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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 4

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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The epistle moves quickly to its conclusion in these 18 verses. First, there is the conclusion of the instruction on reciprocal relationships (Colossians 4:1), followed by a brief paragraph on prayer and Christian conduct (Colossians 4:2-6); next, Paul mentions affairs pertaining to himself and his imprisonment (Colossians 4:7-9); then comes the paragraph regarding greetings from and greetings to various persons (Colossians 4:10-17); and finally there stands the apostolic autograph, salutation and benediction (Colossians 4:18).

Verse 1

Masters, render unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a master in heaven.

Paul had just concluded (Colossians 3:22-25) a far longer instruction on the duties of slaves, an emphasis which was probably due to the fact of Onesimus, along with both the letter to Colossians and Philemon, being returned to his master in Colossae. The success of both Paul’s letters, as well as the successful reestablishment of Onesimus in his former home, is strongly indicated by the historical preservation of these two sacred letters.

Paul did not here dwell very long on the duties of masters, because at the same time he was sending Philemon a personal letter devoted to reconciling the situation with his erstwhile runaway slave, now returned. Nielson stated that "To give their slaves that which is just and equal is really advice to the master to free his slaves."(F1) It may be doubted, however, that either Paul or Philemon understood those words in exactly that sense. To have established a rule of freeing all slaves who became Christians would have precipitated a rush of thousands of slaves into the church, resulting in the degeneration of the whole Christian religion into a political party dedicated to social change; and such a thing as that, true Christianity never was, or never could be.

Despite this, however, these very letters planted the seeds of love, kindness and justice in people’s hearts, leading eventually to the total destruction of the whole institution of slavery.

Just and equal … "The substantive here translated equal has the sense either of equity or equality."(F2) Some have therefore believed it should be rendered "equality" in this place; but Peake indicated that even if translated "equality," it would not have the same meaning of the equality conferred by emancipation, giving the true meaning as, "The master should regulate the treatment of his slave, not by caprice, but by equity."(F3)

Verse 2

Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving.

Continue in prayer … The meaning here is that the Christian should never stop praying, and not that his prayers should be interminable. Importunity in prayer was taught by Christ in two of his most beautiful parables, namely, those of the friend at midnight, and of the unjust judge (Luke 11:5 ff; Luke 18:1 ff).

Watching thereunto… Findlay assures us that the meaning of "watching" here is that of "wakefulness," affirming:

To be awake is to be alive in the fullest sense, to have all the powers of perception and action in readiness. The activity of the soul in prayer is to be both energetic and incessant.(F4)

With thanksgiving … Paul, more than any other, stressed the need of thankfulness "in all things." See further comment on this above, under Philippians 4:6.

Verse 3

Withal praying for us also, that God may open unto us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds.

Praying for us … Much as Paul prayed for others, he himself felt the need of the supporting prayers of brethren in Christ.

That God may open … As Nielson reminded us, "This reminds us that even though the spread of the gospel is under divine direction (Acts 16:7), it is also subject to satanic hindrances (1 Thessalonians 2:18)."(F5)

The mystery of Christ … See other Pauline references to "the mystery" (Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:3; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26-27; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Timothy 3:16, etc.).

For which I also am in bonds … One of the salient features of the mystery stressed so often by Paul was that of God’s purpose of inclusion of the Gentiles in one body with the Jews as children of God; and specifically, it was for that very conviction that Israel hated Paul and created the mob scene which led directly to his imprisonment (Acts 22:2 ff).

Verse 4

That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Paul was deeply concerned that his speech should always be effective in making known the mystery of Christ; and, if a preacher of Paul’s eloquence and power solicited prayers regarding the manner of his speaking, how much more should every preacher in all ages be mightily concerned about "how" he ought to speak? While dwelling upon this thought, it occurred to the great apostle that the manner of every Christian’s speaking "to those without" is also a matter of the most urgent concern; and, in keeping with that consideration, he added the next two verses.

Verses 5-6

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one.

Them that are without … The reference here is "to non-Christians, those without the church."(F6)

Redeeming the time … is somewhat of an idiomatic expression, meaning "buying up the opportunities," "taking advantage of all occasions for doing good," etc. Here again, in this passage, is encountered the startling likeness and subtle differences in this passage and the parallel in Ephesians 5:15. As Barry said:

There the "strictness" and "wisdom" are to guard against excess or recklessness within; here the "wisdom" is to watch against external dangers and make full use of external opportunities.(F7)

Speech … with grace … Some think this means divine grace, but Peake is confident that the Greek text denies this, affirming that the meaning is "speech that is pleasant, marked by sweetness and courtesy, that their conversation may impress favorably the heathen."(F8)

Seasoned with salt … Despite the fact of most commentators denying it, there is perhaps included here some reference to the judicious use of humor, or wit, in the Christian’s speech. Among the Greek classical writers, "Salt expressed the wit with which conversation was flavored";(F9) and this student has encountered no compelling reason why the same meaning should not be understood here.

