THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY
Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1 (R.V.)
This chapter deals with the Christian family, as made up of husband and wife, children, and servants. In the family, Christianity has most signally displayed its power of refining, ennobling, and sanctifying earthly relationships. Indeed, one may say that domestic life, as seen in thousands of Christian homes, is purely a Christian creation, and would have been a new revelation to the heathenism of Colossae, as it is today in many a mission field.
We do not know what may have led Paul to dwell with special emphasis on the domestic duties, in this letter, and in the contemporaneous Epistle to the Ephesians. He does so, and the parallel section there should be carefully compared throughout with this paragraph. The former is considerably more expanded, and may have been written after the verses before us; but, however that may be, the verbal coincidences and variations in the two sections are very interesting as illustrations of the way in which a mind fully charged with a theme will freely repeat itself, and use the same words in different combinations and with infinite shades of modification. The precepts given are extremely simple and obvious. Domestic happiness and family Christianity are made up of very homely elements. One duty is prescribed for the one member of each of the three family groups, and varying forms of another for the other. The wife, the child, the servant are bid to obey; the husband to love, the father to show his love in gentle considerateness; the master to yield his servants their dues. Like some perfume distilled from common flowers that grow on every bank, the domestic piety which makes home a house of God, and a gate of heaven, is prepared from these two simples-obedience and love. These are all. We have here then the ideal Christian household in the three ordinary relationships which make up the family; wife and husband, children and father, servant and master.
I. The Reciprocal Duties of wife and husband-subjection and love.
The duty of the wife is "subjection," and it is enforced on the ground that it is "fitting in the Lord"-that is "it is," or perhaps "it became" at the time of conversion, "the conduct corresponding to or befitting the condition of being in the Lord." In more modern language-the Christian ideal of the wife’s duty has for its very centre-subjection.
Some of us will smile at that; some of us will think it an old-fashioned notion, a survival of a more barbarous theory of marriage than this century recognises. But, before we decide upon the correctness of the apostolic precept, let us make quite sure of its meaning. Now, if we turn to the corresponding passage in Ephesians, we find that marriage, is regarded from a high and sacred point of view, as being an earthly shadow and faint adumbration of the union between Christ and the Church.
To Paul, all human and earthly relationships were moulded after the patterns of things in the heavens, and the whole fleeting visible life of man was a parable of the "things which are" in the spiritual realm. Most chiefly, the holy and mysterious union of man and woman in marriage is fashioned in the likeness of the only union which is closer and more mysterious than itself, namely that between Christ and His Church.
Such then as are the nature and the spring of the Church’s "subjection" to Christ, such will be the nature and the spring of the wife’s "subjection" to the husband. That is to say, it is a subjection of which love is the very soul and animating principle. In a true marriage, as in the loving obedience of a believing soul to Christ, the wife submits not because she has found a master, but because her heart has found its rest. Everything harsh or degrading melts away from the requirement when thus looked at. It is a joy to serve where the heart is engaged, and that is eminently true of the feminine nature. For its full satisfaction, a woman’s heart needs to look up where it loves. She has certainly the fullest wedded life who can "reverence" her husband. For its full satisfaction, a woman’s heart needs to serve where it loves. That is the same as saying that a woman’s love is, in the general, nobler, purer, more unselfish than a man’s, and therein, quite as much as in physical constitution, is laid the foundation of that Divine ideal of marriage, which places the wife’s delight and dignity in sweet loving subjection.
Of course the subjection has its limitations. "We must obey God rather than man" bounds the field of all human authority and control. Then there are cases in which, on the principle of "the tools to the hands that can use them," the rule falls naturally to the wife as the stronger character. Popular sarcasm, however, shows that such instances are felt to be contrary to the true ideal, and such a wife lacks something of repose for her heart.
No doubt, too, since Paul wrote, and very largely by Christian influences, women have been educated and elevated, so as to make mere subjection impossible now, if ever it were so. Woman’s quick instinct as to persons, her finer wisdom, her purer discernment as to moral questions, make it in a thousand cases the wisest thing a man can do to listen to the "subtle flow of silver-paced counsel" which his wife gives him. All such considerations are fully consistent with this apostolic teaching, and it remains true that the wife who does not reverence and lovingly obey is to be pitied if she cannot, and to be condemned if she will not.
And what of the husband’s duty? He is to love, and because he loves, not to be harsh or bitter, in word, look, or act. The parallel in Ephesians adds the solemn, elevating thought, that a man’s love to the woman, whom he has made his own, is to be like Christ’s to the Church. Patient and generous, utterly self-forgetting and self-sacrificing, demanding nothing, grudging nothing, giving all, not shrinking from the extreme of suffering and pain and death itself-that he may bless and help-such was the Lord’s love to His bride, such is to be a Christian husband’s love to his wife. That solemn example, which lifts the whole emotion high above mere passion or selfish affection, carries a great lesson too as to the connection between man’s love and woman’s "subjection." The former is to evoke the latter, just as in the heavenly pattern, Christ’s love melts and moves human wills to glad obedience, which is liberty. We do not say that a wife is utterly absolved from obedience where a husband fails in self-forgetting love, though certainly it does not lie in his mouth to accuse, whose fault is graver than, and the origin of, hers. But, without going so far as that, we may recognise the true order to be that the husband’s love, self-sacrificing and all-bestowing, is meant to evoke the wife’s love, delighting in service, and proud to crown him her king.
Where there is such love, there will be no question of mere command and obedience, no tenacious adherence to rights, or jealous defence of independence. Law will be transformed into choice. To obey will be joy; to serve, the natural expression of the heart. Love uttering a wish speaks music to love listening; and love obeying the wish is free and a queen. Such sacred beauty may light up wedded life, if it catches a gleam from the fountain of all light, and shines by reflection from the love that binds Christ to His Church as the links of the golden beams bind the sun to the planet. Husbands and wives are to see to it that this supreme consecration purifies and raises their love. Young men and maidens are to remember that the nobleness and heart repose of their whole life may be made or marred by marriage, and to take heed where they fix their affections. If there be not unity in the deepest thing of all, love to Christ, the sacredness and completeness will fade away from any love. But if a man and woman love and marry "in the Lord," He will be "in the midst," walking between them, a third who will make them one, and that threefold cord will not be quickly broken.
II. The Reciprocal Duties of children and parents-obedience and gentle, loving authority. The injunction to children is laconic, decisive, universal. "Obey your parents in all things." Of course, there is one limitation to that. If God’s command looks one way and a parent’s the opposite, disobedience is duty-but such extreme case is probably the only one which Christian ethics admit as an exception to the rule. The Spartan brevity of the command is enforced by one consideration, "for this is well pleasing in the Lord," as the Revised Version rightly reads, instead of "to the Lord," as in the Authorised, thus making an exact parallel to the former "fitting in the Lord." Not only to Christ, but to all who can appreciate the beauty of goodness, is filial obedience beautiful. The parallel in Ephesians substitutes "for this is right," appealing to the natural conscience. Right and fair in itself, it is accordant with the law stamped on the very relationship, and it is witnessed as such by the instinctive approbation which it evokes.
No doubt, the moral sentiment of Paul’s age stretched parental authority to an extreme, and we need not hesitate to admit that the Christian idea of a father’s power and a child’s obedience has been much softened by Christianity; but the softening has come from the greater prominence given to love, rather than from the limitation given to obedience.
Our present domestic life seems to me to stand sorely in need of Paul’s injunction. One cannot but see that there is great laxity in this matter in many Christian households, in reaction perhaps from the too great severity of past times. Many causes lead to this unwholesome relaxation of parental authority. In our great cities, especially among the commercial classes, children are generally better educated than their fathers and mothers, they know less of early struggles, and one often sees a sense of inferiority making a parent hesitate to command, as well as a misplaced tenderness making him hesitate to forbid. A very misplaced and cruel tenderness it is to say "would you like?" when he ought to say "I wish." It is unkind to lay on young shoulders "the weight of too much liberty," and to introduce young hearts too soon to the sad responsibility of choosing between good and evil. It were better and more loving by far to put off that day, and to let the children feel that in the safe nest of home, their feeble and ignorant goodness is sheltered behind a strong barrier of command, and their lives simplified by having the one duty of obedience. By many parents the advice is needed-consult your children less, command them more.
And as for children, here is the one thing which God would have them do: "Obey your parents in all things." As fathers used to say when I was a boy-"not only obedience, but prompt obedience." It is right. That should be enough. But children may also remember that it is "pleasing"-fair and good to see, making them agreeable in the eyes of all whose approbation is worth having, and pleasing to themselves, saving them from many a bitter thought in after days, when the grave has closed over father and mother. One remembers the story of how Dr. Johnson, when a man, stood in the market place at Lichfield, bareheaded, with the rain pouring on him, in remorseful remembrance of boyish disobedience to his dead father. There is nothing bitterer than the too late tears for wrongs done to those who are gone beyond the reach of our penitence. "Children, obey your parents in all things," that you may be spared the sting of conscience for childish faults, which may be set tingling and smarting again even in old age.
The law for parents is addressed to "fathers," partly because a mother’s tenderness has less need of the warning "provoke not your children," than a father’s more rigorous rule usually has, and partly because the father is regarded as the head of the household. The advice is full of practical sagacity, How do parents provoke their children? By unreasonable commands, by perpetual restrictions, by capricious jerks at the bridle, alternating with as capricious dropping of the reins altogether, by not governing their own tempers, by shrill or stern tones where quiet, soft ones would do, by frequent checks and rebukes, and sparing praise. And what is sure to follow such mistreatment by father or mother? First, as the parallel passage in Ephesians has it, "wrath"- bursts of temper, for which probably the child is punished and the parent is guilty-and then spiritless listlessness and apathy. "I cannot please him whatever I do," leads to a rankling sense of injustice, and then to recklessness-"it is useless to try any more." And when a child or a man loses heart, there will be no more obedience. Paul’s theory of the training of children is closely connected with his central doctrine, that love is the life of service, and faith the parent of righteousness. To him hope and gladness and confident love underlie all obedience. When a child loves and trusts, he will obey. When he fears and has to think of his father as capricious, exacting, or stern, he will do like the man in the parable, who was afraid because he thought of his master as austere, reaping where he did not sow, and therefore went and hid his talent. Children’s obedience must be fed on love and praise. Fear paralyses activity, and kills service, whether it cowers in the heart of a boy to his father, or of a man to his Father in heaven. So parents are to let the sunshine of their smile ripen their children’s love to fruit of obedience, and remember that frost in spring scatters the blossoms on the grass. Many a parent, especially many a father, drives his child into evil by keeping him at a distance. He should make his boy a companion and playmate, teach him to think of his father as his confidant, try to keep his child nearer to himself than to anybody beside, and then his authority will be absolute, his opinions an oracle, and his lightest wish a law. Is not the kingdom of Jesus Christ based on His becoming a brother and one of ourselves, and is it not wielded in gentleness and enforced by love? Is it not the most absolute of rules? And should not the parental authority be like it-having a reed for a sceptre, lowliness and gentleness being stronger to rule and to sway than the "rods of iron" or of gold which earthly monarchs wield?
There is added to this precept, in Ephesians, an injunction on the positive side of parental duty: "Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." I fear that is a duty fallen woefully into disuse in many Christian households. Many parents think it wise to send their children away from home for their education, and so hand over their moral and religious training to teachers. That may be right, but it makes the fulfilment of this precept all but impossible. Others, who have their children beside them, are too busy all the week. and too fond of "rest" on Sunday. Many send their children to a Sunday school chiefly that they themselves may have a quiet house and a sound sleep in the afternoon. Every Christian minister, if he keeps his eyes open, must see that there is no religious instruction worth calling by the name in a very large number of professedly Christian households; and he is bound to press very earnestly on his hearers the question, whether the Christian fathers and mothers among them do their duty in this matter. Many of them, I fear, have never opened their lips to their children on religious subjects. Is it not a grief and a shame that men and women with some religion in them, and loving their little ones dearly, should be tongue tied before them on the most important of all things? What can come of it but what does come of it so often that it saddens one to see how frequently it occurs-that the children drift away from a faith which their parents did not care enough about to teach it to them? A silent father makes prodigal sons, and many a grey head has been brought down with sorrow to the grave, and many a mother’s heart broken, because he and she neglected their plain duty, which can be handed over to no schools or masters-the duty of religious instruction. "These words which I command thee, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house."
