Notes on Colossians 4:2-18

Colossians 4:2‑18  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
“Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving.” (Ver. 2.) The habit, the persevering habit of prayer, is of immense moment. And as Luke 18, so this chapter presses it strongly, though the apostle does not look for such far extending and thorough spirit of supplication as in Eph. 6. Their state did not admit either of like depths of desire or of such large affections for all saints in the bowels of Christ. Legalism, ordinance, philosophy savor of the creature, not of God rightly known: they are not Christ and are far short of comprehending all that are His. Nevertheless, he does count here as there on a mind on the alert to turn occasions of difficulty or blessing, joy or sorrow, anything, everything, into matter for spreading before God; and this in a spirit not of murmuring anxiety, but of grateful acknowledgment of His goodness and confidence in Him. How blessed that even the groaning of the Spirit in the believer supposes deliverance, and not mere selfish sense of evil! Not of course that the deliverance is complete and evil yet put down by power from on high and actually cleared out of the scene. But we know the victory won in Christ's death and resurrection, and having the earnest of the Spirit, feel the contrariety of present things to that glory of which He gives us the sense in Christ now exalted, the hope for all saints at His coming. The consciousness of the favor already shown and secured to us in Christ makes us thankful while we ask of God all good things suitable to it now, worthy of it in result by and by when evil disappears by His power. Yet it is remarkable to see how the apostle values and asks for the prayers of saints— “praying at the same time also for us that God may open to us a door of the word to speak the mystery of Christ on account of which also I am bound.” (Ver. 3.) The value of united prayer is great; but God makes much of individual waiting on Him, and very especially as in the interests of His Church and the Gospel—of Christ in short—here below. How little the apostle was discouraged even at this late day! He writes to the Colossians, from his bondage because of his testimony to that very mystery of Christ which he still desired to be the object of their supplication on his behalf with God, “that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak.” (Ver. 4.)
Next, he reverts to their own need of walking wisely, considering those outside, and seizing the fit opportunity, though I doubt not the service of prayer, such as we have seen would have issued in their own blessing as truly as in good to others. “Walk in wisdom with those without, buying up the time. Let your speech be always in grace, seasoned with salt, to know how ye ought to answer each one.” (Ver. 5, 6.) Grace gives us the rich glow of divine favor to the undeserving, the display of what God is in Christ to those who belong to this guilty, ruined world; salt presents the guard of holiness, the preservative energy of God's rights in the midst of corruption. It is not said “always with salt,” seasoned with grace but “always in grace, seasoned with salt.” Grace should ever be the groundwork and the spring of all we say. No matter how much we may differ, righteousness must be maintained inviolate.
It is this combination of divine love in the midst of an evil world, with uncompromising maintenance of what is due to God's holy and righteous will, that teaches the Christian not merely what but how to answer each one as he ought.
Next come personal messages. (Ver. 7-18.) Observe the remarkable care of the apostle to sustain and commend true-hearted laborers, knowing well the tone of detraction natural to men who can see the failings of those whose service left themselves far behind. “Tychicus, my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-bondman in the Lord, all my affairs shall make known to you, whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that he may know your matters and may comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is [one] of you: they shall make known to you all things here.” (Ver. 7-9.) This exuberance of affectionate commendation is greatly to be weighed. The lack of it tends to loosen and dislocate the bonds of charity among the saints. Remark further, that love counts on the interest of others in our affairs quite as much as it feels a real concern in hearing of theirs. Among men such a feeling is either unknown, or where it exists is but vanity; but then love, divine love, is not there. And love must exist and be known in order to understand its workings and effects. Truly is it called in this epistle the bond of perfectness.
“Aristarchus, my fellow-captive, saluteth you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received orders (if he come to you, receive him), and Jesus that is called Justus, who are of the circumcision: these [are the] only fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God which have been a comfort to me.”
(Ver. 10, 11.) There is a singular change in comparing the notices here with those in Philemon. Aristarchus is here a sharer of the apostle's captivity, as there Epaphras is; while there Aristarchus is a fellow-laborer of the apostle with others, as Epaphras is here spoken of—at least as a bondman of Christ. They may have shared the apostle's imprisonment successively, as some one has suggested. It is certain that Aristarchus was his companion not only in Asia, but during his voyage to Italy. This would tend to show, I think, that this Epistle to the Colossians was written at least a little before that to Philemon, though both may be supposed to have been written at the same general date and to have been forwarded by the same hands from the apostle, a prisoner at Rome.
How beautiful too is the grace which enjoined distinctly the reception of Mark! Remembrance of the past would else have forbidden a cordial welcome to himself, and so must have hindered his ministry among the saints. Thus, if here we learn the secret of Barnabas's leaning (for he was his kinsman), when the breach occurred with the apostle in earlier days, we learn that real love is as generous as faithful, acts at all cost for the Lord, and where requisite, spite of paining nature, but rejoices to praise aloud and heartily where the grace of God has intervened to the removal of the impediment. Of Jesus called Justus we know no more than that, like Mark, he was of the circumcision; and like him too, consoled the apostle as a fellow-servant—rare thing among those who had been used to the law and its prejudices. The Justus of Acts 18:77And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. (Acts 18:7) was a Gentile proselyte. Barsabas, the candidate for the apostolate, who was a Jew of course, was so surnamed, but not called Jesus like the one in question.
“Epaphras saluteth you, who is [one] of you, a bondman of Christ Jesus, always striving for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all [the] will of God. For I bear him witness that he hath much toil for you, and those in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.” (Ver. 12, 13.) It would be a joy for the saints at Colosse to know that Epaphras, himself a Colossian as well as Onesimus, did not stand higher in the love and value of the apostle (chap. 1:7) than in earnest remembrance of themselves in his prayers for their blessing before God. Remark too that the doctrine of the epistle (that we are filled full according to all the fullness that is in Christ), far from excluding, is the basis of desire and intercession for the saints, that they may be practically perfect and fully assured in everything about which God has a will. There was no such narrowness as shut him up to a single assembly, though there was the affectionate recollection of need where saints and circumstances were specially known to him.
“Luke, the beloved physician, saluteth you, and Demas.” (Ver. 14) The occupation of Luke was not blotted out because he was a saint and a servant of Christ, and even an inspired writer. Demas, I should gather, was even now distrusted by the apostle, who mentions his name with an ominous silence and without an endearing word—a thing unusual with the apostle. Even to Philemon, about the same time, he is “my fellow-laborer.” In 2 Timothy he had forsaken the apostle, having loved the present age. The steps of declension were rapid; no testimony tells of his recovery. But a more extensive falling off was at hand (2 Tim. 1:1515This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)), for, the ice once broken, many were ready to slip through. As for the apostle, he had fought the fight, he had finished his course, he had kept the faith. The men who were little known for building up, were active for leading astray: as one of this world's sages has said, the hand that could not build a hut can destroy a palace. Nevertheless God's firm foundation stands.
“Salute the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the assembly in his house. And when the epistle has been read among you, cause that it be read also in the assembly of Laodicea, and that ye also read that from Laodicea.” (Ver. 15, 16.) Whether this letter be that commonly known as the Epistle to the Ephesians (and having a circular character), or that to Philemon (who may probably have resided in or near Laodicea); or whether it refers to a letter no longer extant (possibly a letter from Laodicea to Paul, literally), has been a question much contested among learned men. Two remarks may be made which seem clear and certain. 1. The Epistle from Laodicea would be indeed a strange way of describing an epistle written to the church there. It would be natural enough, if it meant a letter which was then there and intended for the Colossian saints also, to whomsoever it may have been addressed. 2. There is nothing to forbid the view that more letters were written than we possess, God preserving those only which were designed for the permanent guidance of the saints. But that the one alluded to here is a lost letter, addressed to Laodicea, is wholly unproved. It is also obvious that the Colossian epistle was directed to be passed on to Laodicea. The letter the Laodiceans were to forward to Colosse may have been addressed to them, but the description necessitates no such conclusion. What links of love and mutual profit among the assemblies!
“And say to Archippus, See to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it.” (Ver. 17.) The brethren cannot forego their responsibility and exercise of godly discipline; but ministry is received from and in the Lord. The assembly never appoints to service in the word, but Christ, the Head, though apostles or their delegates (never the church) acted for Him when it was a question of local charge.
Finally comes “the token in every epistle” —at least in his regular province as apostle of the uncircumcision: “The salutation by the hand of me, Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.”