THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS OF THE CHRISTIAN (Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1)
4:1 Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not treat them harshly.
Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, do not irritate your children, that they may not lose heart.
Slaves, obey in all things those who are your human masters, not only when you are watched, like those whose only desire is to please men, but in sincerity of heart, reverencing the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it heartily, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men; and never forget that you will receive from the Lord your just recompense, even your share in the inheritance. Show yourselves the slaves of the Lord Christ. He who does wrong will be paid back for the wrong that he has done, and there is no respect of persons.
Masters, on your part provide for your slaves treatment which is just and equitable, and remember that you too have a master in heaven.
Here the ethical part of the letter becomes more and more practical. Paul turns to the working out of Christianity in the everyday relationships of life and living. Before we begin to study the passage in some detail, we must note two great general principles which lie behind it and determine all its demands.
(i) The Christian ethic is an ethic of reciprocal obligation. It is never an ethic on which all the duties are on one side. As Paul saw it, husbands have as great an obligation as wives; parents have just as binding a duty as children; masters have their responsibilities as much as slaves.
This was an entirely new thing. Let us take the cases one by one and look at them in the light of this new principle.
Under Jewish law a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods. She had no legal rights whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the initiation of divorce; and the only grounds on which a divorce might be awarded her were if her husband developed leprosy, became an apostate or ravished a virgin. In Greek society a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go marketing. She lived in the women's apartments and did not join her menfolk even for meals. From her there was demanded complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he chose and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked without incurring any stigma. Under both Jewish and Greek laws and custom all the privileges belonged to the husband and all the duties to the wife.
In the ancient world children were very much under the domination of their parents. The supreme example was the Roman Patria Potestas, the law of the father's power. Under it a parent could do anything he liked with his child. He could sell him into slavery; he could make him work like a labourer on his farm; he had even the right to condemn his child to death and to carry out the execution. All the privileges and rights belonged to the parent and all the duties to the child.
Most of all this was the case in slavery. The slave was a thing in the eyes of the law. There was no such thing as a code of working conditions. When the slave was past his work, he could be thrown out to die. He had not even the right to marry, and if he cohabited and there was a child, the child belonged to the master, just as the lambs of the flock belonged to the shepherd. Once again all the rights belonged to the master and all the duties to the slave.
The Christian ethic is one of mutual obligation, in which the rights and the obligations rest with every man. It is an ethic of mutual responsibility; and, therefore, it becomes an ethic where the thought of privilege and rights falls into the background and where the thought of duty and obligation becomes paramount. The whole direction of the Christian ethic is not to ask: "What do others owe to me?" but, "What do I owe to others?"
(ii) The really new thing about the Christian ethic of personal relationships is that all relationships are in the Lord. The whole of the Christian life is lived in Christ. In any home the tone of personal relationships must be dictated by the awareness that Jesus Christ is an unseen but ever-present guest. In any parent-child relationship the dominating thought must be the Fatherhood of God; and we must try to treat our children as God treats his sons and daughters. The thing which settles any master and servant relationship is that both are servants of the one Master, Jesus Christ. The new thing about personal relationships in Christianity is that Jesus Christ is introduced into them all.
THE MUTUAL OBLIGATION (Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1 continued)
Let us look briefly at each of these three spheres of human relationships.
(i) The wife is to be submissive to her husband; but the husband is to love his wife and to treat her with all kindness. The practical effect of the marriage laws and customs of ancient times was that the husband became an unquestioned dictator and the wife little more than a servant to bring up his children and to minister to his needs. The fundamental effect of this Christian teaching is that marriage becomes a partnership. It becomes something which is entered into not merely for the convenience of the husband, but in order that both husband and wife may find a new joy and a new completeness in each other. Any marriage in which everything is done for the convenience of one of the partners and where the other exists simply to gratify the needs and desires of the first, is not a Christian marriage.
