Last week, we looked at the two natures all real believers in Christ seem to have (as per Romans 7, even the Apostle Paul struggled with this), and how we are to “put to death ourselves” the old selfish nature and put on the new nature in Christ that He has given us, and how we work that kind of thing out in relationships, as opposed to being an ascetic – which means taking on a monastic, solitary lifestyle so as to “purify” the flesh, which we are unable to do anyway. Remember, this meant we had to deal harshly with ourselves…and Paul says that this is not supposed to be our path.
We pick up at chapter 4 where this is still going on. Remember, the text itself is inspired. The chapter and verse divisions are not, the former having come along in the 1300s and the latter about 300 years after that. While useful tools for study and public reference, they are not always the best division choice. This is one of those times. You’ll see why as we look at verse 1.
1: Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
- Because this is the reverse of the master-slave relationship, instructions to the slave having come first, this verse, one would logically think, would fit with the theme of the last chapter. Slaves were commanded to do their work for the Lord if they were serving a master of some kind, but here, Masters are commanded to treat the slaves with justice and fairness. Just because you’re in charge of something, it doesn’t mean you’re the despot and must rule with an iron fist. Be fair-minded. Why? Because those Christian masters are also slaves of the Master in heaven – Christ, the King of kings and Lord (master) of lords (masters). I don’t think a whole lot more needs to be said about that.
2: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;
- I think this would have been a better place to open chapter 4, because it really starts a new unit of thought. And what does it say? It says to devote [proskartereo, continually devote, see Acts 2:42, same word] yourselves [Plural! To me, that means we are talking about a corporate church activity, not just all the individuals doing this on their own] to prayer [proseuche, earnest communication with God]. I think this is how we keep alert [gregoreo, to be awake, to watch] with that attitude or state of thanksgiving. We need to be aware of what is going on around us, and instead of freaking out about it and getting ready to go to war over things, which seems to be our natural tendency, we need to pray about it. Keep alert, sure. And give thanks at the same time, not take up arms against your brothers.
3: praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;
- Paul here asks the Colossians (and Laodiceans, and Hierapolites, remember) to pray for them, and the prayer request is to be very specific – that God would open a door for the word, so that they could explain and reveal the mystery of Christ. It is clear that Paul had a real burden, for lack of a better word, to preach the Gospel to everyone.
- Paul also tells us here that he has been imprisoned. Traditionally, theologians have thought this means that Paul wrote this letter from prison as well, but Paul also may have been referring to past events, so it isn’t clear to some that would want to weaken Scripture, but it also isn’t critical to anything Paul has shared, so it’s kind of a meaningless point. (Also, Paul tells us later in this chapter that he is imprisoned if there was any doubt.)
4: that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
- This is one for all those who would share the word of God in any capacity – we must be able to make it clear. Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:8) that “For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” Those of us that want to speak the word, either as an evangelist or as a pastor/teacher, must learn to be clear and precise in our speech. Otherwise, how are we actually giving care for souls?
5: Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
- The margin here renders this verse something like “[You all] walk with wisdom toward outsiders, redeeming the time.” Either set of words makes it plain that we are to engage our experience and knowledge when dealing with those who are outside [exo, away, outside, strange]. I think a distinct LACK of this has brought us to where we are now in North America. There are a number of reasons for it, the chief one being that many of those naming the name of Christ are not actually real Christians, but it isn’t the only one. Liberal theology that places emphasis on personal and relative spiritual journey instead of collective standards of objective truth and what that truth means has done more harm than good for the church here in the west, as has the Sacerdotal heresy of a large unnamed so-called denomination (but are really a cult that have a belief in a works-based sacramental system of worship that is supposed to bring salvation) with a current head some of us like to be Frank about, that has set up a false understanding of what the church actually is, and hint, Frankie, it isn’t some mystical feel-good anything goes truth like you’re trying to purvey, sell, inoculate your flock with, and will have a lot to answer about. It’s a simple and truthful representation of Christ on earth, and doesn’t require the intervention of a human priest to move forward. Repent, Francis, and really believe the Gospel.
- Making the most of one’s opportunity or redeeming the time, as the margin says, tells us that we should be aware that time is a precious commodity, and that we should be using every moment we are able to show people the truth as it is in Jesus to establish them in Christ, whether we are speaking to the lost or to the church of God. Preach truth, whether it be the gospel (the usual reference here), or about how to be transformed after our salvation (sanctification after justification), or simple providing of Christian worldview where it is invited or required.