III. The Reciprocal Duties of servants and masters-obedience and justice.
The first thing to observe here is that these "servants" are slaves, not persons who have voluntarily given their work for wages. The relation of Christianity to slavery is too wide a subject to be touched here. It must be enough to point out that Paul recognises that "sum of all villainies," gives instructions to both parties in it, never says one word in condemnation of it. More remarkable still; the messenger who carried this letter to Colossae carried in the same bag the Epistle to Philemon, and was accompanied by the fugitive slave Onesimus, on whose neck Paul bound again the chain, so to speak, with his own hands. And yet the gospel which Paul preached has in it principles which cut up slavery by the roots; as we read in this very letter, "In Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free." Why then did not Christ and His apostles make war against slavery? For the same reason for which they did not make war against any political or social institutions. "First make the tree good and his fruit good." The only way to reform institutions is to elevate and quicken the general conscience, and then the evil will be outgrown, left behind, or thrown aside. Mould men and the men will mould institutions. So Christianity did not set itself to fell this upas tree, which would have been a long and dangerous task; but girdled it, as we may say, stripped the bark off it, and left it to die-and it has died in all Christian lands now.
But the principles laid down here are quite as applicable to our form of domestic and other service as to the slaves and masters of Colossae.
Note then the extent of the servant’s obedience-"in all things." Here, of course, as in former cases, is there presupposed the limit of supreme obedience to God’s commands; that being safe, all else is to give way to the duty of submission. It is a stern command, that seems all on the side of the masters. It might strike a chill into many a slave, who had been drawn to the gospel by the hope of finding some little lightening of the yoke that pressed so heavily on his poor galled neck, and of hearing some voice speaking in tenderer tones than those of harsh command. Still more emphatically, and, as it might seem, still more harshly, the Apostle goes on to insist on the inward completeness of the obedience-"not with eye service (a word of Paul’s own coining) as men pleasers." We have a proverb about the worth of the master’s eye, which bears witness that the same fault still clings to hired service. One has only to look at the next set of bricklayers one sees on a scaffold, or of haymakers one comes across in a field, to see it. The vice was venial in slaves; it is inexcusable, because it darkens into theft, in paid servants-and it spreads far and wide. All scamped work, all productions of man’s hand or brain which are got up to look better than they are, all fussy parade of diligence when under inspection and slackness afterwards-and all their like which infect and infest every trade and profession, are transfixed by the sharp point of this precept.
"But in singleness of heart," that is, with undivided motive, which is the antithesis and the cure for "eye service"-and "fearing God," which is opposed to "pleasing men." Then follows the positive injunction, covering the whole ground of action and lifting the constrained obedience to the earthly master up into the sacred and serene loftiness of religious duty, "whatsoever ye do, work heartily," or from the soul. The word for work is stronger than that for do, and implies effort and toil. They are to put all their power into their work, and not be afraid of hard toil. And they are not only to bend their backs, but their wills, and to labour "from the soul," that is, cheerfully and with interest-a hard lesson for a slave and asking more than could be expected from human nature, as many of them would, no doubt, think. Paul goes on to transfigure the squalor and misery of the slave’s lot by a sudden beam of light-"as to the Lord"-your true "Master," for it is the same word as in the previous verse-"and not unto men." Do not think of your tasks as only enjoined by harsh, capricious, selfish men, but lift your thoughts to Christ, who is your Lord, and glorify all these sordid duties by seeing His will in them. He only who works as "to the Lord" will work "heartily." The thought of Christ’s command, and of my poor toil as done for His sake, will change constraint into cheerfulness, and make unwelcome tasks pleasant, and monotonous ones fresh, and trivial ones great. It will evoke new powers and renewed consecration. In that atmosphere, the dim flame of servile obedience will burn more brightly, as a lamp plunged into a jar of pure oxygen.
The stimulus of a great hope for the ill-used, unpaid slave is added. Whatever their earthly masters might fail to give them, the true Master whom they really served would accept no work for which He did not return more than sufficient wages. "From the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance." Blows and scanty food and poor lodging may be all that they get from their owners for all their sweat and toil, but if they are Christ’s slaves, they will be treated no more as slaves, but as sons, and receive a son’s portion, the exact recompense which consists of the "inheritance." The juxtaposition of the two ideas of the slave and the inheritance evidently hints at the unspoken thought, that they are heirs because they are sons-a thought which might well lift up bowed backs and brighten dull faces. The hope of that reward came like an angel into the smoky huts and hopeless lives of these poor slaves. It shone athwart all the gloom and squalor, and taught patience beneath "the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely." Through long, weary generations it has lived in the hearts of men driven to God by man’s tyranny, and forced to clutch at heaven’s brightness to keep them from being made mad by earth’s blackness. It may irradiate our poor lives, especially when we fail, as we all do sometimes, to get recognition of our work, or fruit from it. If we labour for man’s appreciation or gratitude, we shall certainly be disappointed; but if for Christ, we have abundant wages beforehand, and we shall have an over-abundant requital, the munificence of which will make us more ashamed of our unworthy service than anything else could do. Christ remains in no man’s debt. "Who hath first given, and it shall be recompensed to him again?"
The last word to the slave is a warning against neglect of duty. There is to be a double recompense-to the slave of Christ the portion of a son; to the wrongdoer retribution "for the wrong that he has done." Then, though slavery was itself a wrong, though the master who held a man in bondage was himself inflicting the greatest of all wrongs, yet Paul will have the slave think that he still has duties to his master. That is part of Paul’s general position as to slavery. He will not wage war against it, but for the present accept it. Whether he saw the full bearing of the gospel on that and other infamous institutions may be questioned. He has given us the principles which will destroy them, but he is no revolutionist, and so his present counsel is to remember the master’s rights, even though they be founded on wrong, and he has no hesitation in condemning and predicting retribution for evil things done by a slave to his master. A superior’s injustice does not warrant an inferior’s breach of moral law, though it may excuse it. Two blacks do not make a white. Herein lies the condemnation of all the crimes which enslaved nations and classes have done, of many a deed which has been honoured and sung, of the sanguinary cruelties of servile revolts, as well as of the questionable means to which labour often resorts in modern industrial warfare. The homely, plain principle, that a man does not receive the right to break God’s laws because he is ill-treated, would clear away much fog from some people’s notions of how to advance the cause of the oppressed.
But, on the other hand, this warning may look towards the masters also; and probably the same double reference is also to be discerned in the closing words to the slaves, "and there is no respect of persons." The servants were naturally tempted to think that God was on their side, as indeed He was, but also to think that the great coming day of judgment was mostly meant to be terrible to tyrants and oppressors, and so to look forward to it with a fierce unChristian joy, as well as with a false confidence built only on their present misery. They would be apt to think that God did "respect persons," in the opposite fashion from that of a partial judge-namely, that He would incline the scale in favour of the ill-used, the poor, the down trodden; that they would have an easy test and a light sentence, while His frowns and His severity would be kept for the powerful and the rich who had ground the faces of the poor and kept back the hire of the labourer. It was therefore a needful reminder for them, and for us all, that that judgment has nothing to do with earthly conditions, but only with conduct and character; that sorrow and calamity here do not open heaven’s gates hereafter, and that the slave and master are tried by the same law.
The series of precepts closes with a brief but most pregnant word to masters. They are bid to give to their slaves "that which is just and equal," that is to say, "equitable." A startling criterion for a master’s duty to the slave who was denied to have any rights at all. They were chattels, not persons. A master might, in regard to them, do what he liked with his own; he might crucify or torture, or commit any crime against manhood either in body or soul, and no voice would question or forbid. How astonished Roman lawgivers would have been if they could have heard Paul talking about justice and equity as applied to a slave! What a strange new dialect it must have sounded to the slave owners in the Colossian Church! They would not see how far the principle, thus quietly introduced, was to carry succeeding ages; they could not dream, of the great tree that was to spring from this tiny seed precept; but no doubt the instinct which seldom fails an unjustly privileged class, would make them blindly dislike the exhortation, and feel as if they were getting out of their depth when they were bid to consider what was "right" and "equitable" in their dealings with their slaves.
The Apostle does not define what is "right and equal." That will come. The main thing is to drive home the conviction that there are duties owing to slaves, inferiors, employees. We are far enough from a satisfactory discharge of these yet; but, at any rate, everybody now admits the principle- and we have mainly to thank Christianity for that. Slowly the general conscience is coming to recognise that simple truth more and more clearly, and its application is becoming more decisive with each generation. There is much to be done before society is organised on that principle, but the time is coming-and till it is come, there will be no peace. All masters and employers of labour, in their mills and warehouses, are bid to base their relations to "hands" and servants on the one firm foundation of "justice." Paul does not say, Give your servants what is kind and patronising. He wants a great deal more than that. Charity likes to come in and supply the wants which would never have been felt had there been equity. An ounce of justice is sometimes worth a ton of charity.
This duty of the masters is enforced by the same thought which was to stimulate the servants to their tasks: "ye also have a Master in heaven." That is not only Stimulus, but it is pattern. I said that Paul did not specify what was just and right, and that his precept might therefore be objected to as vague. Does the introduction of this thought of the master’s Master in heaven take away any of the vagueness? If Christ is our Master, then we are to look to Him to see what a master ought to be, and to try to be masters like that. That is precise enough, is it not? That grips tight enough, does it not? Give your servants what you expect and need to get from Christ. If we try to live that commandment for twenty-four hours, it will probably not be its vagueness of which we complain. "Ye have a Master in heaven" is the great principle on which all Christian duty reposes. Christ’s command is my law, His will is supreme, His authority absolute, His example all-sufficient. My soul, my life, my all are His. My will is not my own. My possessions are not my own. My being is not my own. All duty is elevated into obedience to Him, and obedience to Him, utter and absolute, is dignity and freedom. We are Christ’s slaves, for He has bought us for Himself, by giving Himself for us. Let that great sacrifice win our heart’s love and our perfect submission. "O Lord, truly I am Thy servant, Thou hast loosed my bonds." Then all earthly relationships will be fulfilled by us; and we shall move among men, breathing blessing and raying out brightness, when in all we remember that we have a Master in heaven, and do all our work from the soul as to Him and not to men.
PRECEPTS FOR THE INNERMOST AND OUTERMOST LIFE
Colossians 4:2-6 (R.V.)
So ends the ethical portion of the Epistle. A glance over the series of practical exhortations, from the beginning of the preceding chapter onwards, will show that, in general terms we may say that they deal successively with a Christian’s duties to himself, the Church, and the family. And now, these last advices touch the two extremes of life, the first of them having reference to the hidden life of prayer, and the second and third to the outward, busy life of the market place and the street. That bringing together of the extremes seems to be the link of connection here. The Christian life is first regarded as gathered into itself-coiled as it were on its centre, like some strong spring. Next, it is regarded as it operates in the world, and, like the uncoiling spring, gives motion to wheels and pinions. These two sides of experience and duty are often hard to blend harmoniously. The conflict between busy Martha, who serves, and quiet Mary, who only sits and gazes, goes on in every age and in every heart. Here we may find, in some measure, the principle of reconciliation between their antagonistic claims. Here is, at all events, the protest against allowing either to oust the other. Continual prayer is to blend with unwearied action. We are so to walk the dusty ways of life as to be ever in the secret place of the Most High. "Continue steadfastly in prayer," and withal let there be no unwholesome withdrawal from the duties and relationships of the outer world, but let the prayer pass into, first, a wise walk, and second, an ever-gracious speech.