(ii) The Christian ethic lays down the duty of the child to respect the parental relationship. But there is always a problem in the relationship of parent and child. If the parent is too easy-going, the child will grow up indisciplined and unfit to face life. But there is a contrary danger. The more conscientious a parent is, the more he is likely always to be correcting and rebuking the child. Simply because he wishes the child to do well, he is always on his top.
We remember, for instance, the tragic question of Mary Lamb, whose mind was ultimately unhinged: "Why is it that I never seem to be able to do anything to please my mother?" We remember the poignant statement of John Newton: "I know that my father loved me--but he did not seem to wish me to see it." There is a certain kind of constant criticism which is the product of misguided love.
The danger of all this is that the child may become discouraged. Bengel speaks of "the plague of youth, a broken spirit (Fractus animus pestis iuventutis)." It is one of the tragic facts of religious history that Luther's father was so stern to him that Luther all his days found it difficult to pray: "Our Father." The word father in his mind stood for nothing but severity. The duty of the parent is discipline, but it is also encouragement. Luther himself said, "Spare the rod and spoil the child. It is true. But beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he does well."
Sir Arnold Lunn, in Memory to Memory, quotes an incident about Field-Marshal Montgomery from a book by M. E. Clifton James. Montgomery was famous as a disciplinarian--but there was another side to him. Clifton James was his official "double" and was studying him during a rehearsal for D-Day. "Within a few yards of where I was standing, a very young soldier, still looking sea-sick from his voyage, came struggling along gamely trying to keep up with his comrades in front. I could imagine that, feeling as he did, his rifle and equipment must have been like a ton weight. His heavy boots dragged in the sand, but I could see that he was fighting hard to conceal his distress. Just when he got level with us he tripped up and fell flat on his face. Half sobbing, he heaved himself up and began to march off dazedly in the wrong direction. Monty went straight up to him and with a quick, friendly smile turned him round. 'This way, sonny. You're doing well--very well. But don't lose touch with the chap in front of you.' When the youngster realized who it was that had given him friendly help, his expression of dumb adoration was a study." It was just because Montgomery combined discipline and encouragement that a private in the Eighth Army felt himself as good as a colonel in any other army.
The better a parent is the more he must avoid the danger of discouraging his child, for he must give discipline and encouragement in equal parts.
THE CHRISTIAN WORKMAN AND THE CHRISTIAN MASTER (Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1 continued)
(iii) Paul then turns to the greatest problem of all--the relationship between slave and master. It will be noted that this section is far longer than the other two; and its length may well be due to long talks which Paul had with the runaway slave, Onesimus, whom later he was to send back to his master Philemon.
Paul says things which must have amazed both sides.
He insists that the slave must be a conscientious workman. He is in effect saying that his Christianity must make him a better and more efficient slave. Christianity never in this world offers escape from hard work; it makes a man able to work still harder. Nor does it offer a man escape from difficult situations; it enables him to meet these situations better.
The slave must not be content with eye-service; he must not work only when the overseer's eye is upon him. He must not be the kind of servant, who, as C. F. D. Moule puts it, does not dust behind the ornaments or sweep below the wardrobe. He must remember that he will receive his inheritance. Here was an amazing thing. Under Roman law a slave could not possess any property whatsoever and here he is being promised nothing less than the inheritance of God. He must remember that the time will come when the balance is adjusted and evil-doing will find its punishment and faithful diligence its reward.
The master must treat the slave not like a thing, but like a person, with justice and with the equity which goes beyond justice.
How is it to be done? The answer is important, for in it there is the whole Christian doctrine of work.
The workman must do everything as if he was doing it for Christ. We do not work for pay or for ambition or to satisfy an earthly master; we work so that we can take every task and offer it to Christ. All work is done for God so that his world may go on and his men and women have the things they need for life and living.