How ye ought to answer … The admonition here is most similar to that given by the apostle Peter who commanded:

Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

Verses 7-8

All my affairs shall Tychicus make known unto you, the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant of the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for this very purpose, that ye may know our state, and that he may comfort your hearts.

All my affairs … Here, through Colossians 4:9, Paul added some very personal words, explaining how the messengers with whom he was sending the epistle would be able to fill in all details regarding how things were going with Paul and to comfort the Christians at Colossae.

Tychicus … The high praise for this companion of Paul justifies a little further attention to this beloved New Testament character, thus:


Tychicus was an Asian, perhaps an Ephesian, who went with Paul to Jerusalem with the collection (Acts 22:4 ff; 1 Corinthians 16:14), and was possibly one of those appointed by the various churches to convey the money to the Christians in Jerusalem. He carried the epistle to the Colossians and that of the Ephesians to their destinations, and if, as is often thought, Ephesians was a circular letter, he carried it to other churches as well.(F10) Lockyer also pointed out that "Tychicus also had a mission to fulfill in Crete (2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12)."(F11) Paul spoke of this brother in the very highest terms of praise and appreciation.

Whom I have sent unto you … "This is epistolary aorist,"(F12) meaning that at the time when the Colossians would be reading this, it would be true that Paul had already sent him; thus, the actual meaning of this clause is that "I am sending Tychicus unto you."

Verse 9

Together with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things that are done here.

Onesimus … This man was the slave of Philemon. He had gone AWOL from his master Philemon’s home in Colossae, but some circumstance had thrown him into association with Paul in Rome, where he became a Christian. It comes to view here that Paul was sending him back, but with a marvelous new status. Now, he is:

The faithful and beloved brother … Furthermore, he enjoys an equal status with Tychicus, both of whom are commissioned to tell the Colossians all of the news regarding the apostle. For further teaching of the New Testament regarding Onesimus and Philemon, see Paul’s letter, Philemon. As Peake said, "Paul’s word here that Onesimus `is one of you’ enables us to infer that Colossae was the home of Philemon."(F13)

Verses 10-11

Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (touching whom ye received commandments; if he come unto you, receive him), and Jesus that is called Justus, who are of the circumcision: these only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, men that have been a comfort unto me.

Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner …


This man, a Jew of Thessalonica, is first mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 19:22, where it is reported that, along with Gaius, he was dragged into the theater at Ephesus. When the riot was over and Paul left Ephesus, Aristarchus went with him (Acts 20:4), appearing again as one of the committee in charge of Paul’s collection for Jerusalem. Presumably, Aristarchus remained with Paul continuously; because, after the two-year imprisonment at Caesarea, Luke reveals that Aristarchus was "with us" in the long voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). The deduction has been made, "Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, Aristarchus really shared Paul’s imprisonment,"(F14) a deduction that is suggested, or demanded, by the words "my fellow-prisoner." He is mentioned again in Philemon 1:24.

Mark, the cousin of Barnabas … For a somewhat extensive discussion of this character, author of the gospel that bears his name, and a principal in the dispute between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:37 ff) due to his having deserted the missionaries in Perga of Pamphylia (Acts 13:3), please see (in this series of commentaries) the introduction to the Gospel of Mark.

Touching whom ye received commandments … This, according to Dummelow, refers "to commands they must have received at an earlier time."(F15)

If he come unto you, receive him … As Lipscomb said, "This recommendation is somewhat of a church letter,"(F16) showing that the old breach between Paul and Barnabas regarding Mark had long been healed, Mark appearing in this passage as a definite comfort to the apostle.

Jesus that is called Justus … It is very curious that so soon after our Lord’s ascension there should have been a Christian named "Jesus" whose surname, "The Just One," is one of the titles of our Lord.(F17) Nothing at all is known of this man, except what is stated here, there being no other reference to him in the New Testament.

Who are of the circumcision … This means that Aristarchus, Mark and Justus were "of the circumcision," that is, Jews, with the undeniable implication that Luke, mentioned a moment later in Colossians 4:14, was not a Jew, the same being the strongest evidence that Luke was a Gentile.

These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God … The words "are my" are italicized, meaning they are not in the Greek; so it is proper to read this sentence without them. These only … There is infinite pathos in these tragic words. Paul’s concern for the salvation of many Jews in the great Roman capital had been frustrated and defeated. Of all the Jews in Rome, "these three …!" As Hendriksen expressed it:

It must not escape our attention that the apostle’s statement with reference to these three men as the only Jewish-Christian fellow-workers who had been a comfort to him implies deep disappointment with other people of his own race.(F18)

Men that have been a comfort unto me … We are indebted to Findlay for the amazing fact that the word here rendered "comfort" comes from a Greek word meaning "soothing relief," the same Greek word chosen as the name of a widely used medicine for children, "paregoric."(F19) This is a medical term, and one of those "peculiar" words found only in this epistle. Perhaps Paul had been extending his vocabulary somewhat through his association with the "beloved physician, Luke."

