Daily Devotion: United for Christ ~ Colossians 4:15-17 (January 27, 2015)

“Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’” ~ Colossians 4:15-17

Explanation of the Text: With the man in Paul’s group sending their greetings, Paul now sends his own, with some brief instructions. Although this letter is written to the Colossians, Paul also instructs them to send his greetings to those in Laodicea, a neighboring area. Because Paul sends his greetings through Colossae, there must be an interconnectivity between the churches in the region. This is further seen in that Paul also sends greetings to Nympha and the church in her home. We know nothing about Nympha, and in fact, there is disagreement over whether or not Nympha is female or male. Many of our more modern translations will translate the verse as ‘her’ as the ESV does here. Furthermore, we know nothing about the church that meets in her home and even where it is located. Clearly it is near the churches in Laodicea and Colossae, otherwise she would not have been mentioned here. Because she is mentioned in the context of references to Laodicea, it is most likely that she and the church were closer to that region than elsewhere.[1] Although we know very little information, it is hardly profitable to speculate further, and it is not relevant to understanding the text. The key here is to see how the churches operated together and Paul’s encouragement to them.

Paul issues further instructions, suggesting that the letter to the Colossians be read to the Laodiceans, and vice versa. Again, we enter an area of ambiguity. Should the Colossians send over the letter Paul wrote to them, or was a common practice for them to send over their own letter with a summary of Paul’s teachings? This same question is also asked of the Laodiceans. This is complicated further because we have no record of the letter to Laodicea, which suggests that it was lost at some point. Again, this has no bearing on our application of the text though.

Finally, Paul specifically mentions Archippus, suggesting to the Colossians to encourage Archippus to fulfill his ministry. Archippus is mentioned only here and in Philemon 2. We cannot be certain what ministry Archippus is doing or who gave him those instructions, other than the Lord of course. It is important to see though, that this is most likely not a rebuke, because Paul would not have rebuked Archippus in such an embarrassing way.[2]

Examination & Application of the Text: Our review of the text leaves us with more questions than it does answers. However, this hardly matters. While some may try to make examples of this and use it to discredit the Bible, we must realize God’s sovereign hand in all of this. We are given the information we need in order to fulfill our joyful responsibility for the Lord. We do not need more information. The answers to the questions and uncertainty do not mean that the text is unreliable, but only that we do not have all of the information….nor does it matter, because the answers would not provide us any additional information about our Christian living. There are then, several key applications that are important, not just for living within the body of Christ, but also for us to understand in order to have the right mindset about our Bible.

First, this passage gives a clear view of how letters were dispersed and shared amongst churches. From history, we know this anyway, but here is an example from our own Bible that lines up with common practices of the culture that we know to be true. When Paul instructed them to read the letters, the word for read is not signifying to them to pass the letter around to one another and read it; the word actually means to read out loud in front of the group so that they all hear it together. Upon reading it then, they are to pass it on to another church, and thus the letter was circulated between believers.

Not only do Paul’s instructions show us how the letters were obtained in each church, but there is something deeper in this. It is true, Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, and we know that they were facing false teachers. As such, the instructions contained within were very much directed towards the Colossian church. But there’s more. Paul instructs them to pass the letter on. While the letter was addressing a particular situation, passing it on proves that the letter is more than just occasional, but that it was relevant to other churches and people.[3] Had it not been relevant to them, there would be no need to pass it on, and thus we glimpse the beginning of a real example of how God’s word transcend beyond specific situations to address people across various cultures and eras.

While there may be concern about the lost letter to Laodicea, there is no need to be concerned. We know also that Paul wrote at least one other letter to the Corinthians that we also do not have access to. This hardly matters. Why? First, because God is the ultimate author of the Bible. This is why we call it HIS Word. While He did use human authors, it is ultimately His teachings that are in it, and therefore must be obeyed. Second is that God preserves His word. As a sovereign lord, he has the ability to preserve the texts as He wants and as He knows is necessary. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that a separate letter to the Laodiceans was not necessary for us to know. Not only should we trust in this, but this should be a comfort in knowing that we have all the information we need.

Finally, as we have discussed, there is obviously a great connection between the churches. There would need to be, otherwise sharing letters would be difficult. While we talk about individuals living together within the body of Christ that is the church, we must also recognize that there are individual churches that make up the larger body of Christ. We must support one another, we must rely on one another. Individuals were not meant to function alone, and neither were churches. There is a great need for churches to unite together for the greater cause of Christ, because without a unification there is no voice. I recognize and assert the need to be careful in partnering. Some have gone wayward focusing on self-glory rather than God’s glory, writing their own doctrine and theology instead of using the Word of God. For this, I am sorry to see so many be mislead. While there is need to hold other churches accountable for false teachings, I would also say there is hesitancy in partnering with those that have wandered so far from the truth. With that said, for those who are solid, they must be united as one voice, to be a force for God, not under their own will and strength, but through the activities of God in using them together as His army in the spiritual battle that exists in our nations and across the globe.

[1] Homer A. Kent, Jr., Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 147.

[2] Homer A. Kent, Jr., Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 149.

[3] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 350.

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