The master must remember that he too has a Master--Christ in heaven. He is answerable to God, just as his workmen are answerable to him. No master can say, "This is my business and I will do what I like with it." He must say, "This is God's business. He has put me in charge of it. I am responsible to him." The Christian doctrine of work is that master and man alike are working for God, and that, therefore, the real rewards of work are not assessable in earthly coin, but will some day be given--or withheld--by God.
THE CHRISTIAN'S PRAYER (Colossians 4:2-4)
4:2-4 Persevere in prayer. Be vigilant in your prayer, and let thanksgiving always be a part of it. And at the same time pray for us, that God may open for us a door for the word, that we may speak the secret of Christ now revealed to his own people, that secret for which I am in bonds, that I may make it manifest to all, as I ought to speak.
Paul would never write a letter without urging the duty and the privilege of prayer on his friends.
He tells them to persevere in prayer. Even for the best of us, there come times when prayer seems to be unavailing and to penetrate no farther than the walls of the room in which we pray. At such a time the remedy is not to stop but to go on praying; for in the man who prays spiritual dryness cannot last.
He tells them to be vigilant in prayer. Literally the Greek means to be wakeful. The phrase could well mean that Paul is telling them not to go to sleep when they pray. Maybe he was thinking of the time on the Mount of Transfiguration when the disciples fell asleep and only when they were awake again saw the glory (Luke 9:32). Or maybe he was thinking of that time in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed and his disciples slept (Matthew 26:40). It is true that at the end of a hard day sleep often comes upon us when we try to pray. And even oftener there is in our prayers a kind of tiredness. At such a time we should not try to be long: God will understand the single sentence uttered in the manner of a child too tired to stay awake.
Paul asks their prayers for himself. We must note carefully exactly what it is for which Paul asks. He asks their prayer not so much for himself as for his work. There were many things for which Paul might have asked them to pray--release from prison, a successful outcome to his coming trial, a little rest and peace at the last. But he asks them to pray only that there may be given to him strength and opportunity to do the work which God had sent him into the world to do. When we pray for ourselves and for others, we should not ask release from any task, but rather strength to complete the task which has been given us to do. Prayer should always be for power and seldom for release; for not release but conquest must be the keynote of the Christian life.
THE CHRISTIAN AND THE WORLD (Colossians 4:5-6)
4:5-6 Behave yourselves wisely to those who are outside the Church. Buy up every possible opportunity. Let your speech always be with gracious charm, seasoned with the salt of wit, so that you will know the right answer to give in every case.
Here are three brief instructions for the life of the Christian in the world.
(i) The Christian must behave himself with wisdom and with tact towards those who are outside the Church. He must of necessity be a missionary; but he must know when and when not to speak to others about his religion and theirs. He must never give the impression of superiority and of censorious criticism. Few people have ever been argued into Christianity. The Christian, therefore, must remember that it is not so much by his words as by his life that he will attract people to, or repel them from, Christianity. On the Christian there is laid the great responsibility of showing men Christ in his daily life.
(ii) The Christian must be a man on the outlook for opportunity. He must buy up every opportunity possible to work for Christ and to serve men. Daily life and work are continually offering men opportunities to witness for Christ and to influence people for him--but there are so many who avoid the opportunities instead of embracing them. The Church is constantly offering its members the opportunity to teach, to sing, to visit, to work for the good of the Christian congregation--and there are so many who deliberately refuse these opportunities instead of accepting them. The Christian should always be on the outlook for the opportunity to serve Christ and his fellow-men.
(iii) The Christian must have charm and wit in his speech so that he may know how to give the right answer in every case. Here is an interesting injunction. It is all too true that Christianity in the minds of many is connected with a kind of sanctimonious dullness and an outlook in which laughter is almost a heresy. As C. F. D. Moule says, this is "a warning not to confuse loyal godliness with graceless insipidity." The Christian must commend his message with the charm and the wit which were in Jesus himself. There is too much of the Christianity which stodgily depresses a man and too little of the Christianity which scintillates with life.
