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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 4

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

Masters, give unto your servants ... - See the notes at Ephesians 6:9.

That which is just and equal - What they ought to have; what is fairly their due. The apostle here, probably, refers to bondmen or slaves, and the propriety of this rule is apparent. Such persons were subject to their masters’ control; their time and services were at their disposal, and they could not enforce their just and equal claims by an appeal to the laws. They were, therefore, dependent on the equity and kindness of their masters. There can be no doubt that not a few who were converted to the Christian faith were held to involuntary servitude (see 1 Corinthians 7:0); and it is as clear that the apostles did not design to make a violent disruption of these bonds, or to lead the slaves to rise and murder their masters; see the notes at 1 Timothy 6:1-4. But it is equally clear that they meant to represent slavery as a hard and undesirable condition; that they intended to instruct the slaves to embrace the earliest opportunity to be free which was presented 1 Corinthians 7:21; and that they meant to suggest such considerations, and to lay down such principles as would lead masters to emancipate their slaves, and thus ultimately to abolish it. Among these principles are such as these:

(1) That all men were of one and the same blood; Acts 17:26.

(2) That they were all redeemed by the same Saviour, and were brethren; 1 Timothy 6:2; Philemon 1:16. If redeemed; if they were “brethren;” if they were heirs of glory, they were not “chattels,” or “things;” and how could a Christian conscientiously hold or regard them as property?

(3) That they were to “render them that which was just and equal.” What would follow from this if fairly applied? What would be just and equal to a man in those circumstances? Would it not be.

(a) to compensate him fairly for his labor; to furnish him an adequate remuneration for what he had earned? But this would strike a blow at the root of slavery - for one of the elementary principles of it is, that there must be “unrequited labor;” that is, the slave must earn as much more than he receives as will do his part in maintaining the master in idleness, for it is of the very essence of the system that he is to be maintained in indolence by the slaves which he owns - or just so far as he owns a slave. If he were disposed to earn his own living, he would not need the labor of slaves. No one ever yet became the permanent owner of a slave from benevolence to him, or because he desired to pay him fully for his work, or because he meant himself to work in order to maintain his slave in indolence.

(b) If a man should in fact render to his slaves “that which is just and equal,” would he not restore them to freedom? Have they not been deprived of their liberty by injustice, and would not “justice” restore it? What has the slave done to forfeit his liberty? If he should make him “equal” in rights to himself, or to what he is by nature, would he not emancipate him? Has he not been reduced to his present condition by withholding that which is “equal?” Has he “equal” rights, and “equal” privileges with other men? Has he not been cut off from them by denying him the equality to which he is entitled in the arrangements of God’s government? Can he be held at all without violating all the just notions of equality? Though, therefore, it may be true that this passage only enjoins the rendering of that which was” just” and “equal” in their condition as slaves, yet it contains a principle which would” lay the axe at the root” of slavery, and would lead a conscientious Christian to the feeling that his slaves ought to be free. These principles actually effected the freedom of slaves in the Roman empire in a few centuries after Christianity was introduced, and they are destined to effect it yet all over the world.

Knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven - Notes, Ephesians 6:9.

Verse 2

Continue in prayer - That is, do not neglect it; observe it at all stated times; maintain the spirit of prayer, and embrace all proper occasions to engage in it; compare the Luke 18:1 note; Ephesians 6:18 note; 1 Thessalonians 4:17 note.

And watch in the same with thanksgiving - Watch for favorable opportunities; watch that your mind may be in a right frame when you pray: and watch, that when your mind is in a right frame you may not neglect to pray; see the Ephesians 6:18 note; Philippians 4:6.

Verse 3

Withal - With all the supplications which you offer for other persons and things; or at the same time that you pray for them.

Praying also for us - Notes, Ephesians 6:19-20; compare 2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Hebrews 13:18-19.

That God would open to us a door of utterance - To preach the gospel. He earnestly desired to have liberty to preach the gospel, and asked them to pray that this might be restored to him; see the notes at Ephesians 6:19.

To speak the mystery of Christ - Called in Ephesians 6:19, the “mystery of the gospel;” see the notes there.

For which I also am in bonds - A prisoner at Rome; Notes, Ephesians 6:20.

Verse 4

That I may make it manifest ... - Notes, Ephesians 6:20.

