“Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1).
The modern-day chapter and verse divisions that appear in contemporary Bibles have become so synonymous with the texts they represent that it is almost impossible to separate the two. Because of this, it may be easy to forget that these divisions did not appear within the original Biblical texts. These reference points were later added to assist in identifying each individual portion of Scripture.
While these divisions are helpful and beneficial, they occasionally serve to divert a Biblical train of thought. Such is the case with Colossians 4:1. You see, we may overlook the connection between the closing verses of Colossians chapter three and the opening verse of Colossians chapter four if we fail to read this passage straight through.
If we incorporate the final verses of Colossians chapter three with Colossians 4:1, a comprehensive thought emerges…
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites. Masters, be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven” (Colossians 3:22-4:1 NLT).
Taken together, the idea behind these verses is one of reciprocal obligation. A Christian employee is responsible to honor God in his or her work while a God-honoring employer is responsible to treat his or her subordinates in a just and fair manner. The common denominator is “the Lord Christ” (NKJV) who will judge with complete impartiality for “…God does not respect one person more than another” (Colossians 3:25 NLV).
Finally, one commentator identifies a less obvious but highly significant aspect of this passage…
“Without making an overt protest against slavery, Paul seemed to understand that if he could establish the point that slaves were equals in the body of Christ, full human beings with both responsibilities and rights (that they should be treated in a manner both just and fair), then in time the whole structure of slavery in the Roman Empire would crumble – and it did” (1)
(1) David Guzik Colossians 3 – Put Off, Put On © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/colossians-3/
“Masters, treat your slaves with justice and fairness, because you know that you also have a master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1 NET).
What motivates us to action? What influences the decisions we make in life? One underlying motivation should include the recognition that this life does not represent the sum of our existence. This reality is one that should exert a subtle but constant effect upon the choices and decisions we make in life.
You see, our view of the eternal affects the choices we make today. For instance, a Godly man or woman possesses two incentives that help shape and direct his or her choices. The first finds its origin in a love for God and a sincere desire to honor Him. That response flows from the recognition that Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf represents the supreme act of love. This, in turn should prompt us to respond in love to Him, for as we’re told in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us” (NIV).
So the positive incentive behind our choices and decisions begins with God’s love for us. That love should then inspire us to live the kind of life that honors Him. 2 Corinthians 5:14 summarizes this idea very succinctly: “…the love of Christ compels us.”
The second incentive is rooted in the knowledge that we will eventually stand before our Creator to give an account for our lives. It is that second motivation that we see here in Colossians 4:1: “…be fair and just towards those whom you employ, never forgetting that you yourselves have a heavenly employer” (Phillips).
While the positive incentive for Godly behavior originates in a loving desire to honor God, the corresponding incentive for not doing wrong (even if we can seemingly get away with it) is generated by the knowledge that we will eventually explain our actions to a just and holy Creator. This idea is also touched upon in the New Testament book of Romans where we’re told that “…each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
So our desire to please God out of love should be coupled with the knowledge that we will have to answer for our choices in life. Our daily choices and decisions are made under the watchful eye of a righteous Creator to whom we will give an account. This offers an additional incentive to conduct ourselves in a God-honoring manner. These twin motivations -love and accountability- should help enable us to make wise choices and good decisions in our individual areas of authority.
“Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4)
A basic definition of prayer is “communication with God.” Prayer involves those words or thoughts that are specifically directed towards our Creator. While some may regard the act of prayer as a last resort or something to try when all else fails, a person who relies upon God in prayer is someone who is best prepared to approach the challenges of everyday life.
We can find some identifying characteristics of a healthy prayer life in the passage quoted above. The first among those characteristics is persistence (AMP), devotion (HCSB), or continuance (KJV). In the original language of Colossians 4:2, this word expresses an attitude of commitment in prayer by way of the following definition: “to endure in, or persevere in, to be continually steadfast with a person or thing.” (1)
The next quality is vigilance or watchfulness (RSV). This attribute links our prayer requests with the need to be alert to God’s response, even if that response comes in the form of something other than the answer we desire. You see, a person who is watchful understands that purpose of prayer is not to get God to act upon our preferred outcome. Instead, he or she is diligent to look for God’s direction and respond accordingly.
Finally, our prayers should reflect an attitude of thankfulness. This reminds us that we should not fail to voice our appreciation to God for His answers to our prayers as well as the blessings and provisions He has provided.
When it comes to seeking God in prayer, it might be said that people often make their choices first and then ask God to bless the path they’ve chosen. Nevertheless, it is far more preferable to seek God first in the decision making process and then move forward accordingly. If we align our prayers with the good things that God desires to give us, we can enjoy the same kind of assurance expressed in the New Testament book of 1 John…
“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
(1) G4342 proskartereo Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Biblical Words Copyright © 1985 by Thomas Nelson Publishers
“At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may make it known as I should” (Colossians 4:3-4 NET).