I. So we have here, first, an exhortation to a hidden life of constant prayer.
The word rendered "continue" in the Authorised Version, and more fully in the Revised Version by "continue steadfastly," is frequently found in reference to prayer, as well as in other connections. A mere enumeration of some of these instances may help to illustrate its full meaning. "We will give ourselves to prayer," said the apostles in proposing the creation of the office of deacon. "Continuing instant in prayer," says Paul to the Roman Church. "They continuing daily with one accord in the Temple" is the description of the early believers after Pentecost. Simon Magus is said to have "continued with Philip," where there is evidently the idea of close adherence as well as of uninterrupted companionship. These examples seem to show that the word implies both earnestness and continuity; so that this injunction not only covers the ground of Paul’s other exhortation, "Pray without ceasing," but includes fervour also.
The Christian life, then, ought to be one of unbroken prayer.
What manner of prayer can that be which is to be continuous through a life that must needs be full of toil on outward things? How can such a precept be obeyed? Surely there is no need for paring down its comprehensiveness, and saying that it merely means-a very frequent recurrence to devout exercises, as often as the pressure of daily duties will permit. That is not the direction in which the harmonising of such a precept with the obvious necessities of our position is to be sought. We must seek it in a more inward and spiritual notion of prayer. We must separate between the form and the substance, the treasure and the earthen vessel which carries it. What is prayer? Not the utterance of words-they are but the vehicle; but the attitude of the spirit. Communion, aspiration, and submission, these three are the elements of prayer-and these three may be diffused through a life. It is possible, though difficult. There may be unbroken communion, a constant consciousness of God’s presence, and of our contact with Him, thrilling through our souls and freshening them, like some breath of spring reaching the toilers in choky factories and busy streets; or even if the communion do not run like an absolutely unbroken line of light through our lives, the points may be so near together as all but to touch. In such communion words are needless. When spirits draw closest together there is no need for speech. Silently the heart may be kept fragrant with God’s felt presence, and sunny with the light of His face. There are towns nestling beneath the Alps, every narrow filthy alley of which looks to the great solemn snow peaks, and the inhabitants, amid all the squalor of their surroundings, have that apocalypse of wonder ever before them, if they would only lift their eyes. So we, if we will, may live with the majesties and beauties of the great white throne and of Him that sat on it closing every vista and filling the end of every commonplace passage in our lives.
In like manner, there may be a continual, unspoken and unbroken presence of the second element of prayer, which is aspiration, or desire after God. All circumstances, whether duty, sorrow, or joy, should and may be used to stamp more deeply on my consciousness the sense of my weakness and need; and every moment, with its experience of God’s swift and punctual grace, and all my communion with Him which unveils to me His beauty-should combine to move longings for Him, for more of Him. The very deepest cry of the heart which understands its own yearnings is for the living God; and perpetual as the hunger of the spirit for the food which will stay its profound desires, will be the prayer, though it may often be voiceless, of the soul which knows where alone that food is.
Continual too may be our submission to His will, which is an essential of all prayer. Many people’s notion is that our prayer is urging our wishes on God, and that His answer is giving us what we desire. But true prayer is the meeting in harmony of God’s will and man’s, and its deepest expression is not, Do this, because I desire it, O Lord; but, I do this because Thou desirest it, O Lord. That submission may be the very spring of all life, and whatsoever work is done in such spirit, however "secular" and however small it be, were it making buttons, is truly prayer. So there should run all through our lives the music of that continual prayer, heard beneath all our varying occupations like some prolonged deep bass note, that bears up and gives dignity to the lighter melody that rises and falls and changes above it, like the spray on the crest of a great wave. Our lives will then be noble and grave, and woven into a harmonious unity, when they are based upon continual communion with, continual desire after, and continual submission to, God. If they are not, they will be worth nothing and will come to nothing.
But such continuity of prayer is not to be attained without effort; therefore Paul goes on to say, "Watching therein." We are apt to do drowsily whatever we do constantly. Men fall asleep at any continuous work. There is also the constant influence of externals, drawing our thoughts away from their true home in God, so that if we are to keep up continuous devotion, we shall have to rouse ourselves often when in the very act of dropping off to sleep. "Awake up, my glory!" we shall often have to say to our souls. Do we not all know that subtly approaching languor? and have we not often caught ourselves in the very act of falling asleep at our prayers? We must make distinct and resolute efforts to rouse ourselves-we must concentrate our attention and apply the needed stimulants, and bring the interest and activity of our whole nature to bear on this work of continual prayer, else it will become drowsy mumbling as of a man but half awake. The world has strong opiates for the soul, and we must steadfastly resist their influence, if we are to "continue in prayer."
One way of so watching is to have and to observe definite times of spoken prayer. We hear much nowadays about the small value of times and forms of prayer, and how, as I have been saying, true prayer is independent of these, and needs no words. All that, of course, is true; but when the practical conclusion is drawn that therefore we can do without the outward form, a grave mistake, full of mischief, is committed. I do not, for my part, believe in a devotion diffused through a life and never concentrated and coming to the surface in visible outward acts or audible words; and, as far as I have seen, the men whose religion is spread all through their lives most really are the men who keep the central reservoir full, if I may so say, by regular and frequent hours and words of prayer. The Christ, whose whole life was devotion and communion with the Father, had His night’s on the mountains, and rising up a great while before day, He watched unto prayer. We must do the like.
One more word has still to be said. This continual prayer is to be "with thanksgiving"-again the injunction so frequent in this letter, in such various connections. Every prayer should be blended with gratitude, without the perfume of which, the incense of devotion lacks one element of fragrance. The sense of need, or the consciousness of sin, may evoke "strong crying and tears," but the completest prayer rises confident from a grateful heart, which weaves memory into hope, and asks much because it has received much. A true recognition of the loving kindness of the past has much to do with making our communion sweet, our desires believing, our submission cheerful. Thankfulness is the feather that wings the arrow of prayer-the height from which our souls rise most easily to the sky.
And now the Apostle’s tone softens from exhortation to entreaty, and with very sweet and touching humility he begs a supplemental corner in their prayers. "Withal praying also for us." The "withal" and "also" have a tone of lowliness in them, while the "us," including as it does Timothy, who is associated with him in the superscription of the letter, and possibly others also, increases the impression of modesty. The subject of their prayers for Paul and the others is to be that "God may open unto us a door for the word." That phrase apparently means an unhindered opportunity of preaching the gospel, for the consequence of the door’s being opened is added -"to speak (so that I may speak) the mystery of Christ." The special reason for this prayer is, "for which I am also (in addition to my other sufferings) in bonds."
He was a prisoner. He cared little about that or about the fetters on his wrists, so far as his own comfort was concerned; but his spirit chafed at the restraint laid upon him in spreading the good news of Christ, though he had been able to do much in his prison, both among the Praetorian guard, and throughout the whole population of Rome. Therefore he would engage his friends to ask God to open the prison doors, as He had done for Peter, not that Paul might come out, but that the gospel might. The personal was swallowed up; all that he cared for was to do his work. But he wants their prayers for more than that-"that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak." This is probably explained most naturally as meaning his endowment with power to set forth the message in a manner adequate to its greatness. When he thought of what it was that he, unworthy, had to preach, its majesty and wonderfulness brought a kind of awe over his spirit; and endowed, as he was, with apostolic functions and apostolic grace; conscious, as he was, of being anointed and inspired by God, he yet felt that the richness of the treasure made the earthen vessel seem terribly unworthy to bear it. His utterances seemed to himself poor and unmelodious beside the majestic harmonies of the gospel. He could not soften his voice to breathe tenderly enough a message of such love, nor give it strength enough to peal forth a message of such tremendous import and worldwide destination.
If Paul felt his conception of the greatness of the gospel dwarfing into nothing his words when he tried to preach it, what must every other true minister of Christ feel? If he, in the fulness of his inspiration, besought a place in his brethren’s prayers, how much more must they need it, who try with stammering tongues to preach the truth that made his fiery words seem. ice? Every such man must turn to those who love him and listen to his poor presentment of the riches of Christ, with Paul’s entreaty. His friends cannot do a kinder thing to him than to bear him on their hearts in their prayers to God.
II. We have here next, a couple of precepts, which spring at a bound from the inmost secret of the Christian life to its circumference, and refer to the outward life in regard to the non-Christian world, enjoining, in view of it, a wise walk and gracious speech.
"Walk in wisdom towards them that are without." Those that are within are those who have "fled for refuge" to Christ, and are within the fold, the fortress, the ark. Men who sit safe within while the storm howls, may simply think with selfish complacency of the poor wretches exposed to its fierceness. The phrase may express spiritual pride and even contempt. All close corporations tend to generate dislike and scorn of outsiders, and the Church has had its own share of such feeling; but there is no trace of anything of the sort here. Rather are there pathos and pity in the word, and a recognition that their sad condition gives these outsiders a claim on Christian men, who are bound to go out to their help and bring them in. Precisely because they are "without" do those within owe them a wise walk, that "if any will not hear the word, they may without the word be won." The thought is in some measure parallel to our Lord’s words, of which perhaps it is a reminiscence. "Behold I send you forth"-a strange thing for a careful shepherd to do-"as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents." Think of that picture-the handful of cowering frightened creatures huddled against each other, and ringed round by that yelping, white-toothed crowd, ready to tear them to pieces! So are Christ’s followers in the world. Of course, things have changed in many respects since those days; partly because persecution has gone out of fashion, and partly because "the world" has been largely influenced by Christian morality, and partly because the Church has been largely secularised. The temperature of the two has become nearly equalised over a large tract of professing Christendom. So a tolerably good understanding and a brisk trade have sprung up between the sheep and the wolves. But for all that, there is fundamental discord, however changed may be its exhibition, and if we are true to our Master and insist on shaping our lives by His rules, we shall find out that there is.
We need, therefore, to "walk in wisdom" towards the non-Christian world; that is, to let practical prudence shape all our conduct. If we are Christians, we have to live under the eyes of vigilant and not altogether friendly observers, who derive satisfaction and harm from any inconsistency of ours. A plainly Christian life that needs no commentary to exhibit its harmony with Christ’s commandments is the first duty we owe to them.
And the wisdom which is to mould our lives in view of these outsiders will "discern both time and judgment," will try to take the measure of men and act accordingly. Common sense and practical sagacity are important accompaniments of Christian zeal. What a singularly complex character, in this respect, was Paul’s-enthusiastic and yet capable of such diplomatic adaptation; and withal never dropping to cunning, nor sacrificing truth! Enthusiasts who despise worldly wisdom, and therefore often lash themselves against stone walls, are not rare; cool calculators who abhor all generous glow of feeling and have ever a pailful of cold water for any project which shows it, are only too common-but fire and ice together, like a volcano with glaciers streaming down its cone, are rare. Fervour married to tact, common sense which keeps close to earth and enthusiasm which flames heaven high, are a rare combination. It is not often that the same voice can say, "I count not my life dear to myself," and "I became all things to all men."
A dangerous principle that last, a very slippery piece of ground to get upon!-say people, and quite truly. It is dangerous, and one thing only will keep a man’s feet when on it, and that is, that his wise adaptation shall be perfectly unselfish, and that he shall ever keep clear before him the great object to be gained, which is nothing personal, but "that I might by all means save some." If that end is held in view, we shall be saved from the temptation of hiding or maiming the very truth which we desire should be received, and our wise adaptation of ourselves and of our message to the needs and weaknesses and peculiarities of those "who are without," will not degenerate into handling the word of God deceitfully. Paul advised "walking in wisdom"; he abhorred "walking in craftiness."
