Thursday, December 11, 2014

All The Saints (part 22 of 22)

In the close of his letter, Paul makes it a point to mention several individuals.  The first is Tychius, known as “a dear brother, faithful minister, and fellow slave in the Lord” (Colossians 4:7a).  The second is Onesimus, regarded as “the faithful and dear brother” (4:9b).  Third is Aristarchus, whom Paul introduces as “my fellow prisoner” (4:10a).  Fourthly he speaks of Mark, “the cousin of Barnabas” (4:10c).  Fifth is Jesus (Justus).  Having listed these men, Paul takes what may seem at first glance to be the unusual step of saying that “In terms of Jewish converts, these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me” (4:11b). 

This, of course, is only unusual if one is not blissfully aware of one of the main themes of the entire letter, which is that of the necessary union, within the church, between Jews and Gentiles (groups formerly held apart but now brought together by the common confession of Jesus as Lord).  With this awareness in hand, the mention of Jewish converts and the kingdom of the Creator God should lead the hearer/reader to expect mention of Gentile converts in connection to that kingdom.  In this Paul does not disappoint, though he does not specifically name them as Gentiles (naturally, this can go unsaid, as if they are not Jewish, then they are Gentile). 

So as Paul rounds out his dissertation that is very much concerned with “all the saints” of the church and the elimination of barriers between peoples so that all may participate equally in the inheritance promised by the covenant God and portended by Jesus’ Resurrection, he tells of Epaphras, “a slave of Christ” (4:12b), not unlike Paul himself.  One quickly and rightly reflects on the fact that he also said this of Tychius (a Jew), thus providing a point of contact and mutuality between a Jew and Gentile.  Paul writes that Epaphras “is always struggling in prayer on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12c).  This predominantly Gentile church needed assurance that they were, in fact (though they did not bear the covenant markers of Judaism), within the will of the Creator God and fully participating in His kingdom as confessors of Jesus.  Hearing this from Paul could only be a great encouragement. 

Paul then writes of Luke and Demas, two more Gentiles that serve him and serve the church, presumably without discrimination.  To that is added “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters who are in Laodicea and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house” (4:15).  Though it is not explicitly stated, one can surmise that Nympha is a Gentile woman and that she hosts kingdom witnessing gatherings in honor of Jesus (the Jewish Messiah).  Along with that, Paul’s use of “brothers and sisters” is yet another gentle reminder that the church of the Creator God in Christ is one family, a new human family, unconcerned with those things that were formerly used to delineate or divide one people group from another. 

Paul wants this obvious message of unity and inclusiveness and the extension of his God’s election of all peoples noised abroad to all the churches, and therefore requests that “after you have read this letter, have it read to the church of Laodicea,” adding, “In turn, read the letter from Laodicea as well” (4:16).  The kingdom principles expressed in the letter to one group will equally apply to the other, and so on to the whole of the church, as the promises and blessings of the Creator God of Israel are made available to all, and all peoples have the opportunity to bear the name of saint.      

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