All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here. Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) and Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it. The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen. (vv. 7-18)
This last section, though somewhat lengthy, does not require very much in the way of either exposition or explanation. It is interesting, however, to compare the references to the same person mentioned here with those in other epistles.
We do not know much about Tychicus, mentioned in verse 7, excepting that in Ephesians 6:21-22 he is again spoken of in almost the same terms. It is evident that he was one in whom the apostle had implicit confidence. He speaks of him in each passage as a beloved brother and faithful minister, adding here a third expression—“fellow servant in the Lord.” Beloved and yet faithful! What a rare but blessed combination is this!
So often men who seek to be faithful become almost unconsciously stern and ungracious, thereby forfeiting the tender affection of the people of God, even though they may be looked upon with respect as men of principle who can be depended upon to do and say the righteous thing at all cost to themselves or others. Unhappily, in the last instance, they may manifest very little real concern for the peace of mind or comfort of heart of those who disagree with them. On the other hand, many a beloved brother purchases the affectionate regard of the saints at the cost of faithfulness to truth. It is far better to be true to Christ and His Word, and thus have His approval, than to be approved of men and loved because of weakness in enforcing what is according to truth.
Tychicus evidently went to neither extreme. He was undoubtedly a lovable man because of his gracious demeanor and his tender solicitude for the welfare of the saints, but at the same time he was faithful in ministering the Word of God, rebuking iniquity and also comforting the penitent. Such men are rarer than we realize. In them we see the delightful combination of the shepherd’s heart and the prophet’s spirit. One cannot but think how alike in character were Timothy and Tychicus. Both were loyal to the Word of God, and both sought the comfort and blessing of the people of God.
In verse 9 Onesimus is spoken of in similar terms. He is called a “faithful and beloved brother.” It is evident that he did not have the gift that marked Tychicus, but the two characteristics we have noticed were manifest in him. We know much more of his history than of several others mentioned in this chapter. The brief letter to Philemon tells us a great deal regarding him. He had been a dishonest runaway slave. He had robbed his master and apparently wasted his ill-gotten gains before he was brought to Christ through coming in contact with Paul in Rome. Philemon himself had been converted through the same devoted servant, so we may see, in mercy being extended to the thieving slave, a wondrous picture of sovereign grace.
Sov’reign grace o’er sin abounding;
Ransomed souls the tidings swell!
’Tis a deep that knows no sounding;
Who its length and breadth can tell?
On its glories
Let my soul forever dwell.
After Onesimus was brought to Christ, Paul sent him back to his master, offering himself to become his surety in the tender words, “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that to my account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it.” What a gospel picture is this! It is Christ Himself who has assumed the responsibilities of the penitent sinner. “We are all God’s Onesimuses,” said Luther. Christ paid our debt that we might be accepted in Him before God.
He bore on the tree, the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free.
And when thus redeemed, it is our happy privilege to serve Him in glorious liberty and say with the psalmist, “Truly I am thy servant;… thou hast loosed my bonds.”
Of Aristarchus, whom Paul here calls his fellow prisoner, we read in Acts 19 that he was a Macedonian traveling with Paul and endangered his very life on behalf of the gospel at the time of the uproar in Ephesus. He is also mentioned again in Philemon 24 as a fellow laborer with the apostle. His name would imply that he was of the so-called upper classes, an aristocrat of Macedonia, who for the sake of the kingdom of God had renounced his place of prominence in the world to become a bondman of Jesus Christ.
We are glad to see the affectionate way in which Paul here writes of Marcus, the nephew of Barnabas. Years before, this young man had been the cause of serious contention between these two devoted men of God. Paul had lost confidence in John Mark because of his leaving the work and returning to his mother in Jerusalem upon the completion of the evangelistic tour in Cyprus. Barnabas, kindly in spirit and evidently moved by natural affection, wanted to give the unfaithful helper a second chance, but Paul was obdurate. He felt he could not afford to jeopardize the success of their work by again taking with them one who had proved himself a weakling. Which one really had the mind of God, we are not told. But we are thankful indeed to find that Mark “made good,” as we say, and became a trusted and honored man of God, companion to Peter (see 1 Peter 5:13), and dear to Paul as well as to his uncle Barnabas. He is again mentioned in Philemon 24 as a fellow laborer, and Paul requests Timothy to bring Mark with him, in 2 Timothy 4:11. The fact that he needed the spiritual commendation of verse 10 would seem to imply that at the time of writing there were some who still stood in doubt of him, but the apostle’s recommendation would remove all that.
The next name, “Jesus, which is called Justus,” might well remind us of the humiliation to which our blessed Lord stooped in grace when He became a man in order to give His life for sinners. To us there is only one Jesus. That name is now above every name and shines resplendent in highest glory, unique and precious, a name with which none other can ever be compared. But we need to be reminded that Jesus represents the Hebrew name Joshua and was in common use when our Lord was here on earth. And so we have here a brother otherwise unknown bearing the same name as his Savior, and not only that but surnamed The Just. This latter title was given to men because of their recognized integrity as in the case of Joseph Barsabas of Acts 1:23 and an otherwise unknown Justus in Acts 18:7.