When used in a Biblical context, a “mystery” isn’t something we might find in a spy novel or a criminal investigation. Instead, a Biblical mystery refers to a spiritual truth that was previously hidden but has now been (or will be) revealed.
For instance, the Old Testament Scriptures alluded to God’s future plan of salvation through Christ without going into extensive detail. (1) As a result, that plan remained something of a mystery, even to the prophets of the Old Testament era. (2) But following Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, these Old Testament references began to make greater sense. This may help explain Jesus’ message to the religious leaders of His day: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).
Paul the Apostle worked to further uncover “the mystery of Christ” within this letter to the Colossian church. Some elements of that mystery included the following insights…
- “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him — all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers — all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him” (Colossians 1:15-17).
- “…he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him” (Colossians 1:22).
- “God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
While there will always be a mysterious aspect behind God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, these revelations served to undercut the false teachers of first-century Colossae in their attempt to promote the acquisition of secret knowledge as the path to salvation and enlightenment.
Instead, Paul’s desire for the Colossians (and modern-day readers by extension) was that they would attain “…to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).
“Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and explain the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this. Please pray that I will make the message as clear as possible” (Colossians 4:3-4 CEV).
The life of the Apostle Paul has served to inspire countless artistic and literary works down through the centuries. He has been the namesake for an untold number of churches and has even had a major American city named after him. Other than Jesus Himself, it might be said that no single person has had a greater impact upon human history than Paul the Apostle.
Paul served as the human author for at least thirteen of the twenty-six books of the New Testament and God continues to impact lives through the Biblical books that bear his name. Yet despite his prominence as a towering figure in the history of Christianity, its may be easy to forget that Paul suffered greatly for his commitment to Christ.
For instance, Paul was the victim of at least five different conspiracies or attempts to murder him, (1) three shipwrecks, (2) and two municipal evictions. (3) In addition, Paul was beaten three times, whipped five times, and stoned at least once. (2) He also endured six different civil trials or judicial proceedings that are detailed in the New Testament book of Acts. (4)
In a message delivered to the first-century church at Corinth, Paul spoke frankly about his life as an Apostle and the challenges he encountered as he brought the message of the Gospel to others: “…I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 TLB).
The book of Acts expands on that candid admission by telling us that Paul was also imprisoned on at least three separate occasions. (5) In fact, Colossians 4:3 tells us that Paul was incarcerated at the time he wrote this letter to the Colossian church. We can gain a greater appreciation for Paul’s condition if we stop to observe that the penitentiaries of that era were not like the prisons that exist in many modern-day societies. For instance, the prisons of that time were usually cold, damp, and dirty. In addition, there were no beds, toilets, showers, or meals offered in a typical first-century prison.
Yet it was out of those conditions that God worked through Paul to produce the letters that we know today as the Biblical books of Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to read that Paul asked his friends in Colossae to remember him in prayer.
“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:5-6).
Colossians 4:5 begins a brief, two-sentence digression on the subject of relationships with those who are outside the Christian community: “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are outside the Christian faith. Make the most of your opportunities” (GW). This also provides us with an opportunity to discuss the relationship between wisdom and knowledge. This distinction is important because it is possible to be knowledgeable but not very wise.
You see, knowledge relates to the information that we possess on a given subject. Knowledge is also associated with a familiarity, awareness, or perception of the facts. On the other hand, wisdom is the quality that allows us to exercise good judgment and select an appropriate course of action. In short, wisdom is knowing what to do with the facts.
One commentator summarizes these differences with the following insight: “Knowledge is the apprehension of truth; wisdom is its application to life. Knowledge is prudent judgment and wisdom is prudent action. Both are found in Christ (cf. Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 12:8)…” (1)
In the context of Colossians 4:5-6, “knowledge” involves an awareness of those who do not know Christ. “Wisdom” involves the best means of representing Jesus within such relationships. Colossians 4;5 couples these ideas with the concept of “redemption.” To “redeem” in this sense refers to “buying up an opportunity” (2) to effectively represent Christ to others.
In this respect, its important to recognize that time is both a gift and a resource- and the opportunities that are available to us today won’t last forever. We may only have one chance to make a God-honoring impression upon others before that opportunity is lost. In light of this, we are encouraged to redeem the time and prayerfully make the most of our opportunities.
So this passage serves as a reminder of the need to set the right example in our relationships with others. For instance, we may have an opportunity to represent Christ at home, at school, at a place of employment, or as we go about our daily activities. This becomes especially important when we stop to remember that we have no guarantee of tomorrow nor can we change the events of the past. Therefore, today is the day to redeem the time and “Be wise in the way you live around those who are not Christians” (NLT).
