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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Colossians 4

 

 

Verse 1

‘Masters (lords), render to your servants what is right and is equality, knowing that you also have a master in Heaven.’

The master is not to show partiality but must treat each servant fairly. The same treatment must be meted out to all, and it must be ‘right’. For that is how the Master in Heaven treats all men, and He will require it of him.


Verse 2

‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving.’

The great concern of the Christians’ prayer should be the going forward of God’s purposes and the triumph of the Gospel. This was made clear by Jesus Christ Himself. The first half of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is directly given over to prayer for the carrying forward of these purposes, for the ‘hallowing of God’s name’ would result from these (Ezekiel 36:23, note the words that follow; see also Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 39:7; Ezekiel 39:27), and His first concern, as ours should be, was for the establishing of His rule and the doing of His will by all. And the vast majority of references to prayer in the New Testament have this in mind.

And even the latter part of the prayer concentrates on making us a part of that process, the forgiveness of sins, freedom from trial and deliverance from evil and the Evil One. These are all to make us able in the establishing of God’s rule. The sole concession to our own physical needs is the prayer for daily sustenance, and even that is minimal, and has in mind that we need to be reminded of our dependence on God and that all that we have comes from God.

Indeed Jesus stressed that our Father knows our needs so that long prayers for ourselves are not necessary (Matthew 6:7). To be constantly praying about our own needs shows that we do not trust Him to give us what we need. So we are rather to concentrate on seeking the kingship of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), then we will receive all we need as well. We are not to be concerned about abundance on earth but about abundance in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Those who pray for wealth and prosperity on earth still live in the Old Testament, or worse are idolaters (Colossians 3:5). The New Testament saint is concerned for spiritual wealth and blessing. It is only the affluent society that thinks it has a right to pray for affluence because its values have been distorted. It has become basically selfish and self-seeking.

So the prayer Paul has in mind is prayer in accordance with the Lord’s example, that which is for the furthering of His kingship and His purposes (compare Ephesians 6:18-19). In this they are to continue with might and main. And as they pray they are to watch and give gratitude to God for what He accomplishes. Prayer and thanksgiving must always go together.


Verses 2-6

A Final Exhortation (Colossians 4:2-6)

These final words concentrate on what is important for their future behaviour in Christ.


Verse 3-4

‘Withal praying for us also that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, that I may make it manifest (revealed openly, fully and clearly) as I ought to speak.’

Note that Paul says not a word about his own conditions (except for his bonds), nor seeks prayer for help in preparing his defence. He does not want them to pray for these. He wants them to pray for him to be faithful to his responsibilities in Christ, and that the opportunity may be given for the successful presentation of the word of God. He knew that his Father would see to his private needs, and that the Holy Spirit’s help was promised for his appearance before the court (Matthew 10:19-20), so he concentrated on what was important.

‘That God may open to us a door for the word.’ Compare 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Revelation 3:8. He was in prison and chained to a Roman soldier, yet he prays for the opening of a door for the word (and not that of his prison). He knew what God could do. Little realised he at that time that the door was already opened and that the letters he was writing would become a major part of the greatest book in the world, the New Testament. But the important thing is that his heart was still set on proclaiming the Gospel.

‘To speak the mystery of Christ.’ This is the secret now being revealed by the Apostles and their helpers to the world, that is, Christ, Who in them would their hope of glory (Colossians 1:18), establishing those who responded as the new people of God, to the amazement of supernatural beings (Ephesians 3:9-10).

‘For which I am also in bonds.’ Many false teacher pointed to their exertions as proof of their genuineness, so Paul points out that he too suffers for Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:18-30).

‘That I might make it manifest as I ought to speak.’ Paul is aware of the Tempter who would seek to keep him from speaking boldly in his circumstances and the only thing he asks for himself is the courage and wisdom to speak out at every opportunity, so that he can proclaim and make clear the truth to the world.


Verse 5

‘Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside, buying back the time (or ‘the opportunity’).’

As he asks them to pray for an opportunity for himself he also calls on them to make the most of their own opportunities. They are to walk in wisdom (compare Matthew 10:16) towards ‘outsiders’ (see 1 Corinthians 5:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:12), towards those outside the people of God. Preaching the Gospel requires wisdom. It is not enough just to proclaim a message, it must be done with thought and care.

‘Buying back the time (or opportunity).’ Making the most of every precious minute and of every opportunity.


Verse 6

‘Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.’

Every opportunity must be approached differently (1 Corinthians 9:22), and the words carefully chosen. They must be suitable to both person and occasion. They must be spoken with grace, that is with compassionate love and concern. But ‘seasoned with salt’ reminds us that they have to carry a bite within them and be such as will be palatable, long lasting, and preservative, a well rounded message. We must be ready to properly defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15).


Verses 7-9

Final Salutations (Colossians 4:7-18).

‘All my affairs will Tychicus make known to you, the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord, whom I have sent to you for this very purpose that you may know our state and that he may comfort your hearts, together with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother who is one of you. They will make known to you all that is done here.’