6: Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
- This is a continuation of the last verse. Let your speech be gracious. Now I know that someone will accuse me of taking potshots at Pope Francis in the last verse, but I wasn’t. Tell me, what is kinder? Speaking politically correct mumbo-jumbo to avoid hurting peoples’ feelings, or speaking the truth in love? There is nothing in my speech that was untrue, was there? And did I not also appeal to him to repent and believe the true Gospel? The word for grace in Greek is charis, the kindness of God. Someone in Francis’ position has had his own conscience inoculated against the truth for a very long time (it has to be for him to become Pope, right?), and shock-value statements are probably the only thing that will penetrate the haze of lies that he walk under. I have the ability to say it in a flowery way, but it loses its power when it isn’t direct. I truly love Francis. But I don’t agree with his dangerous doctrine, which in the end will drive more people to the hell he doesn’t believe in than anything else these days, because his version of “alternate truth” to coin a phrase, it has a numbing agent against the real truth and can salve the wounds their conscience inflict on them in order that they may be saved! Moving on…
- Seasoned with salt. Wow, there’s a lot of things that could be said about salt. Salt is a preservative, which is the usual one pointed out where I fellowship. Your speech should preserve their soul, not chase it to a bad end. Also, salt was a method of payment for the Roman military. Let your speech be WORTH SOMETHING to the people that hear it. Salt is has an antibiotic effect in medicine (and I have personally conducted that kind of experiment in the lab in university as part of my biology degree!). It can help debrided wounds heal and prevent infections from bacteria or virus. (You still have to debride the wound.) It is a flavour agent, used to add favourable flavour to food we eat.
- Why? So that we will know [oida, aware of, conscious of] how we can respond to each person. This can be mission critical. If you should find someone who is already aware of how sinful and broken they are while witnessing, why would you preach more law to them? God, it says, opposed the PROUD, but gives GRACE to the humble or broken. I realize this is a 1 time in 100, but we should know this and govern our speech appropriately.
7: As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information.
- I think Paul was telling the Colossians that there were some things he just wasn’t willing to put in a letter. Maybe they were too long, maybe he didn’t want details published, maybe he wanted to involve other people in the work to make them useful and give them experience. It’s just impossible to know.
8: For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts;
- Whatever reasons Paul may have had, He certainly had purpose. Tychicus was being entrusted with the task of carrying news in the work, and that’s no small responsibility. Paul does promise that there is encouraging news, however, right at the end of the verse.
9: and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.
- Paul said that he was actually sending two people: Tychicus and Onesimus. The latter was actually FROM Colossae, and he promises that they will update the Colossians on everything that was going on where Paul was.
10: Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him);
- We’re starting to get into final greetings, where a lot of names will be mentioned. Let’s see how many we can recognize. Aristarchus we recognize from the book of Acts, Chapters 20 and 27, and we learn there that he is from Thessalonica, and that he accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey. Here we find him (and also in Philemon) as Paul’s fellow prisoner. His name means, “The Best Prince.” Tradition has it that he was martyred in the persecution from Caesar Nero.
- Barnabas’s cousin Mark, we also recognize as the young fellow that accompanied Paul and Barnabas into the work, and left to go home after getting freaked out by some of the spiritual goings on in the book of Acts. In fact, Paul broke off with Barnabas over taking him again into the work. He is also known as John-Mark, or Mark, the Evangelist, although Hippolytus of Rome thought all these men different people, albeit all part of the 70 men Jesus sent out to preach the Gospel in Judea shortly before His crucifixion. Paul here seems to be improving his opinion of Mark here, since he instructs the church at Colossae to receive him.
11: and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
- Jesus Justus was likely called Justus simply to distinguish him from the Master, Jesus Christ. He was a Jewish believer in the church at Rome here. Paul says that these three fellows were all Jewish believers, and that they had personally been an encouragement to Paul.
12: Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
- Here’s Epaphras again, and we know he is from Colossae already, but Paul mentions him here in that context, and informs the believers there that he is earnestly praying for them so that they may “stand firm, mature, and completed” [margin] in all the will of God.
13: For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
- Still speaking of Epaphras, and of his personal concern for the believers in the region.
14: Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.
- Okay, there’s a name everyone should recognize: Doctor Luke! You know, the guy that wrote a history called “The Gospel According to Luke,” as well as another treatise titled, “The Book of Acts.” Yes, that guy!