FAITHFUL COMPANIONS (Colossians 4:7-11)
4:7-11 Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful servant and my fellow-slave in Christ, will inform you all about how things are going with me. I send him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about what is happening to me and that he may encourage your hearts. Along with him I send Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of yourselves. They will inform you about all that has been happening here. Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner, greets you, and Mark, Barnabas' cousin. (I have given you instructions about him; if he comes to you, give him a welcome.) Jesus, who is called Justus, sends you greetings. These were all converts from the Jewish faith. These alone are my fellow-workers in the work of the Kingdom, men who have been a comfort to me.
The list of names at the end of this chapter is a list of heroes of the faith. We must remember the circumstances. Paul was in prison awaiting trial and it is always dangerous to be a prisoner's friend, for it is so easy to become involved in the same fate as the prisoner himself It took courage to visit Paul in his imprisonment and to show that one was on the same side. Let us collect what we know of these men.
There was Tychicus. He came from the Roman province of Asia and was most likely the representative of his Church to carry its offering to the poor Christians of Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). To him also was entrusted the duty of bearing to its various destinations the letter we know as the letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21). There is one rather interesting thing here. Paul writes that Tychicus will tell them all about how things are going with him. This shows how much was left to word of mouth and never set down in Paul's letters at all. In the nature of things the letters could not be very tong and they dealt with the problems of faith and conduct which were threatening the Churches. The personal details were left to the bearer of the letter to tell. Tychicus, then, we can describe as the personal envoy of Paul.
There was Onesimus. Paul's way of mentioning him is full of lovely courtesy. Onesimus was the runaway slave who had somehow reached Rome and Paul was sending him back to his master Philemon. But he does not call him a runaway slave; he calls him a faithful and beloved brother. When Paul had anything to say about a man, he always said the best that he could.
There was Aristarchus. He was a Macedonian from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4). We get only fleeting glimpses of Aristarchus but from these glimpses one thing emerges--he was clearly a good man to have about in a tight corner. He was there when the people of Ephesus rioted in the Temple of Diana and was so much in the forefront that he was captured by the mob (Acts 19:29). He was there when Paul set sail a prisoner for Rome (Acts 27:2). It may well be that he had actually enrolled himself as Paul's slave in order that he might be allowed to make the last journey with him. And now he is here in Rome, Paul's fellow-prisoner. Clearly Aristarchus was a man who was always on the spot when things were at their grimmest. Whenever Paul was in bad trouble Aristarchus was there. The glimpses we have are enough to indicate a really good companion.
There was Mark. Of all the characters in the Early Church he had had the most surprising career. He was so close a friend that Peter could call him his son (1 Peter 5:13); and we know that when he wrote his gospel, it was the preaching material of Peter that he was setting down. On the first missionary journey Paul and Barnabas had taken Mark with them to be their secretary (Acts 13:5); but in the middle of the journey, when things got difficult, Mark quit and went home (Acts 13:13). It was long before Paul could forgive that. When they were about to set out on the second missionary journey, Barnabas once more wished to take Mark with them. But Paul refused to take the quitter again, and on this issue he and Barnabas parted company and never worked together again (Acts 15:36-40). Tradition says that Mark went as a missionary to Egypt and founded the Church at Alexandria. What happened in the interim we do not know; but we do know that he was with Paul in his last imprisonment who had once again come to look on him as a most useful man to have around (Philemon 1:24 ; 2 Timothy 4:11). Mark was the man who redeemed himself Here in this brief reference there is an echo of the old, unhappy story. Paul instructs the Church at Colosse to receive Mark and to give him a welcome if he should come. Why does he do that? Doubtless because his Churches looked with suspicion on the man whom Paul had once dismissed as useless for the service of Christ. And now Paul, with his habitual courtesy and thoughtfulness, is making sure that Mark's past will not stand in his way by giving him full approval as one of his trusted friends. The end of Mark's career is a tribute at one and the same time to Mark and to Paul.
Of Jesus, who was called Justus, we know nothing but his name.
