Rules for Christian Households (cont’d), 1

Col 4:1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

There would have been little point in Paul objecting directly to the institution of slavery, since he had no control over it. (But see Philemon for a situation over which he did have more influence). But he undermines (‘subverts’, to use a favourite modern word) much of its essence by his talk of what is right and fair.

You know that you also have a Master in heaven – The slave-owners were themselves slaves – of God! This parallels closely what the slaves have been told. But it is perhaps more likely that someone who is wealthy and powerful enough to be a slave-owner might forget that there is a God in heaven to whom they are accountable.

It was a wholly new idea that the master had any accountability with respect to his slaves.

‘The lordship of Christ dominates the whole Epistle. The assertion that the proud master who deemed his fellow-man his chattel is himself a mere slave of Christ, sets Christ’s authority in a vivid and striking light. This consideration makes the Christian master apprehensive as to his treatment of his dependents, he is “in heaven,” the seat of Divine authority and glory, whence he shall soon return to judgment.’ (Findlay)

Lucas addresses the question of whether Paul can be criticised for failing to make a more effective protest against the iniquities of slavery. He answers:-

1. The apostle’s primary concern is not relationships between one another, but between ourselves and Christ. He does not address the issue horizontally, but vertically. It is only when we are in a proper relationship with our Lord that we can begin to come into a proper relationship with one another. Both parties have a Master in heaven, and will be subject to heavenly rewards and sanctions. The effect of this orientation to Christ is that both slave and master have each other’s interests at heart. The slave asks, ‘How can I best serve my master?’ And the master asks, ‘How can I best treat my slave?’

2. Paul is not addressing the leaders of society but members of a church. He is dealing with a local situation at a given time. He is helping them with their present problems and rescuing them from their present dangers. ‘It would bring slaves yet more misery if Paul were to tell them to revolt, nor would it

Further Instructions, 2-6

Col 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

2:2-6 – As the letter moves towards a close, Paul, having commenced with thanksgiving to God for the world-wide spread of the gospel (1:3-8) now returns to this theme and to his responsibilities in it. Moreover, he has also referred to the Colossians as partners in this work, 1:24-2:5, and to that he now returns also. Two ministries are intertwined here: the ministry of prayer, and the ministry of proclamation.

Three characteristics of prayer are mentioned here: persistence, vigilance, and thankfulness.

Devote yourselves to prayer – This characteristic of prayer is often used in the NT (cf. Acts 1:14 2:42,46,Rom 12:12 Eph 6:18 etc.) and suggests a gritty determination not to give up until God’s response comes. (compare Lk 18:1-8) ‘Devote’ suggests such characteristics as regular, consistent, and thorough.

‘This means, “Be steadfast in your prayer life; be devoted; don’t quit.” This is the way the early church prayed. (Ac 1:14 2:46) Too many of us pray only occasionally-when we feel like it or when there is a crisis. “Pray without ceasing” is God’s command to us. (1 Thess 5:17) This does not mean that we should walk around muttering prayers under our breath. Rather, it means we should be constantly in fellowship with God so that prayer is as normal to us as breathing.’ (Wiersbe)

‘It is interesting to remark how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord;” and just as we are about to close the volume, the “Amen” of an earnest supplication meets our ear. Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob-there a Daniel who prayed three times a day-and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elias; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises. What does this teach us, but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in his Word, he intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If he has said much about prayer, it is because he knows we have much need of it. So deep are our necessities, that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Dost thou want nothing? Then, I fear thou dost not know thy poverty. Hast thou no mercy to ask of God? Then, may the Lord’s mercy show thee thy misery! A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian. If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father’s face, and live in thy Father’s love. Pray that…thou mayst be holy, humble, zealous, and patient; have closer communion with Christ, and enter oftener into the banqueting house of his love. Pray that thou mayst be an example and a blessing unto others, and that thou mayst live more to the glory of thy Master.’ (Spurgeon)

Watchful – Awake (of course!), and alert. There may be an indirect reference to ‘watching’ for the Lord’s return (cf v5). ‘Maybe he was thinking of the time on the Mount of Transfiguration when the disciples fell asleep and only when they were awake again saw the glory. (Lk 9:32) Or maybe he was thinking of that time in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed and his disciples slept. (Mt 26:40f) It is true that at the end of a hard day sleep often comes upon us when we try to pray. And even oftener there is in our prayers a kind of tiredness.’ (DSB)

The Gk verb is a form of gregoreo – from which the early Christians coined the proper name Gregory.

‘What the apostle has in mind is that, while continuing in prayer, the worshiper shall be alive to such matters as: (a) his own needs and those of the family, church, country, world; (b) the dangers that threaten the Christian community; (c) the blessings received and promised, and (last but not least) (d) the will of God. Cf. Acts 20:31 2 Cor 16:13 1 Thess 5:6 1 Pet 5:8 Rev 3:2-3.’ (Hendriksen)

Thankful – And this from a man who is a prisoner. Surely, the Christian can be thankful in all circumstances. Thankful prayer acknowledges that salvation belongs to the Lord and is the work of God’s grace. See Col 1:2 2:7 3:15,16. ‘Ceaseless prayer combined with ceaseless praise was the atmosphere of Paul’s spiritual life.’ (Beet)

‘I commend to you the importance of thankfulness in prayer. I know well that asking God is one thing and praising God is another. But I see so close a connection between prayer and praise in the Bible, that I dare not call that true prayer in which thankfulness has no part. It is not for nothing that Paul says, “By prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Php 4:6 “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Col 4:2. It is of mercy that we are not in hell. It is of mercy that we have the hope of heaven. It is of mercy that we live in a land of spiritual light. It is of mercy that we have been called by the Spirit, and not left to reap the fruit of our own ways. It is of mercy that we still live and have opportunities of glorifying God for that free grace by which we live, and for that loving kindness which endureth for ever. Never was their an eminent saint who was not full of thankfulness. St. Paul hardly ever writes an epistle without beginning with thankfulness. Men like Whitefield in the last century, and Bickersteth in our own time, abounded in thankfulness. Oh, reader, if we would be bright and shining lights in our day, we must cherish a spirit of praise. Let our prayers be thankful prayers.’ (Ryle)

Wright suggests that the flow of this verse may be: (a) intercession; (b) ‘watching’ for answers to prayer; (c) thanksgiving when answers appear.

Col 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Pray for us – Cf. 1 Thess 5:25, and especially Eph 6:18-20.

That God may open a door for our message – This ‘door’ could be the prison door that will open and let Paul and his message out into the world. But it is more likely the ‘door’ that opens and lets the word of God into people’s hearts, cf Acts 14:27 1 Cor 16:9 2 Cor 2:12. ‘We must note carefully exactly what it is for which Paul asks. He asks their prayer not so much for himself as for his work. There were many things for which Paul might have asked them to pray-release from prison, a successful outcome to his coming trial, a little rest and peace at the last. But he asks them to pray only that there may be given to him strength and opportunity to do the work which God had sent him into the world to do.’ (DSB)

‘Paul did not ask for the prison doors to be opened, but that doors of ministry might be opened. (1 Cor 16:9 Acts 14:27) It was more important to Paul that he be a faithful minister than a free man. It is worth noting that in all of Paul’s prison prayers, his concern was not for personal safety or material help, but for spiritual character and blessing.’ (Wiersbe)

‘The community that God has called out of the world for salvation by the gospel (see Rom 10:8) is called in turn to preach that gospel; evangelism is the church’s vocation. The work of evangelism includes prayer (4:2-4) as well as proclamation (4:5-6)-a point already highlighted in the letter’s opening words (1:5-9).’ (IVP NT Commentary)

Our message is lit. ‘the word’, and this is further defined in the next clause.

So that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ – ‘Paul was in prison because of the “mystery of Christ” which related to the Gentiles. (see Eph 3:1-13) The mystery involved God’s purpose for the Gentiles in relation to Israel; for in the church, Jews and Gentiles are one. (Eph 2:11-22) Read the account of Paul’s arrest in the Jewish temple. (Ac 21:18-22:30) Note that the Jews listened to Paul till he spoke the word Gentiles. (Ac 22:21-22) It was Paul’s concern for the Gentiles and his ministry to them that put him into prison.’ (Wiersbe)

‘The mystery of Christ’ ‘is to be understood in the light of earlier passages in the letter; it is the secret plan of God for the salvation of the whole world as this has now been made known in and through Jesus Christ.’ (Wright)

‘How strange that Paul would want God to help him do the very thing that had caused his arrest! He had no intention of giving up his ministry or of changing his message. When John Bunyan was arrested for preaching illegally and put into prison, he was told that he would be released if he promised to stop preaching. “If I am out of prison today,” he replied, “I will preach the Gospel again tomorrow, by the help of God.”‘ (Wiersbe)

For which I am in chains – Paul’s sufferings and imprisonment were part and parcel of his vocation as an apostle, cf 1:24.

