He exhorteth them to be fervent in prayer, to walk wisely toward those who are not yet come to the true knowledge of Christ: he saluteth them, and wisheth them all prosperity.
Anno Domini 62.
HIS account of relative duties the Apostle finishes in the beginning of this chapter, with a direction to masters to be not only just in maintaining their servants properly, even after they have become incapable of serving them, but also generous in bestowing rewards on such of them as distinguish themselves by their ability and faithfulness, Colossians 4:1. Here the third chapter ought to have ended: or rather at chap. Colossians 3:17.
To render his practical admonitions the more complete, the Apostle recommended to the Colossians perseverance in prayer with due thanksgiving, as the best means of obtaining God's assistance to enable them to fulfil all the duties of life, Colossians 4:2. Next he entreated the Colossians to pray for him, that God would grant him an opportunity to preach the true doctrine of the gospel freely, for which he was in bonds, Colossians 4:3 and courage to preach it in that bold manner, which became him whom Christ had made his apostle to the Gentiles, Colossians 4:4. Then he counselled the brethren to beware of provoking the heathens by any imprudent display of their zeal; but rather, by conducting themselves wisely, to avoid persecution, as far as was consistent with duty, Colossians 4:5 and in particular, when conversing with unbelievers, to make their discourse mild and courteous; but at the same time to season it with the salt of wisdom and truth; that they might be able to answer every person properly, who inquired into the grounds of their faith, Colossians 4:6. And after telling them that he had sent Tychicus and Onesimus to give them an account of his affairs, Colossians 4:7-9 he presented the salutations of the brethren, by name, who were with him, Colossians 4:10-14, and desired them in his name to salute the brethren in Laodicea, Colossians 4:15. Moreover, to convince the Colossians that his doctrine and precepts were every where the same with those contained in this letter, he ordered them, after they had perused it, to take care to have it read in the church of the Laodiceans; and to read in their own church the epistle which was to come to them from Laodicea, supposed by some commentators to be the epistle to the Ephesians; a copy of which, it seems, was to be sent by the Ephesians to Laodicea, for the benefit of all the churches in that neighbourhood, Colossians 4:16. Next he desired themto encourage Archippus in the work of the ministry, Colossians 4:17 then wrote thesalutation with his own hand; and concluded the whole with giving them his apostolical benediction, Colossians 4:18.
Praying also for us,— Dr. Whitby justly observes, that it is very remarkable that St. Paul, who so often and so earnestly entreats the intercession of his Christian friends, should never speak of the intercession of the Virgin Mary, or of departed saints or angels, if he believed it a duty to seek it.
Let your speech be alway with grace,— "Always conducted in the most mild and courteous, the most proper and graceful manner; so that it may appear influenced by a governing principle of divine grace and unfeigned piety in your hearts. Let it in this respect be so seasoned with the salt of heavenly wisdom as may render it savoury and edifying. In thisview reflect upon things and circumstances before you speak, that you may not utter any thing which would be rash and foolish, but may know how you ought to answer every one who may question you about your religion and your conduct, in such a manner as may most effectually and jointly tend to your own security and that of your brethren, and the edification of others." See 1 Peter 3:15.
All my state shall Tychicus declare— From comparing this verse with Ephesians 6:21-22 where Tychicus is mentioned as sent by St. Paul from Rome to Ephesus, which was not very far from Colosse, it may be very probably inferred, that these two epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, which contain many similar passages, were written about the same time, and might be sent together.
With Onesimus,— This verse makes it possible, that this epistle, if it was not written after, was at least delivered after that to Philemon; and that the admirable letter to him, produced its desired effect. See the introductory note to Philemo
Aristarchus,— See Acts 15:37-38; Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4. Aristarchus and Epaphras are mentioned as saluters in this epistle, and in that to Philemon written at the same time. Instead of, Ye received commandments, &c. Doddridge reads, Ye have received instructions; and Heylin, letters of recommendation; adding, If he come, do you give him a kind reception. See Acts 17:15. The original word, rendered commandments, has doubtless that meaning; but as civility teaches us to esteem the reasonable desires of friends, as carrying in them the force of commands, though they pretend not to use any authority; hence the same mode of speech is familiar, not only in ancient, but in modern languages; by which the word commands is used for recommendation.
These only are my fellow-workers— That is, he had none other of the circumcision; for Luke and Demas were with him. See the next note.
Luke, the beloved physician,— From comparing this with Colossians 4:11, where St. Paul says he had no fellow-labourer of the circumcision but those whom he had named, Lord Barrington concludes that Luke was a proselyte of the gate before he was converted to Christianity; and it may certainly be fairly concluded that hewas not a Jew. See the introductory note to St. Luke's gospel.
