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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 4

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1 logically connects to chapter three and is the conclusion of Paul’s admonition to members of domestic households. Thus, in this chapter, verse 1 stands alone. One wonders why those who divided the Bible into chapters and verses chose to separate this verse from its context. The passage is clear enough, however, that no problem in understanding is created by its placement.

Verse 1: Admonition to masters

Verse 2-6: Exhortations to prayer, especially for Paul and his companions

Verses 7-18: Greetings and commendations of special persons interspersed with short bits of exhortation.

Verse 1

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

Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal: The words for "servants" and "masters" are the same as in chapter 3:22. The key terms in understanding the passage are "just" and "equal." The first is defined as "rendering to each his due" (Thayer 149) with special reference to what agrees with justice and law. "Equal" means "what is equitable or fair" (Thayer 307). The New International Version renders the two words as "right and fair" and the Revised Standard Version "justly and fairly." The general meaning of Paul’s language is obvious. Masters are to treat those under their control in ways that conform to the best standards of conduct.

knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven: Paul adds a special reference point by noting that masters also have a "Master in heaven." He will judge their conduct toward their slaves as they judge their servants.

Lenski calls Paul’s instructions a special application of the Golden Rule (187). Masters should treat their servants as they want to be treated by Jesus at the judgment. This idea may be what Paul is suggesting to Philemon with regard to Onesimus (verse 16).

Yet, it seems more appropriate to take the comment as an application of the principle, taught throughout the scriptures, that one shall give account of his use of influence over others. For example, the kings of the Old Testament were punished for leading the people into worship of idols as well as for their personal sins in this regard. (See a discussion of Jeroboam, King of Israel, in 1 Kings 12:25-33; and Manasseh, King of Judah, in 2 Kings 21:1-15.) The people were held accountable, too, for they knew the law and were not helpless, but the kings were judged for their use of power. The less power the subject, the stronger the judgment on the one in control. Children have no power; thus, one who abuses them would be better to have "a mill stone hanged about his neck...and drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). Masters held such power over their servants who had no legal rights in Roman culture.

But let us not limit the lesson to ancient times. Everyone has influence, and all shall give an account of its use. Parents, church leaders, employers, school teachers, therapists, and others who have much personal power should ponder carefully how they shall fare when the good or ill effect of their influence is weighed in the great balances of judgment.

Verse 2

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

With this passage, Paul begins general exhortation to all disciples. It may be, as Clarke suggests, that he is directing Christians to pray for strength to perform the particular duties related to their roles as husbands, wives, servants and so forth (531). But the admonition is general, leaving it to individuals to make the application to the special needs of their circumstances.

Continue in prayer: "Continue" means "to give constant attention" (Thayer 547). It is the same word used of early Christians’ devotion to the apostles’ doctrine in Acts 2:42. "Prayer" is the general word for worship addressed to God; and, as Ephesians 6:18 notes, two of the main ingredients are supplication and thanksgiving. The context shows the apostle has both ideas in mind for the Colossians. The discussion in Ephesians 6 adds that prayers are to be "in the Spirit." The linking of prayer and spirit is a prominent theme in Paul’s epistles as we see in 1 Corinthians 14:15 and Romans 8:26-27. The latter passages suggest that our prayers, especially those too intense for words, are conveyed to the Father by the Spirit. One is reminded that when the Spirit entered God-fearing persons supernaturally, it was often while they prayed (2 Chronicles 20:13-17).

and watch in the same: The English word "watch" conveys adequately what Paul has in mind. But what does "watch in prayer" mean? He did not say, as Jesus did in Matthew 26:41, "watch and pray." That, however, seems to be what he means. Praying and watching are both to be continuous; therefore, they will overlap and intersect one another. One may appropriately say "pray and watch" as in Ephesians 6:18, or "watch and pray" as in Matthew 26:41. Watching implies human will and activity; prayer suggests reliance on God. Neither is to be neglected while the other is pursued. Our salvation is a cooperative effort between us and the Lord.

with thanksgiving: "Thanksgiving" is an integral part of our worship of God. Here it means the actual "giving of thanks" (Thayer 264), not just a feeling of gratefulness.

