Col 4:10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) Col 4:11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me. Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Col 4:13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Col 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. (KJV)
We recently finished a study of the book of Colossians. Sections like this one often prove difficult from a teaching standpoint. After all, it's just a collection of final greetings and salutations right? Or maybe....a snapshot in time. Have you ever looked at an older photo of yourself and wished you could go back in time? Or maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum, and you're thankful for the changes in appearance the years have provided. Regardless of your personal preferences, one thing remains the same- life is filled with change!
There are several names listed above, but I'm just going to deal with two of them- Mark (Marcus/John-Mark) and Demas. In order to fill in the gaps with their stories, it will require us to go outside of the book of Colossians. First, we'll look at the story of Mark. Now Paul singles out Mark (Col 4:10) and instructs the church people to "receive him". What could possibly require this extra emphasis on John Mark? We get a glimpse into Mark's story from the book of Acts. We'll begin there.
In Acts 12:25, we find that John Mark became a companion to Paul and his cousin Barnabas. In Acts 13:13, we see that Mark abandons Paul and Barnabas and returns to Jerusalem (obviously many of the details in this story do not appear in this blog and I'm giving you a very very brief survey of what happened). Acts 15 records a split that occurs between Paul and Barnabas. And, as you might have guessed, Mark is the major point of contention. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin Mark along on their mission, but Paul felt like it was a bad idea, probably in light of Mark's earlier desertion (Acts 15:36-39).
When we read the closing remarks of Paul in Colossians, obviously the two of them had been able to overcome their obstacles. Paul instructs/commands the Colossians to receive Mark in the event of his arrival. Paul's second letter to Timothy also reinforces the idea that Mark became a valuable member of Paul's ministry team:
2Ti 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (KJV)
Now, as a contrast- let's look at Demas and his story. We have even fewer details about Demas, but we have enough to see that something had changed for Demas as well. Again, we'll go outside of the book of Colossians and look at two other mentions of Demas. First, we'll look at Philemon.
Phm 1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus;
Phm 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
We see some names familiar to the benediction in Colossians- Aristarchus, Mark, and Dr. Luke (as I affectionately call him). Demas is referred to as one of Paul's "fellow-laborers" (in the Greek, the word is sunergos- probably where we derive our English word "Synergy"). The idea is a companion, helper, or work-fellow. The word is used in I Cor 3:9 to describe our partnership with God in the labor of the Gospel. The point is that Demas was an important component of Paul's ministry team.
Unlike Mark however, Demas's story (at least as it is recorded in Scripture) does not have nearly the happy ending. In some of Paul's last penned words, we find this description of Demas:
2Ti 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Colossians is what I call the "happy snapshot" for Mark and Demas. Acts records Mark's failure, and II Timothy records Demas's failure. Somewhere in between those two is a benediction in a letter to a group of believers in Colosse. Mark appears to finish well, and Demas appears to finish poorly (this blog is not an attempt to judge Demas, merely to evaluate what is written in the texts- only God knows what happened to Demas and this writer is content to leave those details up to the Just Judge of all).
So what may appear to be simply a random collection of hello's and goodbyes might actually teach us a valuable theological truth. Every day provides an opportunity for choices to be made. The failures of the past are exactly that- the past. We cannot change them, but we can learn from them, and hopefully not repeat them. God is willing to give us (just like John Mark) another chance at getting things right. Conversely, a good start doesn't guarantee a good finish. We cannot rest on the accomplishments of the past as proof positive that we will end well. But we can be certain that God will be faithful to us no matter what. So take a look at your spiritual "yearbook" today. In what ways have you grown since your conversion? In what ways have you progressed, or perhaps regressed?
Php 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)