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This is the final section of the letter, where we discover more about Paul’s situation, and his friends, and that of the Colossians. We can deduce from this section that Paul is a prisoner, along with his friend Aristarchus, most likely in Rome. He is also in company with Mark (the cousin of Barnabas, cf Acts 15:37), Jesus called Justus, Dr Luke (author of Luke-Acts) and Demas. Epaphras is also with him, although Epaphras is from the region of Colossae. Epaphras gets special mention here as a prayer-warrior, whose prayers are for the maturity and fullness of the believers in his faraway hometown. These same friends (except Justus) are mentioned at the end of Philemon and it is likely Paul sent this letter at the same time.
Paul has just sent to Colossae his fellow-worker Tychicus, with Onesimus, a house-servant from Colossae (cf Philemon), as a traveling companion. The purpose of their journey is to inform the Colossians (and Laodiceans from up the valley) about Paul and his friends, and also to encourage them. Presumably it is also to safely deliver the letter we have just read, with its instructions about how to live as faithful disciples of Jesus.
The destination of the letter is not only Colossae, but also Laodicea, which has also received a letter. They are to read their own letters and then exchange them. We no longer have access to the letter that was written to Laodicea. Paul requests the Colossians to tell Archippus to complete his ministry. Archippus was probably a church leader in Colossae (cf Philemon 1:2).
Finally, Paul signs a greeting in his own hand instead of using a scribe. This was a common practice of the time (cf Gal 6:11).
What are we to take from this section? Beyond all the details, I note the corporate and interdependent nature of the ministry. Colossae and Laodicea, towns only 15 kilometers away from each other by the Lycus River, are linked together in fellowship. Paul himself is not alone in Rome, but surrounded by fellow-workers who encourage him and through whom he is encouraged. He sees and honors the ministry of prayer. Even Mark, about whom there was an earlier dispute between Paul and Barnabas, is to be welcomed, and Onesimus the runaway slave is designated as faithful and beloved. There is a great sense of grace, underlined by the last line itself. May those of us in ministry far from our homes be encouraged by these examples to work together in love and with grace, and always to wrestle in prayer for those whom we remember at home.
Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the picture of co-working I can envisage in this passage. Help me to work with others in grace and love. May those at home be strengthened in their faith and reach maturity in their knowledge of you.