And so we come to the end…. The Book of Colossians is an amazing portion of scripture, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s one of my favourite books of the bible. Reading Colossians is like enjoying a bar of rich, dark chocolate – an intense experience, best enjoyed in small mouthfuls to savour. Each bite has so much packed into it, so many layers to taste.
At its heart, though, the underlying message is simple. Christ is all we need. He is the Lord of creation, our Saviour, the source of wisdom and knowledge, and the way to reach real depth in our spiritual journey – the means as well as the end. We don’t add things to Jesus, we simply grow in our love and understanding, and go ever deeper into his inexhaustible riches.
As Paul draws his letter to a close, what is clear is that the end of the letter is not, of course, the end of the story: the ministry of the gospel continues. Paul brings greetings from the church’s founder (in human terms), Epaphras. We learned at the start (1:7) that he brought the gospel to Colosse, and it now appears that he is engaging in ministry elsewhere, probably under Paul’s supervision. Certainly, he and Paul are in close contact, and although Epaphras is not ministering personally among the Colossian Christians anymore, Paul assures them not just of his love but also of his hard work for them still (v13) – only this time in prayer, the intensity of which Paul indicates by use of the image of ‘wrestling’.
In another fascinating snippet, we also have greetings from Luke (v14, whom we know as the writer of the gospel and the book of Acts) – and it is here that we learn that Luke was a physician. He almost certainly joined Paul’s inner circle in what’s known as Paul’s third missionary journey (perhaps to treat Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’? – 2 Cor 12:7), around the same time as the Aristarchus and Tychicus mentioned in our last reflection. Although Luke never mentions himself by name in the book of Acts, we know that he teamed up with Paul at this time because the descriptions change from ‘Paul’ or ‘they’ to ‘we’ – compare Acts 20:1 with 20:6.
So, the work continues… as it has done ever since. There are always new people to share the love of Jesus with, new church communities to encourage, new opportunities for the kingdom of Christ to spread. Paul is ever mindful of this, so he encourages them to read the letter he wrote to nearby Laodicea. (As an aside, although officially no such letter survives, it’s possible this was what’s now the book of Ephesians, since some of the content is similar and it was written about the same time – and, tantalisingly, one extant manuscript of the Ephesian letter is written to ‘Laodicea’.)
He also has one more personal instruction, to a chap called Archippus (v17). Even now, Paul wants to use every moment to encourage the flock. We’ve no idea what Archippus was meant to do – but he presumably did, and Paul was determined to ensure that he stayed faithful to his calling. Paul’s only request for himself was that they ‘remember his chains’ (v18). In other letters he has practical needs, but here he seeks only prayer (see also 4:3).
We’ve come full circle: the letter started with Paul’s prayer (1:3) and ends with his request for prayer in return. It also begins with grace (1:2) and ends with grace (4:18). It’s been quite a journey…. and as we begin this week, may Paul’s blessing go with us: may the grace of God be with us all.