By Russ Ramsey
Paul opens his letter to the Colossians by articulating his thanks to God for their existence. Now, we could read this as a standard greeting, as if it were just another way to say hello. Or we could take Paul’s words at face value and ask, why does Paul open this letter with thanksgiving? Well, as we will see, he is thankful because Jesus changes people.
Bear with me and allow me to connect a few dots about this letter’s origin and connection to Philemon, the second of Paul’s letters we will read together in this study. The two letters were likely delivered together to the church in Colossae. In Colossians 4:7, we find that Tychicus delivered this letter to the Colossian church. Two verses later, we’re told that Onesimus, the runaway slave from Colossae who we will read more about in Paul’s letter to Philemon, also accompanied Tychicus on his letter-carrying journey (Colossians 4:9). Then, in the opening verses of Philemon, we discover that the church in Onesimus’s hometown of Colossae met in Philemon’s house, and that Onesimus was there with Tychicus when these letters were delivered.
What does all this mean? It means Philemon was one of the leaders at the church in Colossae because the church met in his house. When Tychicus stepped into the church in Colossae to deliver this letter, he was actually standing in Philemon’s home. And right there beside him stood Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave who had come back for the purpose of seeking reconciliation with him. There would’ve been no notice of their arrival beforehand, just the sight of them standing there, letters in hand.
Think about that for a minute. Paul’s letters to the Colossians and Philemon were delivered to Philemon’s home by Tychicus and Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave who had come to Christ and was now the spiritual brother to his former master. That, friends, is the dizzying, beautiful, unfolding drama of redemption. Is it any wonder then that Paul opens this letter with a word of thanksgiving for God’s ability to change people?
As you read this letter, you’ll see how Paul celebrates the transforming grace of Christ and how it truly takes us from being separated from our Maker to being united to Him. Paul dives into the deep waters of the redemption and Lordship of Jesus. He gets heady, theological, and precise—all important things for us to get our heads and hearts around.
But perhaps it will serve your reading of Paul’s opening words of thanks, for the transforming grace and work of Jesus, with that image of Onesimus, standing in Philemon’s door next to Tychicus, with these letters in hand. It sure does for me.