Chapter Four Christ, The Believer's Example

Marvelous Principles (Colossians 4:1)

It is unfortunate that the break between chapters 3 and 4 comes just where it does. It would seem far more suitable to include 4:1 in chapter 3 and let the next chapter begin with 4:2.

Colossians 4:1, which concludes the passage begun in 3:18, is a message to those in authority: “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Paul was speaking to believers; ungodly masters could not have been expected to heed such an admonition. It was addressed to those who held the position of master in relation to their servants, but were themselves servants to their Master in Heaven. Such a master was urged to treat his servants as he would have the Lord treat him.

A Christian in a position of authority is to be characterized by fairness, giving to those beneath him that which is just. He should remember that his heavenly Master is observing him at all times and that when he is called to account for his actions, his relationship to his servants will be carefully reviewed and everything will be brought to light.

The rules that Paul stated so simply in Colossians 3:18-4:1 are marvelous principles. Only one who knows something of the conditions prevailing in the Roman empire at the time this Epistle was written can realize how revolutionary Paul’s thoughts were. In those days wives, children, and slaves had practically no standing in the eyes of the law, unless their husbands, fathers, or masters desired to grant them recognition. But the glorious truth of the new man, the blessed unfolding of the revelation of the new creation, tinged with glory every earthly relationship in which the Christian was found.

I am reminded of the blue border on the hem of the pious Israelite’s garment. Even on the lower edge where his long flowing robe was most likely to touch the ground, this ribbon of blue could be seen; and blue, as we well know, is the heavenly color. The Israelite was to look at the ribbon and remember that he had confessed the Lord to be his God—the Lord who had said, “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). As he looked at the blue ribbon he was to remember his responsibility to honor and glorify the God of Heaven in his life on earth. Likewise we Christians are to reveal the heavenly character in every lawful relationship that God has established for the blessing of mankind during the present order of things.

A story is told about one of the dauphins of France who had an English tutor. This teacher found his royal pupil very difficult to handle. Proud, haughty, and impatient with restraint, the young man submitted unwillingly to schoolroom restrictions, and his foreign instructor was often at his wits’ end about how to deal with him. One morning the tutor placed a purple rosette on the lapel of his pupil’s jacket and said to him, “This is the royal color. As you wear it I want you to remember that you are the crown prince of France and that it is always incumbent on you to behave in a princely way. If you are willful or disobedient I will of course not attempt to punish you, as that is not in my province. I will simply point to the purple and you will understand what I mean: that I do not feel your behavior is worthy of a princely lad.” The appeal to the purple!

May we not say that to us there is a similar appeal, but it is the appeal to the blue! Wives, husbands, children, fathers, servants, and masters—all alike are called on to reveal the holiness of Heaven, to display the heavenly character even in earthly relationships.

The power of the new life is wonderfully evident in these relationships. “Holding the Head” (Colossians 2:19) is not merely maintaining ecclesiastical truth. We are also “holding the Head” when we live holy, godly lives. The subjection of our hearts and minds to Christ is nowhere more fully shown than in the way we live in our families and in the way we carry out our business and social responsibilities.

Concluding Exhortations (Colossians 4:2-6)

Paul exhorted the Colossians to “continue in prayer” (4:2). One of the most common sins among Christians today is prayerlessness. No doubt this statement could have been made throughout the centuries. And yet prayer is the life of the new man. We are again and again exhorted—and distinctly commanded—to pray.

· Men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1).

· Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

· Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Ephesians6:18).

· Praying in the Holy Ghost (Jude 20).

To these examples could be added many similar expressions, each reminding us that “prayer is the Christian’s vital breath” (James Montgomery). Just as one cannot be well and strong physically if he shuts himself up in a closed room where the sun never penetrates and pure air is unknown, one cannot have a happy, triumphant Christian experience if he neglects the spiritual exercise of prayer. The soul flourishes in an atmosphere of prayer.

People sometimes ask: “Why do we need to pray? If God is infinitely wise and infinitely good, as the Holy Scriptures declare Him to be, do any of His creatures need to petition Him for anything that is for their own good or the blessing of others? Is it not a higher and purer faith that leads one to ignore the exercise altogether and simply trust Him to do what is best?” Such reasoning shows how little the inquirers are acquainted with the Word of God and how little they understand the needs of the soul.

Prayer is, first of all, communion with God. Our blessed Lord Himself was seen again and again leaving the company of His disciples and going to a desert place on a mountainside, or to a garden, so that His spirit might be refreshed as He bowed in prayer alone with the Father. From such seasons of fellowship He returned to do His mightiest works and bear witness to the truth. And He is our great example. We too need to pray as much as we need to breathe. Our souls will languish without prayer, and our testimony will be utterly fruitless if we neglect our communion with God.