Verse 3

Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:

Withal praying also for us: Urging Christians to pray seems to have reminded Paul of his need for God’s help in preaching the great gospel. "Withal" means "at the same time" (Thayer 30). Whenever they pray for themselves, Paul wants them to remember to pray for "us" (Paul, Timothy, and their colleagues).

that God would open unto us a door of utterance: Paul is not asking to be remembered for his general welfare, though that would be appropriate. He asks rather for an "open...door of utterance." When used figuratively, "door" usually means, as it does here, an opportunity. Paul had no doubt prayed this prayer himself, and it had been answered. God has closed some doors (Acts 16:6-7) but opened those where people are willing to hear (Acts 16:9-10; 1 Corinthians 16:9). When God opened doors of opportunity, prison doors often closed upon Paul soon afterward. Even now, he is "in bonds" because of accepting these God-given opportunities to preach Jesus. Yet, he still prays for others.

"Utterance" is from that wonderfully complex term "logos." Various shades of its meaning are shown by the fact that it is translated into four words in Colossians alone: "word," (chapters 1:5 and 3:17); "show," (2:23); "speech," (4:6); and "utterance" in the passage at hand. It is "the Word" of John 1:1; John 1:14. Here it is the message of salvation that Paul wants opportunities to declare because no one can be saved without it.

to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: The "word" is described here as "the mystery of Christ." "Mystery" is "a hidden purpose or counsel; secret will" (Thayer 420), as in chapters 1:26 and 2:2. In the latter verse, Paul states that the mystery has been revealed, from its secret place in God’s heart; and he defined it as "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Christ’s atoning sacrifice was "hid from ages and generations" (1:26) and revealed by Jesus to become the message of the ages.

Verse 4

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

The primary meaning of the word "ought" is "it is necessary" (Thayer 126). Necessity arises from different sources, and its use here implies the necessity of law and duty. Paul’s charge to Timothy shows the law and duty that are laid upon him:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

The charge to Timothy applies to all preachers. Can any true minister of the gospel read it without trembling?

The "ought" implies not only necessity of doing but also of manner, meaning the one most likely to convince hearers. This concern seems to have been what prompted Paul’s request for prayers. He apparently knows he will get the opportunity to make his defense in Rome where he is imprisoned. He does not know whether he will be able to say it so that the Gentiles would "hear" (2 Timothy 4:17). But God grants the request that Paul asks the Colossians to make for him (Philippians 1:12-21).

Verse 5

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Walk in wisdom: Paul turns abruptly from his request for prayers to exhortation about Christians’ conduct toward non-Christians. "Walk," which is the same as in chapter 3:7, refers to how one behaves toward, or in the view of, others. "Wisdom," as in chapters 1:28 and 3:16, means "the wisdom that belongs to men" (Thayer 581). Good judgment is a down-to-earth definition.

toward them that are without: Paul commands this prudent behavior "toward them that are without." Literally, "without" means "out of doors" (Thayer 226), but it is used metaphorically here and refers to those who are outside--not members of--the Lord’s church. The language pictures the church as a fortress that protects those inside while those outside are exposed to all sorts of dangers. But those without have false notions of what goes on within. Christians must dispel such myths by their pure and gentle conduct.

By commanding prudent behavior toward unbelievers, Paul does not suggest that Christians may behave inconsiderately toward those in the church. In fact, similar admonition is given in Ephesians 5:15-21, where the context suggests the focus is on the body of believers.

redeeming the time: There are two reasons the Colossian Christians should walk prudently toward non-Christians. First, they should live so as to create a receptivity to the gospel. This idea is suggested by the words "time," which means an "opportune or seasonable time" (Thayer 318), and "redeeming," which refers to making the most of every opportunity.

