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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 4

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


Special Exhortation as to the relations of life.


THE DUTY OF WIVES AND HUSBANDS (Colossians 3:18-19).




THE DUTY OF SLAVES AND MASTERS (Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1).]

Verses 2-4

(2-4) Comp. the almost exact parallel in Ephesians 6:18-20, and see Notes there.

Verses 2-18


Conclusion of the Epistle.


FINAL EXHORTATION to prayer (especially for St. Paul himself), and to wisdom towards those without, both in deed and in word (Colossians 4:2-6).


COMMENDATION of Tychicus and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9).


SALUTATION from Aristarchus, Marcus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, Demas (Colossians 4:10-14).


CHARGE to this Church to exchange greetings and letters with the Laodicean Church, and special charge to Archippus (Colossians 4:15-17).


FINAL SALUTATION (Colossians 4:18).]

Verse 3

(3) A door of utterance.—Comp. a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12. There, however, the opened door is the door of external opportunity; here the “door of utterance” is the removal of all internal impediments to preaching.

Verse 5

(5) Walk in wisdom . . . redeeming the time.—In the parallel passage (Ephesians 5:15) we have “walk strictly, not as fools, but as wise,” and the limitation “towards them that are without” is omitted, although it is added that “the days are evil.” The context, as will be seen by reference, is different, and the idea also somewhat different. There the “strictness” and “wisdom” are to guard against excess or recklessness within; here the “wisdom” is to watch against external dangers and make full use of external opportunities.

Verse 6

(6) Seasoned with salt.—It seems impossible not to trace here a reference to our Lord’s words in Mark 9:50, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves.” There the salt is spoken of as the preservative from corruption, and the warning against “corrupt” words in Ephesians 4:29 has been thought to point in the same direction. But the context appears certainly to suggest that the use of the salt is to teach “how to answer every man,” and that this answer (like the “reason,” or defence, of 1 Peter 3:15) is to be given to “those without.” Probably, therefore, the “seasoning with salt” is to provide against insipidity (thus according to some extent with the classic usage of the word). Their speech is to be primarily “with grace,” kindled by the true life of Christian grace in it; secondarily, however, it is to have good sense and point, so as to be effective for the inquirer or against the scoffer.

Verses 7-8

(7, 8) These verses present an almost exact verbal coincidence with Ephesians 6:21-22, on which see Notes. In the verses, however, which follow, the particularity and detail of this Epistle stand in marked contrast with the brief generality of Ephesians 6:23-24. Remembering that the two Epistles were sent at the same time, and that Ephesus was a church far better known than Colossæ, we cannot but regard this as supporting the idea of an encyclical character in our Epistle to the Ephesians.

Verse 9

(9) Onesimus.—See Philemon 1:10-17. The emphatic reference to him as being “faithful and beloved” like Tychicus, and “one of you” like Epaphras, is a remarkable commentary on St. Paul’s exhortation as to slaves and masters in the preceding chapter.

Verse 10

(10) Aristarchus my fellowprisoner.—Apparently a Jew, one “of the circumcision” But he is “of Thessalonica,” and is first named (in Acts 19:22) as dragged with Gaius into the theatre in the tumult at Ephesus; thence he accompanied St. Paul (Acts 20:4), at any rate as far as Asia, on his journey to Jerusalem. When, after two years’ captivity, the Apostle starts from Cæsarea on his voyage to Rome, Aristarchus is again named by St. Luke as “being with us” (Acts 27:2). From this fact, and from his being called here “my fellow-prisoner” (a name which there seems no adequate reason to consider as metaphorical), it would appear that, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, Aristarchus really shared his captivity. It is certainly not a little curious that in the Epistle to Philemon (Philemon 1:23-24), sent at the same time, it is Epaphras who is called the fellow-prisoner,” while Aristarchus is simply classed among the fellow-labourers.” This variation is interesting to us as one of the characteristic marks of independence and genuineness in the Epistles; but it can only be accounted for by mere conjecture, such as that of their alternately sharing the Apostle’s captivity.

Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas.—The notices of John Mark in the New Testament are full of interest. This is the first notice of him since the day when St. Paul rejected him from his function of “ministration,” because on the former journey he had “deserted” them at Perga, and had “not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:38). Then he had gone with Barnabas to Cyprus, to take part in an easier work, nearer home and under the kindly guardianship of his uncle. Now the formal charge to the Colossian Church to “receive him”—a kind of “letter of commendation” (2 Corinthians 3:1)—evidently shows that they had known of him as under St. Paul’s displeasure, and were now to learn that he had seen reason to restore him to his confidence. In the Epistle to Philemon Mark is named, as of course (Philemon 1:24), among his “fellow-labourers.” In St. Paul’s last Epistle, written almost with a dying hand (2 Timothy 4:11), there is a touch of peculiar pathos in the charge which he, left alone in prison with his old companion St. Luke, gives to Timothy to bring Mark, as now being right serviceable for the “ministration” from which he had once rejected him. Evidently St. Paul’s old rebuke had done its work, and, if Mark did join him in his last hours, he probably thanked him for nothing so much as for the loving sternness of days gone by. Before this, if (as seems likely) he is the “Marcus, my son” of 1 Peter 5:13, he was with St. Peter, and must be identified with St. Mark the Evangelist, subsequently, as tradition has it, bishop and martyr at Alexandria.

Verse 11

(11) Jesus, which is called Justus.—The surname “Justus” is found in Acts 1:23; Acts 18:7; we learn from tradition that by it, or by its equivalent, St. James, “the Lord’s brother,” was known. In this case it is curious that one who bore our Lord’s name should also have been known by a surname which was His peculiar title, “the Just One.” (See Acts 22:14; and comp. Luke 23:47.) Of this Justus there is no other notice, not even in the Epistle to Philemon, in which all the other names recur.

Who are of the circumcision. These only . . .—The juxtaposition of the two notices seems to indicate—what is in itself likely—that the brethren who held aloof from St. Paul in “strife and envy,” and whose conduct produced that sense of isolation of which he speaks so pathetically in Philippians 2:20, were “of the circumcision.” Out of them, only Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus were true fellow-workers, and as such “a comfort” to the Apostolic labourer.

Verse 12

(12) Epaphras.—See Note on Colossians 1:7.

Servant of Christ.—A title assumed by St. James and St. Judo, as well as by St. Paul himself, but given by him only to Timothy (Philippians 1:1) and to Epaphras here. Of course, all Christians are “servants of Christ.” But the name, as applied here, is no doubt distinctive of some peculiar character of service.

Labouring fervently.—Properly, wrestling in agony of prayer. (See Romans 15:30.)

Perfect and complete.—The word here found in the best MSS. for “complete” is used in Romans 4:21; Romans 14:5, for “fully convinced” or “persuaded.” This is probably, though not perhaps necessarily, its meaning here. In the two epithets—perfect and fully established in conviction—we may again trace, as before, reference to the pretensions of the Gnostic teachers to exclusive perfection in wisdom. St. Paul’s true fellow-worker, like himself, prays that this perfection may belong to all, and that it may have its basis not is the secrets of heavenly knowledge, but in the revealed “will of God.”

Verse 13

(13) On the natural union of Laodicea and Hierapolis with Colossæ, partly local and historical, partly, no doubt, having reference to their conversion by the same instrumentality (of Epaphras), see Note on Colossians 2:1 and Introduction. Epaphras is said to have great “zeal” (properly, great labour) of anxiety—finding vent in the wrestling in prayer noted above—for all three cities, for which he evidently still felt himself responsible. In such responsibility, as in the charges of Timothy and Titus, we see the link between the apostolate of this period and the episcopacy of the future.

Verse 14

(14) Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas.—Comp. Philemon 1:24. The original is even more emphatic, “Luke the physician, the beloved one.” Demas, on the contrary, is barely named. It is impossible not to pass on in thought to the last notice of the two by St. Paul (2 Timothy 4:10), “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. . . . only Luke is with me.”