When the apostle told us to “continue in prayer,” he did not mean that we are constantly to harass God in order to obtain what we think would be good for us or add to our happiness. Paul meant that we are to abide in a sense of His presence and in an awareness of our dependence on His bounty; we are to learn to talk to Him and wait quietly before Him so that we can hear His voice as He speaks to us.

We are assured that “if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14). But because we are so ignorant and so shortsighted we need to remember that we are to leave the final decisions with Him who makes no mistakes. Without anxiety we may bring everything to God in “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6); we are bidden to make known our requests in childlike simplicity. Then, leaving the outcome in His hands, we can go forth in full confidence as our hearts say, “Thy will be done,” since we know that He will “do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

We need to be often reminded that we cannot pray as we should unless we are careful about our Christian walk, so Paul said not only to “continue in prayer,” but also to “watch in the same.” Matthew 26:41 says, “Watch and pray.” Here are two commands that must never be separated. It is so easy to slip into carelessness, to become so entangled by worldly and unholy snares that we lose all spiritual discernment. When our souls are in such a condition, our prayers become selfish and then it is futile to think that we will obtain anything from the Lord. But when there is watchfulness and sobriety in our souls, when there is honest confession and self-judgment of failure, we can pray in full confidence, knowing that all hindrances have been removed.

In Colossians 4:2 as in Philippians 4:6, we are reminded that thanksgiving for past mercies should accompany prayer for present and future blessing. When we take God’s good gifts for granted, our spiritual affection soon dries up. We become self-centered instead of Christ-centered and foolishly imagine that God is in some way bound to lavish His mercies on us whether we are grateful or not. In our dealings with one another we feel ingratitude keenly if kindness goes unacknowledged. Even when we give unselfishly we like appreciation, and a hearty thank-you makes us all the more ready to minister again when there is a need. Likewise our God finds joy in His people’s praises. He loves to give and He delights in our appreciation of His benefits.

Colossians 4:3 turns our attention from thanksgiving to intercession. Paul, unquestionably the greatest preacher and teacher that the Christian dispensation has known, was not above requesting the prayers of the people of God. He felt his need of their prayer-help, for he did not think that because he was in jail his work was over. Although he was unable to face multitudes in public places as in past years, he was always on the lookout for chances to serve, and he wanted the saints to join with him in prayer that even in his prison cell “a door of utterance” would open (Colossians 4:3).

How natural it would have been for him to give up in despair and settle down in utter discouragement or to endure the long, weary months of imprisonment passively, simply taking it for granted that he would not be able to spread the gospel again until he was freed. But Paul was of another mind entirely. His circumstances did not indicate that God had forsaken him or set him to one side. He was eagerly looking for fresh opportunities to advance on the enemy.

Just before the first battle of the Marne in World War I, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the great French general, reported: “My center is giving; my left wing is retreating; the situation is excellent; I am attacking.” This was not mere military bombast, for the marshal realized that apparent defeat could be turned into victory by acting with resolution and alacrity at the very moment when the enemy seemed to be triumphant.

Doubtless the devil thought he had gained a great advantage when he shut Paul up in prison, but from that prison cell came at least four of the church epistles and some of the pastoral letters, which have been the means of untold blessing to millions throughout the centuries. And the gospel went out from that cell too: first to the prison guards, and through them to many more in caesar’s palace who might not otherwise have been reached. How important it is not to give ground to Satan, but in prayer and faith to turn every defeat into a victory; assured that our great Captain knows no retreat, we can seize the opportunity and advance against the foe.

We spend so much time halting between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21), debating what we should do, and doing nothing. We need the grace of decision that will enable us to seize the opportune moment and take immediate action in the fear of God. And so Paul told us to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5). As we interact with men of the world, we need to remember that we may have chances to share the gospel with them, and that opportunities once given may never come again. It is tremendously important to buy up such privileges of service, for the believer’s works will be reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ.

We meet men once, perhaps never to see them again, and while it is perfectly true that we cannot be forever pestering people about what they would call our religious notions, it is wise to be on the lookout for openings to minister Christ to their souls. The day of grace is fast passing away.

To each man’s life there comes a time supreme,
One day, one night, one morning, or one noon,
One freighted hour, one moment opportune,
One rift through which sublime fulfillments gleam,
One space when faith goes tiding with the stream,
One Once in balance ‘twixt Too Late, Too Soon,
And ready for the passing instant’s boon
To tip in favor of uncertain beam.

Ah, happy he who, knowing how to wait,
Knows also how to watch, and work, and stand,
On Life’s broad deck alert, and at the prow
To seize the passing moment, big with fate,
From Opportunity’s extended hand,
When the great clock of Destiny strikes now!

But if we want our testimony really to count, we must be careful that our walk agrees with our speech. Careless behavior in the company of worldlings will leave the impression that we do not believe the tremendous truths that we are urging them to accept. How circumspect preachers need to be! The world, so quick to judge, will only turn away with disgust from a man who is serious on the platform but frivolous among men. He who is solemn as he preaches of divine realities, but a buffoon when socializing, need not think that he will make any permanent impression for good on the hearts and consciences of those among whom he mingles. Many a servant of Christ has cheapened himself and his ministry by coming down to the level of natural men who do not know the power of the new life; in his anxiety to be a good mixer—sincerely hoping thereby to gain acceptance of his message—he has found to his sorrow that he has paid too high a price for his popularity.

A friend once told me about two preachers. One was perhaps a bit unduly serious. No one can be too sober as he faces the realities of eternity, but the man in question was too stern to make friends readily among those whom he wished to help. The other preacher was the very soul of cordiality. He would tell a good story, smoke a good cigar, and make himself hail-fellow-well-met with everyone he contacted. Speaking of him, my friend said, “Dr. — is a fine fellow. I do enjoy an hour in his company; he makes me forget all my troubles, but,” he added thoughtfully, “if I were dying, I’d rather have Mr. — come and pray with me.”

Let us not forfeit our high and holy calling as Christ’s representatives in order to obtain popularity among men who have little relish for divine things. I do not mean that we should be disagreeable in our behavior or conversation, for we are told, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6).

Gracious speech flows from a heart established in the grace of God. The psalmist wrote of Jesus, “Grace is poured into thy lips” (Psalm 45:2). And Psalm 18:35 says, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” But this gentleness did not make Jesus indifferent to evil or unfaithful in dealing with those who needed rebuke.

There is always the danger that a gracious man will become a weak man, lacking the courage to speak out faithfully when the occasion demands it. When Christ’s honor is at stake or when we realize a brother is standing in a dangerous place, we need to season our gracious speech with salt. Salt suggests the preservative power of faithfulness and we are all our brothers’ keepers to a certain extent. While nothing is more contrary to the spirit of Christ than an arrogant, fault-finding spirit, there are times when Leviticus 19:17 applies: “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.”

We need the salt of righteousness so that we will know how to speak to every man. To perfect ourselves in this grace, we need to live more in company with the Lord Jesus Christ. If we follow Him through the Gospels in His wondrous ministry here on earth, we will see how marvelously He met each individual case. As F. W. Grant said, “Our Lord had no stereotyped method of dealing with souls.” He did not talk to the woman at the well the same way He addressed Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Christ probed the depths of each heart and ministered according to its need.

His devoted follower, the apostle Paul, the author of this divinely inspired letter to the Colossians, tried to do the same. He said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). In Jewish synagogues he reasoned on the basis of Scripture—like the most able rabbi or doctor of the law. When Paul stood on Mars Hill among the Athenian philosophers, he spoke like a master of rhetoric and showed full acquaintance with Greek thought and literature; but he spoke “not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4) until his great oration was interrupted by the excited throng who spurned the idea of the resurrection of the body. Addressing the idolaters of Lycaonia, the apostle met them on their own ground and appealed to nature as evidence of a Creator as he sought to turn them away from their vanities and draw their hearts to nature’s God.

How different were both the Master and His servant Paul from many who today seem to pride themselves on their outspokenness and indifference to the views and opinions of others. Is it any wonder that men turn from them in disgust and refuse to listen to what seems to be the dogmatic utterances of self-centered egotists? On the other hand, there are those who seek to be gracious, but lack faithfulness; they gloss over wrong doctrine and evil in the lives of their hearers rather than run the risk of giving offense. How much divine wisdom is needed and how close must the servant keep to the Master if he would know how “to answer every man”!

Closing Remarks (Colossians 4:7-18)

This last passage, though somewhat lengthy, does not require very much in the way of either exposition or explanation. It is interesting, however, to compare references to people mentioned here with references to the same people in other Epistles.

We do not know much about Tychicus, who is mentioned in Colossians 4:7, except that in Ephesians 6:21-22 he is spoken of in almost the same terms. It is evident that the apostle had implicit confidence in him. Paul spoke of him in both Epistles as a beloved brother and faithful minister, and in Colossians added a third expression, “fellowservant in the Lord.”

Beloved and yet faithful—what a rare but blessed combination! So often men who seek to be faithful become almost unconsciously stern and ungracious, thereby forfeiting the tender affection of the people of God. These stern individuals may be respected as men of principle who can be depended on to do and say the righteous thing at any cost, but they may show very little real concern for the peace of mind or comfort of heart of those who disagree with them. On the other hand, many a beloved brother purchases the affectionate regard of the saints at the cost of faithfulness to truth. It is far better to be true to Christ and His Word, and thus have His approval, than to be approved of men and loved because of weakness in enforcing what is in accordance with truth.

Tychicus evidently went to neither extreme. He was undoubtedly a lovable man because of his gracious demeanor and his tender solicitude for the welfare of the saints, but at the same time he was faithful in ministering the Word of God, rebuking iniquity and also comforting the penitent. Such men are rarer than we realize. In them we see the delightful combination of the shepherd’s heart and the prophet’s spirit. Timothy and Tychicus were very much alike in character. Both were loyal to the Word of God and both sought the comfort and blessing of the people of God.

In Colossians 4:9 Onesimus is spoken of in similar terms. Although he did not have the same gifts as Tychicus, Onesimus was a “faithful and beloved brother.” We know much more about him than we know about some of the others mentioned in Colossians 4. The brief letter to Philemon tells us a great deal about the history of Onesimus. He had been a dishonest runaway slave. He had robbed his master (Philemon) and apparently had wasted his ill-gotten gains before he was brought to Christ through Paul’s ministry in Rome. It was also through Paul that Philemon had been converted, so his extension of mercy to the thieving slave is a wondrous picture of sovereign grace.

Sov’reign grace o’er sin abounding;
Ransomed souls the tidings swell!
’Tis a deep that knows no sounding;
Who its length and breadth can tell?
On its glories
Let my soul forever dwell.

After Onesimus was brought to Christ, Paul sent him back to his master and offered to become the slave’s surety. The apostle wrote to Philemon: “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it” (17-19). What a gospel picture this is, for Christ assumed the responsibilities of the penitent sinner. “We are all God’s Onesimuses,” said Luther. Christ paid our debt that we might be accepted in Him by God. “He bore on the tree, the sentence for me, / And now both the Surety and sinner are free.” Thus redeemed, we have the happy privilege of serving Him in glorious liberty and saying with the psalmist, “Truly I am thy servant…Thou hast loosed my bonds” (Psalm 116:16).

Aristarchus is mentioned in Colossians 4:10 as Paul’s “fellow-prisoner.” We read in Acts 19:29 that he was a Macedonian traveling with Paul and that he endangered his very life on behalf of the gospel at the time of the uproar in Ephesus. Aristarchus is also mentioned in Philemon 24 as one of the apostle’s “fellowlabourers.” His name implies that he was a member of the upper class, an aristocrat who for the sake of the kingdom of God renounced his place of prominence in the world to become a bondsman of Jesus Christ.

We can be glad to see the affectionate way in which Paul wrote of Marcus, the nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). Years before, this young man had been the cause of serious contention between Paul and Barnabas: Paul lost confidence in John Mark because, upon completion of the evangelistic tour in Cyprus, he left the work and returned to his mother in Jerusalem. Barnabas, kindly in spirit and evidently moved by natural affection, wanted to give the unfaithful helper a second chance, but Paul was obdurate. He felt he could not afford to jeopardize the success of their work by again taking a weakling with them. Which one— Paul or Barnabas—really had the mind of God, we are not told; but we are thankful indeed to find that Mark became a trusted and honored man of God.

First Peter 5:13 indicates that Mark was a companion to Peter. We know that Mark became dear to Paul, as well as to his uncle Barnabas, for the apostle referred to the young man as a fellow laborer in Philemon 24 and asked Timothy to bring Mark to him in 2 Timothy 4:11. The fact that Mark needed the recommendation given parenthetically in Colossians 4:10 seems to imply that at the time the Epistle was written there were still some who had reservations about him, but the apostle’s comment would remove all doubts.

Colossians 4:11 refers to “Jesus, which is called Justus.” His name might well remind us of the humiliation that our blessed Lord experienced when in grace He stooped to become a man in order to give His life for sinners. To us there is only one Jesus. That name is now “above every name” (Philippians 2:9) and it shines resplendent in highest glory; unique and precious, it is a name with which no other can ever be compared. But we need to remember that Jesus is the equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua, a name in common use when our Lord was here on earth. And so a brother otherwise unknown bore the same name as his Savior. Moreover he was surnamed “the Just.” This title was given to men because of their recognized integrity, as in the case of Joseph Barsabas of Acts 1:23 and the otherwise unknown Justus of Acts 18:7.

There is something peculiarly significant in the way the apostle eulogized the brothers whose greetings he conveyed to the Colossians. “These only,” he said, “are my fellow workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me” (4:11). It is evident that then as now, gift and grace did not necessarily go together. There were other believers who were perhaps energetic enough in service, but who were anything but brotherly in their attitude toward Paul.

We have already read the apostle’s praise of Epaphras in Colossians 1:7. It was he who had come from Colossae to acquaint Paul with conditions in the church there. In 4:12 the apostle drew special attention to the man’s fervency in prayer. Epaphras must also have had some ability as a preacher and teacher, for it was through his ministry that the Colossians had been won to Christ and the local church had been established; but his greatest ministry was evidently one of laboring in prayer. His earnest supplication was that the saints might know the truth in all its fullness and that in practical experience they might “stand perfect [full-grown] and complete [filled full] in all the will of God.” Paul joined in this prayer, as we have seen in Colossians 1:9. Epaphras had not confined his ministry or interest to Colossae; he bore in his heart, with the same intense zeal, the neighboring assemblies of believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

In Colossians 4:14 we read, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” But in 2 Timothy 4:10-11 the apostle said, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…Only Luke is with me.” It is most pathetic to compare the two references to Demas.

On the occasion of Paul’s second imprisonment, Demas left the apostle in his hour of need and went off to Thessalonica. Evidently he found the itinerant preacher’s lot too hard. There is no hint that Demas plunged into a life of sin and he may have gone into some respectable business, but the Holy Ghost relentlessly exposed the hidden springs of his changed behavior: he “loved this present world.” Once Demas and Luke were, so it seems, intimately associated, for the two names are found together in both Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24, but at the time 2 Timothy was written, they were no longer joined in devoted service. Demas had chosen an easier path.

As intimated in Acts 16, where the pronoun changes from “they” in verse 8 to “we” in verse 10, Luke joined the missionary party at Troas. From the day he became a member of Paul’s company, “the beloved physician” was one of the apostle’s most devoted helpers. Luke remained with Paul to the end and possibly saw him martyred.

In Colossians 4:15 salutations were sent to the Laodicean brethren, especially Nymphas, who was evidently prominent among them. It seems that the Christians of Laodicea met in his house for worship.

We gather from Colossians 4:16 that the apostolic letters were circulated among the early churches. The Colossian Epistle was to be read locally and in the assembly of the Laodicean believers. The Laodiceans were to forward another letter to Colossae. This Epistle “from” Laodicea (observe that the preposition is from, not to) is probably our Epistle to the Ephesians, which is generally regarded as a circular letter that went first to Ephesus and then to other churches in the Roman proconsular province of Asia. Thus the Ephesian letter came to Colossae from Laodicea.

Colossians 4:17 has a special admonition for Archippus, who is also mentioned in Philemon 2. Apparently Archippus was ministering at Colossae, but he had a tendency not uncommon in some young preachers to settle down comfortably and take things easily. Promptness and energy are as important in spiritual service as in anything else.

An incident involving two leading generals of the southern confederacy might speak well to every servant of Christ. General Robert E. Lee once sent word to General Stonewall Jackson that he would be glad to talk with him at his convenience on some matter of no great urgency. Even though the weather was most inclement, General Jackson instantly rode to headquarters. When General Lee expressed surprise at seeing him, Jackson exclaimed, “General Lee’s slightest wish is a supreme command to me, and I always take pleasure in prompt obedience.” It is to be hoped that this same spirit took hold of Archippus and that he profited from the prodding of the aged apostle.

Colossians 4:18 indicates that in accordance with his usual custom, Paul signed the Epistle with his own hand. Tychicus and Onesimus may have transcribed the letter, but the apostle appended his signature. How much would one give to have an autographed copy of this or any of his other letters!

Paul’s final command was, “Remember my bonds.” He wanted his readers to remember his chains so that they would be stirred to pray and so that they would keep in mind that the servant’s path is one of suffering and rejection.

The apostle closed his Colossian letter with the customary benediction, “Grace be with you. Amen.” Second Thessalonians 3:17-18 tells us that this benediction is the token that an Epistle is genuinely Paul’s, and in every one of the thirteen letters that bear his name and in the anonymous letter to the Hebrews we see some message about grace at the end. Paul was pre-eminently the apostle of grace, and it is not surprising that this precious word is the secret mark authenticating every letter. May that grace abound in us as it already has abounded toward us through the abundant mercy of our God.

Grace is the sweetest sound
That ever reached our ears,
When conscience charged and Justice frowned,
’Twas grace removed our fears!

We began with grace, we are kept by grace, and it is grace that will bring us home at last.