Phm 1:23-25  “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”

Having made his plea to Philemon on Onesimus’ behalf and pledged himself to visit Philemon, Lord willing, Paul brings this letter to a close. In closing, he assures Philemon of the love of not only himself, but other brethren as well. He names five other brothers who send salutation.

The Greek word translated as “salute” literally means “to enfold in the arms” according to Strong’s. It is natural for each generation to suppose they have started something new, but Paul is “sending hugs” to Philemon from the brethren who are with him. Sending an embrace via letter (or today, text or email) is not a new concept. It is a centuries old assurance of affection to the recipient.

One of Paul’s companions at the time was a man named Epaphras. It appears that he was literally a prisoner with Paul. He was also a prisoner for the same reason as Paul. Epaphras loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and apparently was not afraid to say so publicly. It appears from the Colossian letter that Epaphras was a minister of the gospel at Colosse (Col 1:7, 4:12).

Scholars assume that Philemon was from Colosse, so he and Epaphras were probably friends and brothers in a very real sense. Paul’s closing mention of Epaphras would have been an encouraging bit of news to Philemon. Since Paul was obviously hopeful that he would soon be released and could come to Philemon personally (Phm 1:22), it could be implied that Epaphras was also going to be released soon.

Paul’s closing also demonstrated to Philemon that he was not alone. There were apparently brethren who by this time had some measure of liberty to come and go and were able to minister to Paul and Epaphras.(Although Paul identifies Aristarchus as a fellow prisoner in Colossians 4:10, I believe this is why Paul refers to them as fellow laborers as opposed to fellow prisoners in his letter to Philemon.) This would have been a comfort to Philemon since Paul was sending Onesimus back to him.

Two of the names should be familiar to us as regular companions of Paul throughout his labors. Marcus, or Mark, was with Paul and Barnabas for part of what is referred to as Paul’s first missionary journey. Although Mark became a source of contention between Paul and Barnabas for a season (Act 15:39), it is apparent in the scripture that the breach was healed and Mark (who was also Barnabas’ nephew – Col 4:10) was much loved by Paul. Peter also speaks very lovingly of Mark in 1Pe 5:13 and according to Acts 12:12-14 they had been acquainted for some time.

The other name that should stand out is that of Lucas, or Luke. He is generally accepted as being a physician, the author of the gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and perhaps the book of Hebrews. According to scripture, he was also a travelling companion of Paul on some of his journeys. This can be surmised from the switching between third person (they) and first person (we) accounts in the book of Acts as well as Paul’s mention of Luke in some of his letters (Phm 1:24, Col 4:14, and 2Ti 4:11).

Aristarchus is mentioned three times in Acts (19:29, 20:4, 27:2), once in Colossians (4:10), and in Philemon (1:24). He was apparently a companion to Paul at least from the time the silversmiths stirred up the Ephesians (Act 19:21-29). Demas is mentioned twice as a companion (Col 4:14, Phm 1:24), but then at the last seems to have abandoned the cause of Christ (2Ti 4:10). At this point, only Luke has remained with Paul, and he asks Timothy to come and to bring Mark with him.

Paul’s final words to Philemon are precious and filled with love and faith. These words make recognition of what it is that makes them brothers. “The grace of our {emphasis mine} Lord Jesus Christ…” give glory to God for the bond that exists between Paul, Philemon, and the other brethren mentioned here. Today, our bond is in our Lord Jesus, just as it was in Paul’s day.

Paul’s desire for this grace to be with Philemon’s spirit was a prayer for Philemon’s very existence to be guided by Christ. Should our prayer be any less for our brothers and sisters today? We need to make time every day to lift up the lives of our brothers and sisters in prayer to God that His grace would supply their every need. I pray that He give us wisdom to understand that our greatest need is our need of Him.

May God bless us to rely always on Him, to be thankful for our faithful brothers and sisters, and to know that it is His presence in our lives that makes it so!

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