Paul demonstrates his concern and interest in the church at Colossae by sending Tychicus to them. Tychicus also carries the letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21-22), and probably the one to Laodicea (Ephesians 6:16) which may well have been a duplicate of Ephesians. He was presumably the Tychicus ‘of Asia (Minor)’ who accompanied Paul and others at a crucial time (Acts 20:4) and may well have gone with him to Jerusalem as a delegate of his own church with gifts for the poor in Jerusalem. He was a trusted messenger of Paul (2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12).

‘The beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord.’ He had three qualifications, beloved by Paul as a ‘brother’, faithful in ministry, and united with Paul and his associates as a true servant of the Lord. ‘In the Lord’ probably covers all three qualifications. To Paul all true Christian relationships were ‘in the Lord’. The title ‘fellow-servant’ (slave) was later applied strictly to deacons as against bishops (so the letters of Ignatius in the early second century AD), but that may be a development of the term resulting from interpretation of this epistle. Paul congratulated himself on being God’s servant (slave).

The purpose of his sending is to update them on what is happening to Paul and to give them spiritual strength, to ‘comfort’ them. He is one ‘called alongside to help’.

‘Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother who is one of you.’ We know more about Onesimus from Paul’s letter to Philemon. He was an escaped slave who had made his way to Rome and there been converted by the preaching of Paul, and had become a faithful and beloved brother. But Paul had learned from him his history, and knew that he belonged to a fellow Christian and brother, Philemon. Thus he was determined to return him to his master to right the wrong that had been done. He would return home with Tychicus and the letter to Philemon hoping to be forgiven and accepted there as Paul requests. ‘One of you’ suggests that he was a Colossian. He and Tychicus could have an important impact on the Colossian church as having been companions of Paul and fully aware of his teachings.

‘They shall make known to you all things that are done here.’ They would update the church in Colossae with all that was happening in Rome.


Verse 10-11

‘Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner salutes you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, about whom you received firm instructions. If he comes to you, receive him. And Jesus who is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These alone are my fellow-workers to the kingdom of God, men that have been a comfort to me.’

These first three who are mentioned are Jewish Christians. It would seem that they were the only members of the Jewish church in Rome that had much close contact with Paul so as to be his ‘fellow-workers’. This need not mean antagonism by the remainder, only a lack of enthusiasm to be involved in his ministry. It may have been by mutual agreement to prevent the stigma of his imprisonment affecting the Jewish church in Rome in the eyes of the authorities. He was after all there on charges relating to Jewish matters.

‘Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner.’ Literally ‘fellow prisoner-of-war.’ This indicates that Paul sees himself as such too, as a soldier of Christ. Not just a prisoner but a prisoner-of-war. If Aristarchus shared Paul’s imprisonment voluntarily, as seems very possible, this would be a suitable title for him. Not a prisoner, but by choice a prisoner-of-war.

In the letter to Philemon Epaphras is the one who is called ‘my fellow prisoner-of-war’, while there Aristarchus is described as a fellow-worker. But we must remember that Epaphras is a Colossian (‘one of you’) and there he is writing to a Colossian.

It would seem therefore that it may be an honourable title not to be applied too literally. However, the fact that Epaphras is not taking the letters may indicate some kind of legal restraint, even if only temporary, so it might suggest a literal situation. Either way the use of the title here of Aristarchus has the purpose of highly commending him to the church of Laodicea. But it may or may not mean that he was himself under legal restraint.

Aristarchus was a native of Thessalonica (Acts 20:4), and at times a companion of Paul (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Acts 27:2).

‘And Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.’ The word translated ‘cousin’ (anepsios) strictly means cousin. It was only later that its meaning extended to include a nephew. Mark was therefore the cousin of Barnabas, not his nephew. He was “John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25). Markos was clearly his Greek name, which gradually came to supersede his Jewish name John. He is called John in Acts 12:25; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:37, and Mark here and in Acts 15:39; Philemon 1:23; 2 Timothy 4:11. He was the son of Mary, a woman apparently of some means and influence, and was probably born in Jerusalem, where his mother resided (Acts 12:12). Of his father we know nothing.

It was in Mark’s mother's house that Peter found "many gathered together praying" when he was released from prison, and it is probable that it was here that he was converted by Peter, who calls him his "son" (1 Peter 5:13). It is quite probable that the "young man" spoken of in Mark 14:51-52 was Mark himself.

He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey (about A.D. 47), but from some cause turned back when they reached Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:13). Three years later a "sharp contention" arose between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40), because Paul would not take Mark with him and this caused them to divide their ministries. It is clear, however from his mention here that he has been restored to Paul’s good favour. At a later period he would be with Peter in ‘Babylon’ (1 Peter 5:13). It is possible that this was Babylon itself, then, and for some centuries afterwards, one of the chief seats of Jewish learning, but it may be a disguised name for Rome. And he was with Timothy in Ephesus when Paul wrote to him during his second imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:11). He then disappears from view apart from the writing of his Gospel.

‘Touching whom you received firm instructions. If he comes to you receive him.’ The latter sentence may be the firm instructions given, that Mark is to be received as a faithful witness and reliable minister. Or Paul may just be adding his commendation to instructions already given by another.

‘Jesus who is called Justus.’ Only mentioned here (and not to Philemon). Probably mentioned here because of his personal devotion to Paul and because with Aristarchus and Mark he is the only Jewish Christian in Rome to give him firm support at this stage.

‘Who are of the circumcision.’ Jewish Christians.

‘These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, men who have been a consolation to me.’ The Jewish Christians in Rome were seemingly holding aloof from Paul. There would be many churches in Rome and on the whole it was only the leaders who might be expected to have taken some interest in Paul’s position. But the Jewish Christian leaders were lacking in their attention.

As suggested above the Jewish Christian leaders may have been, with his agreement, chary of getting involved with someone being arraigned for anti-Jewish behaviour which might draw Roman wrath down on them. But these words here suggest that he felt that they might have offered a little more help than they did, and demonstrates how deeply he felt the faithfulness of these three. Was this one of the things that restored his relationship with Mark, who might have been seen as having some excuse for neglecting him?


Verse 12

‘Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, salutes you, always striving for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has much labour for you, and for those in Laodicea , and for those in Hierapolis.’

See Colossians 1:7. Epaphras may well have founded the Colossian church, and here we learn of his continued concern for them and their fellow churches in the area. He strives (agonises) for them in his prayers, as Paul also does (Colossians 2:1).

‘That you may stand fast, perfect, and be assured (fully persuaded) in all the will of God.’ Paul points out that Epaphras is siding with him in his concern for their true understanding of the Gospel. He too is concerned that they should ‘stand fast’ against error as those who are matured Christians (perfect) and be fully persuaded in their own minds of the truth of Paul’s teaching which was revealing to them the true will of God. For that was what was really important. That they may know the will of God.

‘He has much labour for you.’ At this stage mainly in agonising prayer.

‘And for those in Laodicea and for those in Hierapolis.’ These three churches clearly have close association (with Colossae easily the smallest). It may be that Epaphras founded them all. Certainly he is equally concerned for them all.


Verse 14

‘Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas salute you.’

Luke was a regular companion of Paul (note the ‘we’ passages in Acts - see Acts 16:10-16; Acts 20:6 to Acts 21:18 and probably after; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:31), and the author of Luke and Acts. It is here that we learn he was a physician. In Philemon 1:24 he is a ‘fellow-worker’. This demonstrates that he did more than just being a doctor. He was also active in Christian service and ministry.

‘And Demas.’ Ranked with Aristarchus and Luke as ‘fellow-workers’ in Philemon 1:24. Later he would fear for his life and leave Paul (2 Timothy 4:10).


Verse 15-16

‘Salute the brothers who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in their house. And when this letter has been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you also read the letter from Laodicea.’

He sends greetings to the Laodiceans in the letter, probably partly because he wanted the letter read in the Laodicean church and wanted them to know of his warm affection for them. This letter and his letter to the Laodiceans are to be exchanged between the churches for mutual benefit. The letter to the Laodiceans may have been a copy of the letter to the Ephesians, and if so it was probably not yet written, for Ephesians is a development on the Colossian letter. But he may have mentioned it because it was his intention to send both at the same time, once Ephesians had also been written. Alternately it may simply be a letter that was later lost.

‘Nymphas and the church that is in their house.’ It is debated whether Nymphas is a man or is Nympha a woman. What matters is that the local church met in their house. The meeting of church groups in houses is a regular feature of the New Testament (Acts 12:12; Acts 20:8; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5; Philemon 1:2; possibly Acts 16:40). Large houses may well have been able to take the whole congregation in a city and in larger cities there would be a number of congregations meeting in different places united under a joint ministry. There were, of course, no known church buildings. It was because they met in houses that they did not so quickly come to the notice of the authorities as an unauthorised sect (that and the fact that they were seen as of the Jewish religion).


Verse 17

‘And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfil it.’

We do not know why Archippus is picked out. He is called a ‘fellow-soldier’ (Philemon 1:2), which suggests Paul had confidence in him, and he may have been the particular leader in the Colossian church whom Paul felt had the ability to sway things, and to whom he wished to give encouragement. This would explain his mention here as it would give him added authority. Or he may have been someone well known to Paul, possibly even set apart by Paul by the laying on of hands, and related to Philemon who clearly owed his conversion to Paul (Philemon 1:19). Or he could have been a prominent teacher who had been affected by the local heresy whom Paul is calling back to his duty. But the important thing is that he has received a ministry ‘in the Lord’ and is now charged to fulfil it.


Verse 18

‘The salutation of me, Paul, with my own hand. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.’

Paul would appear to have been using an amanuensis, a scribe (see Romans 16:22). But he adds his postscript to prove the genuineness of the letter. This appears to have been his common practise (compare Galatians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 16:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:17).

‘Remember my bonds.’ Possibly a last emotional appeal to some to think their position through on the basis of what he suffers for Christ. Or perhaps a call for them to pray that he might be faithful in spite of them.

‘Grace be with you.’ He stresses here their need for the grace of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. That in the end is what they need and what they must trust in.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Colossians 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/colossians-4.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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