In the closing verses of this letter, as elsewhere, Paul concludes by sending greetings from those who were with him at that time. There are eight people mentioned, and these must have been with Paul in Rome. In the opening section (verses 7-9), he commends those who journeyed together to bring the letter to the Colossian assembly, along with his personal letter to Philemon. It was a long and arduous journey from Rome to this city, travelling both by land and sea, but there must have been good fellowship along the way, as they would commune regarding the service of Christ. I am sure that the exhortations they were carrying from Paul would have been enjoyed by them. Who actually carried the letters and gave them to Philemon we are not told, but Tychicus, being the servant of Christ that he was, in all probability had the responsibility of bearing these manuscripts, that were to become part of the canon of Scripture. Alongside him was the runaway slave, who had somehow been converted through the ministry of Paul and, though we can speculate how he came to be where Paul could bring the Gospel to him, we are not told.
Tychicus was evidently a valued servant of Christ. Paul does not eulogise men, but he certainly valued those who served the Lord, and is very pithy in his appreciation of them. Three things are said of him: first, what he is to the saints - a beloved brother; then, what he is to the assembly - a faithful minister (diakonos); thirdly, what he is to Paul and other servants - a fellow servant in the Lord. His mission was to bring tidings of how Paul fared during his imprisonment. Paul’s thoughts were not only concerning himself, but he also desired to know how the saints at Colosse fared, and how they were moving on for the Lord. With the evil teachings that were abroad in the area, he longed that there would be those among them like Tychicus, who could be a comfort to them. The word he uses is parakaleo, meaning ‘to draw alongside and to care for’.
Onesimus also travelled with Tychicus. I wonder what thoughts filled his heart as they finally drew near to his former home, from which he had evidently absconded some time before as a runaway slave, but where he was now returning as a brother in Christ? Paul draws attention to his salvation as a faithful and beloved brother. Evidently, since his conversion, he had proved his devotion to Christ by his affection for the saints. He is also said to be one of them. Does this refer to the fact that he was once a member of the household, and a Colossian, or does it refer to his new life as a believer, and one of them in the faith? I think perhaps the former is the case. The testimony of both regarding the work in Rome would be important, for testimony should be at the mouth of two or three witnesses.
Another of Paul’s travelling companions was Aristarchus. He is first seen in Acts 19, and evidently continued with Paul until he was brought to Rome. Being linked to the apostle was hazardous, and brought those who were with him into conflict: in this case causing this faithful brother to be imprisoned with Paul.
Another who is standing by the Lord’s worthy servant is Marcus, who left the ministry during Paul’s early service for the Lord, and was the cause of the rift between Paul and Barnabas which made them take different courses, and separated them in divine service. How good it is to see that the fellowship was restored, and the service of Mark is again valued. He was a failing servant in his early days, but thank the Lord he could write about the unfailing Servant in his Gospel. The saints are encouraged to receive him to themselves: I take it this means not only the man, but also his service for the Lord.
Justus is simply seen as a Jew who knew Christ as Saviour, and faithfully served Him. Paul thinks of those who were fellow workers in the great ministry of winning souls for the coming Kingdom. I notice that it is always with the Kingdom in view that the work of the Gospel was carried out. The sooner believers see what the Word of God teaches, and bring the Kingdom into their preaching and ministry, the greater the Lord will be honoured, since it relates to the manifestation and glorification of Christ in the scene of His rejection. Should we not set forth what the Word of God does, and anticipate the day of Christ’s glory?
Next, we find another reference to Epaphras. In chapter 1 his labours when with the assembly were noted and, now, having come to Rome and identified himself with the apostle, he finds himself in the same fate as a prisoner. In chapter 1 it was his preaching and teaching that were prominent and, although he is still labouring for the saints, here it is in prayer. It is good to see what he is praying for: like Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, and in this letter, it is for the spiritual growth and maturity of the saints. His prayers reach further than for incidental events in their lives; rather he prays for that which will be of eternal benefit to them. His praying is not for a few, but for all in the Lycus valley that he must have known.
Verse 23 closes this section by speaking of two others who were near at hand to Paul, but who were very different. How much Paul must have been thankful for the presence of Luke as his body took the strain of the service that the Lord had put into his hand, remembering the words that the Lord had spoken on the day of his conversion: “for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9.16). With the sufferings catalogued in 2 Corinthians 11, what a blessing to have the Lord provide Luke the physician to be at hand for this worthy servant.
But, finally, we have Paul speaking of Demas. Little is said of him, which may suggest that Paul saw the seeds at this point which were to be manifested in 2 Timothy 4.10. Soon Demas would forsake Paul, and return to Thessalonica. He had lost the love of the appearing of Christ, seen in verse 8, when a crown would be worn at the manifestation of the Lord for faithfulness to Him. Sadly, the love of the ease of the world caused him to separate from Paul. It was not the present evil world that he loved, but he sought rather simply to escape the persecution that the likes of Aristarchus and Epaphras were enduring. As Mr Douglas said many years ago, “the jangling of the chain got on his nerves.”
The closing section, from verses 15-18, helps us to understand the fellowship that there was among the saints. Though every assembly is autonomous, each having its own responsibility before the Lord, and each answerable to Him for how they hold to the Word of God, there is no thought of independence: it is evident from this passage that there was a unity among the saints. Even here we see how Epaphras has a number of assemblies upon his heart, and Timothy had the commendation of two companies in Acts, as Derbe and Lystra commended him to labour with Paul. It is heart-warming to see various assemblies in an area working together as they serve the Lord Christ.
Verse 16 makes clear that there was also a unity in doctrine, for Paul desired that what he had written to the Colossians should be read in Laodicea also. A letter was written to the Laodiceans as well, and this was to be passed on to the assembly at Colosse.
If Timothy was exhorted to stir up the gift that was given by prophecy, Archippus was instructed to take heed to the ministry that he had received of the Lord. Gift is not given for personal use, nor is it given to lie idle, but should be exercised for the benefit of the saints.
A personal salutation from Paul concludes the letter. Again, he is seeking prayer; this time that he might be sustained during his prison experience. His last words to the Colossian believers is an exhortation that they will end how they began: by knowing the continued grace of God.