The second reason for prudent living, which is implied rather than discussed, is to avoid persecution. Paul’s mention of his own "bonds" in verse 3 suggests this thought. It is personally hazardous and dangerous to the church for Christians to offend their pagan rulers and neighbors unnecessarily. This teaching does not mean that Christians should approve or participate in pagan vices, rather that "as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).

Verse 6

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Let your speech: With unbelievers still in view, Paul makes a specific application of his teaching to the point at which offenses are most likely to occur, which is in "speech." A homely definition of the word is conversation. It is the same as in Colossians 3:17 where the translation is "word." The conversations Paul probably has in mind are questions by authorities about the beliefs and practices of Christianity. The teaching is general, as verse 5 shows, and applies to all interactions with outsiders.

be alway with grace, seasoned with salt: Our conversations are to be "with grace, seasoned with salt." "Seasoned" means "to prepare or arrange" with (Thayer 76). This is a fascinating metaphor.

that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man: Paul pictures the words from Christians’ mouths as food for unbelievers. "Grace," which is defined as "sweetness, charm, loveliness" (Thayer 665), should be a main ingredient. The whole preparation is to be served with salt, which refers to "wisdom and virtue," as noted in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34. If our answers are thus prepared in the ovens of our hearts, before being served up to outsiders, they are most likely to find them palatable. This type of preparation eliminates harsh, hasty, or thoughtless responses and agrees with Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 3:15.

The Colossians do not need Paul’s admonition more than churches and Christians need it now. From some quarters, preaching with kindness and love can earn one the reputation of being "liberal" or soft on doctrine. Was Paul liberal? Yes, because this beautiful scriptural term had not then been turned into a derogatory epithet. Was Paul soft on doctrine? Nay, verily. Solomon says, "The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious" (Ecclesiastes 10:12).

Verse 7

All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:

All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you: Paul knows the Colossians would have many questions about his physical, mental, and spiritual state during his imprisonment and about his circumstances as well. Tychicus could answer these in detail. This is one reason, as the next verse shows, that Paul sends the letter to Colosse by him. Tychicus probably also carries the letter to Ephesus (6:21) and, with Onesimus, the one to Philemon at the same time.

Little is known about the personal life of this preacher who is mentioned several times as Paul’s helper, and whom Paul commends so highly. We know that he is from Asia (Acts 20:4) and that he is sent there on other missions by Paul (2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12). That he is known and trusted in Colosse seems likely since Paul assumes he could "comfort [their] hearts."

who is a beloved brother: The apostle’s description of Tychicus is general and lofty. He is a "beloved brother," a "faithful minister," and a "fellowservant." The first phrase expresses Paul’s feelings toward him. Because it is typical of the way Paul describes his associates (see verses 9 and 14), it also shows the deep devotion he has for all those who work with him.

and a faithful minister: Tychicus is also a "faithful minister." The word for minister is often translated deacon and basically means "a servant or attendant" (Thayer 138). It is not, however, the office of deacon but the role of servant that Paul has in mind. But servant to whom, to Paul or to Christ? The apostle probably refers to Tychicus’ faithful attendance on himself during his imprisonment. In so doing, Tychicus is also serving the Lord, for Paul’s life is consumed in that holy endeavor. Thus, he could say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

and fellowservant in the Lord: These two men are "fellowservants" in the Lord. Tychicus serves Paul as the inspired and older preacher of the gospel, but the real object of both their slavery is Jesus.