On the relation of St. Luke to St. Paul, see Introduction to the Acts. Here we need only remark that the emphatic mention of him as “the beloved physician” suggests the idea that it was both as physician and as friend that St. Luke, now, as in the last captivity, was with the Apostle. Though the captivity was not, according to ancient ideas, severe, it must have told upon his weak and shattered health.

Verse 15

(15) The brethren which are in Laodicea.—The comparison of this phrase with the more general “church of the Laodiceans” below has led to the idea that some special body of Christians—Dr. Lightfoot suggests a “family of Colossian Christians”—at Laodicea is here referred to. But more probably the whole of the Laodicean Christians are meant in both passages. In their individual character they are “the brethren in Laodicea;” when they are gathered to hear the Epistles they are the” Church (literally, the Christian assembly) of Laodicea.”

And Nymphas.—There is a curious variety of reading here. Some MSS. have, as in our version,” the church in his house;” some, “in her house;” the best reading seems to be “in their house.” The second of those readings would make the name “Nympha,” instead of “Nymphas,” with which the form of the original hardly agrees. The last reading (from which the common reading of our version is probably a correction) must refer, in the word “their,” to Nymphas and his family. Of Nymphas we know nothing, except from this passage. He is obviously a man of importance, a centre of Church life, in the Christian community at Laodicea.

The church which is in his house.—This phrase is found elsewhere only as applied to “Aquila and Priscilla” (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), and to Philemon (Philemon 1:2). Of these Aquila and Priscilla are notable Christian teachers (as of Apostles, Acts 18:26) and confessors (Romans 16:4); and Philemon is spoken of as a “beloved fellow-labourer,” and one in whom “the saints are refreshed” (Philemon 1:1; Philemon 1:7). Hence this “church in the house” is seen to have gathered only round persons of some mark and leadership. The houses sanctified by such gatherings were the parents of the material churches of the future.

Since the word “church” means nothing more than “general assembly,” it is obviously capable of definition only by the context. If undefined it is universal—the whole Catholic Church of Christ—otherwise it is civic, as is most common; or domestic, as here. Since the units of society were then the family and the city—not the country, or province—we read not of the church, but of the “churches” of Achaia, or Galatia, or Macedonia. National churches there could not be; for nations, as we understand the term, did not exist. Afterwards, when the Church was fully organised, it is well known that the ecclesiastical divisions (“parish,” “diocese,” &c., ) still followed the civil.

Verse 16

(16) When this epistle.—In the implied direction to read this Epistle in the Church—a direction expressly given under like circumstances to the Church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:27)—we discern the method of first publication of the Apostolic Epistles; in the direction to interchange Epistles with the Laodicean Church, we trace the way in which these Epistles became more widely diffused, and recognised as authoritative in the Church at large. Thus it was that they were “canonised,” i.e., accepted as a part of the “canon” or rule of divine truth. The likelihood, or unlikelihood, of this public reading has an important bearing on the question of the authenticity of some of the books, which were placed among the “doubtful” by Eusebius and other ancient authorities. The fact that other books (such as our so-called Apocryphal books) were also publicly read was the cause of their being wrongly confused with the books of Holy Scripture.

