To fully appreciate the situation the apostle Paul is addressing here, we need to go back to Colossians chapter 3 and pick up a few verses.
Colossians 3:22-24. “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. 23. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24. knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 4:1: “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
There are few, if any, masters with bondservants, (or slaves), in America today but there are many masters in the form of employers. Our society could not operate without them. The principles in these verses are, of course, applicable to employer-employee relationships today. Consequently, this Scripture applies to every employer and all employees in today’s economy.
There are further ramifications here. Each believer in Jesus Christ, be he employer, employee, or self employed, has a heavenly Master he is accountable to. Each one of us is accountable to the Lord for our daily actions and attitude in which we do our job.
Masters should keep in mind at all times that they have a Master too. The fact that the word "Lord" occurs frequently in this portion highlights the importance of applying the lordship of Christ in all our relationships with our fellow man, be he believer or non believer.
While all Christians are on the same level in the Lord, it should be remembered that there are still areas in which an order of authority is to be recognized. We might even go so far as to define four areas in believer's lives where an order of authority needs to be recognized.
Listing them in order of importance in the believer's life they would be:
(a) In Christ: Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
(b) In the household. While there is intrinsic spiritual equality, there are distinctions in the household. Ephesians 5:23. “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”
In this category, children are to obey both parents. Colossains 3:20. “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” Jesus is the supreme illustration of a child obeying His earthly parents. Luke 2:51.“Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them...,” The slave, too, is to be subject to his master. Titus 2:9. “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again...;”
(c) In the church. In the church all are subject to the oversight of the elders and the word of God. Hebrews 13:7. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God...:”
(d) In the realm of government. In the case of the believer, all God's children are heavenly citizens and subject to God first. But we are subject to the secular authorities and earthly statutes as long as they don’t contradict God’s word. Romans 13:1. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
Paul concluded his exhortation on Christian living with instructions pertaining to three essential practices for those in Christ. One exhortation dealt with his readers' relationship to God, another dealt with their relationship to other people, and the third looked to the believer’s inner self.
Verses 2-4: “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3. 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, 4. that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.”
The most important practice in relation to God is prayer. All of Paul’s instructions to the believers in this chapter are based on prayer. When we call on God for something through prayer we express our faith in Him in prayer.
Throughout this epistle Paul's emphasis has been on the believer's union with Christ and the completeness that this union produces. The Christian who does not pray is demonstrating his or her independence from God.
Paul urged his readers to devote themselves to prayer and to give it constant attention and first priority. The purpose of prayer is not to get man's will done in heaven, but to get God's will done on earth. Prayer is not telling God what to do or what to give. Prayer is asking God for that which He wants to do and give, according to His will. It’s only as we ask of God in His will that He will grant the things we request.
Undoubtedly, the main problem we face when we do pray is concentration. Paul reminded his readers to keep alert in prayer and to always give thanks in view of God's goodness and grace to them. Years ago I learned a song in Sunday School that went “The blessings come down as the prayers go up.”
Notice, too, Paul’s repeated emphasis on thanksgiving. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is one of the most "thankful" books in the New Testament.
Paul requested his readers' prayers for himself and his companions in spreading the gospel. He also asked that he would be able to present the gospel clearly. "The mystery of Christ," in verse 3, is the gospel. Paul was more concerned with giving out the gospel than he was with getting out of prison.
Verses 5-6: “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
Christians should walk in wisdom in their everyday behavior. They should realize that they are being watched carefully by unbelievers. The world is more interested in our walk than in our talk. In the language of Edgar A. Guest, "I'd rather see a sermon, than hear one, any day." This brings out the fact that the walk of a Christian should correspond with his talk.
Redeeming the time is an interesting statement. MacDonald writes, “Redeeming the time means buying up opportunities. Every day of our lives we face opportunities for witnessing to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ. As these opportunities come along, we should be ready to snap them up. The word buying implies that there is a cost involved. But whatever the cost may be, we should be ready to share our precious Savior with those who do not know Him.”
Paul also cautioned his readers about their talk. Keep in mind the Christian's speech should demonstrate the love and patience that is to be inherent in the believer.
Salt makes bland food more appealing. Used wisely it enhances the things it comes in contact with. A child of God should use his speech in a similar manner.
Paul concluded this epistle with personal information and instructions. He did this to bring his readers into a close knit bond with each other and consequently a closer fellowship in the body of Christ. Evidently they were in danger of separating due to the influence of the false teachers.
Verses 7-8-9: "Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. 8. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, 9. with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here."
Paul sent this letter with Tychicus for two reasons. He wanted him to give the saints at Colosse more information about himself and his present ministry than he was able to in this letter and he also meant it to encourage them in their ministry.
In his relationship to all the other Christians, Tychicus was a beloved brother. In relation to Christ he was a faithful servant. In relation to Paul he was a fellow-bondslave as a prisoner to the will of God.
Onesimus had been a slave in the household of Philemon. He had run away to Rome and Paul had led him to Christ there. Paul sent him back to Colosse with Tychicus as a beloved brother in Christ who had proved himself faithful. On their way to Colosse they delivered Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. They probably also carried one to the Laodiceans (verse 16), and the epistle to Philemon (Philemon 23-24), as well as this epistle.
Verses 4:10-11: "Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), 11. 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." Aristarchus came from Thessalonica and had been with Paul in Ephesus and had accompanied him to Rome. More than likely, he was a willing prisoner to the will of God rather than prisoner of Caesar. John Mark had rejoined Paul after their separation during Paul's first missionary journey recorded in Acts 13. The Colossians knew him as a cousin of Barnabas. This Mark wrote the Gospel by Mark and he is an encouragement to everyone who has failed in his first attempts to serve God. After his first failure, he got back into the ministry and proved himself faithful to the Lord and to the Apostle Paul.
These three men were Jewish Christians. Paul described them as “of the circumcision” which clearly identifies them as Jews.
I believe Paul mentioned that they were Jews to help the Colossians realize that what he had written about Jews and Gentiles being equal in Christ was a reality in his ministry.
The "kingdom of God" here probably refers to the domain over which Christ presently rules in contrast to Satan's domain. Colossians 1:13. “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son...:”
Verses 12-15. “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. 13. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. 14. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. 15. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. 16. 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. 17. And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it."
Whereas the three fellow workers Paul mentioned in verses 10-11 were Jews, the three he mentions here had Gentile backgrounds.
Epaphras had evidently been instrumental in the founding of the church at Colosse. His concern for the Colossians is clear from Paul’s earnest prayer concerning him in verse 12. Epaphras' concern for the Christians in the other towns near Colosse suggests that he evangelized these communities too. Epaphras is the only one whom Paul explicitly commended for his intensive prayer ministry.
The Christian battle is based on prayer. Many things are beyond the power of ordinary Christians because great position, wide influence, outstanding ability may be lacking to almost all of us, but the humblest and least significant Christian can pray, and the greatest power anyone can exert comes through prayer.
Paul identified Luke, the writer of the third Gospel and the book Acts, only as a physician. Luke would have been both physically and spiritually helpful to Paul.
Demas later forsook Paul but at this time he was ministering to and with the apostle.
In addition to the neighboring Laodicean Christians, Paul sent greetings to Nymphas, possibly the host of a Laodicean house-church.
There is no evidence that Christians met in church buildings until the third century. The early Christians seem to have chosen their meeting places on the basis of what was readily available.
Paul's letter to the Laodiceans, mentioned in verse 16, was probably not an inspired one and has evidently been lost.
Archippus may have been Philemon's son. He most likely was a gifted young man that Paul wanted to encourage.
Verse 18. “This salutation by my own hand, Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.”
Paul's normal practice, as here, was to use a secretary to write his letters and then add a personal word at the end in his own handwriting to authenticate his authorship. In his personal word here, he requested his readers' prayers for him in his house arrest in Rome.
In closing, he prayed that God's continuing “Grace be with you,” that God’s unmerited favor would be their portion.
In review of the Book of Colossians, along with my own observations, I wish to quote portions from passages on the subject by several trusted Christian authors.
The primary purpose of this letter was to combat false teaching. The two main problems concerned the doctrine of Christ and how this doctrine affects Christian living. The main passages present Christ as absolutely preeminent and perfectly adequate for the Christian. Paul explained that the Christian life flows naturally out of this. The Christian life is the life of the indwelling Christ in us that God manifests through the believer.
There are many similarities between Ephesians and Colossians. The major distinction between them is that in Ephesians the emphasis is on the church as the body of Christ. In Colossians the emphasis is on Christ's headship of the body.
The church today desperately needs the message of Colossians. We live in a day when religious toleration is interpreted to mean 'one religion is just as good as another.' Some people try to take the best from various religious systems and combine them into a private religion of their own. To many people, Jesus Christ is only one of several great religious teachers, with no more authority than any other. He may be prominent in their belief, but He is definitely not preeminent.
This is an age when people are trying to harmonize and unite many different schools of thought and come up with a superior religion. Our evangelical churches are in danger of diluting the faith in their attempt to understand the beliefs of others. Mysticism, legalism, Eastern religions, asceticism, and man-made philosophies are secretly creeping into churches. They are not denying Christ; they are dethroning Him in an attempt to deny that He is God’s only Son and consequently disprove that He is the only Savior of the world.
John 3:16-18. “For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved.
He who believes in Him is not condemned;
but he who does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed
in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”