These were Paul's helps and comforters. We know that it was but a cool welcome that the Jews in Rome gave him (Acts 28:17-29); but there were men with him in Rome whose loyalty must have warmed his heart.
MORE NAMES OF HONOUR (Colossians 4:12-15)
4:12-15 Epaphras, one of yourselves, the slave of Jesus Christ, greets you. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand mature and fully assured in the faith, engaged in doing the will of God. I bear him witness that he has toiled greatly for you and for those in Laodicaea and in Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, greets you, and so does Demas. Greet the brothers in Laodicaea and Nymphas and the Church in their house.
So this honour-roll of Christian workers goes on.
There was Epaphras. He must have been the minister of the Church at Colosse (Colossians 1:7). This passage would seem to mean that he was, in fact, the overseer of the Churches in the group of three towns, Hierapolis, Laodicaea and Colosse. He was a servant of God who prayed and toiled for the people over whom God had set him.
There was Luke the beloved physician, who was with Paul to the end (2 Timothy 4:11). Was he a doctor, who gave up what might have been a lucrative career in order to tend Paul's thorn in the flesh and to preach Christ?
There was Demas. It is significant that Demas' name is the only one to which some comment of praise and appreciation is not attached. He is Demas and nothing more. There is a story behind the brief references to Demas in the letters of Paul. In Philemon 1:24 he is grouped with the men who are described as Paul's fellow-labourers. Here in Colossians 4:14 he is simply Demas. And in the last mention of him (in 2 Timothy 4:10) he is Demas who has forsaken Paul because he loved this present world. Surely here we have the faint outlines of a study in degeneration, loss of enthusiasm and failure in the faith. Here is one of the men who refused to be remade by Christ.
There was Nymphas (the Revised Standard Version has the feminine, Nympha) and the Church of the brothers at Laodicaea which met in his house. We must remember that there was no such thing as a special Church building until the third century. Up to that time the Christian congregations met in the houses of those who were the leaders of the Church. There was the Church which met in the house of Aquila and Prisca in Rome and Ephesus (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). There was the Church which met in the house of Philemon (Philemon 1:2 ). In the early days, Church and home were identical: and it is still true that every Christian home should also be a Church of Jesus Christ.
THE MYSTERY OF THE LAODICAEAN LETTER (Colossians 4:16)
4:16 When this letter has been read among you, see to it that it is also read in the Church of the Laodicaeans, and see to it that you read the letter which is on the way to you from Laodicaea.
Here is one of the mysteries of Paul's correspondence. The letter to Colosse has to be sent on to Laodicaea. And, says Paul, a letter is on the way from Laodicaea to Colosse. What was this Laodicaean letter? There are four possibilities.
(i) It may have been a special letter to the Church at Laodicaea. If so, it is lost, although, as we shall shortly see, an alleged letter to Laodicaea still exists. It is certain that Paul must have written more letters than we possess. We have only thirteen Pauline letters, covering roughly fifteen years. Many letters of his must have been lost, and it may be that the letter to Laodicaea was such a one.
(ii) It may be the letter we know as Ephesians. It is well-nigh certain that Ephesians was not written to the Church at Ephesus but was an encyclical letter meant to circulate among all the Churches of Asia. It may be that this encyclical had reached Laodicaea and was now on the way to Colosse.
(iii) It may actually be the letter to Philemon. That is a real possibility as we try to show in our study of that letter.
(iv) For many centuries there has been in existence an alleged letter of Paul to the Church at Laodicaea. As we have it, it is in Latin; but the Latin is such that it has every sign of being a literal translation of a Greek original. This letter is actually included in the Codex Fuldensis of the Latin New Testament which belonged to Victor of Capua and which goes back to the sixth century. This alleged Laodicaean letter can be traced even further back. It was mentioned by Jerome in the fifth century, but Jerome himself said that it was a forgery and that most people agreed that it was not authentic. The letter runs as follows:
Paul an apostle, not by men neither through any man, but through
Jesus Christ, to the brothers who are at Laodicaea. Grace be to you
and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank Christ in every one of my prayers that you remain steadfast
in him, and that you persevere in his works, awaiting his promise
on the day of judgment. Let not the empty words of certain men
seduce you, words of men who try to persuade you that you should
turn away from the truth of the gospel which is preached by me...