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [note on Colossians 2:2-3]
(2) G1805 exagorazo https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1805
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV).
Salt is such a common element of everyday life that few people ever give it much thought- that is, until it is no longer available for some reason. However, salt possesses a number of properties that make it an excellent subject for use as an illustration here in Colossians 4:6.
For instance, salt is commonly recognized as a seasoning agent. In other words, salt often makes food taste better than it would ordinarily taste alone. The passage quoted above refers to this attribute when it tells us, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (NIV). The idea is that our discourse with others should be tasteful just as table salt makes food more tasteful.
Salt is also valuable for use as a preservative. In the days before refrigeration, salt was regularly used as a preservative to prevent food spoilage. We can apply this characteristic in a spiritual sense if we view Jesus (and those who genuinely represent Him) as a type of preserving agent. Without the preservative influence of Christ, the world would quickly become as spoiled and corrupt as food that had not been salted or refrigerated.
One commentator ties these attributes together with the following thought: “Just as salt not only flavors, but prevents corruption, the Christian’s speech should act not only as a blessing to others, but as a purifying influence within the decaying society of the world.” (1) This should prompt us to consider whether the preserving influence of Christ extends to our thoughts, words, and actions.
Finally, salt is also known for its effectiveness in creating thirst. We can illustrate this idea with an anecdote from the late Gene Klein, a multi-million dollar businessperson and former owner of the San Diego Chargers American football team. When Mr. Klein’s company acquired a chain of movie theatres, he said, “I refurbished our refreshment stands… I tripled the size of a popcorn bucket, and doubled the price and added more salt… to increase soft drink sales…”
While Gene Klein was interested in creating thirst for business purposes, God desires to work through His people to create a spiritual thirst for righteousness and holiness. We’ll expand on this idea with another quality of salt that is considerably less positive next.
Image Credit: Poyraz 72 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Col 4:6). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.(2) Gene Klein, First Down And A Billion: The Funny Business of Pro Football
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6 NIV).
While the connection between graceful conversation and salt may seem unusual, this analogy may have originated in two of Jesus’ teachings from the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Mark…
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13).
“Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).
One source adds clarity to this idea with the following observation: “In addition to being ‘gracious’ and tasteful (i.e., ‘seasoned with salt’), the speech of the Christian should be ‘sound’ (Titus 2:8), ‘edifying’ (Ephesians 4:29), meaningful (Matthew 12:36), ‘quiet’ (I Thessalonians 4:11), trustworthy (Colossians 3:9) and clean (Colossians 3:8).” (1)
Another commentator reflects on this illustration by associating the phrase, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…” with this definition: “To speak what is spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, purposeful, complimentary, gentle, truthful, loving, and thoughtful.” (2) However, there is another aspect of this passage that is considerably more challenging.
In addition to its use as a seasoning, preservative, and thirst-creating agent, salt is also widely recognized as an irritant. For instance, one of the most painful things a person can do to someone with an open wound is to rub salt in that wound. In fact, salt is so well known in this regard that “rubbing salt in a wound” has become a colloquial expression for making a bad situation worse.
In general, a principled and virtuous person will not seek to intentionally irritate others. However, we should also recognize that a person who serves as “…the salt of the Earth” may produce that effect. In every place where the message of the Gospel is made known, some will be seasoned and preserved, some will be made to thirst for more, and others may simply be irritated.
In the days of His earthly ministry, Jesus was seen as a seasoning and preserving influence to some while others viewed Him as little more than an irritant. The same is likely to be true of His followers as well.
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [Colossians 4:6] https://www.icr.org/bible/Col/4/6
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Col 4:6). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts” (Colossians 4:7-8).
There were no standardized postal or letter delivery services as we know them today in the days of the New Testament. Therefore, letters had to be carried by friends or travelers to their destinations. Since news from out of town was greatly limited during that time, it was not unusual for a writer to close a letter with a message or salutation from mutual acquaintances. This helps explain why Colossians 4:7-15 largely consists of personal greetings from common friends.
Nevertheless, it seems natural to question why God would permit this seemingly idle chatter to find its way into His Word. One commentator offers an answer to that question…
“In Colossians 4:7-17, Paul mentions more people by name than in any other epistle except in Romans 16:1-23. If any should wonder why these personal references should be included in a divinely inspired document intended by the Holy Spirit to be used in all churches of all the centuries, the intent may be to assure us that God is interested in individual believers as well as in the church as a whole.