‘A message…which challenges the power structures of the present age is always dangerous to proclaim.’ (Wright)

Paul ‘might have been still at large, if he had been content to preach a Judaic Gospel. It was because he contended for Gentile liberty, and thush offended Jewish prejudices, that he found himself a prisoner.’ (Lightfoot)

‘How could Paul share the mystery of Christ when he was a prisoner? Paul’s case was discussed by many people; Paul was also able to witness to the guards to whom he was chained. (Php 1:12-18) Imagine being chained to the Apostle Paul! Through this witness, the Gospel was carried into parts of Rome that would have been inaccessible to Paul had he been a free man. There were even “saints in Caesar’s household!”.’ (Php 4:22) (Wiersbe)

Col 4:4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should – This is closely linked with the reference to ‘mystery’ in the previous verse, and ‘proclaim’ is best rendered, ‘reveal’ or ‘make manifest’. What is needed is not simply a clear explanation, but a bold announcement.

A good message proclaimed badly can do more harm than good. The gospel needs to be proclaimed (a) clearly; (b) fearlessly, Eph 6:19; (c) graciously, cf. Col 4:6; (d) wisely cf. Col 4:6.

‘Wonderful as Paul’s preaching was to his hearers and seems to us, he was never satisfied with it. What preacher can be?’ (RWP)

‘If Paul felt his conception of the greatness of the gospel dwarfing into nothing his words when he tried to preach it, what must every other true minister of Christ feel?’ (Maclaren)

Col 4:5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

In v5f are three specific instructions concerning their relationships with outsiders, (a) their wise behaviour; (b) their use of time; (c) their gracious speech.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders – Lit. ‘walk in wisdom…’ The early Christians were accused of being atheists (because they served no visible gods), unpatriotic (because they refused to engage in emperor-worship), and immoral (because they often met behind closed doors, out of necessity). To defeat this slander (as Hendriksen says) they needed to conduct themselves with wisdom as well as with virtue. Few read the Scriptures; many read us.

‘The truly wise are those to whom God has graciously imparted wisdom: Solomon, (Mt 12:42 Lk 11:31) Stephen, (Ac 6:10) Paul, (2 Pet 3:15) Joseph. (Ac 7:10) One of Christ’s legacies to his disciples was the wisdom to say the right thing in times of persecution and examination. (Lk 21:15) A similar wisdom is necessary for understanding the apocalyptic oracles and enigmas. (Rev 13:18; 17:9) Wisdom is essential not only for leaders of the church (Ac 6:3) but for all believers that they may perceive God’s purposes in redemption (Eph 1:8-9) and may walk worthily of God (Col 1:9; Jas 1:5; 3:13-17) and discreetly before unbelievers. (Col 4:5) As Paul has taught his hearers in all wisdom, (Col 1:28) so they who are mature enough to understand this spiritual wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-7) are to instruct others in it.’ (Col 3:16) (NBD)

They are to act wisely, ‘neither giving offence carelessly, nor taking offence causelessly.’ (Trapp)

‘Paul knew only too well (1 Cor 10:32) the importance of giving the world no reason to criticize or gossip about the behaviour of Christians.’ (Wright)

‘Since we authenticate God’s salvation by our lives and words, we can either impugn or enhance God’s reputation by bad or good example (Lohse 1972:167). How many non-Christians justify their unbelief by testimonies of a Christian’s hypocrisy! To excuse our sins by referring to our spiritual immaturity or by pointing out the Lord’s perfect love will simply not do. In Christ’s earthly absence, the church remains the conduit of the word of truth on earth, for good or for ill. If we remain in vice and despair, without any indication that God’s grace makes a difference, who but the fool will believe the claims of the gospel?’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘We owe them that are without such a walk as may tend to bring them in. Our life is to a large extent their Bible. They know a great deal more about Christianity, as they see it in us, than as it is revealed in Christ, or recorded in Scripture – and if, as seen in us, it does not strike them as very attractive, small wonder if they still prefer to remain where they are.’ (Maclaren)

These outsiders are those who are outside the pale of the church.

‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders’

They were surrounded by heathens, as Christians now are by men of the world. The injunction is one that requires us to act with prudence and propriety (en sofia) towards them; and there is, perhaps, not a more important direction in the New Testament than this. Among the reasons for this are the following:

  1. Men of the world judge of religion, not from the profession, but from the life of its friends.
  2. They judge of religion, not from preaching, or from books, or from the conduct of its Founder and his apostles, but from what they see in the daily walk and conversation of the members of the church.
  3. They understand the nature of religion so well as to know when its friends are or are not consistent with their profession.
  4. They set a much higher value on honesty and integrity than they do on the doctrines and duties of religion; and if the professed friends of religion are destitute of the principle of truth and honesty, they think they have nothing of any value. They may be very devout on the Sabbath; very regular at prayer-meetings; very strict, in the observance of rites and ceremonies-but all these are of little worth in the estimation of the world, unless attended with an upright life.
  5. No professing Christian can possibly do good to others who does not live an upright life. If you have cheated a man out of never so small a sum, it is vain that you talk to him about the salvation of his soul; if you have failed to pay him a debt when it was due, or to finish a piece of work when you promised it, or to tell him the exact truth in conversation, it is vain for you to endeavour to induce him to be a Christian. He will feel, if he does not say-and he might very properly say-that he wants no religion which will not make a man honest.
  6. No man will attempt to do much good to others whose own life is not upright. He will be sensible of the inconsistency, and will feel that he cannot do it with any sense of propriety; and the honour of religion, therefore, and the salvation of our fellow-men, demand that, in all our intercourse with others, we should lead lives of the strictest integrity.’


Make the most of every opportunity – Don’t just wait for opportunity to fall into your lap; run after it; buy it. Snap it up like a bargain. ‘Make the most (lit. ‘buy up’) suggests an intensive activity, a buying which exhausts the possibilities available because they recognize that their time is limited.’ (NBC)

‘This is a commercial term and pictures the Christian as a faithful steward who knows an opportunity when he sees one. Just as a merchant seizes a bargain when he finds one, so a Christian seizes the opportunity to win a soul to Christ.’ (Wiersbe)

‘The first note of Jesus’ preaching was ‘The time is fulfilled’. (Mk 1:15) The life and work of Jesus mark the crisis of God’s purposes. (Eph 1:10) This is the great opportunity (2 Cor 6:2) which Christians must fully seize.’ (Eph 5:16 Col 4:5) (NBD) Are we looking out for opportunities? Are we managing our time and other resources so as to make the most of these opportunities?

Implied, though not stated here, is the fact that time is speeding on and the time of opportunity will not last indefinitely. See Rom 13:11-12; 1 Cor 7:29; Gal 6:9-10; Eph 5:16.

Col 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Conversation – ‘It is not enough simply to walk wisely and carefully before unbelievers. We must also talk with them and share the Gospel message with them.’ (Wiersbe) we are to seek to win the lost not only with our lives, but also with our lips, Ps 45:3 Lk 4:22.

The Christian has no reason to be arrogant, patronising or boring as he seeks to commend the gospel to the outsider.

Full of grace – our conversation should be ‘imbued with the spirit of religion. It should be such as religion is fitted to produce; such as to show that the grace of God is in our hearts. Bloomfield supposes that this means “courteous and agreeable, not morose and melancholy.” But though this may be included, and though the rule here laid down would lead to that, it cannot be all that is intended. It rather means that our conversation should be such as to show that we are governed by the principles of religion, and that there is unfeigned piety in the heart. This will indeed make us mild, courteous, agreeable, and urbane in our conversation; but it will do more than this. It will imbue our discourse with the spirit of religion, so as to show that the soul is under the influence of love to the Redeemer.’ (Barnes)

‘Negatively, such speech will not be abusive (Rom 1:29-32; 2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:19-21,26; Eph 4:31; Tit 3:2.’ Neither will is be vindictive. It will be patterned after the example of Christ who “when he was reviled did not revile in return.” (1 Pet 2:23) Positively, it will be truthful and loving. Perhaps the best description of gracious speech is found in the words of Paul himself: “speaking the truth in love,” (Eph 4:15) and the best example in the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.’ (Lk 23:34) (Hendriksen)

Seasoned with salt – Such conversation will use tact, gentleness, wit and wisdom. it will be neither corrupt nor insipid. Cf. Eph 4:29. ‘Salt was valued as a preservative and for seasoning food. (Mt 5:13 Mk 9:50 Col 4:6) It was often used among Oriental peoples for ratifying agreements, so that salt became the symbol of fidelity and constancy.’ (NBD)

‘Here the meaning seems to be, that our conversation should be seasoned with piety or grace in a way similar to that in which we employ salt in our food. It makes it wholesome and palatable. So with our conversation. If it be not imbued with the spirit of piety, it is flat, insipid, unprofitable, injurious. The spirit of piety will make it what it should be-useful, agreeable, beneficial to mankind. This does not mean that our conversation is to be always, strictly speaking, religious-wherever we may be-any more than our food should be mere salt; but it means that, whatever be the topic, the spirit of piety should be diffused through it-as the salt in our food should properly season it all, whatever the article of food may be.’ (Barnes)

The evangelist who makes the most of every opportunity finds a “gracious and salty” answer for every sincere query or malicious challenge facing the church.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘Seasoned with salt meant ‘witty’ in pagan usage but here suggests language that is not dull or flat but is interesting and well chosen (the rabbis sometimes used ‘salt’ to mean ‘wisdom’). Christians need t o respond with the right word to those who ask questions, perhaps in connection with their beliefs and behaviour. The response should be appropriate: (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) ‘every one is to be treated as an end in himself and not subjected to a stock harangue’ (G. B. Caird).’ (NBC)

‘We must put the salt into our speech to make sure it is pure and properly seasoned. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth”.’ (Eph 4:29) (Wiersbe)

You are to work at the presentation of your message; but also you must ensure that you have a throrough grasp of its content, so that you may know how to answer everyone – See 1 Pet 3:15. There is an implication here that outsiders will want to ask Christians about their news lives, and so they will if v5 is followed. Each questioner is an individual, and is not to be fobbed off with glib, stereotyped answers. Nor are we to engage in debate for its own sake: our aim is not to win the debate but to win the soul.

‘Not only must your conversation be opportune as regards the time; it must also be appropriate as regards the person.’ (Lightfoot) Wilson adds: ‘No effective witness is given to Christ by rattling off a stereotyped testimony, because this completely ignores the fact that each person has his own special needs. It is worth noting that Paul constantly adapted his speech to his audience.’ (1 Cor 9:22)

‘If he asks you about the evidence of the nature of religion, you will be able to reply to him; if he converses with you on the common topics of the day, you will be able to answer him in a mild, kind, affable spirit; if he asks you of things of which you are ignorant-if he introduces some topic of science with which you are not acquainted, you will not be ashamed to confess your ignorance, and to seek instruction; if he addresses you in a haughty, insolent, and overbearing manner, you will be able to repress the risings of your temper, and to answer him with gentleness and kindness.”‘ (Barnes)

Final Greetings, 7-18

Col 4:7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.

Col 4:8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.

Col 4:9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

Col 4:10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)

Col 4:11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.

Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.

Col 4:13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Col 4:14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.

Col 4:15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Col 4:16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

‘The apostle’s letters were intended to be used by more people than the immediate addressees and were specifically to be “read in church” (Col 4:16 1 Thess 5:27; cf. 1 Cor 7:1,25 8:1 12:1 16:1,12). In the light of his Jewish background in which not even Targums but only canonical Scripture could be read “in church,” they were written and received as “the Word of God,” that is, as inspired and normative authority for the churches (cf. 1 Thess 2:13 with 2 Thess 2:15). They were teachings of an apostolic prophet that, unlike other prophetic teaching and writing in the congregations, were not subject to “testing” or vetting by other prophets (1 Cor 9:3, 1 Cor 14:29, with 1 Cor 14:37-38). That is, they were teaching pieces clothed in the form of letters: Philemon addresses a specific personal question; others, like 1 Corinthians, give attention to immediate congregational problems or, like Romans and Ephesians, to more general theological motifs; 1 Timothy and Titus (and to some extent 2 Tim) are virtual manuals of tradition that have genre affinities with Qumran’s Manual of Discipline. The apostle utilizes the letter form for a number of reasons, not least that by it he can combine personal communication and relationships with his primary purpose of teaching and upbuilding believers in the truth of the gospel of Christ.’ (DPL)

Col 4:17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

Col 4:18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.