the church which meets in her home. After this letter is read among you, see it is read in the Laodicean church as well. In addition, be sure to read the letter written to them. Tell Archippus to be diligent to obey and fulfill the Lord’s calling into the ministry. I, Paul, send this salutation in my own handwriting. Remember that I am still in prison. God’s blessing and favor be with you. Amen.” (4:10-18, paraphrased)
Paul’s closing words center on a number of personalities. The first three, Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, are Jews. Paul does not mean to imply there are no other non-Gentile believers in his vicinity, but that these are his only Jewish co-workers at this time.
We first read of Aristarchus during a riot caused by the Ephesian silversmiths during Paul’s third missionary journey. He, Paul, and Gaius are seized by the angry mob (Acts 19:29), but apparently released unharmed. After leaving Ephesus, he and other delegates from the Thessalonian church accompany Paul from Greece to Jerusalem with the funds collected for the poor saints there (20:4). He sails with others to Troas where they wait for Paul to arrive and then travel with him. Aristarchus sails with Paul from Caesarea (27:2). He shares Paul’s incarceration in Rome and sends greetings as a “fellow prisoner” (sunaichmalotos). Paul understands the spiritual battle he fights, for sunaichmalotos indicates he considers himself and Aristarchus “prisoners of war.”
Salutations are also sent from Mark to the Colossians. He is sometimes called by his Jewish name John, but is known by his Roman name Mark, which means “a large hammer.” He is the son of Mary in whose home Jerusalem Believers meet to pray when Peter is imprisoned by Herod (Acts 12:12). After completing the relief mission to Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul take Mark with them when they return to Antioch (v. 25). He accompanies them on Paul’s first missionary journey as far as Perga, but for reasons unknown leaves them and returns to Jerusalem (13:13). When a second journey into Galatia is planned two years later, Barnabas wants to take his cousin Mark along. Paul refuses because of Mark’s earlier desertion and a brief disagreement follows. Silas then accompanies Paul to Syria and Barnabas takes Mark with him to Cyprus (15:36-41).
Although the New Testament record does not mention Mark for twelve more years, in the meantime he has redeemed himself and is now considered a faithful minister. Paul’s previous disciplinary action regarding Mark sheds light on his own character, for the apostle retains no bitterness, suspicion, or resentment toward this young minister. Toward the end of Paul’s life, he asks Timothy to bring Mark with him from Ephesus to Rome “because he is such a useful minister” (II Tim. 4:11). Mark is with Simon Peter when he writes his first epistle from Babylon, referring to him as “my son” (I Pet. 5:13).
Mark is introduced to the Colossians as the nephew of Barnabas. This familial relationship also helps explain Barnabas’ affinity for Mark (Acts 12-15). The Colossians have probably not met Mark, therefore Paul encourages them to receive him wholeheartedly when he visits. In Paul’s short memo to Philemon, Mark is among his co-workers who send greetings (Philemon 23-24). Mark writes the gospel that bears his name, focusing on the dynamic ministry of the Son of God.
Even though he is mentioned here only a relative of Mark, the magnanimous character of Barnabas is noteworthy. Nicknamed “The Son of Consolation” by the early apostles (Acts 4:36), he is introduced as a generous Levite who sells some land and gives the proceeds to the disciples (Acts 4:37). Barnabas is quick to discern the sincerity and integrity of a new convert named Saul, who becomes the apostle Paul (9: 27). Although Paul’s dynamic ministry soon eclipses his own, Barnabas shows no trace of envy. He and Paul co-teach in Antioch for a year (11: 25-26). He is with Paul on his first missionary journey (13:1-2) and together they encourage numerous congregations (13:4-52). As a team, they pray, travel, suffer together, and appoint elders (14:12-23). Barnabas is an active participant at the Jerusalem Council (15:2).
Barnabas is characterized as a disciple with a gracious and generous disposition who rejoices in the growth of new converts (Acts 11:22-23). Luke describes him as a good man and a Spirit-filled soul winner (v. 24). Barnabas would rather support himself in the ministry than place undue financial pressure on others (I Cor. 9:6). From his interaction with his cousin Mark, it is apparent he is always willing to give a man a second chance. He is pictured as one who seeks to discover the best in others.
Another coworker who sends greetings to Colossae is Jesus (the Hebrew name Joshua is “Jesus” in Greek) whose surname is Justus. He is mentioned only here in the New Testament. Although Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus are not the only Jewish Believers standing with Paul at this time, they are noted for their fidelity. Their assistance and fellowship bring him “comfort” (paregoria), a medical term meaning “solace, encouragement, and consolation.” The English word paregoric, a medicine that soothes and lessens pain, is derived from this word. Metaphorically, these friends serve as a tonic for Paul’s troubles.
Paul has Gentile co-workers with him in Rome as well. Epaphras is named earlier in this epistle as a “fellow servant and faithful minister” (1:7). Here he is “a servant of Christ.” a phrase Paul uses only in reference to himself and Timothy (Phil. 1:1). Because servanthood is one of Paul’s foundational ministerial principles, this terminology indicates the high regard Paul has for Epaphras.
He is called “one of you,” for he is instrumental in evangelizing the churches of the Lycus Valley. Although he is now in Rome, the Believers back in that region are dear to him. The phrase “always laboring fervently” (pantote agonizomenos) is a term borrowed from the Olympic Games and means to “strive, contend, or struggle.” It pictures one constantly wrestling in intercessory prayer. But Epaphras prays with a clearly defined objective. He wants the Colossians to stand firm and complete, knowing that maturity is essential for obedience to God’s will. “Complete” (plerophoreo) means “to be fully persuaded or convinced.” Spiritual strength will help them avoid entrapment by local heretics. The more Believers pray with the fervency of Epaphras, the less people will succumb to the enticements of the New Age Movement and other absurdities.
Paul further attests to Epaphras’ unceasing toil for Believers back in the neighboring cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea. The word Hierapolis means “Sacred City” and is so named to honor the numerous gods and their temples. It serves as the worship center for Apollo and the Phrygian goddess Cybele. Hierapolis is located about twelve miles northwest of Colossae and six miles north of Laodicea, the capital of Phrygia. Epaphras’ concern and burden for these area churches inspire him to make the long journey to meet Paul in his Roman jail. He has good reason to travel, work, and pray, for the Gnostics are targeting all three cities in the Lycus Valley.
Additional salutations are sent from Luke. As the only Gentile New Testament writer, he authors both the Gospel of Luke and Acts. His two books span more than a quarter of the New Testament. Combined, the extensive amount of material in his works exceeds the total in Paul’s thirteen epistles. Luke’s Gospel reveals a deep concern for women, poor folks, outcasts, and the sick. He is a physician, historian, writer, and missionary. The excellent literary quality of his Greek combined with his familiarity of both medical and nautical terms, picture a highly educated man.
Luke accompanies Paul at certain times during his second and third missionary journeys. He meets Paul at Troas and travels with him to Philippi (Acts 16:10-12) and from there to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15). Apparently Luke serves Paul as his personal physician. He is on board with Paul during his voyage to Rome (Acts 27-28). Here he joins the apostle during his first Roman imprisonment where he writes to the Colossians and Philemon. As Paul later faces martyrdom during his second and final Roman imprisonment, Luke is his sole companion (II Tim. 4:11).
Little is known of him, but when Paul mentions Demas it is always in conjunction with Luke (Philemon 24). These men work together for Christ and both have equal opportunity to serve Him (II Tim. 4:10-11). Paul mentions Demas as one who sends greetings, but gives him no direct commendation. The seeds of his future defection may have already sprouted, for Demas finally abandons the ministry, having “fallen in love with the world.” With this pathetic statement, he vanishes from church history.
After completing his list of those sending greetings, Paul asks the Colossians to convey his affection to Believers in the larger neighboring city of Laodicea, located about ten miles northwest of Colossae. A prominent member of the Laodicean church is Nymphas, whose home is open for the local Believers to meet, pray, and fellowship. There is little evidence formal church buildings are constructed until the third century, but “house churches” are often referred to in the New Testament. Mary, the mother of Mark, has meetings in her home (Acts 12:12). The same is true of Pricilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:5 ; I Cor. 15:19). The home of Philemon is likewise utilized for this purpose ( Philemon 2). Jesus teaches true worship does not depend upon the location of the worshippers (Jn. 4:21-24).
Paul instructs the Colossians to read this letter then pass it along to be read in the Laodicean Church. They are also told to procure and read a particular letter from Laodicea and read it to the Colossian Christians. There were no doubt many letters written which the Holy Spirit did not incorporate into the canon of Scripture. But whatever the contents of this mysterious letter, they were dissimilar enough for both churches to receive benefit from them (I Thess. 5:27).
A special note is sent to a particular member of the Colossian Church. Archippus is exhorted to fulfill his divine calling into the ministry, perhaps in view of the need to combat local heresies. He is named in the introduction to the letter to Philemon as Paul’s “fellow soldier.” He may have been the son of Philemon and Apphia (Philemon 2). If so, he is probably a younger man like Mark and Timothy. By including this admonition in a letter that is to be read to the entire church, Paul means to impress on Archippus the seriousness of his ministerial responsibilities. To “take heed” (blepe) means “see to it.” “Fulfill” (pleross) is “to fully discharge.” This is good advice for every person who is called into the ministry, for God does not change His mind (Rom. 11:29).
Paul is in the habit of dictating his letters to a stenographer (Rom. 16:22; I Cor. 16:21). However, he customarily pens his final salutation in his own handwriting to confirm its authenticity and to discourage others from writing forged epistles (II Thess. 2:2 & 3:17). The spurious apocryphal “Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans” that surfaces centuries later serves as a classic example. This awkward forgery is comprised of disconnected passages from Philippians and sprinkled with random verses borrowed from other Pauline epistles.
Paul’s sincerity is evidenced by the simple reminder that he is incarcerated. He does so not to solicit sympathy from his readers, but to state the cost of true discipleship. Paul considers himself a “prisoner of Jesus Christ” and never the Roman authorities (Eph. 3:1 & II Tim. 1:8). His faith is always stronger than his fetters.
The apostle opens his letter by asking God’s grace be upon his readers and closes it with the sincere desire God’s grace will continually be with them. This final remark is a fitting blend of his affection and apostolic authority.
The name Paul means “small,” but there is nothing small about his character. His excellent education, miraculous conversion, uncompromising disposition, Roman citizenship, command of the Hebrew language, background in Hellenistic culture, logic, wisdom, tenderness, determination, diplomacy, and perseverance all combine to make Paul the premier missionary of the first century. Through his inspired writings, he continues to endear himself to Believers everywhere.
Points to Ponder
1. From Acts 19:23-41, briefly describe the situation that puts Aristarchus in danger.
2. What does James say regarding fervency in prayer? (James 5:16)
3. Epaphras agonizes as he intercedes for Believers in the Lycus Valley. Who also agonizes in prayer in Luke 22:44?
4. What indictment is ultimately brought against the church of Laodicea and what advice is given to this church by Jesus (Revelation 3:14-19)?
5. What ministerial advice does Paul give Timothy concerning the ministry (I Timothy 4:6 & 12-16; II Timothy 2:15-16 & 4:2-5)? How can this be applied to ministry today?
6. What positive results can be expected from Paul’s admonition to Archippus (4:17)? How does his ministerial situation differ from that of Demas (Colossians 4:14 & II Timothy 4:10)?
7. Paul begins (1:2) and ends (4:18) the epistle to the Colossians with the word “grace.” Define this term.
8. List the most important truths that impacted your life during this study of Colossians.