Verse 8

Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts;

Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate: The "purpose" is the "same," as explained in the preceding verse, that Tychicus may declare "all my state unto you." Many ancient manuscripts give the second phrase in this verse as "that you may know my estate." This translation agrees more with verses 7 and 9, where it is promised that Onesimus and Tychicus will "make known unto you all things which are done here." Paul is aware that the Colossians’ worry about him could have a discouraging effect on the church, a possibility he wants to eliminate.

and comfort your hearts: The definitions of the complex word "comfort" read like a lesson on how to comfort the downhearted. The specific meaning here is the same as in Chapter 2:2, "to encourage or strengthen" (Thayer 482-483). In other passages, this versatile term means "to call to one’s side" (Acts 28:20), "to address or speak to," "to beseech" (Matthew 8:5), "to exhort" (Hebrews 10:25), and so forth. In some passages it seems to combine elements of several of the preceding ideas (Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 14:31).

Verse 9

With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.

With Onesimus: Onesimus is a runaway slave of Philemon, a brother in the church in Asia and probably of the city of Colosse (see Philemon 1:10-17). Onesimus contacts Paul in Rome, we know not how, and is converted. Paul sends him back to his master in the company of Tychicus.

a faithful and beloved brother: Onesimus is described to the Colossian church as a "faithful and beloved brother," suggesting how they are to receive him. He ran away as a worthless slave (see Philemon 1:11) and returns as a "beloved brother." What a wonderful commentary on the reforming power of the gospel. To Philemon, who might have had more difficulty in receiving Onesimus in the proper spirit, Paul gives elaborate instructions in his private letter. Ellicott notes that the apostle, in these instructions, plants the seeds that would grow into the destruction of slavery as a social institution. He does, indeed; but it should be noted that he also teaches that one’s position as a brother in God’s kingdom is more important than his social standing in human societies.

who is one of you: Onesimus is described as "one of you." In a different context, that description would likely mean a member of the church along with "you." Since Onesimus was converted after he ran away, it means he is from the same city as "you." This is one suggestion that Philemon lived in Colosse. Another such inference is that Archippus is greeted in the letter to Philemon (verse 2) and said to be a preacher in the Colossian church (4:17).

They shall make known unto you all things which are done here: Although Paul implies by the pronoun "they" that Onesimus will help explain to the church the apostle’s state, it is probably for the slave’s protection that he is sent with Tychicus. Runaway slaves were treated harshly in Roman society.

Verse 10

Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

With this passage, Paul begins a series of salutations from six persons, not including Tychicus. He could give his own greetings when delivering the letter

Aristarchus: Aristarchus was a Jew (verse 11) from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4). Along with Gaius, he is roughed up by the mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:29). He accompanies Paul on the trip to Jerusalem to deliver the collection for the poor saints, suggesting he is chosen by the churches (1 Corinthians 16:3) and held in high esteem by them. He is with Paul when he is arrested in Jerusalem and is later moved to a prison in Caesarea. Two years later when Paul is sent to Rome for trial, Aristarchus accompanies him (Acts 27:2). By all accounts, he is a faithful preacher and a devoted friend to Paul.

my fellowprisoner: Paul describes him here as his "fellowprisoner." Epaphras, mentioned in verse 12, is described only as "a servant of Christ." Curiously, both men are mentioned again in the letter to Philemon (verses 23-24), where Epaphras is named as the fellowprisoner and Aristarchus is not. Many writers have pointed out the difference in the accounts, and some seem to have stumbled over them. Clarke says "one of them is wrong...unless both were prisoners" (533), a presumptive and unnecessary conclusion. Though the two letters, Colossians and Philemon, were written near the same time, that does not require that only one of Paul’s companions is in prison with him. The enemies of the church go after its leaders. Lesser lights, such as Aristarchus and Epaphras, may have been imprisoned temporarily to harass them, but not for the duration of Paul’s stay. Some writers propose that Paul’s companions are allowed to stay with him in prison on an alternating basis to care for him.

