We are taking this section out of order purely for the
convenience of education. The section is at the tail end of Colossians, and
therefore contains a number of personal notes from Paul.
Tell You Everything
all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved
brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring
you information. For I have sent him to
you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that
he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole
It is customary at the end of letters written during this
time to include a number of personal notes. It is often convenient for the
teacher to skip over this section, as we really know quite little about the
people who are mentioned in it. In this particular instance, however, we have a
hint as to the passion which is involved. Notice that both men mentioned are
referred to as a “beloved brother.” It costs Paul quite a bit to send these
people back home to carry the news. Remember, Paul is in chains, in jail.
That’s not comfortable, and it is often a very lonely experience.
In particular we have one name which does occur elsewhere in
the New Testament — Onesimus. We know him from the book of Philemon. Onesimus
was a runaway slave, and it is possible that this is the time at which Paul
sent him home to his master. His master was Philemon. Please appreciate the
peril of Onesimus in this instance. As a runaway slave, Philemon would’ve had
the right to insist that he face a wild animal in the arena to prove that he
was still worthy to live. He would certainly have been branded with the mark of
a runaway slave on his forehead. It is most likely that he would’ve been
castrated, to prevent any rebellious offspring. Paul sent with him a letter,
which is now known as the book of Philemon, which you should study at your
leisure. But consider the temptation it must’ve been to Paul. Philemon was
brought to Christ by Paul. So was Onesimus. Had Paul been there to make the
case face-to-face, it is likely he would’ve gone back with Onesimus. But Paul
is in jail; Onesimus must go home alone, relying on Paul’s letter to Philemon.
What a temptation for Paul to simply say that he would write Philemon a note
and hang on to Onesimus. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a triumph of courtesy and
kindness; Onesimus returned in an act of great courage.
my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also
Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to
you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is
called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are
from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his
greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand
perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he
has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in
Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter
is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you,
for your part read my letter that is coming
It seems that Paul was very much comforted by having those
of the Jewish race around him. You can understand why; they share the same
stories and background that Paul does. They also share the traditions of the
Jews which include great hospitality and care for their fellow Jews who happen
to be in prison. I suppose it’s like having homeboys with you.
Epaphras, who you will recall was the person who got Paul
started on this letter, is mentioned here as “laboring earnestly” in his
prayers for the folks at home. Other translations include the phrase,
“wrestling in prayer.” We’ll talk more about this in the next section, but for
now it is sufficient to point out that prayer is not, as many of us suspect,
something which is dull, inert and takes so little energy.
The main feature of this passage is a minor mystery that has
gone unsolved for 2000 years. Paul mentions that the Colossians should read the
letter to the Laodicean church. The problem with this is rather simple: we know
of no such letter in existence. Apparently Paul wrote them one, and they lost
it. Some other books of the Bible have been suggested as being this particular
book, in particular the letter to the Ephesians, but no one is really certain
of this. I leave it to the reader to discover what can be discovered.
Remember My Chains
Say to Archippus,
"Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you
may fulfill it." I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember
my imprisonment. Grace be with you.
Do you see the statement that Paul wrote this letter with
his own hand? Most scholars agree that Paul did in fact dictate this letter to
someone. It’s likely enough that he put his signature at the end so that they
would know it was authentically his writing. The suspected reason for this is that
apparently Paul had cataracts; to see his own handwriting he had to make it
very large. Paul also had some trouble with people writing letters in his name;
therefore, it was wise to be prudent enough to include a sample of the
Archippus, mentioned here, is the son of Philemon. We don’t
know what particular ministry had been given to him, but evidently Paul thought
it important enough to single him out in a letter that was intended to be read
aloud. Generally speaking, Paul is probably not trying to deliver a rebuke, but
an encouragement — and also a validation in the eyes of the other believers
that the man’s mission was given by God.
Finally, it is clear from the rest of the New Testament that
being in chains for the cause of Christ is an honor, not a disgrace. If
somewhat like getting a Purple Heart in the U.S. Army; it’s proof you’ve been
shot at in combat. Being locked up for the cause of Christ is proof that Satan
takes you seriously. It is, therefore, a badge of honor. But it is also a tremendous
mark of loneliness. Most of the readers of this work will never have had the
opportunity to be inside a prison; but let me give you the closest equivalent —
a hospital stay. There are plenty of other human beings around, most of whom
don’t really care about you personally. Having a smiling, friendly face makes
an enormous difference. If you’ve ever worked in prison ministry, you know how
much more intense that experience is. In Paul’s case, it is an experience of
yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an
attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well,
that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the
mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it
clear in the way I ought to speak.
As Paul noted elsewhere
devoting yourselves to prayer is a reason for not having sex! Do recall that
the biblical view of sex is that it is an important part of maintaining your
marriage; one of the reasons for getting married is given as being the fact
that your sex drive is running and you’re having trouble handling it. It’s
probably more clear to us that it was to the people in Paul’s time that this is
a major sacrifice. So being devoted to prayer is a normal part of the Christian
life when it’s running correctly.
The phrase “devote yourselves” reminds us of the necessity
of perseverance in prayer.
The parable of the Unjust Judge reminds us of this. It’s important to remember
however that devotion in prayer inherently implies perseverance. If you are
devoted to Christ in prayer, you will approach infrequently. It just can’t be
done any other way.
One reason many Christians are not devoted in prayer is that
they think that God is not interested in their little problems. May your poor
author share with you a personal note on this? My son is a lawyer who lives on
the other side of the continent. The job pays quite well, but includes within
its frustrations of dealing with people who are less than ethical and file
frivolous lawsuits. Whenever I talk with him over the phone, I ask about how
his job is going and what lawsuits he might be involved with. The rules of the
business do not allow him to tell me names and companies, but I’m interested to
hear what his frustrations are — simply because I’m his father. Your father is
interested in what you’re doing. So is your heavenly father, even if you think
the stuff involved is trivial. He wants to be a part of your life and therefore
cares about what you care about. It is therefore reasonable for you to be
devoted in prayer and bring him all that small stuff too. All things are
subject to prayer — not just the high and the mighty, but the low the trivial
just as much.
