A Snapshot of the Earliest Church
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Early Church
“Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 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.” I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:7–18)
When you pick up the letters of Paul, you expect to find what you normally find. His name conjures up teaching and exhortation. Here is a man who travelled the known world preaching a message which, in the words of his opponents, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Here is man who is zealous to get his message across.
So it is that, for example, the Epistle to the Colossians begins with a rich discussion of the nature of Jesus: “the image of the invisible God…by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… he is the head of the body, the church…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:15–20). As carry on reading we know to expect, usually about halfway through the letter, a “therefore”. This is when Paul moves into application. He begins with sketching out some glorious truth about Christ and then puts it all into practice: “therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6–7).
Often he ends with greetings to the church. There are people he knows, who responded to his preaching. Often we skim over these words, as we feel it is rather like reading a birthday card from someone we don’t know to a stranger. This is a shame, as these verses give us glimpses into our family history. Listed are our earliest brothers and sisters in Christ, and rather like an episode of Who Do You Think You Are we can trace something of their life from these greetings.
Over the course of next week we’ll have a look at some of people Paul greeted at the end of the Epistle to the Colossians, and we might just find glimpses back into the earliest days of the church to which we belong.