saluteth you: The word "salute" means to "greet, bid welcome, or wish well" (Thayer 81). However, the full import of the Jewish practice is not carried in the definition. A rather elaborate arrival or departure ritual, it was taken more seriously than our casual "Hellos" and "Goodbyes." It usually involved embracing and kissing. On departure, the blessings of Numbers 6:24-26 were often recited. The time required to conduct such salutations probably accounts for Jesus’ command, "salute no man by the way" (Luke 10:4) when first He sent out His disciples. Many greetings in the way would delay a journey. The seriousness of it is the reason John commands such a salutation not be given to false teachers (2 John 1:10).

and Marcus: This is the first mention of John Mark since his desertion of Paul and Barnabas occasioned the rift between those preachers (Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36-41). Mark has proved himself with Barnabas and apparently with Peter (1 Peter 5:13), so Paul turns from the strong rebuke of Acts 15 to equally strong support (2 Timothy 4:11). The apostle’s differences with others are over matters of principle, not personalities. Would that we were all as noble!

sister’s son to Barnabas: The Greek phrase translated "sister’s son" seems to signify "nephew, niece, or cousin" (Thayer 45) without regard to sex. Such generality in denoting blood relationships is true in several languages. The modern emphasis on the nuclear family has made it important for us to know precisely who one is. Old Testament writers frequently referred to sons, grandsons, and more distant descendants simply as "sons."

(touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;): Paul’s instructions to the Colossians to "receive" Mark may suggest the church knows of his earlier rejection of him. There is no other known written message from Paul to the Colossians; thus, the instructions are apparently carried by an earlier messenger, or perhaps by Tychicus, expecting him to arrive before Mark.

Verse 11

And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.

And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision: There appears to be no other Biblical mention of this Justus, unless he is one of those by the same name discussed in Acts 1:23; Acts 18:7, a highly unlikely circumstance! Justus, along with Mark and Aristarchus, is said to be of the "circumcision." The term is used technically and literally in the scriptures of physical circumcision and metaphorically of spiritual circumcision. Here, by metonymy, the act is put for the persons, and it implies simply that these men are Jews.

These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me: By "these only are my fellowworkers," Paul means these are with him. Several fellow laborers are mentioned in the following verses, but they are not "of the circumcision." There are probably other Jews in Rome who preach Christ, but they do so out of "envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15-17). Paul could not count them among his fellowworkers nor are they a comfort to him. These men, who share his background and his love for Gentile Christians, are a special consolation.

Verse 12

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ: We remember Epaphras from chapter 1:7, where he is said to have taught the Colossians the gospel and to be a "faithful minister" of Christ. Here Paul adds that he is a "servant" of Christ. "Servant," as in several other places in the epistle, means slave or bondsmen. In practical terms it indicates "one whose will is wholly governed by Christ, his master" (Lenski 202). James tells us that all strife comes from our "lusts which war in our members" (4:1). If all members of the church were as Epaphras, there would be no strife, because none would have a will of his own on which strife could be propelled.

saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers: In addition, to conveying Epaphras’ greeting to the folks at home, Paul wants them to know how fervent are Epaphras’ love and zeal for their spiritual welfare. He "labors fervently" for them in prayer. The two words appear to be the same in the Greek as if Paul had said, "he is laboring, laboring for you". Repetition is a common form of emphasis in many languages, that is "he really, really loves you."

The fact that Paul could personally witness to the intensity of Epaphras’ prayers for the Colossians indicates he and Paul joined together in prayer. Epaphras may not have been in prison with Paul at the time this letter is written, but we know that he has been (Philemon 1:23). It is easy to assume that these devoted servants of the Lord continued their worship in prison to the fullest extent they were able. Paul and Silas did so while in jail in Philippi (Acts 16:25).

that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God: Epaphras prays that the Colossians would stand "perfect and complete in all the will of God." "Perfect," as in Chapter 1:28, means "brought to its end, finished" (Thayer 618). It is sometimes translated full grown or mature. "Complete" has a related definition, which is "to make full, or to fill up" (Thayer 517). In chapter 1:9 it is translated "might be filled." It is the Colossians’ spiritual growth that Epaphras earnestly asks of God; that they might come to be so fully persuaded of the gospel that they would not waver in the face of the false teacher’s constant attacks. "Wavering" in doctrine or in prayer is evidence of a lack of faith (James 1:5-8).