Other translations use the verb “watch” in place of the
phrase “keeping alert.” The phrasing in question is often used to warn
Christians to be alert to the second coming of Christ. We don’t hear much about
this anymore, at least not in our church. But it is a serious mistake to assume
that, since Christ hasn’t returned yet, he isn’t going to return it all. Paul
is warning you that there will come a day of judgment — so watch out!
The phrase can also be interpreted as meaning that you
should keep alert to the circumstances around you. It does not take a major
genius to see that American civilization is declining rapidly in this day. Yet
our particular church congregation, like many others in the emerging church
movement, does not consider this a subject fit either for sermons or prayer.
Questions of this time were much more aware of the fact that persecution was
not just the possibility, but a likelihood. Therefore they were to be wise and
There is no substitute for “an attitude of gratitude.” The
reason most of us don’t have such an attitude is that we are firm believers in
the idea that we are entitled to something. Sometimes this is relatively
innocent; we see somebody else with a new car and think, “why can’t I have one
of those?” The problem here is that we start with the idea that were entitled
what everybody else says. The question starting point is, in all honesty, the
idea that is entitled to nothing. Your center; why should God do anything for
you? The answer has nothing to do with your merits, or the geography were in
which you were born, but has everything to do with his love for you.
Another reason that this thankful attitude isn’t very common
today is our view of the water glass. Some of us view it as half-full; some of
us view it as half empty. As one sober, scientific fellow pointed out the glass
is always full. It’s half full of water and half-full of air. We should be
thankful for the water we have and the air we breathe; we should therefore also
be thankful for the blessings in our life, and for those things which God has
withheld from us for our own good.
Spread of the Gospel
Paul begins with a prayer request here: that he will be able
to spread the gospel as he should. Please note: Paul’s in jail. Most of us view
that as an excuse not to be an evangelist. After all, doesn’t Billy Graham work
in a great big auditorium? There are three things about which we can pray for
the spread of the gospel at practically any time:
First, as our Lord said, that he should send workers out to the
Second, as Paul puts it here, but God will clear some of the
obstacles to evangelism out of the way — to open the door.
Finally, he prays that his own work will not be blemished by any
fault on his part. He wants to do what he ought to do — and asks for prayer in
yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Let your speech always be with grace, as though
seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each
The word “wisdom” is seldom used today. The ancient Greeks
clearly separated the concept of knowledge from the concept of wisdom. To put
it in the simplest form, wisdom is composed of imperatives: words that tell you
when you ought to do something. Knowledge is composed of indicatives:
when you do something, this is what will happen. Both of these items are
necessary for human conduct, but by placing our modern emphasis on knowledge
over wisdom we have missed the moral imperative. Such an idea would’ve been
completely foreign to St. Paul.
Wisdom is not the same as a cynical, all-knowing view.
You’ll recall that our Lord commanded us to be innocent as doves and shrewd as
We might define it as knowing the right thing to do, and being persuaded we
ought to do it. Knowledge, on the other hand, tells us how to do it. But wisdom
must come first; if your method of bringing people to Christ was taken from PT
Barnum you probably have a problem.
For most of us this concept seems a bit strange. We think of
wisdom is something that belongs to some guru sitting on a mountaintop. The
Scripture, however, tells us that we may apply for wisdom and that God will
The trick is to apply for it before you need it, rather than after you think to
yourself, “I should have said…”
Make the Most
If you ask the average preacher to talk about stewardship,
you get a sermon on the subject of money. Certainly there is no lack of
teaching in the New Testament on the subject of money; Christ mentions it
often. But, I submit, there is also a stewardship of time. We are to “redeem
the time, because the days are evil.”
The principles by which we steward our money can be applied to time as well;
it’s just that it can’t be saved up. But each of you should be asking ourselves
whether or not what we do is the best use of our time.
The most difficult concept to get across to most questions
in this is that we don’t have an infinite amount of time in this life. Our days
are numbered; God knows how long were going to live. The question is what were
going to do with the time we have. We very often fall into the trap of thinking
we have all the time we need; life is so long. Eternal life is so long, but
this life is not. Therefore, we should make the most of every hour we have.
This lesson is far too short to go into the details of this, but you should
examine the problem yourself.
Seasoned with Salt
The word “salt” has a detailed history, and it would’ve
meant much more to them than it does to us. We may take it simply, however,
that we are to be (to use Christ’s exquisite phrase) “the salt of the earth.”
The fact that we still use this expression today to describe people gives us a pretty
good feeling for how it’s supposed to be used. We are to avoid the extremes of
being extremely technical in our Christianity (turn with me to Second Hezekiah)
or being completely ignorant of what we really believe. We should know we’re
talking about, and be able to put it plainly, without prejudice, for the
benefit of those here.
It’s very hard to practice that as an act. So you’re going
to have to do with the natural way; that salt of the earth attitude has to come
from the heart. But it must be informed as well, so that you may deal with the
objections of those were not Christians. As Peter puts it to us,
“…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who
asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness
and reverence; “ (First Peter 3:15)
This is the rationale behind studying apologetics. If you
think that Christianity makes sense, you should be able to explain it to
someone else in a way that makes sense to them too.
The hardened cynic is not going to be convinced, nor is the
fellow who has his own position to defend. But there are a lot more people out
there who just need to be told what the gospel says in a quiet way that makes
such good sense. Have the knowledge to know what you’re talking about, and the
wisdom to deliver it as Christ would.