All believers have their individual names written in the Lamb’s ‘book of life’ in heaven (Revelation 20:15). As a token and surety of this, some of these names have also been written in His book on earth.” (1)
We can also expand this idea to include some of the many genealogies that appear within the Scriptures as well. Like many of the those who are mentioned in the latter half of Colossians chapter four, we may be inclined to skip past the genealogical lists in order to concentrate on “more important” portions of God’s Word.
Since modern-day readers have no personal connection with the people in such passages, it may seem tedious to read through these greetings and genealogical records, But while these names may mean nothing to us, they do mean something to God.
The Biblical genealogies and list of names we will encounter over the closing verses of Colossians remind us that our existence is significant to God, If future generations come to look upon us in much the same way we look upon the names found here in Colossians chapter four, we can take comfort in the fact that God knows who we are, just as He knows every person listed in these verses.
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [Colossians 4:10] https://www.icr.org/bible/Col/4/10
“Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful servant, and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and so that he may encourage your hearts” (Colossians 4:7-8 HCSB).
Tychicus is the first individual mentioned among the friends and acquaintances listed here in Colossians 4:7-15. Tychicus hailed from the Roman province of Asia, an area of the world that is roughly synonymous with the modern-day country of Turkey (see Acts 20:4). The wording of this passage indicates that Tychicus was tasked with the responsibility to deliver this letter to the Colossian church and perhaps some others as well.
You see, the New Testament Epistle to the Ephesians contains a passage that is virtually identical to the one we read here in Colossians 4:7-8 (see Ephesians 6:21-22). If Paul the Apostle intended his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians to be circulated among many first-century churches, then Tychicus may have been given the important responsibility of serving as Paul’s representative to several different congregations.
In this scenario, Tychicus would have been responsible for delivering one or more of Paul’s letters to each congregation. He would ensure that each letter was copied for use among the members of the local Christian community and then move on to his next destination. Judging from what we’ll read later in this chapter, that may have been Paul’s intent from the beginning.
It appears that Tychicus was well-suited for that assignment for the Scriptures tell us that he accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey and was later dispatched to minister in the town of Ephesus. In fact, Tychicus was so well-respected by Paul that he even considered placing Tychicus in a ministry position held by Timothy, his self-acknowledged “son in the faith” so Timothy could come and join him.
So while Paul is duly recognized as the human author of the Biblical Epistle to the Colossians, its important to recognize the contributions of others like Tychicus. If Tychicus had not been faithful to complete the work of delivering this God-inspired message to the church at Colossae, then the important theological truths contained within this letter may never have circulated beyond Paul’s inner circle.
His example reminds us that our faithfulness in completing the work that God has given us to do may produce greater results than we ever anticipated, even if that work may only involve the simple task of delivering a letter.
“with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here” (Colossians 4:9).
While this verse may seem to contain little more than just a bit of personal information, there is an interesting back story behind this passage.
You see, the New Testament book of Philemon offers some important insight into this verse. Based on the account that’s given to us in that short Biblical letter, it appears that Onesimus was a slave who had been owned by a man named Philemon who lived in the town of Colossae. Judging from the text, it seems that Onesimus escaped from Philemon and may have stolen from him in the process.
However, it also appears that Onesimus later came into contact with Paul the Apostle and accepted Christ under his ministry. It was then decided that Onesimus would return to Philemon with a request for leniency from Paul in the form of the Biblical letter of Philemon. So it appears that Onesimus returned to Colossae along with the letter we know today as the New Testament book of Colossians.
One source elaborates on these hidden dynamics with the following observation…
“Paul was now sending him back to Colosse with Tychicus, not in chains, but as a ‘beloved brother’ in Christ who had proved himself ‘faithful.’ These men traveled from Rome to Colosse, probably by way of Ephesus and Laodicea, with the letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21-22). They probably also carried one to the Laodiceans (cf. v. 16), another one to Philemon (Phile. 2:23-24), and this letter to the Colossians.” (1)
Finally, there is an intriguing historical footnote to this verse. Surviving records of an ancient church leader named Ignatius identify a bishop who later served in the city of Ephesus named Onesimus. (2) If Onesimus, the Bishop of Ephesus was the same Onesimus referenced here in the book of Colossians, then it means that Philemon surely acted on Paul’s request and Jesus’ counsel from the Gospel of Luke…
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).
If those individuals are one and the same, then it serves to remind us that our actions may generate a beneficial and far-reaching impact whenever we choose to act in obedience to God’s Word.
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD., Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition (4:9). https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm
(2) See here
“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10).
Much like the aforementioned Onesimus, Aristarchus is another seemingly minor figure from the Epistle to the Colossians with a background that reveals a greater impact than his brief appearance might suggest.
Aristarchus is first mentioned in the New Testament book of Acts where he is described as one of Paul the Apostle’s traveling companions (see Acts 19:29). It was during that time that he was seized by a riotous mob that gathered in response to Paul’s preaching in the town of Ephesus. He later accompanied Paul on an ill-fated voyage to Rome where he was presumably shipwrecked along with the rest of the ship’s passengers off the island of Malta (Acts 27). These real-life events identify Aristarchus as someone who possessed a willingness to pursue God’s work despite the potential consequences.
Here in the book of Colossians, Paul described Aristarchus as “my fellow prisoner.” This likely means that Aristarchus was facing criminal charges along with Paul in connection with Paul’s missionary efforts. So it appears that Aristarchus shared Paul’s affliction in more than just a figurative sense; it seems that he was literally chained in prison along with Paul as well.
Unlike another individual who will be named later in this portion of Colossians chapter four, these brief references reveal Aristarchus to be a faithful friend who was dependable, reliable, and trustworthy. One commentator summarizes Aristarchus’ character with a description that would befit anyone who seeks to follow Christ…
“We get only fleeting glimpses of Aristarchus but from these glimpses one thing emerges–he was clearly a good man to have about in a tight corner. He was there when the people of Ephesus rioted in the Temple of Diana and was so much in the forefront that he was captured by the mob (Act_19:29). He was there when Paul set sail a prisoner for Rome (Act_27:2).
It may well be that he had actually enrolled himself as Paul’s slave in order that he might be allowed to make the last journey with him. And now he is here in Rome, Paul’s fellow-prisoner. Clearly Aristarchus was a man who was always on the spot when things were at their grimmest. Whenever Paul was in bad trouble Aristarchus was there. The glimpses we have are enough to indicate a really good companion.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Colossians 4 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-4.html. 1956-1959.
“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions–if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10).
The “Mark” referenced here in Colossians 4:10 is probably more familiar to modern-day audiences than others mentioned in this chapter due to his association with the Gospel that bears his name. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn by exploring Mark’s background, especially as it relates to his relationship with the Apostle Paul.
About ten years prior to this letter to the Colossian church, Paul and Barnabas embarked together on Paul’s first missionary journey. Mark (also known as John Mark) accompanied them to assist in their efforts. However, we’re also told that Mark elected to leave the team in the midst of their work and return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). That decision eventually led to a conflict between Barnabas and Paul as they began to prepare for their next trip…
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus” (Acts 15:36-39 NIV).
So it seems that Paul had serious reservations concerning Mark at one point in their relationship. But Colossians 4:10, indicates that the rift between them had now been healed, for Paul signaled his support for Mark by instructing the Colossians to welcome him if he chose to visit. In fact, the relationship between Mark and Paul later improved to such an extent that Paul made the following request of Timothy, the young pastor of the church at Ephesus: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV).
These passages provide us with a good example to follow, for they reveal Paul’s refusal to hold Mark’s past failure against him and his willingness to provide him with a fresh start. They also reflect well upon Mark for as one commentator observes, “John Mark is an encouragement to everyone who has failed in his first attempts to serve God. He did not sit around and sulk. He got back into the ministry and proved himself faithful to the Lord and to the Apostle Paul.” (1)
(1) Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary [2:150] quoted in Notes on Colossians 2019 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable [4:10], https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/colossians/colossians.htm#_ftn345
“and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:12-13).
Although we know quite a bit regarding the person named Mark who was mentioned in the preceding verse, nothing much is known about “Jesus who is called Justus.” What little we do know can be ascertained from his name, for “Jesus” is a distinctly Jewish identifier while “Justus” is the name by which he would have been known among the Gentile populace.
Perhaps this man preferred to be known as Justus in respect and recognition of Christ. In any event, his Jewish heritage served as a source of comfort to Paul the Apostle for as one commentary notes, “Not many of Paul’s Jewish friends were sympathetic to his mission to the Gentiles.” (1)
Another source offers an excellent biographical sketch of Epaphras, the next person mentioned in this passage…
“Epaphras is the only person mentioned in Paul’s final comments who is also named elsewhere in this letter. Both in 1:7 and 4:12, Paul identifies him as a Christian servant/minister. It seems clear that Epaphras has ministered at Colosse (see vv. 9, 12, which describe him and Onesimus as one of you). The context also suggests that he is not one of the Jews among [his] fellow workers (v. 11); therefore, he may have been a Gentile.
More important is the description of Epaphras’s ministry on behalf of the Colossians and those at Laodicea and Hierapolis (v. 13). Though absent from them, he still is concerned for them. He is working hard (v. 13) in praying for them. The Greek word translated wrestling (agonizomenos) is the same verb Paul uses to describe his own ministry (1:29; 2:1).
Epaphras’s ministry to these congregations was twofold. While present with them, he offered ‘God’s grace in all its truth’ (1:6-7). Now absent from them, he wrestles in prayer on their behalf” (2)
The cities of Laodicea and Heiropolis were located near Colossae and together, they served a large portion of that region. Paul clearly shared Epaphras’ concern for these fellowships, and judging from what we will go on to read in the book of Revelation, their drive to struggle in prayer for these congregations was well-founded.
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2467). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) McCown, Wayne. “C. Personal Examples of Servanthood (4:2-15)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1092. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
“Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you” (Colossians 4:14).
“Luke the beloved physician” is well-known to Biblical audiences as the human author of the Biblical book of Acts and the gospel that bears his name. Yet there may be more to Luke’s presence here in Colossians 4:14 than Paul the Apostle’s simple expression of affection for him.
For instance, let’s consider Paul’s efforts to preach the gospel and establish local church fellowships as chronicled in the book of Acts. Some portions of that book use first-person narrative terms such as “we” and “us” in describing Paul’s evangelistic work. This tells us that Luke must have accompanied Paul on some of those missionary journeys and personally experienced the history he would later record within the book of Acts.
Since it is widely believed that Paul suffered from some sort of eye disease or other physical ailment, it’s possible that Luke also attended to Paul in a professional capacity as a physician. So in addition to being a beloved friend and traveling companion, Luke’s position as a medical professional may have helped Paul fulfill his calling. Of all who served and traveled with Paul, it appears that Luke was the only one stayed with him until the end of his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
In contrast to Luke’s example, we have another person named Demas who is also mentioned here in Colossians 4:14. Much like Luke, Demas is identified as a “fellow laborer” with Paul in the New Testament book of Philemon. Unfortunately, Paul also wrote the following in some of his last recorded words: “…Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
With this in mind, we can say that Demas was someone who started well in his relationship with Christ but finished very poorly. It appears that the influence of this world and the lure of having nice things was more important to Demas than using his time to advance the kingdom of God. Not only was his decision emotionally painful for Paul, it presumably meant that he missed his remaining opportunities to positively impact others for Christ.
These examples remind us that our decisions often lead to tangible repercussions for better or worse. Like these men, we also make real choices in real time that lead to real consequences that carry a real eternal impact. Perhaps this is why Ephesians 5:15-18 tells us, “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
“Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Colossians 4:15).
This short passage offers three quick topics for our consideration. We can start with a look at the person who is identified for us within this verse.
You see, the person named here in Colossians 4:15 may be a male or female depending on the way this name is accentuated. Unfortunately, this represented a challenge for ancient copyists of this letter since accents did not appear within the original text. (1) Because of this, some translations use the male form “Nymphas” (such as the KJV and its variants) while others use the female form “Nympha” (ESV, HCSB, NIV).
While critics may seek to identify these differences as errors, it is worth noting that we definitely have the correct reading of this verse. We’re simply not certain which reading is correct.
Next, one scholar takes the occasion of this passage to discuss male-female relationships in the early church…
“Some manuscripts identify this person, who hosted a Laodicean house church, as a woman (“her house”). There are several references to women (whose marital status is not mentioned) as patrons or hosts of churches, or as workers in ministry (Acts 12:12; 16:13–15; Rom. 16:1, 2, 6, 7, 12, 13; Phil. 4:2, 3; possibly 2 John 1, 5…).
The standard of relationships between men and women, particularly husbands and wives, set out in 3:18 and parallels (1 Cor. 14:33–35; Eph. 5:22–33; 1 Tim. 2:11–15), was not inconsistent with the partnership in some forms of Christian ministry that existed between men and women in the early church.” (2)
The final aspect of this passage involves where these meetings took place. Since there were no church buildings in the New Testament era, members of the first-century Christian community generally met together within individual homes. There might be several of these home fellowships within a city and together, they constituted the “church” in that area.
Another commentator provides us with the following insight regarding this arrangement…
“We must remember that there was no such thing as a special Church building until the third century. Up to that time the Christian congregations met in the houses of those who were the leaders of the Church. There was the Church which met in the house of Aquila and Prisca in Rome and Ephesus (Rom_16:5; 1Co_16:19). There was the Church which met in the house of Philemon (Phm_1:2 ). In the early days, Church and home were identical: and it is still true that every Christian home should also be a Church of Jesus Christ.” (3)
(1) See discussion on this topic here
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2128). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(3) Barclay, William, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Colossians 4 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-4.html. 1
“Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16).
The city of Laodicea was located about ten miles (16 km) away from Colossae. Together with the neighboring city of Heirapolis (mentioned earlier in Colossians 4:13), these cities represented the three largest metropolitan areas in that region. Unfortunately, it appears that the false teachings Paul the Apostle addressed earlier in this letter had likely spread to the Laodicean congregations as well. That might explain why Paul wanted the Laodiceans to read this message to the Colossian church.
But what became of the “…epistle from Laodicea” mentioned here? While we have the ability to read Paul’s letter to the Colossians as part of the New Testament canon of Scripture, it seems that this letter to the Laodician church no longer exists. The question is, why?
We might find one possible answer in God’s intent for such material. You see, its possible that certain apostolic letters may have been intended for a limited audience consisting of a local church (or group of churches) at a specific point in history. Its also possible that Paul did not write anything specific to the Laodiceans at all. Notice that Paul asked the Colossians to read the letter from Laodicea and not his letter to Laodicea. A letter coming from Laodicea might represent a different Biblical epistle, like a circulating copy of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for example.
One scholar provides a good summary response to this question using the letter we know today as the Biblical letter of 1 Corinthians as his starting point…
“Paul refers to a previous epistle he ‘wrote’ to the Corinthians which is not in existence. But since it was written by an apostle to a church and contained spiritual and authoritative instruction, it must be considered inspired. This raises the question as to how an epistle inspired of God could be allowed by Him to be lost…
First, it may be that not all apostolic letters were intended to be in the canon of Scripture. Luke refers to ‘many’ other gospels (1:1). John implies that there was much more Jesus did that was not recorded (20:30; 21:25). Perhaps this so-called ‘lost’ letter to the Corinthians was not intended by God to be collected in the canon and preserved for the faith and practice of future generations, as were the 27 books of the NT (and 39 of the OT).” (1)
Image Credit: Ferrell’s Travel Blog, Hierapolis and the Lycus River Valley https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2009/02/17/hierapolis-and-the-lycus-river-valley/
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 452–453). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“And say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’” (Colossians 4:17).
Much like some others who are mentioned in the closing verses of Colossians chapter four, Archippus is a virtual unknown. In fact, his only other Biblical appearance comes in the opening verses of Paul the Apostle’s letter to Philemon (see Philemon 1:1-2).
If we “read between the lines” of this passage, it seems that Archippus was called to fulfill a ministry responsibility that he had either delayed or left unfinished. So this brief admonishment alerts us to something important: what may have been true of Archippus also applies to us well.
You see, there are many distractions that might keep us from fulfilling “the ministry we have received in the Lord.” For instance…
- Social media, video entertainment, or similar diversions. While social media can be a valuable communication tool, we might wish to consider the possibility that we are spending an inordinate amount of unproductive time on such pursuits.
- The tyranny of the urgent. If we fail to prayerfully establish a plan or set an agenda to fulfill God’s call upon our lives, we may allow other responsibilities to pile up and crowd out the work that God has prepared for us.
- Allowing the priorities of others to take priority. Notice that Paul did not seek to manipulate Archippus or pressure him to get involved in a work that Paul wanted him to undertake. Instead, Paul acknowledged God’s agenda for his life and encouraged him to pursue it. In like manner, we should look for those who recognize and support “…the ministry which (we) have received in the Lord.” There is a list of strategies that can assist us in making that determination available here.
- Lack of visible results. Its easy to become discouraged when a ministry has not developed the way we hoped. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that “effort” and “results” are two different things. Remember that its possible to expend a great deal of effort in God’s service with little or no visible result. While there may be many reasons to explain a lack of visible success, we are responsible to put in the effort to fulfill God’s call. God’s responsibility is to produce results as He sees fit.
Finally, Jesus’ sobering conclusion to His Parable of the Talents identifies the loss we may suffer if we do not take heed to fulfill God’s agenda for our lives…
“…to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).
“And tell Archippus, ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you received in the Lord’” (Colossians 4:17 NET).
Much like the individual components of the human body, every member of God’s family has an individual role and responsibility within the body of Christ. In addition to the passage quoted above, the Apostle Paul expressed this idea within the New Testament book of Romans…
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:6-10 NIV).
The Apostle Peter echoed a similar theme…
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).
These passages remind us that there are two great and equal dangers to the body. The first is a member that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. The second is a member that does something it’s not supposed to do. Therefore, it is critically important to identify our individual roles and functions within the Body of Christ and work to fulfill them.
Each day represents a new opportunity to do something good and productive in God’s service- and those who identify and use their God-given spiritual gifts will be well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that may be available. The person who does so will not only benefit others but will also enjoy the fulfillment and satisfaction that comes from using God’s gifts in His service.
Much like Archippus, we should seek to complete the ministry we have received in the Lord. In doing so, we can begin to exercise our individual, God-given talents to accomplish those things for which we are uniquely qualified.
Portions of this study originally appeared here
“This salutation by my own hand–Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen” (Colossians 4:18).
