Text: Colossians 4:7-18
Introduction to Tychicus - Colossians 4:7-9
There was no formal postal service in those days. Letters were given to trusted messengers who not only saw that the letter reached the proper destination, but who could also fill in the details and answer questions from their personal knowledge of the situation. Tychicus was selected to be the messenger of the letter to Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21-22) and Colossians. It is assumed that the letter to Philemon was also sent with Tychicus at the same time because Philemon mentions many of the same people in similar situations.
- All three letters mention that Paul is currently in prison (Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:18; Philemon 9)
- Both the letter to Colossae and Philemon are stated to be from Paul and Timothy (Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1)
- The same two letters mention Epaphras. The letter to Philemon tells us that Epaphras was in prison with Paul (Colossians 4:12; Philemon 23)
- They also make mention of Mark, Aristarchus, Luke, and Demas (Colossians 4:10, 14; Philemon 24)
- They both address Archippus (Colossians 4:17; Philemon 2)
- And they both mention Onesimus. In fact, it is Onesimus's situation that is the primary focus of the letter to Philemon (Colossians 4:9; Philemon 10-21)
Tychicus was first mentioned as one of Paul’s traveling companions who went with him to Judea to deliver funds from the churches (Acts 20:1-4). He also went on errands for Paul later (Titus 3:12; II Timothy 4:12).
Onesimus also traveled with Tychicus. Onesimus was a runaway slave, who apparently decided to run to Rome. a city almost 1,200 miles away from his home, to be where no one knew him, and to blend in a large metropolitan area where strangers were not notable. Somehow Onesimus met Paul and was converted to Christ. Perhaps Epaphras had a hand in the matter. Epaphrus was from Colosse (Colossians 1:7-8) and he was knowledgeable about the churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:12-13). He had likely met Onesimus before and knew that he was a runaway slave. Perhaps Epaphras' visit to Paul led Onesimus to confess his past to Paul. However it came about, Paul persuaded Onesimus to return to his master.
Paul tells the Colossians that Onesimus is one of them. Some have taken this statement to mean that Onesimus was a member of the church in Colossae. However, Onesimus became a Christian while on the lam in Rome (Philemon 10, 15-16). Onesimus was just now returning to the area, so he could not have been a member of the church in Colossae. More likely, Onesimus was born and raised in Colossae, making him a fellow native of the region.
Greetings from those with Paul - Colossians 4:10-14
Aristarchus sends his greetings to those in Colossae. He is also a traveling companion of Paul. He is originally from Thessalonica in Macedonia (Acts 27:2). When a riot broke out in Ephesus, he and Gaius were dragged to the theater by the mob (Acts 19:29). Aristarchus also traveled with Paul when sailed to Judea to bring relief funds to the Christians there (Acts 20:4). And when Paul was sent as a prisoner to Rome, Aristarchus traveled with him (Acts 27:1-2) and it appears he remained with Paul in prison.
John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, is also with Paul and sends his greetings as well. This verse is particularly interesting because at one time Paul had trouble with Mark. Mark grew up in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He left there with Barnabas and Paul for Antioch in Syria (Acts 12:25). He also joined them on their trip into Asia Minor, but for some reason decided to return home just about the time they arrived (Acts 13:13). On Paul’s second trip, Paul refused to have John Mark join them, which led to he and Barnabas splitting up (Acts 15:37-39). But by this time, the difference has been resolved and by the end of Paul’s life, Mark was found to be useful to have around (II Timothy 4:11). Paul mentions that Mark may come to Colossae and if he does, Paul asks the brethren there to welcome Mark. Thus, we can conclude that Mark wouldn’t be traveling with Paul.
The third man mentioned is Jesus, whose Roman name is Justus. There are several people mentioned in the Bible who are named Justus but none are connected to this man (Acts 1:23; 18:7).
