I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
What striking words to end a letter, “remember my chains.” The words conjure up vivid images and yet why use them when maybe you would want the church in Colossae to remember the major content of the letter?
Paul’s custom was to dictate his letters to a person who would write for him, a type of secretary. Some say he used Tychicus and that he only wrote the final words of this letter in his own hand to authenticate it (See also Romans 16:22 where Tertius identifies himself as the one who “wrote this letter”). In I Corinthians, Galatians and Philemon he specifically says he is writing with his own hand.
So what is his purpose in doing so? The answer may be found in the conclusion to his second letter to the Thessalonians. There he writes, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17).
So, it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that there was an ever-present threat of forged letters circulating in Paul’s name that claimed to have been written by him (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Paul is jealous to guard the truth of what God has revealed and will not tolerate anyone passing himself off under false pretences and potentially leading the sheep astray. Such is the heart of a shepherd for his sheep.
But why call on them to, “remember my chains?” Certainly he’s not looking for pity, or attempting to use pity as a manipulative tool to get them to take the letter seriously. The last thing he wanted was for them to shift their focus from the sufficiency of Christ to his own suffering. Still, it was important that they, (and we), do not forget where devotion to Jesus will often lead; to suffering, to loss of freedom, to oppression and the end of convenience and comfort, but never to despair!
The simple answer is that this request is his way of asking for their continued prayers on his behalf. He doesn’t explicitly ask that they pray he be released, but I’m certain he would have welcomed the opportunity to move about more freely in order to share the gospel in those regions where it had not been heard, and to visit the churches he loved so deeply. In any case, he rejoiced in his suffering (Colossians 1:24) and sees his imprisonment not as a lost opportunity but a a different season whereby the gospel could advance (Philippians 1:12-18).
The prison and the chains are real and not figurative or metaphorical. Could the fact that Paul wrote only this one final verse be an indication that his hands were shackled and chafed, making any attempt to write particularly painful and difficult? I will leave that one to you. Whatever conclusion you come to, we should not minimise the conditions Paul was writing in.
His words here remind me of his exhortation to young Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8).
Previously Paul commends Onesiphorus because “he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Timothy 1:16).
Did Paul want to encourage them and identify with them in their struggles? Did Paul not want them to falter in their commitment to Christ because of his imprisonment? Whatever the reason, for the first century church and for Paul the advance of the gospel was far more costly than sharing your faith with someone in the local coffee shop.
Paul knew the pressures they faced, the fear of rejection they felt, together with the appeal of riches and personal comfort that assaulted them on a daily basis. But they must resist the temptation to think that imprisonment for Christ’s sake is a disgrace. “Remember my chains!”
I may be chained but the gospel and Christ are certainly not.
“Grace be with you,” or the Grace of God be with you. Going back right to the beginning, some seventy blogs previously Paul had said to the church is Colossae, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:2).
John Piper writes:
“Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read – ‘grace [be] to you.’ But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, ‘What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?’ He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: ‘Grace [be] with you.’ With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living.”
This is my last blog in the book of Colossians. I have found Paul to be a insightful, challenging, instructive, helpful, and an encouraging friend. I have wrestled with what Paul has said at times, but am a better person for having spent time in his letter.