A first-century letter was often composed by a secretary known as an amanuensis. In such instances, a brief, handwritten portion near the end of a letter would help authenticate the author’s message. For Paul the Apostle, this represented more than just a personal touch; it also offered protection from those who might wish to circulate forged correspondence alleged to have been written by him (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1).
So as Paul closed this letter to the Colossian church, he offered one final request: “Remember my chains.” This represents the third time Paul has alluded to his prison bonds within this chapter, so it seems that the difficult reality of his imprisonment was weighing heavily upon him. While Paul was a man of great faith and trust in Christ, the words “remember my chains” help reveal the emotional pain he must have experienced during those periods of incarceration.
A pastoral commentator places this final request from the great Apostle into context as we close our look at this important Biblical letter…
“That word, ‘Remember my chains,’ was written two thousand years ago to people who have long since gone. Paul himself has been in glory all these centuries, and yet these words still have meaning for us.
It is well for us too to remember his chains, to think of this mighty apostle who was hounded, persecuted and oppressed everywhere he went. He was resisted and thrown into jail in many places. He spent a night and a day in the deep. He was beaten with rods and stoned on occasion. Even as he writes these letters he does not find it easy to do so. He does not sit down in a comfortable room with his word processor. He must dictate them to an educated slave, and then painfully, because he suffered from poor eyesight, write with large letters his name at the close, lest the letter be treated as a forgery.
Down through the centuries this letter, along with others, has transformed the history of the world. It is a tremendously important document. Yet it is well for us to remember the cost of having these scriptures in our own hands. ‘Remember my chains.’ Let us give thanks for this apostle who kept the Lord always at the center of his thoughts. Heedless of obstacles, he fulfilled his own ministry faithfully before the Lord. What a model he is to us!” (1)
(1) Excerpted with permission from The Early-Day Saints © 1987 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
“To understand the letter to the Colossians, we need to know that the church was facing pressure from a heresy that promised deeper spiritual life through secret knowledge (an early form of Gnosticism). The false teachers were destroying faith in Christ by undermining Christ’s humanity and divinity. Paul makes it clear in Colossians that Christ alone is the source of our spiritual life, the head of the body of believers. Christ is Lord of both the physical and spiritual worlds. The path to deeper spiritual life is not through religious duties, special knowledge, or secrets; it is only through a clear connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. We must never let anything come between us and our Savior.” (1)
“The Gnostics, whose influence was shaking the Colossian believers, had a notion of spirituality that drastically distorted the Christian way. It was rooted in a doctrine that robbed Jesus of His central place. Rather than seeing Jesus as the focus of all God’s acts, the Gnostic pushed Him aside as one of a series of intermediaries. Thus Jesus would no longer be the touchstone by which the believer measured his life, or the source of power and daily guidance we all so desperately need. Jesus would also no longer be the pattern for the truly spiritual life.
The ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ (Col_3:12) that marked Jesus’ days on earth were far too ordinary to be viewed by the Gnostics as “spirituality”! Though Jesus lived the truly spiritual life, His incarnation was not seen as the model of the Christian’s calling. Instead, an individual under the Gnostic influence wandered off in a futile search for some experience or hidden knowledge that would transform the mundane.” (2)
“The Holy Spirit gives Christians great power to live for God. Some Christians want more than this. They want to live in a state of perpetual excitement. The tedium of everyday living leads them to conclude that something is wrong spiritually. Often the Holy Spirit’s greatest work is teaching us to persist, to keep on doing what is right even when it no longer seems interesting or exciting.” (3)
“Colossians is just as relevant today as it was in the day when Paul wrote the epistle. The names of the heresies have changed along with many of the religious and philosophical ideas, but certain elements are always there in the vain imaginations of man, and to these, no matter what the religious or humanistic idea being promoted in society, Colossians speaks loud and clear.” (4)
“Paul finishes his epistle. The letter is dried, folded, tied shut, perhaps sealed, and given to Tychicus. Thence it went to Colossae. And now to us.” (5)
(1) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [Colossians 4:18] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers
(2) Lawrence O. Richards, Bible Teacher’s Commentary Copyright 2005 Cook Communications Ministries
(3) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [Galatians 3:5] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers
(4) J. Hampton Keathley, III, Heretical Problems in the Light of Union With Christ Part I, Exhortation Against False Teachers (Col. 2:4-8) https://bible.org/seriespage/11-heretical-problems-light-union-christ-part-i-exhortation-against-false-teachers-col-24
(5) Wilbur Fields, Philippians – Colossians, Philemon, College Press Bible Study Textbook Series pg. 248. College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright © College Press 1976 https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesPhilippiansColossiansPhilemon/16PhilippiansColossiansPhilemon_djvu.txt