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Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Colossians 4:15-18

15 Give my greetings to the brothers[a] at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 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. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfil the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.


Last week’s post discussed Epaphras and Demas, two of Paul’s Gentile companions in Rome who sent their greetings to the Colossians.

This week’s ends my study of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Colossae.

The city was near Laodicea, the city of one of the churches mentioned in Revelation 3, which by the late AD 90s, had become the ‘lukewarm’ church. Holman Hunt’s famous Light of the World was inspired by Revelation 3:20 (image creditWikipedia):

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

The door has no handle and can be opened only from the inside. The idea is that Christ wants the Laodiceans to open their door fully to Him.

However, when Paul wrote his letter in AD 62, their faith might have been stronger, since Paul sends his greetings to the congregation and to Nympha, a woman who hosted their worship in her house (verse 15). In some translations, the name is Nymphas, implying a man.

Laodicea was a wealthy city, known for its local wool trade and banking. It was also thought to have had a medical school.

A Church council was held there in the middle of the 4th century. Today, the city remains a titular see of the Catholic Church.

Paul instructs the Colossians to share their letter with the Laodiceans and to read the letter he sent to them separately (verse 16).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

If so, that epistle is now lost, and did not belong to the canon; for all the epistles which the apostles ever wrote were not preserved, any more than the words and actions of our blessed Lord. There are many other things which Jesus did, which if they should be written every one, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books which would be written, John 21 25. But some think it was the epistle to the Ephesians, which is still extant.

John MacArthur is one of those scholars who believes the letter to Laodicea is the letter to the Ephesians:

… here’s another indication that when these letters were written, they weren’t ever intended for one congregation; they became circular letters. They went all through the church.

You say, “What is the epistle from Laodicea?” I’ll tell you what I believe it is: it’s the book of Ephesians. It’s highly likely that the book of Ephesians was delivered to Laodicea by Tychicus, and the book of Colossians was delivered to Colossae, and then they switched. The book of Ephesians was a circular letter and passed around, very likely. He’s saying, “Swap letters; I want you to get all the information.” And you know what they would do when they got a letter? They would copy it so they would have an abiding copy, and then they would send it on.

Paul adds a special message to a man named Archippus, telling the congregation to exhort him to fulfil the ministry that he has received in the Lord (verse 17).

MacArthur interprets the verse for us:

I think Paul has just put a whole pile of illustrations right on the back of the neck of Archippus, and said, “Say, by the way, Archippus, take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, and fulfill it. Tychicus has, Onesimus has, Aristarchus has, Mark has, Jesus Justus has, Epaphras has, Luke has. I’d like you to.

Henry says that it is a grave mistake to neglect one’s ministry, whatever that might be:

Observe, (1.) The ministry we have received is a great honour; for it is received in the Lord, and is by his appointment and command. (2.) Those who have received it must fulfil it, or do the full duty of it. Those betray their trust, and will have a sad account at last, who do this work of the Lord negligently. (3.) The people may put their ministers in mind of their duty, and excite them to it: Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry, though no doubt with decency and respect, not from pride and conceit.

Paul closes, saying that he has written that portion, his greeting, with his own hand, asking them to remember his chains. He ends by praying that divine grace be with them (verse 18).

Henry points out that Paul does not ask for anything material, only that they think about his ministry in prison in Rome:

Concerning himself (v. 18): The salutation of me Paul. Remember my bonds. He had a scribe to write all the rest of the epistle, but these words he wrote with his own hand: Remember my bonds. He does not say, “Remember I am a prisoner, and send me supply;” but, “Remember I am in bonds as the apostle of the Gentiles, and let this confirm your faith in the gospel of Christ:” it adds weight to this exhortation: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy, Eph 4 1.

From that, it would make sense that the letter they are to read is Ephesians.

The full text of Ephesians 4:1 is:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called

MacArthur has a further thought:

He dictated the letters, and somebody else wrote them; but he signed them so they would be known to be authentic. “Remember my bonds. Don’t forget me; I’m in jail still. Just because things are successful doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. You pray. Grace with you. Amen.”

What does it say to you tonight? It says to me this: “MacArthur, you’ve just seen a portrait of some people who made the ministry possible. Are you doing your part? You’re Archippus. You’ve just seen all the examples. Now fulfill your part, that the kingdom may be advanced.I hope it says that to you.

It is unclear what ultimately happened to the church at Colossae.

However, GotQuestions says that it survived for a few centuries:

The church of Colossae continued for several centuries in one form or another. How long it continued, and what significance it maintained, is a debated topic. Theodoret, a Christian theologian in the fifth century, claimed that Philemon’s house remained at Colossae and could still be viewed (Colossae in Space and Time: Linking to an Ancient City, Cadwallader, A., and Trainor, M., ed., Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011, p. 303). Epiphanius, the bishop of Colossae, was recorded present at the Council of Chalcedon, while Kosmas, a later bishop, apparently participated in the Quinisext Council.

Whatever happened:

While some historical questions remain, the reality and vibrancy of the early church in Colossae are certain. The believers’ faith and love were founded upon the “hope stored up for [them] in heaven” and “the true message of the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). By the grace of God, we have this same hope today, and, like the faithful Colossians millennia ago, it should motivate us to love Him and love others more every day.

My next study will be that of the two letters Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, who were full of faith and love despite being persecuted.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16


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