We owe them that are without such a walk as may tend to bring them in. Our life is to a large extent their Bible. They know a great deal more about Christianity as they see it in us than as it is revealed in Christ or recorded in Scripture-and if, as seen in us, it does not strike them as very attractive, small wonder if they still prefer to remain where they are. Let us take care lest instead of being doorkeepers to the house of the Lord, to beckon passers-by and draw them in, we block the doorway, and keep them from seeing the wonders within.
The Apostle adds a special way in which this wisdom shows itself-namely, "redeeming the time." The last word here does not denote time in general, but a definite season, or opportunity. The lesson, then, is not that of making the best use of all the moments as they fly, precious as that lesson is, but that of discerning and eagerly using appropriate opportunities for Christian service. The figure is simple enough; to "buy up" means to make one’s own. "Make much of time, let not advantage slip," is an advice in exactly the same spirit. Two things are included in it; the watchful study of characters, so as to know the right times to bring influences to bear on them, and an earnest diligence in utilising these for the highest purposes. We have not acted wisely towards those who are without unless we have used every opportunity to draw them in.
But besides a wise walk, there is to be "gracious speech." "Let your speech be always with grace." A similar juxtaposition of "wisdom" and "grace" occurred in Colossians 3:16. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom singing with grace in your hearts"; and there as here, "grace" may be taken either in its lower aesthetic sense, or in its higher spiritual. It may mean either favour, agreeableness, or the Divine gift, bestowed by the indwelling Spirit. The former is supposed by many good expositors to be the meaning here. But is it a Christian’s duty to make his speech always agreeable? Sometimes it is his plain duty to make it very disagreeable indeed. If our speech is to be true, and wholesome, it must sometimes rasp and go against the grain. Its pleasantness depends on the inclinations of the hearers rather than on the will of the honest speaker. If he is to "redeem the time" and "walk wisely to them that are without," his speech cannot be always with such grace. The advice to make our words always pleasing may be a very good maxim for worldly success, but it smacks of Chesterfield’s Letters rather than of Paul’s Epistles.
We must go much deeper for the true import of this exhortation. It is substantially this-whether you can speak smooth things or no, and whether your talk is always directly religious or no-and it need not and cannot always be that-let there ever be in it the manifest influence of God’s Spirit, Who dwells in the Christian heart, and will mould and sanctify your speech. Of you, as of your Master, let it be true, "Grace is poured into thy lips." He in whose spirit the Divine Spirit abides will be truly "Golden mouthed"; his speech shall distil as the dew, and whether his grave and lofty words please frivolous and prurient ears or no, they will be beautiful in the truest sense, and show the Divine life pulsing through them, as some transparent skin shows the throbbing of the blue veins. Men who feed their souls on great authors catch their style, as some of our great living orators, who are eager students of English poetry. So if we converse much with God, listening to His voice in our hearts, our speech will have in it a tone that will echo that deep music. Our accent will betray our country. Then our speech will be with grace in the lower sense of pleasingness. The truest gracefulness, both of words and conduct, comes from heavenly grace. The beauty caught from God, the fountain of all things lovely, is the highest.
The speech is to be "seasoned with salt." That does not mean the "Attic salt" of wit. There is nothing more wearisome than the talk of men who are always trying to be piquant and brilliant. Such speech is like a "pillar of salt"-it sparkles, but is cold, and has points that wound, and it tastes bitter. That is not what Paul recommends. Salt was used in sacrifice-let the sacrificial salt be applied to all our words; that is, let all we say be offered up to God, "a sacrifice of praise to God continually." Salt preserves. Put into your speech what will keep it from rotting, or, as the parallel passage in Ephesians has it, "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth." Frivolous talk, dreary gossip, ill-natured talk, idle talk, to say nothing of foul and wicked words, will be silenced when your speech is seasoned with salt.
The following words make it probable that salt here is used also with some allusion to its power of giving savour to food. Do not deal in insipid generalities, but suit your words to your hearers, "that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one." Speech that fits close to the characteristics and wants of the people to whom it is spoken is sure to be interesting, and that which does not will for them be insipid. Commonplaces that hit full against the hearer will be no commonplaces to him, and the most brilliant words that do not meet his mind or needs will to him be tasteless "as the white of an egg."
Individual peculiarities, then, must determine the wise way of approach to each man, and there will be wide variety in the methods Paul’s language to the wild hill tribes of Lycaonia was not the same as to the cultivated, curious crowd on Mars’ Hill, and his sermons in the synagogues have a different tone from his reasonings of judgment to come before Felix.
All that is too plain to need illustration. But one word may be added. The Apostle here regards it as the task of every Christian man to speak for Christ. Further, he recommends dealing with individuals rather than masses, as being within the scope of each Christian, and as being much more efficacious. Salt has to be rubbed in, if it is to do any good. It is better for most of us to fish with the rod than with the net, to angle for single souls, rather than to try and enclose a multitude at once. Preaching to a congregation has its own place and value; but private and personal talk, honestly and wisely done, will effect more than the most eloquent preaching. Better to drill in the seeds, dropping them one by one into the little pits made for their reception, than to sow them broadcast.
And what shall we say of Christian men and women, who can talk animatedly and interestingly of anything but of their Saviour and His kingdom? Timidity, misplaced reverence, a dread of seeming to be self-righteous, a regard for conventional proprieties, and the national reserve account for much of the lamentable fact that there are so many such. But all these barriers would be floated away like straws, if a great stream of Christian feeling were pouring from the heart. What fills the heart will overflow by the floodgates of speech. So that the real reason for the unbroken silence in which many Christian people conceal their faith is mainly the small quantity of it which there is to conceal.
A solemn ideal is set before us in these parting injunctions-a higher righteousness than was thundered from Sinai. When we think of our hurried, formal devotions, our prayers forced from us sometimes by the pressure of calamity, and so often suspended when the weight is lifted; of the occasional glimpses that we get of God-as sailors may catch sight of a guiding star for a moment through driving fog, and of the long tracts of life which would be precisely the same, as far as our thoughts are concerned, if there were no God at all, or he had nothing to do with us- what an awful command that seems, "Continue steadfastly in prayer"!
When we think of our selfish disregard of the woes and dangers of the poor wanderers without, exposed to the storm, while we think ourselves safe in the fold, and of how little we have meditated on and still less discharged our obligations to them, and of how we have let precious opportunities slip through our slack hands, we may well bow rebuked before the exhortation, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without."
When we think of the stream of words ever flowing from our lips, and how few grains of gold that stream has brought down amid all its sand, and how seldom Christ’s name has been spoken by us to hearts that heed Him not nor know Him, the exhortation, "Let your speech be always with grace," becomes an indictment as truly as a command.
There is but one place for us, the foot of the cross, that there we may obtain forgiveness for all the faulty past and thence may draw consecration and strength for the future, to enable us to keep that lofty law Of Christian morality, which is high and hard if we think only of its precepts, but becomes light and easy when we open our hearts to receive the power for obedience, "which," as this great Epistle manifoldly teaches, "is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
TYCHICUS AND ONESIMUS, THE LETTER BEARERS
Colossians 4:7-9 (R.V.)
In Paul’s days it was perhaps more difficult to get letters delivered than to write them. It was a long, weary journey from Rome to Colossae, -across Italy, then by sea to Greece, across Greece, then by sea to the port of Ephesus, and thence by rough ways to the upland valley where lay Colossae, with its neighbouring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis. So one thing which the Apostle has to think about is to find messengers to carry his letter. He pitches upon these two, Tychicus and Onesimus. The former is one of his personal attendants, told off for this duty; the other, who has been in Rome under very peculiar circumstances, is going home to Colossae, on a strange errand, in which he may be helped by having a message from Paul to carry.
We shall not now deal with the words before us, so much as with these two figures, whom we may regard as representing certain principles, and embodying some useful lessons.
I. Tychicus may stand as representing the greatness and sacredness of small and secular service done for Christ.
We must first try, in as few words as may be, to change the name into a man. There is something very solemn and pathetic in these shadowy names which appear for a moment on the page of Scripture, and are swallowed up of black night, like stars that suddenly blaze out for a week or two, and then dwindle and at last disappear altogether. They too lived, and loved, and strove, and suffered, and enjoyed: and now-all is gone, gone; the hot fire burned down to such a little handful of white ashes. Tychicus and Onesimus! two shadows that once were men! and as they are, so we shall be.
As to Tychicus, there are several fragmentary notices about him in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters, and although they do not amount to much, still by piecing them together, and looking at them with some sympathy, we can get a notion of the man.
He does not appear till near the end of Paul’s missionary work, and was probably one of the fruits of the Apostle’s long residence in Ephesus on his last missionary tour, as we do not hear of him till after that period. That stay in Ephesus was cut short by the silversmiths’ riot-the earliest example of trades’ unions-when they wanted to silence the preaching of the gospel because it damaged the market for "shrines," and "also" was an insult to the great goddess! Thereupon Paul retired to Europe, and after some months there, decided on his last fateful journey to Jerusalem. On the way he was joined by a remarkable group of friends, seven in number, and apparently carefully selected so as to represent the principal fields of the Apostle’s labours. There were three Europeans, two from. "Asia"-meaning by that name, of course, only the Roman province, which included mainly the western seaboard-and two from the wilder inland country of Lycaonia. Tychicus was one of the two from Asia; the other was Trophimus, whom we know to have been an Ephesian, [Acts 21:29] as Tychicus may not improbably have also been.
We do not know that all the seven accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. Trophimus we know did, and another of them, Aristarchus, is mentioned as having sailed with him on the return voyage from Palestine. [Acts 27:2] But if they were not intended to go to Jerusalem, why did they meet him at all? The sacredness of the number seven, the apparent care to secure a representation of the whole field of apostolic activity, and the long distances that some of them must have travelled, make it extremely unlikely that these men should have met him at a little port in Asia Minor for the mere sake of being with him for a few days. It certainly seems much more probable that they joined his company and went on to Jerusalem. What for? Probably as bearers of money contributions from the whole area of the Gentile Churches, to the "poor saints" there-a purpose which would explain the composition of the delegation. Paul was too sensitive and too sagacious to have more to do with money matters than he could help. We learn from his letter to the Church at Corinth that he insisted on another brother being associated with him in the administration of their alms, so that no man could raise suspicions against him. Paul’s principle was that which ought to guide every man entrusted with other people’s money to spend for religious or charitable purposes-"I shall not be your almoner unless some one appointed by you stands by me to see that I spend your money rightly"-a good example which, it is much to be desired, were followed by all workers, and required to be followed as a condition of all giving.
These seven, at all events, began the long journey with Paul. Among them is our friend Tychicus, who may have learned to know the Apostle more intimately during it, and perhaps developed qualities in travel which marked him out as fit for the errand on which we here find him.
This voyage was about the year 58 A.D. Then comes an interval of some three or four years, in which occur Paul’s arrest and imprisonment at Caesarea, his appearance before governors and kings, his voyage to Italy and shipwreck, with his residence in Rome. Whether Tychicus was with him during all this period, as Luke seems to have been, we do not know, nor at what point he joined the Apostle, if he was not his companion throughout. But the verses before us show that he was with Paul during part of his first Roman captivity, probably about A.D. 62 or 63; and their commendation of him as "a faithful minister," or helper of Paul, implies that for a considerable period before this he had been rendering services to the Apostle.
He is now despatched all the long way to Colossae to carry this letter, and to tell the Church by word of mouth all that had happened in Rome. No information of that kind is in the letter itself. That silence forms a remarkable contrast to the affectionate abundance of personal details in another prison letter, that to the Philippians, and probably marks this Epistle as addressed to a Church never visited by Paul. Tychicus is sent, according to the most probable reading that "ye may know our estate, and that he may comfort your hearts"-encouraging the brethren to Christian steadfastness, not only by his news of Paul, but by his own company and exhortations. The very same words are employed about him in the contemporaneous letter to the Ephesians. Evidently, . then, he carried both epistles on the same journey; and one reason for selecting him as messenger is plainly that he was a native of the province, and probably of Ephesus. When Paul looked round his little circle of attendant friends, his eye fell on Tychicus, as the very man for such an errand. "You go, Tychicus. It is your home; they all know you."
The most careful students now think that the Epistle to the Ephesians was meant to go the round of the Churches of Asia Minor, beginning, no doubt, with that in the great city of Ephesus. If that be so, and Tychicus had to carry it to these Churches in turn, he would necessarily come, in the course of his duty, to Laodicea, which was only a few miles from Colossae, and so could most conveniently deliver this Epistle. The wider and the narrower mission fitted into each other. No doubt he went, and did his work. We can fancy the eager groups, perhaps in some upper room, perhaps in some quiet place of prayer by the river side; in their midst the two messengers, with a little knot of listeners and questioners round each. How they would have to tell the story a dozen times over! How every detail would be precious! How tears would come and hearts would glow! How deep into the night they would talk! And how many a heart that had begun to waver would be con, firmed in cleaving to Christ by the exhortations of Tychicus, by the very sight of Onesimus, and by Paul’s words of fire!
What became of Tychicus after that journey we do not know. Perhaps he settled down at Ephesus for a time, perhaps he returned to Paul. At any rate, we get two more glimpses of him at a later period-one in the Epistle to Titus, in which we hear of the Apostle’s intention to despatch him on another journey to Crete, and the last in the close of the second Epistle to Timothy, written from Rome probably about A.D. 67. The Apostle believes that his death is near, and seems to have sent away most of his staff. Among the notices of their various. appointments we read, "Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus." He is not said to have been sent on any mission connected with the Churches. It may be that he was simply sent away because, by reason of his impending martyrdom, Paul had no more need of him. True, he still has Luke by him, and he wishes Timothy to come and bring his first "minister," Mark, with him. But he has sent away Tychicus, as if he had said; Now, go back to your home, my friend! You have been a faithful servant for ten years. I need you no more. Go to your own people, and take my blessing. God be with you! So they parted, he that was for death, to die! and he that was for life, to live and to treasure the memory of Paul in his heart for the rest of his days. These are the facts; ten years of faithful service to the Apostle, partly during his detention in Rome, and much of it spent in wearisome and dangerous travelling undertaken to carry a couple of letters.
As for his character, Paul has given us something of it in these few words, which have commended him to a wider circle than the handful of Christians at Colossal. As for his personal godliness and goodness, he is "a beloved brother," as are all who love Christ; but he is also a "faithful minister," or personal attendant upon the Apostle. Paul always seems to have had one or two such about him, from the time of his first journey, when John Mark filled the post, to the end of his career. Probably he was no great hand at managing affairs, and needed some plain common sense nature beside him, who would be secretary or amanuensis sometimes, and general helper and factotum. Men of genius and men devoted to some great cause which tyrannously absorbs attention, want some person to fill such a homely office. The person who filled it would be likely to be a plain man, not gifted in any special degree for higher service. Common sense, willingness to be troubled with small details of purely secular arrangements, and a hearty love for the chief, and desire to spare him annoyance and work, were the qualifications. Such probably was Tychicus-no orator, no organiser, no thinker, but simply an honest, loving soul, who did not shrink from rough outward work, if only it might help the cause. We do not read that he was a teacher or preacher, or miracle worker. His gift was-ministry, and he gave himself to his ministry. His business was to run Paul’s errands, and, like a true man, he ran them "faithfully." So then, he is fairly taken as representing the greatness and sacredness of small and secular service for Christ. For the Apostle goes on to add something to his eulogium as a "faithful minister"-when he calls him "a fellow servant," or slave, "in the Lord." As if he had said, Do not suppose that because I write this letter, and Tychicus carries it, there is much difference between us. We are both slaves of the same Lord who has set each of us his tasks; and though the tasks be different, the obedience is the same, and the doers stand oil one level. I am not Tychicus’ master, though he be my minister. We have both, as I have been reminding you that you all have, an owner in heaven. The delicacy of the turn thus given to the commendation is a beautiful indication of Paul’s generous, chivalrous nature. No wonder that such a soul bound men like Tychicus to him!
But there is more than merely a revelation of a beautiful character in the words; there are great truths in them. We may draw them out in two or three thoughts.
Small things done for Christ are great. Trifles that contribute and are indispensable to a great result are great; or perhaps, more properly, both words are out of place. In some powerful engine there is a little screw, and if it drop out the great piston cannot rise nor the huge crank turn. What have big and little to do with things which are equally indispensable? There is a great rudder that steers an ironclad. It moves on a "pintle" a few inches long. If that bit of iron were gone, what would become of the rudder, and what would be the use of the ship with all her guns? There is an old jingling rhyme about losing a shoe for want of a nail, and a horse for want of a shoe, and a man for want of a horse, and a battle for want of a man, and a kingdom for loss of a battle. The intervening links may be left out-and the nail and the kingdom brought together. In a similar spirit, we may say that the trifles done for Christ which help the great things are as important as these. What is the use of writing letters if you cannot get them delivered? It takes both Paul and Tychicus to get the letter into the hands of the people at Colossae.
Another thought suggested by the figure of Paul’s minister, who was also his fellow slave, is the sacredness of secular work done for Christ. When Tychicus is caring for Paul’s comfort, and looking after common things for him, he is serving Christ, and his work is "in the Lord." That is equivalent to saying that the distinction between sacred and secular, religious and nonreligious, like that of great and small, disappears from work done for and in Jesus. Whenever there is organisation, there must be much work concerned with purely material things: and the most spiritual forces must have some organisation. There must be men for "the outward business of the house of God" as well as white-robed priests at the altar, and the rapt gazer in the secret place of the Most High. There are a hundred matters of detail and of purely outward and mechanical sort which must be seen to by somebody. The alternative is to do them in a purely mechanical and secular manner and so to make the work utterly dreary and contemptible, or in a devout and earnest manner and so to hallow them all, and make worship of them all. The difference between two lives is not in the material on which, but in the motive from which, and in the end for which, they are respectively lived. All work done in obedience to the same Lord is the same in essence; for it is all obedience; and all work done for the same God is the same in essence, for it is all worship. The distinction between secular and sacred ought never to have found its way into Christian morals, and ought for evermore to be expelled from Christian life.
Another thought may be suggested-fleeting things done for Christ are eternal. How astonished Tychicus would have been if anybody had told him on that day when he got away from Rome, with the two precious letters in his scrip, that these bits of parchment would outlast all the ostentatious pomp of the city, and that his name, because written in them, would be known to the end of time all over the world! The eternal things are the things done for Christ. They are eternal in His memory who has said, "I will never forget any of their works," however they may fall from man’s remembrance. They are perpetual in their consequences. True, no man’s contribution to the mighty sum of things "that make for righteousness" can very long be traced as separate from the others, any more than the raindrop that refreshed the harebell on the moor can be traced in burn, and river, and sea. But for all that, it is there. So our influence for good blends with a thousand others, and may not be traceable beyond a short distance, still it is there: and no true work for Christ, abortive as it may seem, but goes to swell the great aggregate of forces which are working on through the ages to bring the perfect Order.
That Colossian Church seems a failure. Where is it now? Gone. Where are its sister Churches of Asia? Gone. Paul’s work and Tychicus’ seem to have vanished from the earth and Mohammedanism to have taken its place. Yes! and here are we today in England, and Christian men all over the world in lands that were mere slaughterhouses of savagery then, learning our best lessons from Paul’s words, and owing something for our knowledge of them to Tychicus’ humble care. Paul meant to teach a handful of obscure believers-he has edified the world. Tychicus thought to carry the precious letter safely over the sea-he was helping to send it across the centuries, and to put it into our hands. So little do we know where our work will terminate. Our only concern is where it begins. Let us look after this end, the motive; and leave God to take care of the other, the consequences.
Such work will be perpetual in its consequences on ourselves. "Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious." Whether our service for Christ does others any good or no, it will bless ourselves, by strengthening the motives from which it springs, by enlarging our own knowledge and enriching our own characters, and by a hundred other gracious influences which His work exerts upon the devout worker, and which become indissoluble parts of himself, and abide with them forever, over and above the crown of glory that fadeth not away.
And, as the reward is given not to the outward deed, but to the motive which settles its value, all work done from the same motive is alike in reward, howsoever different in form. Paul in the front, and Tychicus obscure in the Tear, the great teachers and path openers whom Christ through the ages raises up for large spiritual work, and the little people whom Christ through the ages raises up to help and sympathise-shall share alike at last, if the Spirit that moved them has been the same, and if in different administrations they have served the same Lord. "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet"-though no prophecy come from his lips-"shall receive a prophet’s reward."
II. We must now turn to a much briefer consideration of the second figure here, Onesimus, as representing the transforming and uniting power of Christian faith.
No doubt this is the same Onesimus as we read of in the Epistle to Philemon. His story is familiar and need not be dwelt on. He had been an "unprofitable servant," good-for-nothing, and apparently had robbed his master, and then fled. He had found his way to Rome, to which all the scum of the empire seemed to drift. There he had burrowed in some hole, and found obscurity and security. Somehow or other he had come across Paul-surely not, as has been supposed, having sought the Apostle as a friend of his master’s, which would rather have been a reason for avoiding him. However that may be, he had found Paul, and Paul’s Master had found him by the gospel which Paul spoke. His heart had been touched. And now he is to go back to his owner. With beautiful considerateness the Apostle unites him with Tychicus in his mission, and refers the Church to him as an authority. That is most delicate and thoughtful. The same sensitive regard for his feelings marks the language in which he is commended to them. There is now no word about "a fellow slave"-that might have been misunderstood and might have hurt. Paul will only say about him half of what he said about Tychicus. He cannot leave out the "faithful," because Onesimus had been eminently unfaithful, and so he attaches it to that half of his former commendation which he retains, and testifies to him as "a faithful and beloved brother." There are no references to his flight or to his peculations. Philemon is the person to be spoken to about these: The Church has nothing to do with them. The man’s past was blotted out-enough that he is "faithful," exercising trust in Christ, and therefore to be trusted. His condition was of no moment-enough that he is "a brother," therefore to be beloved.
Does not then that figure stand forth a living illustration of the transforming power of Christianity? Slaves had well known vices, largely the result of their position-idleness, heartlessness, lying, dishonesty. And this man had had his full share of the sins of his class. Think of him as he left Colossae, slinking from his master, with stolen property in his bosom, madness and mutiny in his heart, an ignorant heathen, with vices and sensualities holding carnival in his soul. Think of him as he came back, Paul’s trustee [representative], with desires after holiness in his deepest nature, the light of the knowledge of a loving and pure God in his soul, a great hope before him, ready for all service and even to put on again the abhorred yoke! What had happened? Nothing but this-the message had come to him, "Onesimus! fugitive, rebel thief as thou art, Jesus Christ has died for thee, and lives to cleanse and bless thee. Believest thou this?" And he believed, and leant his whole sinful self on that Saviour, and the corruption faded away from his heart, and out of the thief was made a trustworthy man, and out of the slave a beloved brother. The cross had touched his heart and will. That was all. It had changed his whole being. He is a living illustration of Paul’s teaching in this very letter. He is dead with Christ to his old self; he lives with Christ a new life.
The gospel can do that. It can and does do so today and to us, if we will. Nothing else can; nothing else ever has done it; nothing else ever will. Culture may do much; social reformation may do much; but the radical transformation of the nature is only effected by the "love of God shed abroad in the heart," and by the new life which we receive through our faith in Christ. That change can be produced on all sorts and conditions of men. The gospel despairs of none. It knows of no hopelessly irreclaimable classes. It can kindle a soul under the ribs of death. The filthiest rags can be cleaned and made into spotlessly white paper, which may have the name of God written upon it. None is beyond its power; neither the savages in other lands, nor the more hopeless heathens festering and rotting in our back slums, the opprobrium of our civilisation and the indictment of our Christianity. Take the gospel that transformed this poor slave to them, and some hearts will own it, and we shall pick out of the kennel souls blacker than his, and make them like him, brethren, faithful and beloved.