Verse 5

Walk in wisdom - That is, conduct uprightly and honestly. Deal with them on the strictest principles of integrity, so that they may not have occasion to reproach the religion which you profess.

Toward them that are without - Without the pale of the church, or who are not professing Christians; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 5:12. They were surrounded by pagans, as Christians now are by men of the world. The injunction is one that requires us to act with prudence and propriety (ἐν σοφίᾳ en sophia toward them; and there is perhaps not a more important direction in the New Testament than this. Among the reasons for this are the following:

(1) People of the world judge of religion, not from the profession, but from the life of its friends.

(2) They judge of religion, not from preaching, or from books, or from the conduct of its Founder and his apostles, but from what they see in the daily walk and conversation of the members of the church.

(3) They understand the nature of religion so well as to know when its friends are or are not consistent with their profession.

(4) They set a much higher value on honesty and integrity than they do on the doctrines and duties of religion; and if the professed friends of religion are destitute of the principles of truth and honesty, they think they have nothing of any value. They may be very devout on the Sabbath; very regular at prayer-meetings; very strict in the observance of rites and ceremonies - but all these are of little worth in the estimation of the world, unless attended with an upright life.

(5) No professing Christian can possibly do good to others who does not live an upright life. If you have cheated a man out of never so small a sum, it is vain that you talk to him about the salvation of his soul; if you have failed to pay him a debt when it was due, or to finish a piece of work when you promised it, or to tell him the exact truth in conversation, it is vain for you to endeavor to induce him to be a Christian. He will feel, if he does not say - and he might very properly say - that he wants no religion which will not make a man honest.

(6) No person will attempt to do much good to others whose own life is not upright. He will be sensible of the inconsistency, and will feel that he cannot do it with any sense of propriety; and the honor of religion, therefore, and the salvation of our fellow-men, demand that in all our intercourse with others, we should lead lives of the strictest integrity.

Redeeming the time - Notes, Ephesians 5:6.

Verse 6

Let your speech - Your conversation. In the previous verse the apostle had given a general direction that our conduct toward those who are not professing Christians should be wise and prudent; he here gives a particular direction in regard to our conversation.

Be alway with grace - Imbued with the spirit of religion. It should be such as religion is fitted to produce; such as to show that the grace of God is in our hearts. Bloomfield supposes that this means “courteous and agreeable, not morose and melancholy.” But though this may be included, and though the rule here laid down would lead to that, it cannot be all that is intended. It rather means that our conversation should be such as to show that we are governed by the principles of religion, and that there is unfeigned piety in the heart. This will indeed make us mild, courteous, agreeable, and urbane in our conversation; but it will do more than this. It will imbue our discourse with the spirit of religion, so as to show that the soul is under the influence of love to the Redeemer.

Seasoned with salt - Salt, among the Greeks, was the emblem of wit. Here the meaning seems to be, that our conversation should be seasoned with piety or grace in a way similar to that in which we employ salt in our food. It makes it wholesome and palatable. So with our conversation. If it be not imbued with the spirit of piety, it is flat, insipid, unprofitable, injurious. The spirit of piety will make it what it should be - useful, agreeable, beneficial to mankind. This does not mean that our conversation is to be always, strictly speaking, religious - wherever we may be - any more than our food should be mere salt; but it means that, whatever be the topic, the spirit of piety should be diffused through it - as the salt in our food should properly season it all - whatever the article of food may be.

That ye may know how ye ought to answer every man - Be imbued with the spirit of piety, that you may not utter any thing that would be rash and foolish, but be prepared to answer anyone who may question you about your religion in a way that will show that you understand its nature, and that will tend to edification. This remark may be extended further. It may be understood as meaning also, “be imbued with the spirit of religion, and you will be able to answer any man appropriately on any subject. If he asks you about the evidence or the nature of religion, you will be able to reply to him. If he converses with you on the common topics of the day, you will be able to answer him in a mild, kind, affable spirit. If he asks you of things of which you are ignorant; if he introduces some topic of science with which you are not acquainted, you will not be ashamed to confess your ignorance, and to seek instruction. If he addresses you in a haughty, insolent, and overbearing manner, you will be able to repress the risings of your temper, and to answer him with gentleness and kindness; compare Luke 2:46.

Verses 7-8

All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you - See these verses explained in the notes at Ephesians 6:21-22.