(There follows a verse where the text is uncertain).
And now my bonds which I suffer in Christ are plain for all to see;
in them I delight and joy. And this will result for me in
everlasting salvation, a result which will be brought about by your
prayers, and by the help of the Holy Spirit, whether by my life or
by my death. For me to live is to be in Christ, and to die is joy.
And may he in his mercy bring this very thing to pass in you, that
you may have the same love, and that you may be of the one mind.
Therefore, my best-beloved, as you have heard in my presence, so
hold to these things and do them in fear of God, and then there
will be to you life for eternity; for it is God who works in you.
And do without wavering whatever you do.
As for what remains, best-beloved, rejoice in Christ; beware of
those who are sordid in their desire for gain. Let all your
prayers be made known before God; and be you inn in the mind of
Do the things which are pure, and true, and modest, and just,
Hold fast what you have heard and received into your heart;
and you will have peace.
The saints salute you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Cause that this letter be read to the Colossians, and that the
letter of the Colossians be read to you.
Such is the alleged letter of Paul to the Laodicaeans. It is clearly made up mainly of phrases taken from Philippians with the opening introduction taken from Galatians. There can be little doubt that it was the creation of some pious writer who read in Colossians that there had been a letter to Laodicaea and who proceeded to compose what he thought such a letter should be. Very few people would accept this ancient letter to the Laodicaeans as a genuine letter of Paul.
We cannot explain the mystery of this letter to the Church at Laodicaea. The most commonly accepted explanation is that the reference is to the circular letter which we know as Ephesians; but the suggestion put forward in our study of Philemon is even more romantic and very attractive.
THE CLOSING BLESSING (Colossians 4:17-18)
4:17-18 And say to Archippus, "See that you complete that piece of service which you have received from the Lord to do." Here is my greeting in the handwriting of myself, Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.
The letter closes with an urgent spur to Archippus to be true to a special task which has been given to him. It may be that we can never tell what that task was; it may be that our study of Philemon throws light upon it. For the moment we must leave it at that.
To write his letters Paul used a secretary. We know, for instance, that the penman who did the writing of Romans was called Tertius (Romans 16:22). It was Paul's custom at the end of a letter to write his signature and his blessing with his own hand--and here he does just that.
"Remember my bonds," he says. Again and again in this series of letters Paul refers to his bonds (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:20; Philemon 1:9 ). There is no self-pity and no sentimental plea for sympathy. Paul finishes his letter to the Galatians: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17). Of course, there is pathos. Alford comments movingly: "When we read of his chains we should not forget that they moved over the paper as he wrote (his signature). His hand was chained to the soldier that kept him." But Paul's references to his sufferings are not pleas for sympathy; they are his claims to authority, the guarantees of his right to speak. It is as if he said, "This is not a letter from someone who does not know what the service of Christ means or someone who is asking others to do what he is not prepared to do himself. It is a letter from one who has himself suffered and sacrificed for Christ. My only right to speak is that I too have carried the Cross of Christ."
And so the letter comes to its inevitable end. The end of every one of Paul's letters is grace. He always ended by commending others to that grace which he himself had found sufficient for all things.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
T. K. Abbott, Ephesians and Colossians (ICC G)
J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (MmC G)
C. F. D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon (CGT G)
E. F. Scott, The Epistles to Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians (MC E)
CGT: Cambridge Greek Testament
ICC: International Critical Commentary
MC: Moffatt Commentary
MmC: Macmillan Commentary
TC: Tyndale Commentary
E: English Text
G: Greek Text
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Colossians 4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany