Colossians 4

Colossians 4:1

Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

It is important to remember that chapter and verse designations were not in the original text, it was written as a letter. The chapter and verse designations were added later to make it easy to locate a particular quotation that was being used. It is unfortunate that the chapter division between chapters 3 and 4 falls where it does because the first verse of chapter 4 is a continuation of the examples that Paul began in Colossians 3:18. In this final example of how being raised with Christ affects the way one lives life’s roles, Paul points out that even masters have a Master and that they should keep this in mind in the way they treat their slaves. The two words that he uses to describe the interaction are “justly and fairly” (Colossians 4:1).

Colossians 4:2

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Now Paul turns to one of the most powerful weapons in the Christian’s arsenal, that of prayer (Colossians 4:2). His encouragement to them is to continue steadfastly in prayer. Along with this, they were to (1) be watchful and (2) pray with thanksgiving. The word that is used for watchful is the same word that is used by Peter in I Peter 5:8 when he tells us to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” A part of the Christian life is to be on the alert for the ways the devil will attempt to influence you. The word that is used for thanksgiving is the word from which we get the word Eucharist, a term commonly applied to communion or the Lord’s Supper. It is certainly appropriate to apply the word to communion because an integral part of communion is giving thanks (see Matthew 26:26-29 and I Corinthians 11:23-25). However, Paul uses the term in a more broad sense of referring to the way a Christian lives his/her life (see Ephesians 1:16, 5:4 and 5:18-21; also Colossians 2:7 and 3:15-17 and I Thessalonians 5:18).

Colossians 4:3-4

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

The power of prayer is on Paul’s mind as he exhorts the Colossians to pray for him and those that were with him also (Colossians 4:3). In spite of the fact that he was in prison Paul was not asking for comfort or release. Instead, he was asking for a door to be opened for the word to be preached. He had made a similar request of the Ephesians (see Ephesians 6:19). In Philippians 1:13 he made mention of the fact that the gospel had been preached to the whole imperial guard. This is in keeping with the declaration Paul made in Colossians 1:28-29 and his statement in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul refers to the word as being “the mystery of Christ.” Paul had mentioned the mystery earlier in Colossians 1:26-27. It is how Christ brought together everyone through his sacrifice on the cross. For a more complete understanding of the mystery, one should study Ephesians 3:1-13. The second part of Paul’s request is that they pray that he can “make it clear” (Colossians 4:4). Paul was aware of the need to make the gospel message plain (II Corinthians 11:6) and asks for prayers in this regard. A similar prayer should be on the lips of each evangelist that the words that she/he speaks are clear and in alignment with the word of God.

Colossians 4:5-6

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Paul transitions to a discussion of Christian conduct. This should not surprise us since he has mentioned conduct in each chapter (1:10 and 2:6 mention positive conduct while 3:7 describes negative conduct). In addition to a strong prayer life, Paul encourages the Colossians to be aware of their conduct (Colossians 4:5). It should be managed wisely. It should take into consideration the effect on outsiders (see also I Corinthians 14:22-25, I Thessalonians 4:12 and I Timothy 3:7). It should be done using the time that God gives you to the best of your ability. In addition to the general reference to good conduct, Paul makes specific mention of the Christian’s speech. The characteristics mentioned are gracious and seasoned with salt. God has always required appropriate speech from His people. The psalmist uses speech as a partial answer to the question, “Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” when he says it is one “who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:1-4). The reason is that to break an oath or covenant with a person is to break it with God himself (Ezekiel 17:18-19). Jesus talks about the importance of speech in the Sermon on the Mount by telling us that we should not take oaths lightly but rather “Let what you say simply be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matthew 5:33-37). Paul has already warned of “obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8). Paul reminded the Corinthians that his speech was Christ-centered (I Corinthians 2:1-4). This should be the goal of each of us.

Colossians 4:7-9

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

Beginning in Colossians 4:7, Paul deals with persons who are involved with him in the ministry. The first of these is Tychicus. He is described as a beloved brother, faithful minister and fellow servant. He was of Asian (i.e., Asia Minor or today’s Turkey) descent and had traveled with Paul (Acts 20:4) and served as a messenger for him (see II Timothy 4:12 and Titus 3:12). Paul was now using him for multiple purposes including carrying this letter and the one to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21-22), giving both churches a word-of-mouth, first hand report of Paul’s activities and assuring Onesimus’ acceptance back in Colossae. Onesimus is the next person mentioned. He is described as a “faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” (Colossians 4:9). We also know that Onesimus was a runaway slave (Philemon 15-16) who had been converted by Paul while in prison in Rome (Philemon 10). Paul was sending Onesimus back to Colossae to be reunited with his owner, Philemon, who was also a Christian. This is the importance of the statement, “They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.” In other words, Paul wanted them to have the whole story before Onesimus was punished. The book of Philemon details Paul’s discussion with Philemon.

Colossians 4:10-11

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), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Aristarchus is described as a “fellow prisoner” with Paul. This would indicate that he had been imprisoned too for some reason. Aristarchus was from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4) and was a traveling partner and preacher with Paul (Acts 19:29). He was no stranger to suffering for Christ. In the city of Ephesus, he had, during a riot, been dragged before the ones defending Artemis (Latin= Diana), the goddess of the Ephesians (Acts 19:29). Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), was also known as John Mark (Acts 15:37). It was to his mother’s house that Peter went after being released from prison (Acts 12:12), thus we know that he was from a family of believers who was probably well to do. Paul had taken him along with Barnabas on his first missionary journey. Part way through the journey, he had returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13) and Paul and Barnabas continued on. When Paul and Barnabas got ready to leave on a second missionary journey, they had a major disagreement about whether or not Mark should be allowed to go. This turned into such a dispute that Paul and Barnabas parted company and went separate ways (see Acts 15:36-41). This may explain Paul’s statement “concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you, welcome him” (Colossians 4:10) since they may have still been under the impression that there was friction between Paul and Mark. It turns out that Barnabas was correct in this case and later Paul accepted Mark as a fellow worker (Philemon 24) and described him as being “very useful to me for ministry” (II Timothy 4:11). Mark is also the writer of the New Testament gospel of Mark. We know nothing of “Jesus who is called Justus” (Colossians 4:11). What we know about these three men is that they were the only Jews still with Paul and that they had been a comfort to him (Colossians 4:11).

Colossians 4:12-14

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

Epaphras is described as “one of you” (Colossians 4:12) because he had evangelized the cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (see also Colossians 1:7). These cities form a triangle in the Phrygian Valley in what is today Western Turkey. They were probably evangelized by Epaphras while Paul was preaching in Ephesus (see Acts 19). Other things we know about Epaphras include that he “worked hard” (Colossians 4:13), that he was a man of prayer (Colossians 4:12), Paul considered him a “faithful minister of Christ” (Colossians 1:7) and that he had been a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 23). Paul describes Luke as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Luke is the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. We know that he traveled with Paul on most of his mission efforts. Some feel that he was with Paul to take care of his physical aliments (see II Corinthians 12:7-10 and Galatians 4:13-15) while others see him as a preacher. Perhaps he was both. Paul saw him as a “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). We know that he stayed with Paul to the very end of his life (II Timothy 4:11 cf. II Timothy 4:6-8). Demas is an interesting study. He is mentioned in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24 as a worker with Paul. However, he must have left him later because in II timothy 4:10 Paul says that Demas was in love with the present world and had deserted him.

Colossians 4:15-18

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord. 18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

As Paul brings his letter to an end he encourages that the letter be read amongst the Christians in Colossae and then shared with the people of Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). There evidently was a letter that had been sent to Laodicea that Paul encourages them to read also. We have no record of such a letter. This is an excellent example of how God preserved the letters of the early church that He wanted us to have access to. This is the difference between just a letter and an inspired letter. Archippus is mentioned only here and in Philemon 2. Possibly he was a preacher for the church in Colossae. We know him only as “a fellow soldier” (Philemon 2). Perhaps because of his eyesight Paul had used someone else to actually write the letter. However, Paul writes the last words in his own handwriting and implores them to remember his chains, that is his condition while in prison and pronounces a blessing, “Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18).

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