Verse 9

With Onesimus - Who had been formerly a servant of Philemon, an inhabitant of Colossae; see the notes at Philemon 1:10. Onesimus had probably been recently converted; and Paul felt toward him the warm attachment of a brother; Philemon 1:16. In what way he became acquainted with him is unknown. A more full account of him will be found in the notes at the Epistle to Philemon.

Who is one of you - That is, either who is from your city, or one of your own people and nation. It is clear from this, that Onesimus was from Phrygia, and probably from the city of Colossae itself. It would seem also that he was of a higher rank than is designated by the word “slave” now. He was, indeed, a “servant” δοῦλος doulos - of Philemon, but would the apostle have addressed the Colossians, and said that he was “one of them,” if he had occupied precisely the condition which is now denoted by the word “slave”? Would a minister of the gospel now in the Northern States, who should send a letter by a run-away slave to a community of masters at the South, say of him that he was “one of them?” Would it be kindly received, or produce a good impression, if he did? There is reason, therefore, to think that Onesimus was not a slave in the proper sense, but that he might have been a respectable youth, who had bound himself to service for a term of years; compare Philemon 1:18.

They shall make known to you all things which are done here - Relating to Paul himself and the state of the church in Rome. As the Epistle which Paul sent was designed not only for them, but to be a part of the volume of revealed truth, he wrote only those things which would be of permanent interest. Other matters he left for those who carried the Epistle to communicate. It would also serve to give Tychicus and Onesimus more respectability in view of the church at Colossae, if he referred the church to them for information on important points.

Verse 10

Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner - Aristarchus was of Thessalonica, and is mentioned in Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4, as Paul’s companion in his travels. In Acts 27:2, it is said that he accompanied him in his voyage to Rome, and from the passage before us it appears that he was there imprisoned with him. As he held the same sentiments as Paul, and was united with him in his travels and labors, it was natural that he should be treated in the same manner. He, together with Gaius, had been seized in the tumult at Ephesus and treated with violence, but he adhered to the apostle in all his troubles, and attended him all his perils. Nothing further is certainly known of him, though “the Greeks say that he was bishop of Assamea in Syria, and was beheaded with Paul at Rome, under Nero” - Calmet.

And Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas - John Mark, in relation to whom Paul and Barnabas had formerly disagreed so much as to cause a separation between Barnabas and Paul. The ground of the disagreement was, that Barnabas wished to take him, probably on account of relationship, with them in their travels; Paul was unwilling to take him, because he had, on one occasion, departed from them; Notes, Acts 15:37-39. They afterward became reconciled, and Paul mentions Mark here with affection. He sent for him when he sent Tychicus to Ephesus, and it seems that he had come to him in obedience to his request; 2 Timothy 4:11. Mark had probably become more decided, and Paul did not harbor unkind and unforgiving feelings toward anyone.

Touching whom ye received commandments - What these directions were, and how they were communicated, whether verbally or by writing, is now unknown. It was, not improbably, on some occasion when Paul was with them. He refers to it here in order that they might know distinctly whom he meant.

If he come to you, receive him - In Philemon 1:24, Mark is mentioned as a” fellow-laborer” of Paul. It would seem probable, therefore, that he was not a prisoner. Paul here intimates that he was about to leave Rome, and he enjoins it on the Colossians to receive him kindly. This injunction may have been necessary, as the Colossians may have been aware of the breach between him and Paul, and may have been disposed to regard him with suspicion. Paul retained no malice, and now commended, in the warmest manner, one from whom he was formerly constrained to separate.

Verse 11

And Jesus, who is called Justus - The name Jesus was probably that which he bore among the Jews. Justus is a Roman name, and was probably that by which he was known among the Romans. It was not uncommon thus to assume another name when one went among a foreign people; compare the notes at Acts 13:9.

Who are of the circumcision - Jews, or Jewish Christians. Nothing more is known of Justus.

These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God - The word “only” here, probably refers to the fact that they only of all the Jews who were at Rome assisted Paul in his work. Epaphras and Luke were also with him at Rome, and doubtless aided him.

Which have been a comfort unto me - The more so because they were Jews. The other Jews in Rome stood aloof, and doubtless endeavored to augment the trials of the apostle; compare Acts 28:23-29.

Verse 12

Epaphras - Notes, Colossians 1:7.

Always laboring fervently for you in prayers - Margin, “or striving.” Greek: “agonizing.” The word denotes the intense desire which he had for their salvation; his fervent, earnest pleading for their welfare.

That ye may stand perfect and complete - Margin, as in Greek, filled. The desire was, that they might maintain their Christian principles unadulterated by the mixture of philosophy and error, and completely perform the will of God in every respect. This is the expression of a pious wish in regard to them, without any affirmation that any had been absolutely perfect, or that they would be perfect in this world. It is, however, a command of God that we should be perfect (see Matthew 5:48), and it is the highest wish of benevolence in reference to anyone that he may be complete in moral character, and may do all the will of God; compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 13:9.

Verse 13

For I bear him record - Paul had had abundant opportunity to know what were his feelings in regard to these churches.

A great zeal for you - A great desire to promote your welfare.

And them that are in Laodicea - Laodicea was the capital of Phrygia, and not far from Colossae, There was a church there. See the Introduction, and the notes at Colossians 4:16.

And them in Hierapolis - This was also a city in Phrygia, and not far from Laodicea and Colossae. It was situated under a hill to the north, and had on the south a large plain about five miles over. On the south of that plain, and opposite to Hierapolis, was Laodicea, with the river Lycus running between them, nearer to Laodicea than to Hierapolls. This place is now called by the Turks Pambuck-Kulasi, or the Cotton-Tower, on account of the white cliffs which lie round about it. It is now utterly forsaken and desolate, but the ruins are so magnificent as to show that it was once one of the most splendid cities in the East. It was celebrated for the hot springs in its vicinity; and on account of the numerous temples erected there, it received the name of Hierapolis, or the holy city. The principal deity worshipped there was Apollo. See Travels by T. Smith. B. D. 1678. Compare the notes at Colossians 4:16. From the allusion to it here, it would seem that there were Christians there in the time of Paul, though there is no mention of a church there. It is nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament.

Verse 14

Luke, the beloved physician - This was undoubtedly the author of the Gospel which bears his name, and of the Acts of the Apostles. He is mentioned as the traveling companion of Paul in Acts 17:10, and appears to have accompanied him afterward until his imprisonment at Rome see 2 Timothy 4:11. From Colossians 4:11, it is evident that he was not by birth a Jew, but was probably a proselyte. He is supposed to have been a native of Cyrene, and to have died in Achaia, soon after the martyrdom of Paul, at the advanced age of 84. See Rob. Cal. Art. Luke. He is here mentioned as a physician, and in his Gospel, and in the Acts , there are incidental evidences that he was acquainted with the science of medicine, and that he observed the events which he has recorded with the eye of one who practiced the healing art. It is easy to imagine that the presence of a physician might have been of important service to the apostle Paul in his travels; and that his acquaintance with the art of healing may have aided not a little in the furtherance of the gospel. The miraculous power of healing, possessed by the Saviour and his apostles, contributed much to the success of their preaching; for the power of alleviating pain of body - of restoring to health by miracles, would not only be an evidence of the divine origin of their mission - a credential that they were sent from God, but would dispose those who had received such important benefits to listen attentively to the message of salvation. One of the best qualifications in missionaries in modern times, in order to gain access to the pagan, is an acquaintance with the healing art.

And Demas - Demas is mentioned in two other places, Philemon 1:24, and 2 Timothy 4:10. He is here spoken of with commendation as one in whom the apostle had confidence. Afterwards, when troubles thickened, he was not found proof to the trials which threatened him in Rome, and forsook the apostle and went to Thessalonica. He did this under the influence of the “love of this present world,” or of life, evidently unwilling to lay down his life in the cause for which Paul suffered; see the notes at 2 Timothy 4:10. His departure, and that of the others on whom Paul relied in Rome, was one of the severest trials which he was called there to endure; see the notes at 2 Timothy 4:16.

Verse 15

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea - Notes, Colossians 2:1.

And Nymphas - This person is nowhere else mentioned, and nothing more is known of him.

And the church which is in his house - Notes, Romans 16:5.

