It is impossible to quantify the vast volume of truth to be gathered from the writings of St. Paul. Every doctrine crucial to Christian faith and life is embedded and extended throughout the range of his epistles so that no-one has been more influential in the course of Christian thought and history than the great servant and scholar of Jesus Christ. Paul is profound and expounds upon the deepest themes of the gospel unfolding the mystery of Christ in the most intriguing and stimulating manner that remains unfathomable. Paul’s colleague Peter acknowledges the mental and spiritual challenge that Paul poses to his readers in saying that he, “Wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him . . . . His letters contain some things that are hard to understand . . . (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul was not obscure but too clear for the liking of many from his time to ours. The issues he tackled were huge and not everyone was willing to go the whole way with him without diluting or distorting his teaching. Hubris or heretical tendencies (perverse choice) prevented them from gaining assent to divine wisdom conveyed through the mind and speech of the apostle. Paul was a man to ponder – continually. The more that Paul is grasped the more we apprehend what is yet to be gained. His skill with existing Scripture (OT) informs and shapes Scripture in the making (NT), of which his letters are a major part as we see from Peter’s endorsement. A prepared and patient salvation is Paul’s great message – God’s purpose and proclamation of grace.
Nothing in Scripture is surplus to requirement, and most certainly the opening and closing greetings of Paul’s letters are not to be casually overlooked. There is much to be gleaned from the manner in which he addresses the audiences of his letters to be read in several churches as well those for whom they were originally designated. They reveal Paul’s personal attitudes toward and affection for the addressees and exhibit the vitality of grace in human relationships. Paul’s teaching is not mere theory but actual in its effects. Folk who are grasped by grace become gracious. The will of God which they study and adore really works in and through them. Apostolic greetings reflect this reality. They illustrate the character of Paul and indicate his evaluation of his colleagues and his appreciation of their ministry. Paul comes over as a person of conviction and compassion. This is so clearly demonstrated in his final greetings to the Colossians.
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. This is high commendation indeed and ought to count in anyone’s credentials for ministry far above some of the criteria that presently prevail in parish advertisements. Tychicus is reliable and honest and Paul entrusts him with the encouragement of fellow believers. That can only mean that Tychicus is not only loyal to Paul personally but to the gospel that Paul preaches. He is a worthy emissary. He is coming with Onesimus – a mere slave who disgraced himself by running away. It would be like bringing home the local delinquent, but Paul calls him: our faithful and dear brother. Something has changed and a man without rights or dignity in society has become useful to the apostle who writes warmly in a letter to his owner Philemon concerning the compassionate acceptance of a punishable absconder.
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings. This loyal companion of Paul had shared danger with him in Ephesus (Acts 19:29), shares confinement with him in Rome, and knows what it is to be captive to Christ. As does Mark (You have received instructions about him). Yes, Mark. Another deserter. Most likely, from cumulative evidence, the young man who fled at Jesus’ arrest (Mk 14: 51-52), and the man who forsook Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia (Acts15:38). If he comes to you, welcome him. At one time Paul was adamant that Mark should not be one of the team and he fell out with Barnabas over this matter, but now he is reinstated as a valued co-worker. Mark was the man who recorded Peter’s memoirs – a man who himself was reinstated (John 21: 15ff). It seems that Paul in his final greetings does not regard great failings among the chosen of God as final. The fallen may be restored and Onesimus, Mark, and Peter are examples of a fresh start through grace and usefulness beyond human expectation. Such allowances must be made for the penitent in our times also. Our judgements of others may, understandably, be cautious, but should never be final. The grace of God performs wonderful transformations in even the unlikely.
Jesus who is Justus also sends greetings. With so many of his nation opposed to him it is a comfort for Paul to have sympathetic Jews at his side and Christians will always retain a sympathetic attitude towards the Jews in the prayerful hope that one day many will be re-grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:11ff). Epaphras who had earlier nurtured the believers at Colosse has not lessened in his fervour for the church there. Absent from the brethren he wrestles in prayer for them, his intercessions contributing mightily to their establishment and endurance in the faith. Paul says, “he is working hard for you” and for those at sister congregations, which seems to show that prayer is sometimes vigorous and arduous. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. The beloved physician displays his endearing qualities in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He was a careful and accurate narrator of the ministry of Jesus and the progress of the early church. What he notes, commends, and exhorts by implication shows perception, sensitivity, and compassion. He is a healer of souls and circumstances through the gospel of the Healer who has his entire allegiance and adoration. Luke exerts energy and eloquence in advocacy of the grace of God.
Demas is another matter. Reference to him is sparse. He was an entity with Paul but Paul does not describe him or enthuse over him. He is nominally a colleague who soon proves to be untrue. Demas’ true love was the world that enticed him back (2 Timothy 4:9). Here was a deserter who did not return, so far as we know. He is proof that proximity to the cause of Christ does not signify authenticity of faith. Peter’s exhortation to make our “calling and election sure” (1 Peter 1:10) is sage advice. Demas was with the apostolic team but not a genuine member as John observed of many of the hasty and shallow confessors of Christ: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2: 19). Often those whose conversion is quick in the end do not stick. Nympha and the church in the house at Laodicea were to exchange letters from Paul with Colosse and this was for the up-building of faith and fellowship (v16). Regional churches were to unify and not remain independent units. Tell Archippus.
Archippus was assigned a task of which we are not apprised. See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord. Until there is clear evidence to the contrary an existing calling must be completed. We never give in until another direction is given. Paul cares about his greetings and accordingly appends his name, reminding the faithful that all followers of Jesus face their trials. Remember my chains.