Many Bible readers gloss over the end of Paul’s letters. Filled with strange names and seemingly disconnected details, you might be tempted skip over them. Yet, these letter endings give a sneak peek into the relational inner workings of the early church.
Paul’s inclusion of Mark at the end of his letter to the Colossian Christians is worthy of particular notice (Colossians 4:10). This is the John Mark who wrote the Gospel According to Mark. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on what we call Paul’s first missionary journey but abandoned them in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). When Paul and Barnabas set off to begin what we call Paul’s second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul refused. In the biblical language of the Book of Acts, a “sharp disagreement” arose between Paul and Barnabas. So sharp was their disagreement, Paul and Barnabas separated ways. (Acts 15:37-40) In the Bible, we do not hear anything about Mark for twelve years, until here in Colossians and in a related passage in Philemon (Philemon 1:24). Paul also mentions Mark in what was likely his last letter (2 Timothy 4:11). At some point, Paul and Mark were reconciled. Just in case the Colossian Christians had any reservations about Mark, due to his checkered past, Paul exhorts them to receive him as one of his fellow co-workers in gospel ministry. We see, in this reference to Mark by Paul, both the frailty of some of the greatest church leaders and the power of the gospel to mend even the sharpest of disagreements.
Mark is not the only name listed at the end of Paul’s letter. Paul includes a list of three Jews (Colossians 4:10-11) followed by a list of three Gentiles (Colossians 4:12-15), showing the new humanity, where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised (Colossians 3:11). He includes several others as well. All this shows that our faith is not an individual affair. We grow and function better together. Though sin pushes us apart, our faith pulls us together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The more isolated a person is, the more attractive will be the power of sin over him…” Another Christian philosopher said, “Worship is a space of welcome because we are, at root, relational creatures called into relationship with the Creator, in order to flourish as a people who bear his image to and for the world.”
This community of faith knits us together in love and provides the world a glimpse of true humanity.