Verse 16

And when this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans - Laodicea was near to Colossae, and the church there was evidently exposed to the same dangers from philosophy and false teachers as the at Colossae. The counsels in this Epistle, therefore, would be equally applicable to both. In 1 Thessalonians 5:27, the apostle also charges those to whom that Epistle was addressed to see that it be “read unto all the holy brethren.” It is evident that the apostles designed that the letters which they addressed to the churches should be read also by others, and should become the permanent source of instruction to the friends of Christ. Laodicea, here referred to, was the seat of one of the “Seven churches” of Asia Revelation 3:14; was a city of Phrygia, and was its capital. It was situated on the river Lycus (hence, called Λαοδίκεία ἐπὶ Λύκῳ Laodikeia epi Lukō - Laodicea on the Lycus) and stood at the southwestern angle of Phrygia. Its early name appears to have been Dios polis, changed subsequently to Rhoas. The name Laodicea was given to it by Antiochus Theos, in honor of his wife Laodice. Under the Romans it became a very flourishing commercial city.

It was often damaged by earthquakes, but was restored by the Roman emperors. It is supposed to have been destroyed during the inroad of Timur Leng in 1402. The ruins are called by the Turks Eski Hissar. These ruins, and the ruins of Hierapolis, were visited by Mr. Riggs, an American Missionary, in 1842, who thus speaks of them: “These spots, so interesting to the Christian, are now utterly desolate. The threatening expressed in Revelation 3:10, has been fulfilled, and Laodicea is but a name. In the midst of one of the finest plains of Asia Minor, it is entirely without inhabitant. Sardis, in like manner, whose church had a name to live, but was dead, is now an utter desolation. Its soil is turned up by the plow, or overgrown by rank weeds: while in Philadelphia, since the day when our Saviour commended those who had there “kept the word of his patience,” there has never ceased to be a nominally Christian church. The ruins of Laodicea and Hierapolis are very extensive. The stadium of the former city, and the gymnasia and theaters of both, are the most complete which I have anywhere seen. Hierapolis is remarkable also for the so-called frozen cascades, a natural curiosity, in its kind probably not surpassed for beauty and extent in the world. It consists of a deposit of carbonate of lime, white as the driven snow, assuming, when closely examined, various forms, and covering nearly the whole southern and western declivities of the elevation on which the city was built. It is visible for many miles, and has procured for the place the name by which alone Hierapolis is known among the Turks, of the Cotton Castle.”

And that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea - In regard to this Epistle, see Introduction, Section 6.

Verse 17

And say to Archippus - Archippus is mentioned also in Philemon 1:2. He is not elsewhere referred to in the New Testament, and nothing further is known of him.

Take heed to the ministry ... - The Greek here is, τὴν διακονίαν tēn diakonian - meaning the office of ministering in divine things; but it is not certain precisely what office he held there. It seems probable from the language which the apostle applies to him - “the ministry” - (compare Acts 1:17, Acts 1:25; Acts 6:4; Acts 20:24; Acts 21:19; Rom 11:13; 1 Corinthians 12:5; 2 Corinthians 3:7-9; 2Co 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 6:3; Ephesians 4:12), that he was not a deacon, properly so called, but that he was a preacher of the word. In Philemon 1:2, he is mentioned by Paul as his “fellow-soldier,” and it is evident that the apostle meant to speak of him with honor. There is no evidence, as has been supposed by some, that he intended to imply, by what he said, that he had been remiss in the performance of his duties, but the apostle doubtless meant to encourage him and to excite him to increased ardor and zeal in the work of the Lord; compare the notes at Acts 20:28. It is always proper to caution even the most faithful and self-denying servants of the Lord to “take heed,” or see to it, that they perform their duties with fidelity. The office of the ministry is such, and the temptations to unfaithfulness are so great, that we need constant watchfulness.

That thou fulfil it - That there be nothing wanting, or lacking, in any of the departments of labor which you are called to perform.

Verse 18

The salutation by the hand of me Paul - Probably the rest of the Epistle was written by an amanuensis. As was his custom, Paul affixed his own hand to it in the form of a salutation; compare the 1 Corinthians 16:21 note; 2 Thessalonians 3:17 note.

Remember my bonds - Also evidently written by his own hand, to make the injunction more impressive; compare the notes at Hebrews 13:3. The meaning is, that they should not forget him in his confinement. They should remember that he was suffering on their account (Notes, Colossians 1:24), and that he was entitled to every expression of sympathy and love.

Grace be with you - Notes, Romans 16:20.

The subscription to this Epistle is undoubtedly correct. See the Introduction.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Colossians 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/colossians-4.html. 1870.
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