Colossians 4 – Prayer Life, Personal Witness, and Final Greetings
A. The inner life of prayer and the outer life of witness.
1. (2-4) The inner life of prayer.
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.
a. Continue earnestly in prayer: Paul supported the Colossian church through His prayers for them (Colossians 1:3-8). Their life and ministry would continue to prosper through continued vigilance in prayer, including prayer on their part.
i. The ancient Greek word translated continue is “Built on a root meaning ‘to be strong,’ it always connotes earnest adherence to a person or thing. In this passage it implies persistence and fervor.” (Vaughan)
ii. This sort of earnest prayer is important, but does not come easy. Earnestly in prayer speaks of great effort steadily applied. “Heaven’s gate is not to be stormed by one weapon but by many. Spare no arrows, Christian. Watch and see that none of the arms in thy armoury are rusty. Besiege the throne of God with a hundred hands, and look at the promise with a hundred eyes. You have a great work on hand for you have to move the arm that moves the world; watch, then, for every means of moving that arm. See to it that you ply every promise; that you use every argument; that you wrestle with all might.” (Spurgeon)
b. Being vigilant in it with thanksgiving: We are to be vigilant in prayer, but always praying with thanksgiving for the great things God has done.
i. Barclay on vigilant: “Literally the Greek means to be wakeful. The phrase could well mean that Paul is telling them not to go to sleep when they pray.” Sometimes, because of the tiredness of our body or mind, we struggle against sleep when we pray. Other times we pray as if we were asleep, and our prayers simply sound and feel tired and sleepy.
ii. “Prayer should be mingled with praise. I have heard that in New England after the Puritans had settled there a long while, they used to have very often a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, till they had so many days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that at last a good senator proposed that they should change it for once, and have a day of thanksgiving.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The connection here with thanksgiving may suggest the threefold rhythm: intercession, ‘watching’ for answers to prayer, and thanksgiving when answers appear.” (Wright)
c. Meanwhile praying also for us: Paul seemed to say, “As long as we are on the subject of prayer, please pray for us!” But Paul didn’t ask for prayer for his personal needs (which were many), but that God would open to us a door for the word.
i. The same word picture of an open door as an open opportunity for the gospel is seen in passages such as Acts 14:27, 1 Corinthians 16:9, and 2 Corinthians 2:12.
d. As I ought to speak: Even though Paul was in chains for his faithfulness to the gospel, he knew that he ought to speak it in a way that would make it manifest (clearly evident). Paul wanted prayer that he would continue to make the gospel clear and evident, even if it meant more chains.
i. Robertson comments on Paul’s words, as I ought to speak: “Wonderful as Paul’s preaching was to his hearers and seems to us, he was never satisfied with it. What preacher can be?”
2. (5-6) The outer life of witness.
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.
a. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside: The Christian life isn’t only lived in the prayer closet. There also must be practical, lived-out Christianity, which lives wisely toward those who are outside. How we speak has a lot to do with this, so we must let our speech always be with grace.
i. “Distorted accounts of Christian conduct and belief were in circulation; it was important that Christians should give no color to these calumnies, but should rather give the lie to them by their regular manner of life.” (Bruce)
ii. Let your speech always be with grace: “The word ‘grace’ has, in Greek as in English, the possible double meaning of God’s grace and human graciousness.” (Wright)
iii. “In classical writers ‘salt’ expressed the wit with which conversation was flavoured.” (Peake) “Grace and salt (wit, sense) make an ideal combination.” (Robertson)
b. That you may know how you ought to answer each one: Paul believed that Christians would answer others from Biblical truth, and that they would work at knowing how to communicate those answers to those who are outside.
i. Barclay translates Colossians 4:6 this way: Let your speech always be with gracious charm, seasoned with the salt of wit, so that you will know the right answer to give in every case. He explains: “Here is an interesting injunction. It is all too true that Christianity in the minds of many is connected with a kind of sanctimonious dullness and an outlook in which laughter is almost a heresy… The Christian must commend his message with the charm and the wit which were in Jesus himself.”
ii. “They must strive to cultivate the gift of pleasant and wise conversation, so that they may be able to speak appropriately to each individual (with his peculiar needs) with whom they come in contact.” (Peake)
iii. Colossians 4:2-6 shows that God is concerned both about our personal prayer life and our interaction with the world. He cares both about the prayer closet and the public street, and He wants us to care about both also.
iv. This is also an important idea to connect with the earlier passages of Colossians. Paul spent considerable time in this letter explaining the truth and refuting bad doctrine. Yet all the correct knowledge was of little good until it was applied in both the prayer closet and the public street of daily life. We could say that here, Paul genuinely completes his letter.
B. Personal notes concluding the letter.
1. (7-9) Regarding Tychicus and Onesimus, messengers of the letter.
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, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.
a. Tychicus, a beloved brother: Apparently, the Colossian Christians didn’t know who Tychicus was. He would carry this letter to them (will tell you all the news about me).
i. Apparently Epaphras, who brought the news from Colosse to Paul in Rome (Colossians 1:7), would not return to Colosse soon; so Paul sent Tychicus instead.
ii. Tychicus is mentioned in Acts 20:4 as one of the men who came with Paul from the Roman province of Asia to Jerusalem, to carry the offering of those believers to the needy Christians of Jerusalem and Judea.
iii. “The reference to Tychicus is almost word for word identical with Ephesians 6:21-22. He was evidently the bearer of the letter to the Ephesians as well as this one.” (Bruce)
b. With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother: Onesimus was a slave owned by a believer in Colosse, but he ran away and came into contact with Paul in Rome. There, Onesimus became a Christian and a dedicated helper to Paul. His story is continued in Paul’s letter to Philemon.
i. Paul could have wrote about Onesimus, “the escaped slave who I am sending back to his master.” Instead, he called him a faithful and beloved brother, and let the Colossian Christians know that Onesimus was now one of you.
2. (10-11) Greetings from three of Paul’s faithful Jewish friends.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), 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.
a. Aristarchus: He was a Macedonian from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4). He was Paul’s travel companion, and with the apostle when the Ephesian mob seized Paul (Acts 19:29). He was also with Paul when he set sail for Rome under his Roman imprisonment (Acts 27:2). Here Paul calls him my fellow prisoner. It seems that Aristarchus had an interesting habit of being with Paul in hard times. Some (such as William Ramsay) suggest that he actually made himself Paul’s slave so that he could travel with him on this journey to Rome.
b. Mark the cousin of Barnabas… if he comes to you, welcome him: Though Paul had much earlier a falling out with both Barnabas and Mark (Acts 13:5, 13:13, and 15:36-40), clearly by the time he wrote this all was in the past. The grace of God working in Paul meant that time changed him and softened him towards others who had previously offended him.
i. “It is from this reference alone that we learn that Mark was Barnabas’ cousin – a piece of information which throws light on the special consideration which Barnabas gives to Mark in the narrative of Acts.” (Bruce)
ii. Because Paul identified Mark in terms of his relationships with Barnabas, it seems that the Colossian Christians knew who Barnabas was. Either this was through his reputation or through further missionary journeys that were not recorded in the Book of Acts. It reminds us that the Book of Acts is an incomplete record of the history of the early church.
c. Jesus who is called Justus: Of this man, we know nothing except his name. He is numbered among these previous four men, all of them comforters to Paul in his Roman custody preceding his trial before Caesar (they have proved to be a comfort to me).
d. My only fellow workers… who are of the circumcision: At that time, Paul had only three fellow workers with a Jewish heritage. Yet these three did a great work, they proved to be a comfort to Paul.
i. Paul was in Roman custody because of a Jewish riot on the temple mount over the mere mention of God’s offer of grace to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21-22).
ii. Adam Clarke drew out a logical conclusion from the words, These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision: “It is evident, therefore, that Peter was not now at Rome, else he certainly would have been mentioned in this list; for we cannot suppose that he was in the list of those who preached Christ in an exceptionable way, and from impure and unholy motives: indeed, there is no evidence that Peter ever saw Rome.”
3. (12-13) Greetings from Epaphras.
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.
a. Always laboring fervently for you in prayers: Prayer is hard work, and Epaphras worked diligently at it, especially knowing the danger of the false teaching in Colosse. So, Epaphras prayed that the Colossian Christians would stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. This is a wonderful prayer to pray for anyone.
i. Paul called Epaphras a bondservant of Christ, using a phrase that he often applied to himself, but never to anyone else, except here and in Philippians 1:1 where he speaks of himself and Timothy together as bondservants of Jesus.
ii. Epaphras was a bondservant, and prayer was an important area where he worked hard. Laboring fervently “is a free translation of echei polyn ponon, a phrase the key word of which (ponom) suggest heavy toil to the extent of pain.” (Vaughan)
b. He has a great zeal for you: Epaphras prayed well because he cared well. If he lagged in zeal, he certainly would have lagged in prayer.
4. (14) Greetings from Luke and Demas.
Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.
a. Luke the beloved physician: This is the one passage that informs us that Luke, the human author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, was a physician. We also see that his works are written with a more scientific, analytical mindset (Luke 1:1-4) and have much detail that a physician would be interested in (Luke 4:38, 5:12-15, and 8:43).
i. Perhaps Luke was in Rome to deliver a document he recently finished – the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, which probably were together a “friend of the court” report, explaining to the Romans why Paul stood before Caesar’s court.
b. Demas: Here, nothing positive is said about Demas, only that he greets the Colossian Christians and therefore must have been known to them. In Philemon 1:24 he is grouped among Paul’s fellow laborers. Yet in the last mention of him (2 Timothy 4:10), Paul said that Demas had forsaken him, having loved this present world, and that he had gone on to Thessalonica.
i. “Surely here we have the faint outlines of a study in degeneration, loss of enthusiasm and failure in the faith.” (Barclay)
ii. The six people who greeted the Colossians were connected with Paul in Rome, during the time of his house arrest and custody before appearing on trial before Caesar. This shows that during this imprisonment – unlike the later one described in 2 Timothy – Paul, though chained, enjoyed at least the occasional company of many friends and associates.
5. (15) Greeting to Nymphas and the Laodiceans.
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.
a. Laodicea: This was the same city later mentioned in the scathing rebuke of Revelation 3:14-22, and it was a neighboring city of Colosse, along with Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13).
b. Nymphas: There has been some considerable debate as to if Paul referred to a man or a woman with this name. Some manuscripts have the masculine form and some have the feminine.
i. “Much ink has been spilt over the question whether the individual here mentioned is a woman (Nympha) or a man (Nymphas). Both forms are found in the manuscript tradition, and certainty seems impossible on this (fortunately not very significant) point.” (Wright)
c. The church that is in his house: Having no buildings of their own, the early church met as “house churches.” Because few houses were large, there were usually several “house churches” in a city, with a pastor or elder over each one.
i. “Such house-churches were apparently smaller circles of fellowship within the larger fellowship of the city ekklesia.” (Bruce)
ii. “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 where the leaders of the Church.” (Barclay)
6. (16) Instructions for spreading the message in this letter.
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.
a. Now when this epistle is read among you: When Paul and other apostles wrote letters to churches, the letters were simply publicly read in the congregations. It was a way for the apostle to teach that church even when he could not personally be there.
b. See that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans: It was the general practice to distribute all apostolic letters among the churches, especially those close to each other.
i. “Here we undoubtedly have the principle reason for the preservation of Paul’s letters in the sub-apostolic period, and their eventual adoption as part of the canonical ‘new covenant’ books: their author intended them to carry, in writing, the authority which had been invested in him as an apostle.” (Wright)
ii. This helps us to understand how and why the letters would have been copied almost immediately, and how slight mistakes in copying the manuscripts could come in at an early date.
c. And that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea: Apparently, Paul wrote a letter to the Laodiceans that we do not have. We should not assume from this that our treasure of inspiration is incomplete. The Holy Spirit has chosen to preserve those letters that are inspired for the church in a universal sense. Paul was not inspired in this way every time he set pen to paper.
i. It may be that this “missing” Laodicean letter was actually the letter to the Ephesians. “It is well-nigh certain that Ephesians was not written to the Church at Ephesus but was an encyclical letter meant to circulate among the Churches of Asia. It may be that this encyclical had reached Laodicea and was now on the way to Colosse.” (Barclay)
ii. There is a Latin letter of Paul to the Laodiceans and it was mentioned as early as the fifth century by Jerome. But Jerome himself called it a forgery and that most people in his day agreed that it was not authentic. It is mainly made up of phrases from Philippians and Galatians. Adam Clarke had a low opinion of this letter: “As to its being the work of St. Paul, little or nothing need be said; its barrenness of meaning, poverty of style, incoherency of manner, and total want of design and object, are a sufficient refutation of its pretensions.”
7. (17) A special word to Archippus.
And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
a. And say to Archippus: This special word to Archippus is of special interest. Paul wrote another short word regarding Archippus in another letter, mentioning Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house (Philemon 1:2).
i. This mention in Philemon 1:2 makes some people believe that he was the son of Philemon, since he is mentioned in the context of the wife of Philemon (Apphia) and his household (the church in your house). It also shows that Paul thought highly of Archippus and valued him as an associate in God’s work (our fellow soldier).
ii. The context of Colossians 4:17 leads some to think that though Archippus was part of the family of Philemon, he was connected with the church at Laodicea. Perhaps Archippus was the pastor of the church at Laodicea. Of course, there is no way to know this for certain.
b. Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry”: Paul wanted Archippus to be encouraged and strengthened, but he did not make this appeal to Archippus directly. He asked that it come to Archippus through the Colossians (or the Laodiceans).
i. “Presumably he would be present when the letter was read, either in the Colossian church or, later, when it had been sent to Laodicea. This was perhaps calculated to impress him the more with the solemnity of his responsibility to carry out his service.” (Bruce)
ii. Therefore, it was more fitting for the Colossians (or Laodiceans) to say this to Archippus than for Paul himself to say it to him. He needed to hear this from the people around him: “Fulfill your ministry.” When the Colossians spoke up, then Archippus knew his ministry was wanted. “Many an Archippus is sluggish, because the Colossians are silent.” (Dyke)
iii. They need to say “fulfill your ministry” directly to Archippus, not behind him. Whispering it behind his back would do no good. They had to say it to him.
c. Take heed to the ministry: This encouragement to Archippus spoke both to him and to us regarding some enduring principles of ministry.
· God gives ministry to His people.
· True ministry is received in the Lord.
· Ministry may be left unfulfilled.
· One must take heed to their ministry in order for it to be fulfilled.
· We should encourage others to fulfill their ministry.
i. “It is more likely, therefore, that the words of the apostle convey no censure, but are rather intended to stir him up to further diligence, and to encourage him in the work, seeing he had so much false doctrine and so many false teachers to contend with.” (Clarke)
ii. Thinking Archippus to be a pastor, Trapp applied the principle of take heed to the ministry to him: “The Church is thy proper element, the pulpit thy right ubi [place]; the sanctuary should be the centre of all thy circumference.”
8. (18) Conclusion.
This salutation by my own hand—Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.
a. This salutation by my own hand: As was the custom in that day, Paul generally dictated his letters and personally signed a postscript with his own hand.
b. Remember my chains: There is much emotion, sorrow, and strength in this simple phrase. Paul not only knew the confinement and loneliness of the prisoner; he also had the uncertainty of not knowing if his case before Caesar’s court would end with his execution.
i. “The chain clanked afresh as Paul took the pen to sign the salutation. He was not likely to forget it himself.” (Robertson)
ii. “Paul’s references to his sufferings are not pleas for sympathy; they are his claims to authority, the guarantees of his right to speak.” (Barclay)
c. Grace be with you: Paul’s conclusion is the only one possible for the apostle of grace, confronting a heresy emphasizing elaborate hidden mysteries and righteousness through works. We can only go forward safely in the Christian life if grace is with us.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission