Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philemon 23–25)
Paul finishes this little letter, as he often does, with greetings. It is clear that Philemon is well known, and the bonds of kinship are tied tight in the early church. The names Paul mentions are - unsurprisingly - very similar to the list of names in Colossians, and serve to remind us that Paul was no lone agent. Rather he was at the heart of an extended network of Christians who were bringing the Gospel of Christ to the Mediterranean.
Epaphras was a Christian from Colossae, and so would have been known to Philemon. He was an evangelist, and helped to start the church in that ancient city, although by this time he appears to be imprisoned for his efforts. Mark is most likely the Mark who a cousin of Barnabas and at one stage had left Paul, something which had caused real tensions. Now, it would appear, the two are reconciled. By tradition, this is the author of Mark’s Gospel.
Aristarchus is another travelling companion of the Apostle, and came from Macedonia (to the north of Ancient Greece). He was seized when the silversmiths of Ephesus rioted at Paul’s teaching, and went on to accompany Paul to Rome.
We learn from 2 Timothy that Demas eventually deserts Paul as he is “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). In the following verse, though, we learn that Luke, has stayed faithful and by then is Paul’s only co-worker. We know him, of course, as the author of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
As we find again and again, the gospel progresses when there are groups of people who come together to proclaim the glorious message. Some may desert the cause, and some may then be reconciled, but together God will use those who work for the sake of the gospel.