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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 4

Verse 1

RULES FOR MASTERS

‘Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.’

Colossians 4:1

St. Paul does not seem to go much into detail here, for he sums up in two words the master’s duty, but what a wealth of meaning, what a mine of suggestive thought, do those two words contain. ‘Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal,’ he says, and then follows the same reminder for master as for servant, ‘ye also have a Master in heaven.’

With very few exceptions, wherever one goes one hears the same complaint about servants. They are idle, or shiftless, or untrustworthy, or ill-tempered, or selfish. Mistresses of households speak especially as though their servants were almost the chief trouble of their lives. Now I am not going to meet all this with a direct denial. Our servants are very much what we make them. Have you ever tried God’s way with your servants? Have you ever thought of giving ‘to your servants that which is just and equal’?

Let us face this matter out.

I. God bids you be just to your servants.—I suppose that means that you should do by them what you would have them do by you. God bids you give to them that which is equal. By that he surely means this: ‘Give them fair play.’ These are the words of God the Holy Ghost, and so define an essential part of the duties of practical Christianity. Women of refinement and much kindly feeling, not at all destitute of sympathy for others, sometimes speak of their servants as though they were creatures of an inferior race. The family take their pleasure frequently, but they never share it with the servants. The family meals are luxurious, the servant’s table is meagre. They must work on until midnight, and then be the first to rise, and if, exhausted by fatigue, they are late, they are scolded sharply. If the mistress of the house or one of the children is a little out of sorts, every one is alarmed, and the doctor is sent for at once; but who cares for the poor servant’s headache or prostration? And then when, worn out by overwork, illness really fastens upon her, a cab is fetched, and she is sent to her home or to the hospital, and if she dies, who cares? O my brothers and sisters, she is our sister too. Is this giving unto her that which is just and equal? To say nothing of the sin and shame of it all, for which God will surely judge you, how can you expect your servants to treat you other than you treat them?

II. We may have good servants still if we will do as God bids us do, and be Christ-like masters and mistresses.—In all ranks of society there are the worthless and the undeserving, but these are few, after all. God says to you, ‘O woman, use your servant well. Don’t give her the worst bedroom in the house with the paper hanging in damp strips from the walls. Give her wholesome food and sufficient rest, and fresh air now and then, not under cover of the night, but in the light of day. See that pleasant books are not beyond her reach. Make your children pay her, in due degree, the respect they pay to others. When she ails give her the simple remedies you use in the family. If she falls ill and your house is large enough, don’t turn her from your door, but nurse her at home. Be a mother to her. Pray for her. Try to help her in the path of life. Stay home from Holy Communion sometimes that she may kneel at the altar of God, and receive the strength and grace you so deeply prize. Make her one of yourselves. Share your life with her. O man, care for your labourer. See that he has a cottage fit to live in and a fair wage. Encourage him and his with kindly words, sympathise with them if sickness comes to them. Treat him as your fellow. Men and women, “give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” ’ Only fulfil the will of God and your special difficulties about servants will vanish.

III. How many blessings have come to us through keeping God’s rule which otherwise we should have missed, just as Naaman’s leprosy would never have left him had not his wife been a gentle, loving mistress to the little Hebrew maid; just as no blessing would have come to the Centurion had he not loved his poor suffering servant. Has not God heaped blessings upon us by the hands of these same servants by whom we have striven to do His will—kindnesses and thoughtfulness in health, and such goodness when we have been ill, as they have watched by us through the long hours and borne with us in our fretfulness and soothed us with gentle words? If some of you have never known servants like these, go home and begin to try God’s plan, and it will not be long before you, too, shall be blessed in your deed. You may not always succeed, for there are still the ‘unthankful and the evil’ amongst servants as there are amongst those they serve, but you will not fail in the long run if, asking God’s blessing, you persevere.

Rev. S. Pascoe.

Illustration

‘There are as many true and faithful servants in the world as ever there were, but they are the servants of kind and sympathising employers. Dean Ramsay has told us of one such who lived in one family all her life, and who, when, at a great age, she lay at the point of death, sent for her master, who was a few years her junior, and told him she had one last request to make which she begged him not to deny her: “When I am carried to the kirkyard,” she said, “let them put my body so that when you are buried there I may lie at your feet.” Who would not love to have a servant like that?’

Verse 6

CHRISTIAN CONVERSATION

‘Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt.’

Colossians 4:6

There are four kinds of conversation—general conversation, conversation for discussion, conversation to do good, and spiritual conversation. I shall speak now, of course, of them all only in reference to a Christian’s use of them.

I. General conversation—domestic, social, literary, political. It is open to a Christian man as much as any other, and with the same freedom, to use it. But here lies the mark of a Christian’s conversation upon all subjects. He comes to it with a mind imbued with holy thought; with a sense of the presence, and the love, and the providence of God. That is an undercurrent, which runs deep and silent in his mind; which crops up at times more than he himself is aware of. Or rather I should say it is an essence which gives a universal flavour, which others discover more than himself. It is ‘the ointment’ which ‘bewrayeth itself.’