The epistle from Laodicea.—The question, What was this “Epistle from Laodicea”? has given birth to a crowd of conjectures, of which an admirable and exhaustive examination will be found in Dr. Lightfoot’s Excursus on this verse. But many of these may be at once dismissed. It seems perfectly clear, from the obvious parallelism of this Epistle from Laodicea with the Epistle to the Colossians itself, that it was a letter not from the Laodicean Church, not from any other Apostle, or Apostolic writer, but from St. Paul himself, either written at Laodicea, or (as is more likely) written to the Laodicean Church, and to be sent “from Laodicea” to Colossæ. Hence the question is narrowed to a single alternative—(1) Is it an Epistle which has been lost, or, at any rate, not found in the canon? This is, of course, possible; it cannot be necessary, as it is certainly difficult, to suppose that all St. Paul’s Epistles have been preserved to us in Holy Scripture. Now, there is extant an “Epistle to the Laodiceans,” circulated in the West, and known only in the Latin, although it has been thought to bear traces of translation from a Greek original. This letter (for which see Excursus B.) is obviously a forgery, probably not of early date, being little more than a tame compilation of phrases from St. Paul’s Epistles. Putting this unhesitatingly aside, we may suppose the letter to have been lost. But this is a supposition merely arbitrary, and not to be adopted, except in default of something which has a better claim to attention. (2) Is it some other of St. Paul’s known Epistles? The only letter which is noticed in our ordinary copies of the Greek Testament as written from Laodicea is the First Epistle to Timothy; but this is put out of the question, both in date and character; and, moreover, the very idea of a letter written from Laodicea at this time is negatived by St. Paul’s declaration (Colossians 2:1) that the Laodiceans had not seen his face in the flesh. A fourth century tradition declares our “Epistle to the Hebrews” to have been written to the Laodiceans; but (setting aside all question of the authorship) the whole character and argument of the Epistle make this extremely unlikely. Far the most probable supposition identifies it with our “Epistle to the Ephesians.” For the reasons for supposing this an encyclical letter, see Introduction to that Epistle. In particular it should not be forgotten that Marcion expressly calls it an “Epistle to the Laodiceans.” Laodicea lay lower down the valley, and was the larger town: an encyclical letter might well be left there to be sent on to Colossæ. The two Epistles, as we have seen, have both strong likeness and marked distinction. Nothing could be more natural than that they should be interchanged, according to the direction of the text.

Verse 17

(17) Say to Archippus.—Archippus is included in the salutation of the Epistle to Philemon (Philemon 1:1) apparently as a member of his family, and is generally thought to have been his son. He held a “ministry in the Church. The word is the same as the word “diaconate,” but it is obviously used in a more general sense, precisely as in the charge to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5), “Make full proof of thy ministry; “and the whole tone of the passage here suggests that, like Timothy’s, it was a ministry of some prominence in the Church. Tradition makes him afterwards a bishop of Laodicea; it is likely enough that he had that leadership among the presbyters, from which the episcopate was developed at the close of the Apostolic period. Whether this was at Colossæ—his father’s native place—or Laodicea, cannot be gathered with any certainty from the context. The exhortation comes in close connection with Laodicea; yet, on the other hand, it seems strange to send through one church a message to a chief pastor of another. In any case this indirect transmission of a charge is curious, standing in marked contrast with the direct personal addresses of the Philippian Epistle (Philippians 4:2-3).

Which thou hast received in the Lord.—Properly, which thou dost receive. The probability seems to be that he received it from St. Paul, or perhaps Epaphras. The phrase is “in the Lord,” not “from the Lord.” Contrast Galatians 1:12, “I received it not from man, neither was I taught but by revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Verse 18

(18) The salutation by the hand of me Paul.—Comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:17, “The salutation by the hand of me Paul, which is the token in every Epistle.” This invariable autograph salutation was “Grace be with you” in various forms, from the brevity of the text here to the fulness of 2 Corinthians 1:2, which has become the universal Christian blessing. In different epistles it is associated with different phrases of blessing; or charge. Thus we read in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” In the Epistle to the Galatians the autograph conclusion is expanded into a long postscript (Galatians 6:11-18). This may have been the case in the cognate conclusion (2 Corinthians 10-13) of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, possibly from the words, “Now I Paul myself,” &c. Here there is the simple and touching addition—

Remember my bonds.—In what spirit they were to be remembered we may gather from Ephesians 3:13; Ephesians 6:20; Philippians 1:13; Philippians 2:17. St. Paul evidently does not disdain to use his captivity as an appeal for sympathy (see Philemon 1:9); but mainly he dwells on it as a “glory” both to himself and to his converts. In both these different aspects it may be that he regarded it himself, according as he looked upon it “after the flesh” in the natural feeling of humanity, or “after the spirit,” in the higher power of the grace of God.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Colossians 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/colossians-4.html. 1905.
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