Verse 13

For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you: Epaphras’ commitment to the Colossians’ spiritual welfare is not merely intellectual. It is "heartfelt" or emotional as well. When God asks the Israelites to love Him, He usually includes both heart and mind. Jesus says the greatest commandment in the law is to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind" (Matthew 22:37). The mind thinks and decides what to do; and the heart provides the commitment, or the push, to do it. This combination provides the type of zeal, "ardor in embracing, pursuing, defending anything" (Thayer 271), we see in Epaphras.

and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis: Paul’s "record" or testimony of Epaphras is an eyewitness account. He has heard Epaphras’ prayers, but no doubt the younger man repeatedly has probed his mentor’s mind for better ways to teach his beloved brethren what he knows they need. This heartfelt care is extended to the Christians at Laodicea and Hierapolis as well. Lenski thinks Epaphras founded the churches in all three places, which were only a few miles distant from each other (see Introduction) (204). Perhaps so; but at the least, he has a true Christian love for them.

Verse 14

Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

Luke, the beloved physician: Luke is given an especially tender description--"the beloved physician." The word, "physician," means the same as we would take it today. Some people think Luke traveled with Paul specifically to take care of the apostle’s health. It seems certain that Luke would use all his skill to help Paul when he was sick or injured. However, to assume this to be the exclusive reason for his presence with the great teacher of the Gentiles is to belittle Luke’s clear devotion to Jesus. The man who wrote the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts is not preoccupied with medicine. In Philemon (verse 24), he is called a "fellowlaborer" of Paul along with Mark, Aristarchus, and Demas. Probably he is designated "the physician" for identity, as Matthew is called "the publican" (Matthew 10:3).

Luke is a devoted friend to Paul. Like Aristarchus, he is with the apostle when the collection for the saints is delivered to Jerusalem and during the imprisonments in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and the current one, his first confinement in Rome. He is the only one of a once-substantial group who has not deserted or been sent to another place by the time of Paul’s second trial in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). No marvel that to the grand old man, Luke is "beloved."

and Demas, greet you: The contrast in the "bare bones" mention of Demas is obvious. Some have assumed that Paul already has seen Demas’ desertion (2 Timothy 4:10) coming and does not want to commend him, but that does not seem Paul’s style. If he has doubted him, it seems more "Pauline" to have stated it directly or left his name out. Besides this point, Paul includes Demas as a fellowlaborer with Mark, Luke, and Aristarchus in Philemon (verse 24).

Verse 15

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea: The city of Laodicea is not far from Colosse (see Introduction). The Christians from these places and Hierapolis, which are also nearby, probably have frequent contact. The reading here indicates Paul is suggesting a "church to church" greeting since the direction is not given to a specific Christian in Colosse or directed toward specific persons in Laodicea. This idea would lay the ground work for a mutual reading of the epistles as commanded in the next verse.

and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house: Nothing is known of "Nymphas" except what is given here. He is apparently a man of substantial means who has made his home a place of worship. Some writers surmise that a church that met in a home was composed mainly of the homeowner, his family, and his servants. Some probably started that way when wealthy persons were converted, but no churches of Christ would have continued that way. The church is evangelistic by nature, making known the message of Christ to the world (Ephesians 3:10). As zealous as these Christians are, other willing hearers would soon have been converted and brought to the assembly. We should not assume that only wealthy persons invite churches to meet in their homes. Priscilla and Aquila have had churches in their houses in at least two cities (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5). There is no indication that this couple is wealthy since they are tentmakers as Paul (Acts 18:1-3).

There is much controversy about the reading of this verse. Some ancient manuscripts give the feminine form of the name, Nympha, and read "her house." Others say "their house." None of these variations change the essential meaning of the verse, so let us not engage in unnecessary debate.