Further, here is a living illustration of the power which the gospel has of binding men into a true brotherhood. We can scarcely picture to ourselves the gulf which separated the master from his slave. "So many slaves, so many enemies," said Seneca. That great crack running through society was a chief weakness and peril of the ancient world. Christianity gathered master and slave into one family, and set them down at one table to commemorate the death of the Saviour who held them all in the embrace of His great love.
All true union among men must be based upon their oneness in Jesus Christ. The brotherhood of man is a consequence of the fatherhood of God, and Christ shows us the Father. If the dreams of men’s being knit together in harmony are ever to be more than dreams, the power that makes them facts must flow from the cross. The world must recognise that "One is your master," before it comes to believe as anything more than the merest sentimentality that "all ye are brethren." Much has to be done before the dawn of that day reddens in the east, "when, man to man, the wide world o’er, shall brothers be," and much in political and social life has to be swept away before society is organised on the basis of Christian fraternity. The vision tarries. But we may remember how certainly, though slowly, the curse of slavery has disappeared, and take courage to believe that all other evils will fade away in like manner, until the cords of love shall bind all hearts in fraternal unity, because they bind each to the cross of the Elder Brother, through whom we are no more slaves, but sons, and if sons of God, then brethren of one another.
SALUTATIONS FROM THE PRISONER’S FRIENDS
Colossians 4:10-14 (R.V.)
Here are men of different races, unknown to each other by face, clasping hands across the seas, and feeling that the repulsions of nationality, language, conflicting interests, have disappeared in the unity of faith. These greetings are a most striking, because unconscious, testimony to the reality and strength of the new bond that knit Christian souls together.
There are three sets of salutations here, sent from Rome to the little far off Phrygian town in its secluded valley. The first is from three large-hearted Jewish Christians, whose greeting has a special meaning as coming from that wing of the Church which had least sympathy with Paul’s work or converts. The second is from the Colossians’ townsman Epaphras; and the third is from two Gentiles like themselves, one well known as Paul’s most faithful friend, one almost unknown, of whom Paul has nothing to say, and of whom nothing good can be said. All these may yield us matter for consideration. It is interesting to piece together what we know of the bearers of these shadowy names. It is profitable to regard them as exponents of certain tendencies and principles.
I. These three sympathetic Jewish Christians may stand as types of a progressive and non-ceremonial Christianity.
We need spend little time in outlining the figures of these three, for he in the centre is well known to everyone, and his two supporters are little known to anyone. Aristarchus was a Thessalonian, [Acts 20:4] and so perhaps one of Paul’s early converts on his first journey to Europe. His purely Gentile name would not: have led us to expect him to be a Jew. But we have many similar instances in the New Testament, such for instance, as the names of six of the seven deacons, [Acts 7:5] which show that the Jews of "the dispersion," who resided in foreign countries, often bore no trace of their nationality in their names. He was with Paul in Ephesus at the time of the riot, and was one of the two whom the excited mob, in their zeal for trade and religion, dragged into the theatre, to the peril of their lives. We next find him, like Tychicus, a member of the deputation which joined Paul on his voyage to Jerusalem. Whatever was the case with the other, Aristarchus was in Palestine with Paul, for we learn that he sailed with him thence. [Acts 27:2] Whether he kept company with Paul during all the journey we do not know. But more probably he went home to Thessalonica, and afterwards rejoined Paul at some point in his Roman captivity. At any rate here he is, standing by Paul, having drunk in his spirit, and enthusiastically devoted to him and his work.
He receives here a remarkable and honourable title, "my fellow prisoner." I suppose that: it is to be taken literally, and that Aristarchus was, in some way, at the moment of writing, sharing Paul’s imprisonment. Now it has been often noticed that, in the Epistle to Philemon, where almost all these names reappear, it is not Aristarchus, but Epaphras, who is honoured with this epithet; and that interchange has been explained by an ingenious supposition that Paul’s friends took it in turn to keep him company, and were allowed to live with him, on condition of submitting to the same restrictions, military guardianship, and so on. There is no positive evidence in favour of this, but it is not improbable, and, if accepted, helps to give an interesting glimpse of Paul’s prison life, and of the loyal devotion which surrounded him.
Mark comes next. His story is well known-how twelve years before he had joined the first missionary band from Antioch, of which his cousin Barnabas was the leader, and had done well enough as long as they were on known ground, in Barnabas’ (and perhaps his own) native island of Cyprus, but had lost heart and run home to his mother as soon as they crossed into Asia Minor. He had long ago effaced the distrust of him which Paul naturally conceived on account of this collapse. How he came to be with Paul at Rome is unknown. It has been conjectured that Barnabas was dead, and that so, Mark was free to join the Apostle; but that is unsupported supposition. Apparently he is how purposing a journey to Asia Minor, in the course of which, if he should come to Colossae (which was doubtful, perhaps on account of its insignificance), Paul repeats his previous injunction, that the church should give him a cordial welcome. Probably this commendation was given because the evil odour of his old fault might still hang about his name. The calculated emphasis of the exhortation, "receive him," seems to show that there was some reluctance to give him a hearty reception and take him to their hearts. So we have an "undesigned coincidence." The tone of the injunction here is naturally explained by the story in the Acts. So faithful a friend did he prove, that the lonely old man, fronting death, longed to have his affectionate tending once more; and his last word about him, "Take Mark, and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry," condones the early fault, and restores him to the office which, in a moment of selfish "weakness," he had abandoned. So it is possible to efface a faultful past, and to acquire strength and fitness for work to which we are by nature most inapt and indisposed. Mark is an instance of early faults nobly atoned for, and a witness of the power of repentance and faith to overcome natural weakness. Many a ragged colt makes a noble horse.
The third man is utterly unknown-"Jesus, which is called Justus." How startling to come across that name, borne by this obscure Christian! How it helps us to feel the humble manhood of Christ, by showing us that many another Jewish boy bore the same name; common and undistinguished then, though too holy to be given to any since. His surname Justus may, perhaps, like the same name given to James, the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, hint his rigorous adherence to Judaism, and so may indicate that, like Paul himself, he came from the straitest sect of their religion into the large liberty in which he now rejoiced.
He seems to have been of no importance in the Church, for his name is the only one in this context which does not reappear in Philemon, and we never hear of him again. A strange fate his! to be made immortal by three words-and because he wanted to send a loving message to the Church at Colossae! Why, men have striven and schemed, and broken their hearts, and flung away their lives, to grasp the bubble of posthumous fame and how easily this good "Jesus which is called Justus" has got it! He has his name written forever on the world’s memory, and he very likely never knew it, and does not know it, and was never a bit the better for it! What a satire on "the last inafirmity of noble minds!"
These three men are united in this salutation, Because they are all three, "of the circumcision"; that is to say, are Jews, and being so, have separated themselves from all the other Jewish Christians in Rome, and have flung themselves with ardour into Paul’s missionary work among the Gentiles, and have been his fellow workers for the advancement of the kingdom-aiding him, that is, in seeking to win willing subjects to the loving, kingly will of God. By this cooperation in the aim of his life, they have been a "comfort" to him. He uses a half medical term, which perhaps he had caught from the physician at his elbow, which we might perhaps parallel by saying they had been a "cordial" to him-like a refreshing draught to a weary man, or some whiff of pure air stealing into a close chamber and lifting the damp curls on some hot brow.
Now these three men, the only three Jewish Christians in Rome who had the least sympathy with Paul and his work, give us, in their isolation, a vivid illustration of the antagonism which he had to face from that portion of the early Church. The great question for the first generation of Christians was, not whether Gentiles might enter the Christian community, but whether they must do so by circumcision, and pass through Judaism on their road to Christianity. The bulk of the Palestinian Jewish Christians naturally held that they must; while the bulk of Jewish Christians who had been born in other countries as naturally held that they need not. As the champion of this latter decision, Paul was worried and counterworked and hindered all his life by the other party. They had no missionary zeal, or next to none, but they followed in his wake and made mischief wherever they could. If we can fancy some modern sect that sends out no missionaries of its own, but delights to come in where better men have forced a passage, and to upset their work by preaching its own crotchets, we get precisely the kind of thing which dogged Paul all his life.
There was evidently a considerable body of these men in Rome; good men no doubt in a fashion, believing in Jesus as the Messiah, but unable to comprehend that he had antiquated Moses, as the dawning day makes useless the light in a dark place. Even when he was a prisoner, their unrelenting antagonism pursued the Apostle. They preached Christ of "envy and strife." Not one of them lifted a finger to help him, or spoke a word to cheer him. With none of them to say, God bless him! he toiled on. Only these three were large hearted enough to take their stand by his side, and by this greeting to clasp the hands of their Gentile, brethren in Colossae and thereby to endorse the teaching of this letter as to the abrogation of Jewish rites.
It was a brave thing to do, and the exuberance of the eulogium shows how keenly Paul felt his countrymen’s coldness, and how grateful he was to "the dauntless three." Only those who have lived in an atmosphere of misconstruction, surrounded by scowls and sneers, can understand what a cordial the clasp of a hand, or the word of sympathy is. These men were like the old soldier that stood on the street of Worms, as Luther passed in to the Diet, and clapped him. on the shoulder, with "Little monk! little monk! you are about to make a nobler stand today than we in all our battles have ever done. If your cause is just, and you are sure of it, go forward in God’s name, and fear nothing." If we can do no more, we can give some one who is doing more a cup of cold water, by our sympathy and taking our place at his side, and so can be fellow workers to the kingdom of God.
We note, too; that the best comfort Paul could have was help in his work. He did not go about the world whimpering for sympathy. He was much too strong a man for that. He wanted men to come down into the trench with him, and to shovel and wheel there till they had made in the wilderness some kind of a highway for the King. The true cordial for a true worker is that others get into the traces and pull by his side.
But we may further look at these men as representing for us progressive as opposed to reactionary, and spiritual as opposed to ceremonial, Christianity. Jewish Christians looked backwards; Paul and his three sympathisers looked forward. There was much excuse for the former. No wonder that they shrank from the idea that things divinely appointed could be laid aside. Now there is a broad distinction between the divine in Christianity and the divine in Judaism. For Jesus Christ is God’s last word, and abides forever. His divinity, His perfect sacrifice, His present life in glory for us, His life within us, these and their related truths are the perennial possession of the Church. To Him we must look back, and every generation till the end of time will have to look back, as the full and final expression of the wisdom and will and mercy of God. "Last of all He sent unto them His Son."
That being distinctly understood, we need not hesitate to recognise the transitory nature of much of the embodiment of the eternal truth concerning the eternal Christ. To draw the line accurately between the permanent and the transient would be to anticipate history and read the future. But the clear recognition of the distinction between the Divine revelation and the vessels in which it is contained, between Christ and creed, between Churches, forms of worship, formularies of faith on the one hand, and the everlasting word of God spoken to us once for all in His Son, and recorded in Scripture, on the other, is needful at all times, and especially at such times of sifting and unsettlement as the present. It will save some of us from an obstinate conservatism which might read its fate in the decline and disappearance of Jewish Christianity. It will save us equally from needless fears, as if the stars were going out, when it is only men-made lamps that are paling. Men’s hearts often tremble for the ark of God, when the only things in peril are the cart that carries it, or the oxen that draw it. "We have received a kingdom that cannot be moved," be, cause we have received a King eternal, and therefore may calmly see the removal of things that can be shaken, assured that the things which cannot be shaken will but the more conspicuously assert their permanence. The existing embodiments of God’s truth are not the highest, and if Churches and forms crumble and disintegrate, their disappearance will not be the abolition of Christianity, but its progress. These Jewish Christians would have found all that they strove to keep, in higher form and more real reality, in Christ; and what seemed to them. the destruction of Judaism was really its coronation with undying life.
II. Epaphras is for us the type of the highest service which love can render.
All our knowledge of Epaphras is contained in these brief notices in this Epistle. We learn from the first chapter that he had introduced the gospel to Colossae, and perhaps also to Laodicea and Hierapolis. He was "one of you," a member of the Colossian community, and a resident in, possibly a native of, Colossae. He had come to Rome, apparently to consult the Apostle about the views which threatened to disturb the Church. He had told him, too, of their love, not painting the picture too black, and gladly giving full prominence to any bits of brightness. It was his report which led to the writing of this letter.
Perhaps some of the Colossians were not over pleased with his having gone to speak with Paul, and having brought down this thunderbolt on their heads; and such a feeling may account for the warmth of Paul’s praises of him as his "fellow slave," and for the emphasis of his testimony on his behalf. However they might doubt it, Epaphras’ love for them was warm. It showed itself by continual fervent prayers that they might stand "perfect and fully persuaded in all the will of God," and by toil of body and mind for them. We can see the anxious Epaphras, far away from the Church of his solicitude, always burdened with the thought of their danger, and ever wrestling in prayer on their behalf.
So we may learn the noblest service which Christian love can do-prayer. There is a real power in Christian intercession. There are many difficulties and mysteries round that thought. The manner of the blessing is not revealed, but the fact that we help one another by prayer is plainly taught, and confirmed by many examples, from the day when God heard Abraham and delivered Lot, to the hour when the loving authoritative words were spoken, "Simon, Simon, I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." A spoonful of water sets a hydraulic press in motion, and brings into operation a force of tons’ weight; so a drop of prayer at the one end may move an influence at the other which is omnipotent. It is a service which all can render. Epaphras could not have written this letter, but he could pray. Love has no higher way of utterance than prayer. A prayerless love may be very tender, and may speak murmured words of sweetest sound, but it lacks the deepest expression, and the noblest music of speech. We never help our dear ones so well as when we pray for them. Do we thus show and consecrate our family loves and our friendships?
We notice too the kind of prayer which love naturally presents. It is constant and earnest -"always striving," or as the word might be rendered, "agonising." That word suggests first the familiar metaphor of the wrestling ground. True prayer is the intensest energy of the spirit pleading for blessing with a great striving of faithful desire. But a more solemn memory gathers round the word, for it can scarcely fail to recall the hour beneath the olives of Gethsemane, when the clear paschal moon shone down on the suppliant who, "being in an agony, prayed the more earnestly." And both Paul’s word here, and the evangelist’s there, carry us back to that mysterious scene by the brook Jabbok, where Jacob "wrestled" with "a man" until the breaking of the day, and prevailed. Such is prayer; the wrestle in the arena, the agony in Gethsemane, the solitary grapple with the "traveller unknown"; and such is the highest expression of Christian love.
Here, too, we learn what love asks for its beloved. Not perishable blessings, not the prizes of earth -fame, fortune, friends; but that "ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God."
The first petition is for steadfastness. To stand has for opposites-to fall, or totter, or give ground; so the prayer is that they may not yield to temptation, or opposition, nor waver in their fixed faith, nor go down in the struggle; but keep erect, their feet planted on the rock, and holding their own against every foe. The prayer is also for their maturity of Christian character, that they may stand firm, because perfect, having attained that condition which Paul in this Epistle tells us is the aim of all preaching and warning. As for ourselves, so for our dear ones, we are to be content with nothing short of entire conformity to the will of God. His merciful purpose for us all is to be the goal of our efforts for ourselves, and of our prayers for others. We are to widen our desires to coincide with His gift, and our prayers are to cover no narrower space than His promises enclose.
Epaphras’ last desire for his friends, according to the true reading, is that they may be "fully assured" in all the will of God. There can be no higher blessing than that-to be quite sure of what God desires me to know and do and be-if the assurance comes from the clear light of His illumination, and not from hasty self-confidence in my own penetration. To be free from the misery of intellectual doubts and practical uncertainties, to walk in the sunshine-is the purest joy. And it is granted in needful measure to all who have silenced their own wills, that they may hear what God says, -"If any man wills to do His will, he shall know."
Does our love speak in prayer? and do our prayers for our dear ones plead chiefly for such gifts? Both our love and our desires need purifying if this is to be their natural language. How can we offer such prayers for them if, at the bottom of our hearts, we had rather see them well off in the world than steadfast, matured, and assured Christians? How can we expect an answer to such prayers if the whole current of our lives shows that neither for them nor for ourselves do we "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness"?
III. The last salutation comes from a singularly contrasted couple-Luke and Demas, the types respectively of faithfulness and apostasy. These two unequally yoked together stand before us like the light and the dark figures that Ary Scheffer delights to paint, each bringing out the colouring of the other more vividly by contrast. They bear the same relation to Paul which John, the beloved disciple, and Judas did to Paul’s master.
As for Luke, his long and faithful companionship of the Apostle is too well known to need repetition here. His first appearance in the Acts nearly coincides with an attack of Paul’s constitutional malady, which gives probability to the suggestion that one reason for Luke’s close attendance on the Apostle was the state of his health. Thus the form. and warmth of the reference here would be explained-"Luke the physician, the beloved." We trace Luke as sharing the perils of the winter voyage to Italy, making his presence known only by the modest "we" of the narrative. We find him here sharing the Roman captivity, and, in the second imprisonment, he was Paul’s only companion. All others had been sent away, or had fled; but Luke could not be spared, and would not desert him, and no doubt was by his side till the end, which soon came. As for Demas, we know no more about him except the melancholy record, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world; and is departed unto Thessalonica." Perhaps he was a Thessalonian, and so went home. His love of the world, then, was his reason for abandoning Paul. Probably it was on the side of danger that the world tempted him. He was a coward, and preferred a whole skin to a clear conscience. In immediate connection with the record of his desertion we read, "At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me." As the same word is used, probably Demas may have been one of those timid friends, whose courage was not equal to standing by Paul when, to use his own metaphor, he thrust his head into the lion’s mouth. Let us not be too hard on the constancy that warped in so fierce a heat. All that Paul charges him with is, that he was a faithless friend, and too fond of the present world. Perhaps his crime did not reach the darker hue. He may not have been an apostate Christian, though he was a faithless friend. Perhaps, if there were departure from Christ as well as from Paul, he came back again, like Peter, whose sins against love and friendship were greater than his-and, like Peter, found pardon and a welcome. Perhaps, away in Thessalonica, he repented him of his evil, and perhaps Paul and Demas met again before the throne, and there clasped inseparable hands. Let us not judge a man of whom we know so little, but take to ourselves the lesson of humility and self-distrust!
How strikingly these two contrasted characters bring out the possibility of men being exposed to the same influences and yet ending far away from each other! These two set out from the same point, and travelled side by side, subject to the same training, in contact with the magnetic attraction of Paul’s strong personality and at the end they are wide as the poles asunder. Starting from the same level, one line inclines ever so little upwards, the other imperceptibly downwards. Pursue them far enough, and there is room for the whole solar system with all its orbits in the space between them. So two children trained at one mother’s knee, subjects of the same prayers, with the same sunshine of love and rain of good influences upon them both, may grow up, one to break a mother’s heart and disgrace a father’s home, and the other to walk in the ways of godliness and serve the God of his fathers. Circumstances are mighty; but the use we make of circumstances lies with ourselves. As we trim our sails and set our rudder, the same breeze will take us in opposite directions. We are the architects and builders of our own characters, and may so use the most unfavourable influences as to strengthen and wholesomely harden our natures thereby, and may so misuse the most favourable as only thereby to increase our blameworthiness for wasted opportunities.
We are reminded, also, from these two men who stand before us like a double star-one bright and one dark-that no loftiness of Christian position, nor length of Christian profession, is a guarantee against falling and apostasy. As we read in another book, for which also the Church has to thank a prison cell-the place where so many of its precious possessions have been written -there is a back way to the pit from the gate of the Celestial City. Demas had stood high in the Church, had been admitted to the close intimacy of the Apostle, was evidently no raw novice, and yet the world could drag him back from so eminent a place in which he had long stood. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
The world that was too strong for Demas will be too strong for us if we front it in our own strength. It is ubiquitous, working on us everywhere and always, like the pressure of the atmosphere on our bodies. Its weight will crush us unless we can climb to and dwell on the heights of communion with God, where pressure is diminished. It acted on Demas through his fears. It acts on us through our ambitions, affections, and desires. So, seeing that miserable wreck of Christian constancy, and considering ourselves lest we also be tempted, let us not judge another, but look at home. There is more than enough there to make profound self-distrust our truest wisdom, and to teach us to pray, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe."
Colossians 4:15-18 (R.V.)
THERE is a marked love of triplets in these closing messages. There were three of the circumcision who desired to salute the Colossians; and there were three Gentiles whose greetings followed these. Now we have a triple message from the Apostle himself-his greeting to Laodicea, his message as to the interchange of letters with that Church, and his grave, stringent charge to Archippus. Finally, the letter closes with a few hurried words in his own handwriting, which also are threefold, and seem to have been added in extreme haste, and to be compressed to the utmost possible brevity.
I. We shall first look at the threefold greeting and warnings to Laodicea.
In the first part of this triple message we have a glimpse of the Christian life of that city. "Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea." These are, of course, the whole body of Christians in the neighbouring town, which was a much more important place than Colossae. They are the same persons as "the Church of the Laodiceans." Then comes a special greeting to "Nymphas," who was obviously a brother of some importance and influence in the Laodicean Church, though to us he has sunk to be an empty name. With him Paul salutes "the Church that is in their house" (Rev. Ver.). Whose house? Probably that belonging to Nymphas and his family. Perhaps that belonging to Nymphas and the Church that met in it, if these were other than his family. The more difficult expression is adopted by preponderating textual authorities, and "his house" is regarded as a correction to make the sense easier. If so, then the expression is one of which in our ignorance we have lost the key, and which we must be content to leave unexplained.
But what was this "Church in the house"? We read that Prisca and Aquila had such both in their house in Rome [Romans 16:5] and in Ephesus, [1 Corinthians 16:19] and that Philemon had such in his house at Colossae. It may be that only the household of Nymphas is meant, and that the words import no more than that it was a Christian household; or it may be, and more probably is, that in all these cases there was some gathering of a few of the Christians resident in each city, who were closely connected with the heads of the household, and met in their houses, more or less regularly, to worship and to help one another in the Christian life. We have no facts that decide which of these two suppositions is correct. The early Christians had, of course, no buildings especially used for their meetings, and there may often have been difficulty in finding suitable places, particularly in cities where the Church was numerous. It may have been customary, therefore, for brethren who had large and convenient houses, to gather together portions of the whole community in these. In any case, the expression gives us a glimpse of the primitive elasticity of Church order, and of the early fluidity, so to speak, of ecclesiastical language. The word "Church" had not yet been hardened and fixed to its present technical sense. There was but one Church in Laodicea, and yet within it there was this little Church-an imperium in imperio- as if the word had not yet come to mean more than an assembly, and as if all arrangements of order and worship, and all the terminology of later days, were undreamed of yet. The life was there, but the forms which were to grow out of the life, and to protect it sometimes, and to stifle it often, were only beginning to show themselves, and were certainly not yet felt to be forms. We may note, too, the beautiful glimpse we get here of domestic and social religion.
