Colossians 4:7-11 Staying in Touch

April 28, 2015

One of the frustrations of international travel for me is the unreliability or unavailability of Internet access. It was clear from my arrival in Istanbul, a population center of 17 million, that Internet usage was prevalent (just like home, everybody walking down the street looking down at his or her iPhone). My hopes were dashed, however. When you get to a hotel touting Internet access, you deal with slow speeds, lock-outs due to overloads (experienced when all 30 of us disgorged from our bus and tried in the hotel lobby to get online at the same time), or outrageous charges for its use. Let’s just put it this way: by the time I got to Athens eleven days later, I was ready to pay $10/day for premium high-speed access.

I know this is hard, but think about what life was like when there was no Internet, no email, no Instagram or Facebook . . . Remember the quaint practice of composing a hand-written letter, addressing an envelope, stamping it, and placing it in the mail for delivery in three to five days? Go back a few centuries, when communication required a person to ride or walk overland (or in Paul’s case, take a boat across the Mediterranean) to hand-deliver a letter. Such a journey could take days or weeks, adding weight and importance to the message carried along. I can guarantee you, nobody sent a picture of tonight’s restaurant dinner or the first pie of the season (like I did on Facebook yesterday). Letters were substantive in information and laden with emotion and thereby the means Paul used to foster unity among the churches.

As Paul closes his letter to the church at Colossae, he sends greetings, gives instructions, and provides some social glue to strengthen the bonds between him and the wider body:

7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord. 8I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts; 9he is coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.
10Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him. 11And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

While Paul awaits trial in Rome, the ministry continues to flourish under his direction and with the help of several associates.

Tychicus was on Paul’s ministry team, in this case a courier bringing the present letter and other news about Paul, who is writing from house arrest in Rome. Tychicus was probably from the region of Asia (present-day Turkey) close to Colossae and had rendered help in Ephesus under Paul’s direction (cf. Acts 20:4 and 2 Timothy 4:12).

Onesimus is the slave formerly owned by Philemon of Colossae. In the letter to Philemon, Paul made a good-natured appeal that Onesimus be released from bondage. Onesimus became a part of the ministry team.

Aristarchus, a believer from Thessalonica (in Greece), was under house arrest with Paul in Rome, having traveled with him and been gathered up in the Ephesian ruckus recorded in Acts 19.

This cast, including those “of the circumcision” (Jewish converts to Christianity), demonstrates the importance to Paul of moral support, ministry coordination, and an ever-spreading gospel. He is also concerned that the churches not worry about him; part of the assignment to his couriers is to reassure the Colossians that Paul is doing well and that Kingdom purposes are being fulfilled even in his imprisonment. This surely would have been good news to those who perhaps had never met Paul personally (there is no record that Paul ever visited Colossae) but were aware, through his protégés, of Paul’s unique brand of teaching and his passion for the developing church.

Paul’s letter raises at least two questions for us to ponder: 1) Do we see ourselves as members of a ministry team, mutually dependent, affirming of one another, and trusting the good work of others to fulfill the gospel mission? And 2) Is our communication clear, meaningful, edifying, and reassuring to the body of Christ? Paul’s practice shows the strength and wisdom of team ministry. It also demonstrates the power of clear communication, the effectiveness of a gracious tone, and the necessity of keeping people in touch with one another. Food for thought, as we appreciate the “blessed tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”

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2 Responses to “Colossians 4:7-11 Staying in Touch”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    New thought for me (at last!): the more time and energy involved in communication, the more significant it becomes. And… ministry team, for Paul!

  2. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Just like to add, after seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, that writing a letter started with going out back and killing a goat. And writing in such small font that you would have to be seriously near sighted to be able to read or write.

    Which makes the burning of the libraries in Alexandria way back when, and other places, all the more devastating.

    But in terms of style, it made for writing in multidimensional formats, an art form we rarely use today, and so we easily miss it. But if you had to pack lots information in a short text, you would invent ways to do it. Today’s analogy is highly mathematical and leads to complex image compression algorithms and zip files.

    Kenneth Bailey has written extensively on the structures and styles of Middle Eastern thinking and writing but his book “Paul through Mediterranean Eyes” is a sensational home run.

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