Verse 16

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

And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans: What Paul is directing in this passage is clear: a reading of the letter to Colosse in the church at Laodicea and vice versa. He envisions a public reading of the epistles. The phrase "be read also in the church" suggests it, as does the definition of the word translated "be read," which is "to read to others" (Thayer 36). Public readings of the scriptures were a Jewish tradition (2 Kings 23:1-2), which gave many people the opportunity to hear the exact words of God before copies could be made and distributed. Paul continues that tradition (1 Thessalonians 5:27). The meetings also give opportunity for discussion and explanation.

and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea: What is not clear about this passage is the meaning of the "epistle from Laodicea." There is no letter by that name that any serious scholar has recognized as genuine. There is a short and shallow composition purporting to be from Paul to the Laodiceans that both Clarke (535-536) and Ellicott (124) have appended to their commentaries. Apparently first written in Latin, not Greek, it has not been translated into English, except by writers such as these who wish to discredit it. So what happened to the real letter?

There are two main approaches to explaining this mystery. The first is that the letter was lost and has not come down to us. Lenski is of this opinion (206). Against this view, MacKnight notes, "the ancients mention no such letter, nor, indeed, any letter written by Paul which is not still remaining" (396). Given the extent to which all inspired letters are quoted by ancient writers, it seems inconceivable that an epistle by Paul would have been completely ignored.

The second line of thought, and the one to which I subscribe, is that Paul referred to another of his known works. The Ephesian letter is the most likely one. Note that Paul does not say read the letter "to the Laodiceans," but rather the epistle "from Laodicea." We have established above that most of Paul’s letters to churches were intended to be passed on from church to church. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, he says he is writing to "the church of God which is at Corinth...with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ." Paul probably knows that his letter to the Ephesians is being sent for reading in Laodicea. From there it would be the letter coming "from Laodicea" to Colosse.

Verse 17

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

And say to Archippus: As is the case with Nymphas, we know little beyond this verse about Archippus. He is greeted, along with Philemon himself, in that letter (verse 2), causing many to assume he is a member of Philemon’s family, possibly a son. The church at Colosse would probably not have been asked to give him a charge, unless he were a member of that congregation.

Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it: We do not know either what his "ministry" is. The word means "service" (Thayer 137) and is applied to various offices in the church (Ephesians 4:11-12; Acts 1:17; Acts 1:25; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Corinthians 12:5). Some suppose that Epaphras has left Archippus in charge of the churches in Colosse, Hierapolis, and Laodicea while the former goes to Rome to be with Paul (Lenski 206). That supposition is afflicted with double doubt. We do not know that Epaphras is "in charge" of all those churches or whether he wants Archippus to take his place. As the verses just referenced indicate, the word is used of apostles, prophets, elders, deacons, evangelists, and teachers. On the information given, there is no way of being certain in which office Archippus serves.

Rather than charging Archippus himself, whom Paul probably does not know personally, he asks the church to remind him to "take heed" (same as in 2:5, 8; see definition there) to his ministry. A similar but more intense charge is given directly to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-5), and by extension to all who serve the Lord in an office of trust in His church.

Verse 18

The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

As is Paul’s custom, he dictates the letter but signs it and adds a note in his own hand (Romans 16:22; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). He asks the Colossians to "remember" ("to think of and feel for...," Thayer 416) his bonds. It is not a plea for sympathy, which would have been much out of character for Paul but, probably a request for prayers as in verse 3. His suffering is for their salvation, the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles. Remembering his bonds would have somewhat the same effect as remembering the cross of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Paul hopes it would bind the hearts of the Colossians to him, making them less vulnerable to the false teachers at work there. He ends, as in nearly all epistles, by asking for them the grace that has sustained him in every trial.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Colossians 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/colossians-4.html. 1993-2022.
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