Sometimes we tend to read lists of names in the Bible in a manner similar to how we use the telephone directory – we only read them if we have to. Yet such an attitude will mean missing out on information that the Lord wants us to have because we often find little details about church life in the lists of names that Paul mentions. We can see that is the case in the list in Colossians 4 and we will think about some of them today and about the others tomorrow.
Paul first mentions three Jews with Gentile names – Aristarchus, Markus and Justus (vv. 10-11). He says three things about them. First, not many Jews are helping him, so even already we can see that the church is becoming increasingly Gentile. His description also hints at the sorrow Paul felt at so few Jews becoming followers of Jesus. Second, they were workers (we don’t know what they did in particular for Paul but they served God, which was all-important to Paul). Third, they comforted Paul. I suspect Paul is saying that it is only those who are serving God by obeying him who can then comfort other disciples. It is impossible to bring comfort in any other way.
Aristarchus is Paul’s fellow-prisoner. Aristarchus was from Thessalonica, and had experienced trouble because he was a Christian. Luke tells us in Acts 19 that during the riot in Ephesus against Paul and his message, Aristarchus, along with Gaius, was frogmarched into the amphitheatre by the hostile crowd. Later he travelled with Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-5), and then went with him to Rome. Now he too was imprisoned with Paul. Tradition says that he was martyred by Nero. Aristarchus reminds us that opposition may be heavy for following Christ.
The name of Jesus Justus has disappeared from the memory of the church on earth, but the name of Mark will be known as long as the church exists. Mark is a reminder that failures can become greatly-used servants. Previously he had refused to be a worker when he left Barnabas and Paul, but now he is a valued worker, restored in Paul’s estimation. It looks as if he had decided to go to Asia, perhaps to preach in the churches. In any case, he eventually wrote the Gospel of Mark. Justus tells believers that they will be likely be forgotten by subsequent generations; Mark tells them that they might do something for Jesus that will never be forgotten.