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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Greetings from and to Gentile Coworkers (4:12-15)
Greetings from and to Gentile Coworkers (4:12-15)

Next comes Paul's greeting from Epaphras, who first preached the gospel to the Colossians (1:5-8). Because he is one of [them], Epaphras no doubt understands well the problems facing this congregation; in fact, I have argued that he may very well be the founding father of the Colossian congregation and therefore the more specific object of ridicule by the opponents of the Gentile mission in Colosse (see introduction, under "The Crisis at Colosse," as well as my comments on 1:7-8). Paul's commentary on Epaphras's personal commitment to the congregation indicates more than confidence that prayer is a critical ingredient in the work of the Gentile mission. Certainly the nurture of this congregation depends on Epaphras's wrestling in prayer for you. However, Epaphras's prayer that the Colossian believers stand firm in all the will of God (compare 1:9) indicates his commitment to them.

Further, Paul's phrase mature and fully assured extends his commentary on the importance of Epaphras's prayer for the Colossians. This phrase captures two themes in Paul's letter and therefore functions here to connect his concern for Epaphras with the content of what he has just written. According to O'Brien, the word mature (teleios) "touches on one of the key issues at Colosse in which members of the congregation were encouraged by false teachers to seek maturity or perfection through their philosophy (2:8) with its ascetic practices, visionary experiences and special revelations, rather than through Christ" (1982:253). Paul also uses this word to summarize his and God's purpose for mission: "so that we may present everyone perfect [teleios] in Christ" (1:28). The second term, fully assured (plerophoreo), belongs to the pleroo word-family, which Paul has used in confessing the core convictions of Colossian Christianity (1:9, 19; see also 4:17), in introducing his own mission (1:25; 2:2) and in arguing against the false teaching in Colosse (2:9-10). Paul's use of these two catchwords in describing the aim of Epaphras's prayer for the Colossians ties Epaphras with Paul in both the Colossian crisis and its resolution (see Lohse 1972:173-74).

This also may explain why Paul adds his extraordinary testimony of Epaphras's tireless campaign in the Lycus valley: I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. If we understand this comment in the light of the preceding one, Paul's reference to Epaphras's working hard may well combine with his wrestling in prayer for you to create a more favorable impression of him (so Schweizer 1972:240-41; Harris 1991:210-11). I am more inclined, however, to see it as a digression (as does O'Brien 1982:254), which allows Paul to vouch for Epaphras's commitment to the Colossian believers.

But why should Paul think his support for Epaphras is necessary now? Again, my speculation is that Epaphras, who is the principal architect of Colossian Christianity, has been discredited at home for some unknown reason, and that this has imperiled the work of the Gentile mission there. The coupling of vouch (from the word for "martyr," martyreo) with working hard (ponos, which emphasizes the painful outcome of hard labor) recalls the book of Revelation, where the faithful testimony (martyria, Rev 6:9) of the true disciple results in "pain" at the hands of evil powers and in the coming of Christ to bring this suffering to an end (ponos, Rev 21:4). Perhaps here too Paul uses these words to indicate that Epaphras is an exemplar of faithfulness, against the opinion of certain opponents.

Luke and Demas are joined together as they are in 2 Timothy 4:10-11; in the letter to Timothy, however, Demas has sadly deserted Paul "because he loved this world" (2 Tim 4:10), and Paul is left with only Luke. Whether Nympha is male (Nymphas) or female continues to be debated, since both forms are found in extant manuscripts of Colossians (O'Brien 1982:256). The question carries greater significance if a house church was generally led by the person who owned the home. If the homeowner here is a woman, as the NIV translation assumes, then a case could be made that female leadership was a part of the landscape of earliest Christianity. (Note also Paul's references to Priscilla in Rom 16:5 and 1 Cor 16:19, and Luke's narrative about Lydia in Acts 16, especially vv. 15, 40).

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