There is something peculiarly suggestive in the way the apostle eulogizes these brethren whose salutations he thus conveys to the Colossians. “These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.” It is evident that then, as now, gift and grace did not necessarily go together. There were others who were perhaps energetic enough in service but who were anything but brotherly in their attitude toward Paul.
Of Epaphras we have already had the apostle’s estimate in 1:7. Here he draws special attention to this man’s fervency in prayer. It was he who had come from Colosse to visit Paul and to acquaint him with the conditions that called forth this letter. That he had some ability as a preacher and teacher we know, for it was through his ministry these Colossians had been won to Christ and the assembly formed there. But his greatest ministry was evidently one of prayer. In that he labored fervently, striving earnestly in supplication before God, so deeply concerned was he for the saints that they might enter into the truth in all its fullness and thus in practical experience stand as full-grown and filled full, or complete, in all the will of God. In this prayer Paul joined, as we have seen in 1:9. This earnest apostle of prayer, Epaphras, had not confined his ministry or interest to Colosse, but he bore in his heart, in the same intense zeal, the neighboring assemblies of Laodicea and Hierapolis.
It is most pathetic to compare verse 14 with 2 Timothy 4:10-11. Here we read, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” But in writing to Timothy the apostle says, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and [hath] departed unto Thessalonica… Only Luke is with me.” From the day he joined Paul’s company (as intimated in Acts 16 where the change of the pronoun from “they” to “us” showed that Luke formed one of the party at Troas, vv. 8-9), “Luke, the beloved physician,” was one of Paul’s most devoted helpers. He remained with him to the end and possibly saw him martyred.
Demas and Luke seem to have been intimately associated, for both here and in Philemon 24 the two names are found together, but upon the occasion of Paul’s second imprisonment we learn that the love of the world had been too much for Demas. He found the itinerant preacher’s lot too hard, and he left the apostle in his hour of need and went off to Thessalonica. There is no hint that he plunged into a life of sin. He may have gone into some respectable business, but the Holy Spirit relentlessly exposes the hidden springs of his changed behavior. He loved this present world. No longer are he and Luke joined in devoted service. Demas had chosen an easier path.
Salutations are sent to the Laodicean brethren, and Nymphas, who was evidently prominent among them and in whose house they met for worship, is especially mentioned. We may gather from verse 16 how the apostolic letters were early circulated among the churches. This Colossian epistle was not only to be read locally but was to be read also in the assembly of the Laodiceans. And a letter sent to the latter church was to be sent on to Colosse. This epistle from Laodicea (observe not to Laodicea) is probably our epistle to the Ephesians, and is generally regarded as a circular letter that went first to Ephesus and then to other churches in the Roman proconsular province of Asia, thus reaching Colosse from Laodicea. We have already seen how important it is to study the two together as they are divinely linked in such a wonderful way.
In verse 17 Paul gives a special admonition to Archippus, also mentioned in the letter to Philemon, who was apparently a servant of Christ ministering the Word at Colosse but had a tendency not uncommon in some young preachers to settle down comfortably and take things easily. To him the aposde sends the message, “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” Promptness and energy are as important in spiritual service as in anything else.
There is an incident related in connection with two leading generals of the Southern Confederacy of America that might well speak to every servant of Christ. General Robert E. Lee once sent word to General Stonewall Jackson that he would be glad to talk with him at his convenience on some matter of no great urgency. General Jackson instantly rode to Headquarters, through most inclement weather. When General Lee expressed surprise at seeing him, Jackson exclaimed, “General Lee’s slightest wish is a supreme command to me, and I always take pleasure in prompt obedience.” It is to be hoped that this same spirit laid hold of Archippus, and that he profited by the prodding of the aged apostle.
The epistle was signed in accordance with Paul’s usual custom with his own hand. According to the note at the end, Tychicus and Onesimus acted as his amanuenses in producing this letter, but he appended his signature. How much would one give to have an autographed copy of this or any other of his letters! He would have them remember his bonds both as stirring them up to prayer and to remind them that the servant’s path is one of suffering and rejection.
He closes with the customary benediction, “Grace be with you. Amen.” This is not so full as that in the last verse of 2 Thessalonians, which he tells us is the token of genuineness in every epistle of his. But as we go over all the thirteen letters that bear his name and the anonymous letter to the Hebrews we see that in every one there is some message about grace at the end. He was preeminently the apostle of grace, and it is no matter of surprise that this precious word should be his secret mark, as it were, thus authenticating every letter. May that grace abound in us as it already has abounded toward us through the abundant mercy of our God.
Grace is the sweetest sound
That ever reached our ears,
When conscience charged and Justice frowned,
’Twas grace removed our fears!
We began with grace, we are kept by grace, and it is grace that will bring us home at last.