- Demas is a brother with Paul in Rome at this point, but his own story does not end well, sadly. Demas left Paul in prison in Rome, Paul tells Timothy in his second letter to him, having loved this present world. That seems to be the last we read about Demas, though it is possible that he later repented, I suppose.
15: Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.
- Paul here is greeting another Scripturally famous gathering. Laodicea is famous for being the final church addressed by the Lord Jesus in Revelation 3, and it is the one that was very wealthy and had a lot of its own resources. So many that it stopped depending on the Lord for anything, to the point where the Lord was standing outside the Church knocking at its door, as opposed to inside and its central focus. (Hmmm. Sounds disturbingly familiar, like today’s church in many ways. At any rate, Paul greets that gathering because of its close proximity to Colossae.)
- From this verse, it could be said that the house of Nympha (that is a new name and only mentioned here) hosted the gathering of God’s people on a weekly basis. What? The church was in her house? Don’t be so surprised…the church hasn’t always had enough money to build its own building. There are some built-in benefits, as well as some real drawbacks to house churches. Real Christians in China, for example, are not part of their national “Three-Self Church” that the state established under Mao Zedong. State registration, they realized, is the first of many steps toward state control. The real church meets to this day in secret in peoples’ houses. This is possible the way we are going in the West as persecution ramps up to a national and state-sponsored level once again. And don’t think it can’t or won’t happen here. Most of the persecution will come from the established “churches” that feel like real believers that won’t compromise on things like sin or the need for holiness of life are too backward to exist.
16: When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.
- The letter to the Colossians was apparently not the only letter written at this time, however that letter has been lost to history. Here again, this is not what Paul was writing about at all, recall he had no concept that there would even be such a thing as the church 2000 years later, but it is a window into early church life. Think about the problems that the church had as the apostles one by one were taken away from the early church. People realized that they were going to have to start preserving the letters that these men wrote or there would be no record for history. And so they did! Because Paul was a prolific writer of letters, there are a good many of his. And if you think about how people wrote letters in those days, the cost of the papyrus it was written on was greater than the cost of writing it, so they were written in a way that was most economical. And if you look at the canonical order of the New Testament, you can see that Starting with Romans and ending with Philemon, you have all of Paul’s letters together. Care to guess what order they are in? Try this one – longest to shortest! Then Hebrews to Jude, again, longest to shortest. The Old Testament has specific sections to it; the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (to use a collective term). Now think about this – the portions where Jesus was speaking and the actions of the church that immediately followed form a kind of “law” section for Christians (not really a law, I’m just drawing a loose parallel) that appears at the beginning (and even consists of 5 books!). From there, we have historical writings of teaching on what it means to be spiritual, or a kind of Writings section. Then at the end, the “prophecy” section. How about that?
- Letters in those days were treated like Scripture and passed around from congregation to congregation and read aloud by leadership in those places. Imagine that! You know, in places that are under severe persecution or places that are very poor, they do the same thing. One group will have the book of Ephesians, for example, while another has the book of Colossians. After an agreed on period of time, they rotate them around. China, places in Africa, all do this. In those places, it is the job of the pastor to read and teach on that book for as long as they have it. We don’t understand how rich we really are here in North America.
17: Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
- Archippus is also seen in Paul’s letter to Philemon and mentioned as the host of a church gathering, as well as a fellow solder. Traditionally, he was the first “bishop” of Laodicea. (The word bishop is episcopos, which means overseer, and some have suggested that this was the original role of the Elder in the church.
- Paul here is encouraging Archippus to pay attention to the service the Lord has him doing, and in particular fulfilling that service.
18: I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.
- Again, Paul has unintentionally given us a window into the early church. Even in those days, you had clowns that would go around and pretend to be carrying letters from the Apostles and then take advantage of the church’s generosity as long as they could get away with it. Remember, in an era where communication was not instantaneous as it is today, and people may or may not have met the apostles in person, this could be an interesting form of fraud and grift. To defeat it, Paul decided that he would write a line of greeting in his own handwriting, which most people across the world that had anything to do with the church would recognize. Problem solved. If it didn’t bear Paul’s original handwriting, it was discarded and ignored.
- Paul’s final line – “Grace be with you.” Grace is charis, the kindness of God, and that is my wish for all of you – that you would all find or continue in the kindness of God.
And that’s the letter to the Colossians!