Verses 12-13

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, saluteth you, always striving for you in his prayers, that ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he hath much labor for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis.


All of the comment on these two verses, almost, pertains to this distinguished worker who appears to have been a preacher and teacher for all three towns in the tri-cities mentioned here. Lockyer called him "a giant of prayer," saying that:

It is in his prayer ministry that Epaphras is conspicuous; he knew how to lay all before the Lord … that the saints might be perfect and complete. He "strove earnestly in his prayers." He brought to Paul in Rome the report on conditions at Colossae that prompted this epistle. Like Epaphras, all of us should be concerned with the spiritual welfare of others(F20)

Certainly, there must have been something extraordinary about the prayers of Epaphras, because, as Guthrie noted, "The word used is agonize, which may be some kind of allusion to the prayers of our Lord in Gethsemane. That kind of praying ranks a man high in spiritual nature."(F21)

Servant of Christ … Paul must have meant something very high and holy by this.

It is a title used by James and Jude (in their epistles), as well as by Paul himself, but given by him only to Timothy (Philippians 1:1), and to Epaphras here.(F22)

Verse 14

Luke, beloved physician, and Demas salute you.

For a brief biographical sketch of Luke, see my Commentary on Luke, Introduction. Only in this place in the New Testament is Luke referred to as a doctor, or physician. Nevertheless, the undeniably medical cast of his vocabulary is a total corroboration of what is stated here.

And Demas salute you … As Peake said:

Demas’ being mentioned here without commendation is commonly explained as due to a foreboding of Paul that he would turn out badly, suggested by the reference in 2 Timothy 4:10.(F23)

Harry Emerson Fosdick preached a sermon on the three New Testament references to Demas, calling them three points that enable the plotting of the parabola of Demas’ life. The sermon is interesting enough but founded on a misconception. Philemon and Colossians were written at the same time and carried by the same messenger; and in the letter to Philemon, Demas is mentioned as a "fellow-laborer," and even before Luke! Still, it is tragic truth that Demas fell from whatever eminence he enjoyed in these passages, the reference in Timothy revealing that he forsook the apostle, "having loved this present age." There is an old tradition to the effect that he became the owner of a brothel in Dalmatia.

Verse 15

Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in their house.

This reveals, of course, the existence of a church in Laodicea; but it is not known why Paul singled out Nymphas, the name of whom might be feminine (Greek margin in English Revised Version (1885)), thus justifying the rendition in some translations as "the church that is in her house." It is not wise to make anything out of this because, as Peake said, "The word may be either masculine or feminine."(F24)

Verse 16

And when this epistle hath been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye also read the epistle from Laodicea.

One of the important revelations from this is that Paul’s letters, and presumably those of other sacred writers, were widely circulated and passed among the churches; nor can there be any confidence that any more than a fraction of Paul’s letters were preserved. It was God’s providence alone that preserved for us the writings which make up the sacred canon of the New Testament; and we should believe that the overruling of an all-wise providence entered into which letters were lost and which were preserved.

Dummelow and others believe that the epistle to the Laodiceans mentioned here might be our canonical epistle to the Ephesians. It is impossible to settle the question, but these two comments are added because they represent learned and consecrated opinion on it.

Wiess argues that (the epistle to the Laodiceans) cannot be the epistle to the Ephesians, for that was sent at the same time as this, and therefore Paul could not have sent salutations to Laodicea in this epistle. But this is natural if Ephesians was a circular letter (and the absence of salutations is difficult to explain otherwise), and if this letter was to be passed on to Laodicea(F25)

The epistle to the Laodiceans is perhaps our Epistle to the Ephesians(F26)

Verse 17

And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it.

Archippus may have been at Laodicea, but, as Peake said, "probably not," as otherwise he would have been mentioned along with Nymphas in Colossians 4:15.(F27)

This verse establishes the principle that a church is responsible for admonishing and encouraging ministers, nor is it evident here that Archippus was in any way standing in special need of encouragement.

From Philemon 1:2, where Archippus is mentioned along with Philemon and Apphia in a manner suggesting that he may have been their son, it is also concluded that Archippus had had previous service together with Paul.(F28)

Several interesting speculations have risen around the name of Archippus, but they are of no value.

Verse 18

The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.

This apostolic autograph and salutation served to authenticate the epistle. From this, Macknight reasoned that Paul knew the Colossians and that they knew him and his handwriting, else this autograph would not have meant anything.

The brevity of this salutation was probably due to the fact that with a chain on his hand Paul might have found the writing of even these few words a painful and difficult task. The placement of the utterance, "Remember my bonds," seems even to suggest this thought. How much the Gentiles owe to the patient zeal and labors of this beloved apostle can never be known until the redeemed of all ages shall greet him around the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Colossians 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/colossians-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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