In this closing passage of Colossians Paul seeks to build greater connections with this church he’s never met. The passage contains many names that sound strange to us, but there’s a story behind each of them. I can picture Paul as he’s closing this letter going around the room, listing his companions and passing on their greetings. If ever any of them passed through Colossae, the church would already know something of them.
Specifically, Paul is sending the letter to Colossae with Tychicus who in turn will be accompanied by Onesimus. Although Paul has written a separate letter to Philemon, he takes the opportunity to endorse Onesimus as a “faithful and dear brother”. He also gives Onesimus the joint task, along with Tychicus, of reporting on Paul’s circumstances. In this way Paul carefully demonstrates his view of this runaway slave.
In v11 Paul exposes a little of his vulnerability when he comments that he only has three Jews among his co-workers, and confides that they have provided comfort for him. I don’t think this means that he found Gentiles to be uncomfortable, but as an Aussie living in the US I know that there is comfort in being with people who have a similar background and worldview. There are times that it’s tedious to translate everything into another culture. For example, with fellow Jews Paul could discuss the implications of the Gospel on the Jewish identity. That conversation would be difficult to have with a Gentile. Or Paul could discuss the Old Testament and Jewish customs without having to teach and explain it. It’s a small glimpse of Paul’s personality, and an interesting one.
Paul also encourages the Colossian church to fellowship with nearby congregations by asking them to pass on his greetings to those churches. He also asks them to exchange the letter with the other congregations. The church in Colossae may have been young and small, but it shouldn’t be isolated.
I believe that in these final verses Paul is making a strong argument against isolation. He earnestly wants the church in Colossae to see themselves as part of God’s big picture. We saw that earlier in 1:6 where Paul reminds them that the Gospel is working its way around the world, just as it worked among them. Now he strengthens that connection by identifying individuals and encouraging inter-congregational cooperation. God doesn’t intend for individual disciples or congregations to be isolated. We are each part of a body, his kingdom, and the church is designed to encourage and support each other. God has a place and a purpose for all of us in His big picture no matter how small we are individually, or as a congregation. We have a Forever Family much bigger than anything we can experience in this life.
- Why do you think so many Christians reject the church and choose to “go it alone”?
- Even in large churches, individual Christians can feel spiritually isolated. What tips do you have for avoiding this isolation [big or small church]?
- Have you ever been part of an “isolated” church? Does that experience make this passage more significant to you?