We have learned that Paul wrote this letter in response to the efforts of false teachers (Judaizers) to minimize the place of Christ and His teachings and substitute their own. The result of this was that the Colossians were being lured away from their peace and security in Christ and tempted to base their salvation on the following of food laws, circumcision, and various teachings on the position and power of angels.
Paul's answer is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ and His teachings are the basis upon which they are saved, continue to be saved and upon which they should base their lives. Paul goes on to explain what their lives should be like if they base them on the teachings of Christ rather than on the empty teachings of the Judaizers. This has been the subject of our last few lessons – the standard or ethic that pertains to Christian living. This standard has several features:
- Holy living (especially sexual purity)
- A loving nature (speaking the truth)
- A thankful heart
- An ordered family (each with specific roles to play)
Let's continue describing this standard of living that flows from Jesus' teaching by adding the final feature that Paul describes.
Features of the Christian Standard – 3:22- 4:1
5. Ordered Society – 3:22-4:1
Paul mentioned that Christians are to have an ordered family and continues this thought to include the natural extension of an ordered family and that is an orderly society. Now he does not go into great detail about this. He simply comments on the role and attitude of the two main positions of society in that day: slaves and masters.
In the Roman Empire of the day you had only two classes: slaves and free. There were divisions within these but this was the dividing line. Paul does not condone slavery; he merely provides the teaching necessary for Christians to live properly, orderly before God in each class.
Vs. 22-25 – Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
He tells slaves two things that will help guide their Christian lives:
1. Obey sincerely – Not just lip service to the master but true obedience from the heart, knowing that the Lord sees your heart. Work with enthusiasm – no grumbling, no slacking. Do your work cheerfully and with enthusiasm as if you are working for God (Jesus), not man (master). Paul reminds slaves that God will judge and reward their work. Their attitude and work should not be based on their master's character or reward – it should be done to please God who will issue the final reward – which is eternal life (that is the inheritance). A wonderful promise to one who was destined to a lifetime of slavery here on earth.
2. You will be judged – They should not hide their disobedience and laziness behind the excuse of slavery. God is impartial and will judge everyone based on their obedience to Him, not based on their station in life (slave or free).
Vs. 4:1 – Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
Again, Paul does not give all the instructions for the master's life, only that which will set the tone for a proper relationship with their slaves – in God's eyes. As masters they have a responsibility to be just (see to their needs) and fair (not take advantage) of those in their charge. It would be easy to treat them as less than human because the slaves were seen as property, but God reminds them of their stewardship in caring for their slaves.
He also warns them that they too are slaves of the Master and should pattern their attitude after the attitude that Jesus, their Master, has for them. The implication is that they too will be judged.
Now Paul does not denounce slavery as evil and try to begin a revolution. He merely guides these two classes of people in how to live orderly lives before God in the positions they occupied. We know that Paul encouraged those who could obtain their freedom to do so (I Corinthians 7:21) but did not encourage rebellion. This would have created chaos in the church and in society, not order. Slavery was eventually defeated as Christianity overtook the various social systems of the Roman Empire.
So Paul adds one more feature to the Christian lifestyle, ordered society, as seen in the relationship between free and slave, or today as seen in the relationship between employer and employee; manager and worker, etc.
Christians strive to maintain order in their working relationships whatever position they hold, knowing that they serve the Lord and will ultimately be judged by Him and not man.
Conclusion and Greetings – 4:2-18
If they accept Christ and His teachings as the standard, then their lives will reflect the fact that they live by this standard. Their lives, as Paul has shown, will be holy, loving, thankful, and will demonstrate ordered living in the home and society.
In the next verse (4:2) Paul will move seamlessly into the final part of his letter which will include several words of encouragement and the commendation of various workers.
Vs. 2-4 – Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 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; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
He encourages them to continue giving thanks for their many blessings but also to pray for him. He is in prison, various individuals seek to destroy his work, there is still much to do, and he faces a trial.
He asks them to be devoted to prayer on his behalf and the others who work with him so he will be able to preach to others the good news who have not heard it yet. God is the one who provides opportunity for Paul. He wants his ministry to continue. Also, that he have the wisdom to defend himself at the imperial court in Rome, as he awaited this in prison.
Much of his future ministry rested on the outcome of his appearance at court. We know he was released for a while (2 years) as I said in the introductory chapter, he spent the time after his release revisiting and strengthening the churches he had established in Crete, Ephesus, Corinth, etc. (I.E. Titus 1:5). But at the writing of this letter he was unsure of the future and the outcome of the trial and so he asks them to pray for him.
Vs. 5-6 – Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
In the context of him having to deal with pagans at court and in prison, he turns the prayer request for himself around by encouraging them to be careful how they communicate with non-Christians.
He was in prison, fighting for his life, and yet despite these obstacles he had been able to spread the gospel throughout the prison in Rome (Philippians 1:13). He tells them that by their good conduct (he has explained in previous chapters) and careful speech (not foolish or coarse) but full of grace – they too must take full advantage of every opportunity to respond to outsiders concerning their faith.
Him being in prison might have driven them "underground" but he tells them that with good conduct, careful and graceful speech, they can reach others for Christ as they witness for their faith.
Vs. 7-9 – As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. 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; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.
Now begin the greetings and commendations:
He was one of Paul's personal representatives and the one who carried the letters to Colossae and to Ephesus. He was also dispatched to relieve Titus in Crete (Titus 3:12) and Timothy at Ephesus (II Timothy 4:12). In this passage Paul refers to him as beloved and faithful, and able to inform them accurately of his situation. He was a trusted and useful minister in the early church.
He was the runaway slave from Colossae who Paul converted in prison. He was returning home, accompanying Tychicus, and bringing a letter from Paul to his former master, Philemon.
Vs. 10-11 – 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); 11and 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.
Paul mentions three Jewish Christians who were working with him and ministering to him while under house arrest in Rome.
He was an early companion of Paul and we see him first as one with the Apostle in Ephesus during the attack by the mob (Acts 19:29). He accompanied Paul to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints (Acts 20:4) and later we see him again with Paul as he sailed under guard for Rome (Acts 27:2). It seems that he rejoined Paul as a voluntary prisoner in order to minister to his needs (Colossians 4:10).
Of course John Mark is a familiar character. His mother's (Mary) house was used by the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He was brought to Antioch by his cousin Barnabas and left on the first missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas as their helper (Acts 13:5). He refused (for some reason) to go into the mainland and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). This later caused a dispute between Barnabas and Paul when Barnabas wanted to bring him on another missionary journey (Acts 15:38). Barnabas then took Mark under his wing and went to work in a separate place (Cyprus) while Paul along with Silas went on to work in Asia Minor and Greece. We see by this mention of him in the Colossian letter that Mark was reunited with Paul in the work and highly regarded by him.
After Paul's death we see further mention of him by Peter (I Peter 5:13) as Peter's helper. Many scholars feel that the gospel of Mark is Peter's recounting of his own experience and written out by Mark.
Not much is known about him other than this mention of him in this letter.
Paul has spent much of this epistle refuting the false Jewish teachers among them but quickly mentions three fellow Christian Jews who are faithful and beloved, to show that there are many brethren among the Jews who are faithful and trustworthy.
Vs. 12-13 – 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. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
A friend and co-worker of Paul. Many scholars believe he was a different person than Epaphroditus mentioned in Philippians 2:25 and Philippians 4:18. Epaphras worked as an evangelist and helped in the establishment of the churches in Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea.
Paul says he is from Colossae and was a man who prayed fervently for them. Paul attests to the fact that Epaphras was truly concerned (agonized) over their faith. He wanted them to be fully assured that God wanted them to be saved and secure in Christ – this is God's will.
Vs. 14 – Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.
Again, Paul only mentions Luke in passing, not because he is unimportant but rather that he is finishing his letter and his readers know about Luke. A companion and fellow traveler with Paul and the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. This is the only place where he is referred to as a physician.
There are three references to Demas. Two say that he is a fellow worker and sends greetings, and the final one in II Timothy 4:10 which reveals that he finally abandoned Paul and the work to return to worldly living. He was Paul's secretary and scribe for a time before his fall.
Final greetings and instructions then come in rapid succession.
Vs. 15-18 – Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. 16When 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. 17Say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." 18I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.
Vs. 15 – Greetings to the church in Laodicea and a smaller group meeting in the home of an individual.
Vs. 16 – Paul mentions another letter (to the Laodicians) which he has written and sent, but this letter has not been found. He instructs them to exchange letters with the Colossians.
Vs. 17 – The only other reference to Archippus is in the letter to Philemon – he was probably Philemon's son. Epaphras had left the church in Colossae (where Archippus and Philemon were) in order to go to Rome to minister to Paul. It seems that Epaphras had left his ministry there in the hands of Archippus. Paul exhorts him (like he does Timothy in I Timothy 4:16) to not neglect that ministry but to work at it and be diligent. In the end the ministry had really been given to him by the Lord, not just by Epaphras or Paul.
Vs. 18 – Finally Paul signs with his own hand the letter dictated to Demas as a proof of authenticity, and as a way of sending his own personal greeting. He urges them to remember his imprisonment and what it stands for and why he is there: the glory of God and the gospel of Christ. He finishes with a blessing that God's grace (or favor) be upon or with them.
And so with this blessing Paul ends the letter which puts forth Christ and His teachings as the primary or pre-eminent basis upon which:
- Knowledge of the true God is revealed
- Faith for salvation is based
- Direction for Christian living is established
- Summarize the elements that Paul teaches about Jesus as pre-eminent and how you see these as foundational to your Christian life.
- Holy living
- A loving nature
- A thankful heart
- An orderly family
- Summarize key elements of an orderly society and why Paul would include these in his instruction?
- As Christians
- Summarize Paul's final greetings in Colossians 4:2-4.
- From Colossians 3:7-9, what does Paul encourage the Christians to do in context of his situation and theirs, and how does this serve as a conclusion to his letter to the Colossians?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?