Probably we are aware of this congregation because of what is said about it thirty years later by Jesus in Revelation 3. By that time it had become a very worldly church, one that appalled the Saviour. Yet we can see from Colossians 4 that it was a church that had enjoyed spiritual blessings. It is likely that the church was founded by Epaphras around about the time that the church in Colosse began. Paul’s short description of this neighbouring church to Colosse gives us insight into church life in the first century.
A focus of prayer. Paul had a great burden for the church in Laodicea: he wrestled in prayer for it (Col. 2:1ff.), especially that they would appreciate who Jesus is and what his resources for his people are. Epaphras too laboured in prayer for the congregation there (Col. 4:13). No doubt, he wanted the members in both churches to imitate such practices and pray earnestly for one another.
Recipients of Pauline letters. Paul mentions a letter he had written to the church there, which does not seem to have been taken at this time by Tychicus. It is described rather unusually as the letter ‘from Laodicea’. I don’t think he means that it originated in Laodicea, but rather he means that once Laodicea had read the letter they were to send it on to Colosse. This points to the existence of a circular letter that had been sent to all the churches and many scholars believe it is a reference to the letter to the Ephesians.
In addition to that letter, which was also to be read in the church in Colosse, the church in Laodicea was to read the letter that Paul had sent to the church in Colosse. This points to two important aspects: (a) Paul knew that he was writing scripture and (b) the Bible should be read publicly in church gatherings. Regarding the first aspect, here we evidence as to how the church would know which letters were divinely inspired – the apostles would have guided them. Concerning the second aspect, Paul previously had urged the church in Thessalonica to listen to the public reading of his letter to them (1 Thess. 5:27). A special blessing is given to the person who fulfilled this task in the churches who received the Book of Revelation from John (Rev. 1:3).
This practice has disappeared from most churches – we only read passages from which we are going to preach, and the disappearance may be connected to the availability of printed Bibles which allow us to read as much of the Bible as we wish at one sitting. There is one difference at least between the two methods. Personal reading can turn into a devotional approach, and that is fine. Yet public reading was a proclamation to individuals by the representative of the sovereign God – in other words, the authority of God’s Word was being affirmed by the listening congregation.
Met in a house. The third feature of the church in Laodicea is that we are told its address – it met in the house of a lady called Nympha. It may be that Paul has in mind the eldership of the church by his term ‘brethren’, and then addresses the rest of the congregation, or he may have the same group in mind when he calls them ‘brethren’ and ‘church’. The early church usually met in the house of a wealthy member of the congregation. Obviously this is a reminder that ‘church’ in the New Testament refers to the people and not to a building.
Encourage those who should be serving. Archippus was the son of Philemon (Phile. 1-2), and in that passage Paul refers to him as his ‘fellow-soldier’, which indicates that he was engaged in a form of spiritual warfare. Here in Colossians 4:17, the congregation are told to convey to Archippus the message that he must complete the work that he has received from the Lord. Paul has not met Archippus, so he is not referring to a task given to Archippus by the apostle. He is the only Colossian that Paul singles out in this letter, so perhaps Archippus was acting as a pastor in the absence of Epaphras. Whatever role he was engaged in, Paul reminds the congregation of their responsibility to encourage him until he completes the task.
Remember Paul’s chains. In verse 18, Paul asks the Colossians to remember his chains, a reminder that we should intercede for those suffering for the faith. No doubt, he wanted them to recall the chains as they prayed for him. In that sense, it is not possible for us to remember his chains because Paul was liberated centuries ago. Yet there are other senses in which we should remember his chains. We can recall the providence of God that arranged for his servant to write several letters of the New Testament while he was in chains. We can recall his devotion to Christ and his determination to serve his Master even while in chains. And we can resolve to do what he would want us most to do – read what he wrote while in chains and absorb what he said about Jesus and living for him.