II. Conversation for discussion.—Discussion of religious subjects requires great care. It soon runs into controversy; and controversy may pass into dispute; and dispute may end in anger. I doubt whether it is often profitable. Certainly it is useful, and even safe only, when very strictly guarded. Let me lay down one or two plain rules about the conversation of discussion.

( a) Do not let it slide out into common conversation, carrying the same tone. Let it be definite; hedged round; and lifted into a higher atmosphere.

( b) Do not enter upon it without a little secret prayer for guidance, and self-command, and charity.

( c) Avoid what is personal of every kind.

( d) Do not let it diverge and speak about people.

( e) Put the Bible all along in its proper place.

( f) Often stop to examine your motive.

( g) See and confess the good in everybody and everything.

( h) Dwell on the points of concord.

( i) Stop immediately that love begins to go out, and pride and temper to come in.

( j) Humble yourself really, not affectedly, at the end.

III. Conversation to do good.—It generally requires an effort to introduce religious conversation. Very few good things come without an effort. Why is the conversation in a family—not only on religious, but on all subjects—generally less intelligent when they are alone than when strangers are present? Simply because less effort is made to make it good. How often are we almost punished for our slowness and indifference in introducing a religious subject by the welcome we receive when we do it. And much more attend to the spirit of the word. It is more than the word itself. Make it plain that you have a real, loving intention. Put yourself lower than the person to whom you wish to do the good. When you speak of anything wrong, never say ‘you,’ always ‘we.’ And throughout let something of Christ be seen and felt in it. ‘Alway with grace, seasoned with salt.’

IV. Spiritual conversation—the conversation of real Christians for mutual comfort and edification. It is, unfortunately, very rare, and I am afraid that there is one word, at least, in which we fail to a likeness of that stage of the ancient Church when ‘they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.’ And yet there is nothing, perhaps, so helpful, so pleasant so preparatory to heaven, so true a part of the ‘Communion of Saints,’ and so honouring to God, as that converse of heart with heart and soul with soul, when the theme is heavenly and the spirit is Christ-like!

ST.

Verse 14

LUKE THE EVANGELIST

‘Luke, the beloved physician.’

Colossians 4:14

St. Luke is said to have been born at Antioch; the probability, therefore, is that he was, as Jerome says, a Syrian, and thus a Gentile. If so, then he was a proselyte to the Jewish religion.

I. He is described as ‘the beloved physician.’—As a physician he was of essential service to St. Paul, not only in his own personal needs, but in his missionary enterprises, as the healing art was then, as it is now, of great advantage to the furtherance of the Gospel among the heathen. Through attending to the body the modern medical missionary may reach the soul, and by saving the one may, under the Divine blessing, save the other.

II. St. Paul and he were great friends, as the text clearly shows. The appellation of ‘the beloved physician’ signifies that St. Luke, apart from his professional services, possessed certain amiable and holy characteristics which had won St. Paul’s admiration and affection. He loved his physician; and his physician reciprocated his love. ‘Only Luke is with me,’ he says. There is a tone of deep sadness in this avowal, but it magnifies the friendship of both of them.

III. St. Luke was evidently a well-educated man.—His learning is proved by his Gospel to have been great; for it stands out from the others in its evidences of a higher education, its peculiar beauty and pathos, its didactic style and graphic descriptiveness. Universality is its predominant feature. The Acts of the Apostles, which St. Luke also wrote, is a supplementary composition. It begins where the Gospel ends, so that united the two form one history anent the life of Christ on earth and the establishment of His Church in the world. In no part of the Bible have we such models of preaching, such tender, eloquent, and powerful appeals to the understanding and the heart.

Illustration

‘Considering how large a portion of the New Testament was written by St. Luke, it is noticeable how little else we are told of him than is conveyed in these two short sentences of St. Paul’s. Yet it is noticeable also how very closely this description given by St. Paul fits the character of St. Luke as it comes out in his writings. A man cannot write much without showing what manner of man he is; and so we can see St. Luke’s temper through the portion of Scripture he was inspired to write. Gentleness, tenderness, sympathy with other people, especially the suffering and the weak, shines out clearly through his Gospel, and makes us enter at once into St. Paul’s name for him—“the beloved physician.” Men are not usually “beloved” for nothing. It is the loving who receive love.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE INSPIRATION OF EARTHLY VOCATION