The epistle from Laodicea.— The epistle from Laodicea could not have been written by St. Paul from thence, since he had never been there, ch. Colossians 2:1. It seems probable that it was either his epistle to the Ephesians (see the analysis), or some letter which he had written to those of Laodicea; of which, when the Colossians sent a copy of their letter, the same messengers were to bring a copy from Laodicea. Whatever the letter was, it is lost; that which has appeared in the world being too contemptible a forgery ever to be taken for the writing of St. Paul, by persons of the least degree of sense and judgment.
Say to Archippus, &c.— This seems an intimation that Archippus was not so diligent and active in the prosecution of his ministry as could have been wished. Dr. Heylin says he then performed the pastoral office among the Colossians, instead of Epaphras the bishop, who was detained at Rome.
Inferences.—How happy will particular persons, families, and larger societies be, if the apostolic maxims of our apostle, concerning the relative duties, be carefully pursued, while wives are submissive to their husbands, and husbands affectionate to their wives; children obedient to their parents, and parents tenderly careful of their children; servants revering the commands of their masters, and conscientiously and constantly attending to their interests; and masters concerned to maintain all equity in their behaviour to their servants, and especially towards those of their servants who are most entirely in their power; remembering on all sides the account to be given to the Supreme Master in heaven, and humbly looking for the reward of the inheritance.
To engage a steady and uniform care in all these various duties, and to make us truly good in every relation of life, let us daily be drawing down grace from God by continuing instant in prayer; and, as our spirits are so ready to grow cold and indifferent in it, let us watch thereunto, lest by insensible degrees we grow remiss in the performance, and from that remissness come entirely or frequently to neglect it.
And let every mercy that we receive from God, awaken our thankfulness, and animate our devotion! and let us not forget in our prayers the ministers of Christ; but ask for them those assistances from on high, which may enable them to open their mouth boldly, in declaring that mysterious and important doctrine with which they are charged, and on which the salvation of immortal souls depends.
To enforce their labours as much as possible, let us add the influence of a regular and amiable behaviour, conducting ourselves with wisdom towards all, and particularly towards those who are strangers to religion; and redeeming time, as those who know its infinite importance, because they see eternity connected with it. And that we may not, as is so frequent, lose the time we spend in conversation, let us seek more of the salt of Divine grace in our hearts, to correct and destroy their innate corruption, and learn the happy art of improving discourse well, and of answering others in such a manner, that, without dictating to them, we may gently lead them to the most useful reflections, and make our lips, like those of the righteous, a fountain of life unto them. (Proverbs 10:11.)
Again. The friendly disposition of St. Paul fails not to shew itself in the close, as well as entrance of every epistle, and indeed runs through all the parts of each. It cannot but give some pleasure to the pious reader, to whom the memory of such a servant of Christ will always be precious, to find that there were some even of the circumcision, who were comforts to him in his affliction; as well as that John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, was so thoroughly reconciled, and made one of his most agreeable and useful friends; though there was a time when St. Paul thought it inconsistent with prudence and duty to admit him as a companion. He that rebuketh a man, afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue. (Proverbs 28:23.) And if the faithfulness of plain rebukes may be the means of recovering our brethren to a sense of their duty, they will no doubt be sensible of the obligation, and it will add firmness and endearment to future friendship.
When Epaphras was at a distance from his brethren at Colosse, he was not only praying for them, but, as the word signifies, wrestling with God in his prayers on their account, a very strong evidence of his Christian affection for them. And how well were his petitions chosen!—that they might not only be sincerely good, as they already were, but perfect and complete in all the will of God; that there might be, in their hearts and actions, a more entire conformity to it. May that be our character and happiness, to have respect to all God's commandments, and to carry our regards to them as far as we possibly can.
Commendable, and perfectly consistent with the strictest modesty, was the concern which the Apostle expresses, that his Epistles might be diffused as far as possible, and the Christians, in different societies, might receive the benefit of them. And, indeed, they turn so much upon matters of universal moment, that they are admirably calculated for the edification of those who may live in the most distant countries and ages; and surely there cannot be a more sacrilegious attempt upon Christian liberty and piety, than to take them away from the common people, to whom St. Paul expressly ordered they should be publicly read: nor can there be greater madness than to pretend to guard men from error and heresy, by concealing from them writings which the Holy Spirit himself dictated, to lead them to truth and holiness.
We know not what there might be so particular in the character or circumstances of Archippus, as to require the solemn admonition with which the epistle closes. But whatever the occasion of it was, it certainly suggests a most useful and important thought to all the ministers of the gospel. It is of the Lord Jesus Christ that they receive their ministry; and to him they are quickly to render a strict account of it. May they all therefore take heed to it! May they be sensible of the importance of the trust, and, through grace, be faithful in it; that they may give up their account with the joy of that steward, who, having approved his fidelity on earth, shall receive his reward in heaven. Amen!
REFLECTIONS.—1st. As to the duty of masters. Give unto your servants that which is just and equal, not treating them tyrannically, nor laying on them unreasonable burdens, but using them kindly, giving them proper provisions, paying them their wages punctually, according to agreement, and as much as they really deserve, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven, to whom you are responsible, and who regardeth the persons of the rich no more than the poor.
2nd, The Apostle, having laid down the particular duties of each station, proceeds to those that more generally belong to all the members of Christ's church. He exhorts them,
1. To unceasing prayer. Continue in prayer daily, at stated seasons, and habitually in your mind looking up to God; and watch in the same with thanksgiving, engaged in the service with warm affections and intenseness of mind, blessing and praising God for his goodness continually; withal, praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, and give us both opportunity and ability to speak the mystery of Christ, his rich, free, and boundless grace, revealed to Gentiles as well as Jews, for maintaining which I am also now in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak, plainly and without reserve, maintaining the equality of the Gentiles respecting all, the privileges of the gospel, and keeping back nothing of all the counsel of God, as becomes a faithful ambassador of Christ. Note; ministers need their people's prayers, and should be constantly remembered by them in the view of their arduous work.
2. To a becoming behaviour towards those who are as yet out of the pale of the visible church. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, with all prudence and circumspection, giving them no just occasion of offence, guarding against all fellowship with them in what is evil, while ready to every good word and work to do them service; redeeming the time, desiring to improve every opportunity of converse with them for their benefit, doing good to your very enemies, and employing your whole life as usefully as you can.
3. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, edifying, discreet, and savoury, the proof of true grace in your own hearts, and the means of communicating it to others; that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man, whether the serious inquiries of those who desire instruction, the doubts of the scrupulous, or the cavils of adversaries.
3rdly, The Apostle closes his Epistle with the commendation and respectful mention of several of his brethren, who joined in salutations with him.
1. Tychicus. All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, the bearer of this Epistle, who will give you a faithful account of my affairs, sufferings, and success; and is a beloved brother in the gospel, and a faithful minister, proved by long experience, and fellow-servant with me in the Lord, to promote the interests of his cause and kingdom: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and bring me word how you prosper, and comfort your hearts under all your trials and sufferings for the sake of Christ and his gospel.
2. Onesimus. With Onesimus, Tychicus's companion, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you, and now far different from the man who formerly fled his master's service (See the Epistle to Philemon). They shall make known unto you all things which are done here, for your comfort and encouragement, who cannot but rejoice to hear what supports I receive, and what a blessing is on my bonds.
3. Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas (touching whom ye received commandments; if he come unto you, receive him). It appears hereby, that though Mark was once under the Apostle's displeasure, he was now restored to his good graces; and, having acknowledged his fault, had been heartily forgiven, and cordially received again: And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision; these only of the Jewish brethren, are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me under my sufferings.
4. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ in the gospel, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, as in an agony wrestling with God for a blessing upon your souls, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God, enlightened with the clearest discoveries of divine truth, and steadfast in the experience and practice of all holiness. For I hear him record that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Probably this faithful servant of Jesus had been chiefly instrumental in planting these churches, and therefore bore them a very particular affection. Note; (1.) Those whom we have begotten in the gospel, we should not fail earnestly to commend to God's keeping and care; zeal for them will make our prayers importunate. (2.) Every true believer, who is not losing ground in the divine life, is at least going on to perfection:—if he at present fall short of the mark, he is ardently pressing after it with all the powers of his soul.
5. Luke, the beloved physician, by profession a physician for the body, but who now dispenses in the gospel healing for the soul, and Demas greet you, wishing you the richest mercies of our God.
6. Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. Probably there the faithful assembled for their stated worship; or his family, remarkable for their regularity, exemplariness, and daily worship of God, appeared a little church within themselves. And when this Epistle is read amongst you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the Epistle from Laodicea. (See the analysis and critical notes.) Note; Religious letters are often singularly useful.
7. And say to Archippus, who had need to be peculiarly watchful over the flock, when seducers so abounded, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it with all zeal and fidelity, maintaining the doctrines of grace against all opposers, and adorning them in his conversation, building up the souls committed to his care in the true faith of the gospel, labouring earnestly for the edification of the saints, and for the conversion of sinners. Note; They who are put in trust with the ministry, have a peculiarly important charge committed to them; and, if they grow cold or careless, their people may and ought, with becoming respect, to admonish them of their negligence.
8. He concludes with his benediction and subscription. The salutation by the hand of me Paul, the mark of his genuine Epistles. Remember my bonds, which I now suffer for the sake of the Gentiles, and which should especially engage your prayers for me, and your affection towards me. Grace be with you; may the rich favour of God, with all its blessed consequences, be your present and everlasting portion. Amen.
[See Lardner, Michaelis, Locke, Peirce, Doddridge, Franck, Clarke, Grotius, Mill, Wetstein, Wolfius, Whitby, Philo, Hammond, Blackwall, Sherlock, Scott, Wallis, Tillotson, Beza, Heylin, Pyle, Burnet, Bengelius, Davenant, Stockius, Knatchbull, Wake, and Chrysostom.]