Aristarchus, John Mark, and Jesus Justus were the only Israelites who were with Paul and he found their presence to be encouraging. Acts 28:23-29 indicates that many of the Jews residing in Rome stopped associating with Paul.
Paul then lists three Gentile companions.
Epaphras is from the Colossian church and had been actively teaching in Colossae (Colossians 1:7-8). Paul knows him because they are in prison together (Philemon 23). Paul calls him a bondslave of Jesus, which would indicate that he was a preacher. Though he is with Paul at this time, Paul tells the Colossians that Epaphras has been laboring in prayers on their behalf (Romans 15:30). The Greek word for “laboring” literally means “wrestles.” He wants the Colossians to be mature and confident in God’s will. He is not just concerned about the brethren in Colossae. He also has an interest in the churches in Heirapolis and Laodicea. Epaphras is clearly aware of the encroaching false teachings and is concerned about their effect on the churches in his region.
It is in Colossians 4:14 that we learn that Luke is a physician and Paul refers to him as beloved. This is the same man who authored Luke and Acts. He frequently traveled with Paul (Acts 16:6-10) and was with Paul at the end of his life (II Timothy 4:11).
Demas only receives a brief mention. He is also mentioned in Philemon 24 along with the others who are with Paul. By the end of Paul’s life, the love of the world drew Demas away and he was in Thessalonica (II Timothy 4:10). Perhaps he did not want to die along with Paul.
Instructions concerning this letter - Colossians 4:15-17
Paul asks the Colossians to relay his greetings to the brethren in Laodicea. He also desired that they greet Nympha and the church which was meeting in her house. Since this is a greeting to two separate groups, we can conclude that the church in Heirapolis was meeting in Nympha’s house.
Paul then asks that after the Colossians read his letter to them that they send a copy to Laodicea to have it read there. Paul also mentions that he sent a letter to Laodicea and he would like the Colossians to also read that letter. This confirms that the letters of the New Testament were circulated among the churches. Though each letter is directed to one audience, all Christians would benefit from them.
The brethren in Colossae are also directed to tell Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” If Archippus was in Colossae, there would be no need to relay a message since he could read any message for himself. But from the Letter to Philemon, we learn that Archippus is a preacher who is with Philemon and the church that meets in his house. We already learned that the church in Heirapolis meets in Nympha’s house, so this means that the church in Philemon’s house is in Laodicea. This means that the letter that we call Philemon is the letter to the church at Laodicea (Philemon 1-2).
So why did Paul want to make sure that Colossae and Laodicea exchanged letters? Why did Paul want the Colossians to give the preacher in Laodicea a personal message when Paul was sending a letter to Laodicea anyway? The answer is found in the Letter to Philemon. Onesimus was a slave who ran away from Philemon. By Roman law, Philemon could do anything to Onesimus to punish him, including having him put to death. Paul wanted to prevent Onesimus from being harmed but he didn’t want to appear as a dictator telling Philemon what he had to do. Instead, he had the letter to the Colossians delivered first and made sure the Colossian brethren were introduced to their new brother in Christ. He tells the Colossians that there is a letter to the Laodiceans (Philemon) that they need to read. That letter details Paul’s desire that Onesimus be forgiven for running away. He also asks the Colossians to deliver a message to the preacher in Laodicea reminding him to do his duty as a preacher. In other words, Paul took a private matter between Philemon and his runaway slave and arranged that it would be settled publically.
Paul never denied that Philemon had the right to punish Onesimus as he saw fit. Paul just made it extremely awkward for Philemon to punish Onesimus. And why not? The life of a Christian was at stake! Paul beautifully, delicately, and tactfully boxes Philemon in so that he could only do the right thing.
Final Words - Colossians 4:18
As with his other letters, Paul adds a note in his own handwriting at the end of his letter. He again reminds the Colossians not to forget his imprisonment. Then he includes the line that authenticates his letters: “Grace be with you.” (II Thessalonians 3:17-18).