It is as the author of the Gospel that the Church is most interested in St. Luke. That book is one of the four golden columns on which rests the Christian history. It is one of the four golden trumpets which have sent forth the summons of Christ to the sons of men. It has, moreover, its own peculiar character. It was not so Jewish as the others; there is a peculiar human breadth and richness in it. It gives the fullest account of our Lord’s nativity, and relates the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son.’ But it is not only as the writer of the Gospel that we know St. Luke. He was also the author of ‘The Acts of the Apostles,’ and was the fellow-labourer of St. Paul, who is the central figure of the larger portion of the book. St. Paul, in his Epistles, thrice mentions him, and twice he styles him ‘the beloved physician.’ That is almost all. By early tradition, and from some incidental indications, we gather that Lucanus was a Gentile and a citizen of Antioch, that he was a physician by profession, that he travelled with St. Paul, and that before he died he wrote, at St. Paul’s suggestion, the Gospel which bears his name. And yet there is something more. It seems clear that St. Luke’s character, as a physician, remained an influential fact, even after he became a missionary. His style, the events of our Lord’s life which he selects for his narration, bear marks of the physician’s habits of thought and speech. St. Paul’s allusion to him as ‘the beloved physician,’ and the fact that Luke appears to have joined Paul on several occasions when that Apostle’s strength broke down under one of those recurrent attacks of prostration, all seem to imply that he continued to practise the art of healing, and that it was as a physician also that he travelled with St. Paul from place to place.

In St. Luke we see what since his time has been the natural and normal type of Christian life, the inspiration by a new spiritual power of an earthly vocation, so that it continued to be exercised, and, moreover, fulfilled its true ideal. This suggests certain thoughts with reference to the general relation of the Christian life to men’s occupations and professions. The professions get all their character, their glory or disgrace, from the nature of the men who live in them, and produce their vital effects through those men. Consider, then, what effects the warm fire of the love of God must have upon the life, in certain arts and professions, of which the world must necessarily be full. It must—

I. Purify all the professions.—It melts away the dross and leaves the gold. It makes the man purely the thing he means to be, without any admixture of baseness or corruption.

II. It makes the professions to be no longer means of separation, but of sympathy and union between men.—If you and I feel always beating through our diverse callings and methods of activity the common purpose of the love of God, then the harder we work in different ways the more our lives are one.

III. It will sanctify the secular work of your life.—No thoughtful man has failed to feel that the division of labour represented by the many and various occupations of life has its dangers—corruption, narrowness, loss of human sympathy, and such-like. Where is the safeguard against these things? Not by deserting your profession, but by deepening it; by seeking a new life under it; by praying for, and never resting until you find regeneration, the new life lived by the faith of the Son of God. So only can your life of trade, or art, or profession be redeemed; so only can it become for you and for the world a blessed thing.

This is the lesson taught us by the lives and comradeship of St. Paul and St. Luke. We see the figures of St. Paul and St. Luke walking together as ministers of Christ—theology and medicine labouring in harmony for the redemption of man, for the saving of body, soul, and spirit—and the picture is very sacred and impressive. Thus may these two professions, and every other ‘calling’ in life, in fellowship with religion, working together as if they were one, grow to be more and more a worthy channel through which the helpfulness of God may flow forth to the neediness of man.

Bishop Phillips Brooks.

Illustration

‘The disposition to find the simplicity of motive under the variety of action is familiar enough now, and it is right in its aim. The world of human action, like the world of Nature, is a scene of endless superficial variety which, by-and-by, we learn to gather into unity under some common force, under the power of some central inspiration. To the shallow observer each profession and calling is a life by itself; it will have its own thoughts, standards, principles, and passions; nothing in common with others. But that is only the superficial aspect. Very soon he who lives begins to discover some deeper forces working underneath and giving a real unity to all this seemingly incoherent life. How will it be, then, if you can reach one point which is the genuine centre of the whole mass—one supreme force, of which they are all only modifications and manifestations, issuing from the very heart of all—and this one central fountain of force, the soul’s love for God as its Father; so that everything which a man had a right to do at all upon earth might be ideally done as an expression of this central force—the love of man for God? Does not this change the aspect and feeling of a man’s work in life, which we call his profession, when what he has to do reaches thus inwards to the heart of things, and finds its deepest motive—and when that motive becomes the inspiring force of what he has to do? Is not the man’s work, even if it be drudgery, enlightened by the impulse, redeemed and glorified? Is not its real unity with other “callings,” however different in form, made vivid by the common relation of them all to the source from which they spring and derive their motive power? These are the things which professional life needs—the redemption of its drudgery, the establishment of sympathy with other callings, and the harmony of the absolute and universal with the relative and special; and all of these must come when that which a man does in his profession lays hold, as its motive, on the love of God. What was it but this that came to St. Luke when he was brought to believe in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and all that it meant? St. Paul must have taught him, indeed, the meaning of the words, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Luke, the physician, must have learned to say them of himself, and as he went among his patients to say, “I do this by the faith of the Son of God …” And when he could say that, tell me, was there no holier sacredness in the finger laid on the sick man’s pulse? Was there not truer sympathy with men around him engaged in other work?’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Colossians 4". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/colossians-4.html. 1876.