If the Church in the house of Nymphas consisted of his own family and dependents, it stands for us as a lesson of what every family, which has a Christian man or woman at its head, ought to be. Little knowledge of the ordering of so-called Christian households is needed to be sure that domestic religion is woefully neglected today. Family worship and family instruction are disused, one fears, in many homes, the heads of which can remember both in their fathers’ houses; and the unspoken aroma and atmosphere of religion does not fill the house with its odour, as it ought to do. If a Christian householder have not "a Church in his house," the family union is tending to become "a synagogue of Satan." One or other it is sure to be. It is a solemn question for all parents and heads of households, What am I doing to make my house a Church, my family a family united by faith in Jesus Christ?
A like suggestion may be made if, as is possible, the Church in the house of Nymphas included more than relatives and dependents. It is a miserable thing when social intercourse plays freely round every other subject, and tabooes all mention of religion. It is a miserable thing when Christian people choose and cultivate society for worldly advantages, business connections, family advancement, and forevery reason under heaven-sometimes a long way under-except those of a common faith, and of the desire to increase it.
It is not needful to lay down extravagant, impracticable restrictions, by insisting either that we should limit our society to religious men, or our conversation to religious subjects. But it is a bad sign when our chosen associates are chosen for every other reason but their religion, and when our talk flows copiously on all other subjects, and becomes a constrained driblet when religion comes to be spoken of: Let us try to carry about with us an influence which shall permeate all our social intercourse, and make it, if not directly religious, yet never antagonistic to religion, and always capable of passing easily and naturally into the highest regions. Our godly forefathers used to carve texts over their house doors. Let us do the same in another fashion, so that all who cross the threshold may feel that they have come into a Christian household, where cheerful godliness sweetens and brightens the sanctities of home.
We have next a remarkable direction as to the interchange of Paul’s letters to Colossae and Laodicea. The present Epistle is to be sent over to the neighbouring Church of Laodicea-that is quite clear. But what is "the Epistle from Laodicea" which the Colossians are to be sure to get and to read? The connection forbids us to suppose that a letter written by the Laodicean Church is meant. Both letters are plainly Pauline epistles, and the latter is said to be "from Laodicea," simply because the Colossians were to procure it from that place. The "from" does not imply authorship, but transmission. What then has become of this letter? Is it lost? So say some commentators; but a more probable opinion is that it is no other than the Epistle which we know as that to the Ephesians. This is not the occasion to enter on a discussion of that view. It will be enough to notice that very weighty textual authorities omit the words "In Ephesus," in the first verse of that Epistle. The conjecture is a very reasonable one, that the letter was intended for a circle of Churches, and had originally no place named in the superscription, just as we might issue circulars "To the Church in," leaving a blank to be filled in with different names. This conjecture is strengthened by the marked absence of personal references in the letter, which in that respect forms a striking contrast to the Epistle to the Colossians, which it so strongly resembles in other particulars. Probably, therefore, Tychicus had both letters put into his hands for delivery. The circular would go first to Ephesus as the most important Church in Asia, and thence would be carried by him to one community after another, till he reached Laodicea, from which he would come further up the valley to Colossae, bringing both letters with him. The Colossians are not told to get the letter from Laodicea, but to be sure that they read it. Tychicus would see that it came to them; their business was to see that they marked, learned, and inwardly digested it.
The urgency of these instructions that Paul’s letters should be read reminds us of a similar but still more stringent injunction in his earliest epistle, [1 Thessalonians 5:27] "I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren." Is it possible that these Churches did not much care for Paul’s words, and were more willing to admit that they were weighty and powerful, than to study them and lay them to heart? It looks almost like it. Perhaps they got the same treatment then as they often do now, and were more praised than read, even by those who professed to look upon him as their teacher in Christ!
But passing by that, we come to the last part of this threefold message, the solemn warning to a slothful servant.
"Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it." A sharp message that-and especially sharp, as being sent through others, and not spoken directly to the man himself. If this Archippus were a member of the Church at Colossae, it is remarkable that Paul should not have spoken to him directly, as he did to Euodia and Syntyche, the two good women at Philippi, who had fallen out. But it is by no means certain that he was. We find him named again, indeed, at the beginning of the Epistle to Philemon, in such immediate connection with the latter, and with his wife Apphia, that he has been supposed to be their son. At all events, he was intimately associated with the Church in the house of Philemon, who, as we know, was a Colossian. The conclusion, therefore, seems at first sight most natural that Archippus too belonged to the Colossian Church. But on the other hand the difficulty already referred to seems to point in another direction; and if it be further remembered that this whole section is concerned with the Church at Laodicea, it will be seen to be a likely conclusion from all the facts that Archippus, though perhaps a native of Colossae, or even a resident there, had his "ministry" in connection with that other neighbouring Church.
It may be worth notice, in passing, that all these messages to Laodicea, occurring here, strongly favour the supposition that the epistle from that place cannot have been a letter especially meant for the Laodicean church, as, if it had been, these would have naturally been inserted in it. So far, therefore, they confirm the hypothesis that it was a circular.
Some may say, Well, what in the world does it matter where Archippus worked? Not very much perhaps; and yet one cannot but read this grave exhortation to a man who was evidently getting languid and negligent, without remembering what we hear about Laodicea and the angel of the Church there, when next we meet it in the page of Scripture. It is not impossible that Archippus was that very "angel," to whom the Lord Himself sent the message through His servant John, more awful than that which Paul had sent through his brethren at Colossae, "Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth."
Be that as it may, the message is for us all. Each of us has a "ministry," a sphere of service. We may either fill it full, with earnest devotion and patient heroism, as some expanding gas fills out the silken round of its containing vessel, or we may breathe into it only enough to occupy a little portion, while all the rest hangs empty and flaccid. We have to "fulfil our ministry."
A sacred motive enhances the obligation-we have received it "in the Lord." In union with Him it has been laid on us. No human hand has imposed it, nor does it arise merely from earthly relationships, but our fellowship with Jesus Christ, and incorporation into the true Vine, have laid on us responsibilities, and exalted us by service.
There must be diligent watchfulness in order to fulfil our ministry. We must take heed to our service, and we must take heed to ourselves. We have to reflect upon it, its extent, nature, imperativeness, upon the manner of discharging it, and the means of fitness for it. We have to keep our work ever before us. Unless we are absorbed in it, we shall not fulfil it. And we have to take heed to ourselves, ever feeling our weakness and the strong antagonisms in our own natures which hinder our discharge of the plainest, most imperative duties.
And let us remember, too, that if once we begin, like Archippus, to be a little languid and perfunctory in our work, we may end where the Church of Laodicea ended, whether he were its angel or no, with that nauseous lukewarmness which sickens even Christ’s long suffering love, and forces Him to reject it with loathing.
II. And now we come to the end of our task, and have to consider the hasty last words in Paul’s own hand. We can see him taking the reed from the amanuensis and adding the three brief sentences which close the letter. He first writes that which is equivalent to our modern usage of signing the letter-"the salutation of me Paul with mine own hand." This appears to have been his usual practice, or, as he says in 2 Thessalonians 3:17, it was "his token in every epistle"-the evidence that each was the genuine expression of his mind. Probably his weak eyesight, which appears certain, may have had something to do with his employing a secretary, as we may assume him to have done, even when there is no express mention of his autograph in the closing salutations. We find, for example, in the Epistle to the Romans no words corresponding to these, but the modest amanuensis steps for a moment into the light near the end: "I Tertius, who write the epistle, salute you in the Lord."
The endorsement with his name is followed by a request singularly pathetic in its abrupt brevity, "Remember my bonds." This is the one personal reference in the letter, unless we add as a second, his request for their prayers that he may speak the mystery of Christ, for which he is in bonds. There is a striking contrast in this respect with the abundant allusions to his circumstances in the Epistle to the Philippians, which also belongs to the period of his captivity. He had been swept far away from thoughts of self by the enthusiasm of his subject. The vision that opened before him of his Lord in His glory, the Lord of Creation, the Head of the Church, the throned helper of every trusting soul, had flooded his chamber with light, and swept guards and chains and restrictions out of his consciousness. But now the spell is broken, and common things reassert their power. He stretches out his hand for the reed to write his last words, and as he does so, the chain which fastens him to the Praetorian guard at his side pulls and hinders him. He wakes to the consciousness of his prison. The seer, swept along by the storm wind of a Divine inspiration, is gone. The weak man remains. The exhaustion after such an hour of high communion makes him more than usually dependent; and all his subtle, profound teachings, all his thunderings and lightnings, end in the simple cry, which goes straight to the heart,
"Remember my bonds."
He wished their remembrance because he needed their sympathy. Like the old rags put round the ropes by which the prophet was hauled out of his dungeon, the poorest bit of sympathy twisted round a fetter makes it chafe less. The petition helps us to conceive how heavy a trial Paul felt his imprisonment to be, little as he said about it, and bravely as he bore it. He wished their remembrance too, because his bonds added weight to his words. His sufferings gave him a right to speak. In times of persecution confessors are the highest teachers, and the marks of the Lord Jesus borne in a man’s body give more authority than diplomas and learning. He wished their remembrance because his bonds might encourage them to steadfast endurance if need for it should arise. He points to his own sufferings, and would have them take heart to bear their lighter crosses and to fight their easier battle.
One cannot but recall the words of Paul’s Master, so like these in sound, so unlike them in deepest meaning. Can there be a greater contrast than between "Remember my bonds," the plaintive appeal of a weak man seeking sympathy, coming as an appendix, quite apart from the subject of the letter, and "Do this in remembrance of Me," the royal words of the Master? Why is the memory of Christ’s death so unlike the memory of Paul’s chains? Why is the one merely for the play of sympathy, and the enforcement of his teaching, and the other the very centre of our religion? For one reason alone. Because Christ’s death is the life of the world, and Paul’s sufferings, whatever their worth, had nothing in them that bore, except indirectly, on man’s redemption. "Was Paul crucified for you?" We remember his chains, and they give him sacredness in our eyes. But we remember the broken body and shed blood of our Lord, and cleave to it in faith as the one sacrifice for the world’s sin.
And then comes the last word: "Grace be with you." The apostolic benediction, with which he closes all his letters, occurs in many different stages of expression. Here it is pared down to the very quick. No shorter form is possible-and yet even in this condition of extreme compression, all good is in it.
All possible blessing is wrapped up in that one word, Grace. Like the sunshine, it carries life and fruitfulness in itself. If the favour and kindness of God, flowing out to men so far beneath Him, who deserve such different treatment, be ours, then in our hearts wilt be rest and a great peacefulness, whatever may be about us, and in our characters will be all beauties and capacities, in the measure of our possession of that grace.
That all-producing germ of joy and excellence is here parted among the whole body of Colossian Christians. The dew of this benediction falls upon them all-the teachers of error if they still held by Christ, the Judaisers, the slothful Archippus, even as the grace which it invokes will pour itself into imperfect natures and adorn very sinful characters, if beneath the imperfection and the evil there be the true affiance of the soul on Christ.
That communication of grace to a sinful world is the end of all God’s deeds, as it is the end of this letter. That great revelation which began when man began, which has spoken its complete message in the Son, the heir of all things, as this Epistle tells us, has this for the purpose of all its words-whether they are terrible or gentle, deep or simple-that God’s grace may dwell among men. The mystery of Christ’s being, the agony of Christ’s cross, the hidden glories of Christ’s dominion are all for this end, that of His fulness we may all receive, and grace for grace. The Old Testament, true to its genius, ends with stern onward-looking words which point to a future coming of the Lord and to the possible terrible aspect of that coming "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." It is the last echo of the long drawn blast of the trumpets of Sinai. The New Testament ends, as our Epistle ends, and as we believe the weary history of the world will end, with the benediction: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."
That grace, the love which pardons and quickens and makes good and fair and wise and strong, is offered to all in Christ. Unless we have accepted it, God’s revelation and Christ’s work have failed as far as we are concerned. "We therefore, as fellow workers with Him, beseech you that ye receive not the grace of God in vain."
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Colossians 4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter