Chapter 4

Verse 1.—“Masters give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” Servants, even slaves, are not to be trampled on; however humble their station, they are dear to the Lord. They are not therefore to be wronged. Such matters are not too trifling for the Holy Ghost to write about, and we ought to heed them. How many bright touches there are in the Epistle to Philemon on domestic relations. Paul not only writes to Philemon, but to Apphia, for, as their servant Onesimus had robbed his master, his wife, being one with her husband, and sharing all with him, had a right to know all about it. “Knowing that you have a Master in heaven.” He would have us spend the little while of our service here under His eye, ever having the judgment-seat in view, where we must give an account to Him.

Verse 2.—“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same.” This is the first precept addressed to the saints under this head. He had been shewing the Lordship of Christ in creation, in the Church, and how they are to remember Him in the social circle as wives, husbands, children, fathers, servants, masters. Now He says: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same.” It contains a hint, that when we are in prayer, we are continually tempted to have our thoughts drawn away. Therefore, “watch”—give strict attention. Watch for the time of prayer; do not neglect it, and watch also when in prayer (1 Pet. 4:7). “With thanksgiving.” We are so selfish, that we tell the Lord our needs and troubles, but often forget to thank Him for His blessings and deliverances.

Verse 3.—“Praying for us.” We ought to pray for the servants of God, to hold up their hands, especially those who have gone forth “for the Name, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 9), and for those through whose ministry our souls have received benefit. “That God would open unto us a door of utterance.” Doors opened by Him no man can shut (Rev. 3:12). Things everywhere portend the time is near, when He will close the door (Luke 12:35). “The mystery of the Christ,” the Church up there and down here all one in Christ, that great mystery of which he had been made a minister, which had been revealed to him (Eph. 3:6-10). “For which I am also in bonds.” It was no child’s play to speak God’s truth, and to act according to it then. Thank God, we live in easier times, and can speak the truth without fear; but “the reproach of Christ” remains, and obedience to His will as our Lord and Master will still bring out the world’s opposition in some way.

Verse 5.—“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” Take care how you walk before outsiders, lest by your folly or selfishness you stumble them. It is sad to think how many of the unsaved have been hindered and stumbled, by the inconsistent walk of Christians. What a solemn word—“them that are without.” Outside Christ, outside the kingdom, outside heaven; all but in hell. Such is their position. Let us take it to heart, and walk wisely before them. “Redeeming the time,” that is buying opportunities, even going out of our way to get an opportunity to speak for Christ. Count no trouble too great, no sacrifice too costly, to get an opportunity for bearing witness to the Lord Jesus.

Verse 6.—“Let your speech be always with grace.” What a rebuke this is, to much of the conversation of Christians! “Always with grace.” In order to do this we must have much communion with God, and be abiding in Christ! It is possible even to talk of mundane matters in such a way, as men may see that we have been with Jesus.

“Seasoned with salt:” that is truth. Grace and truth must be combined: they always were in the speech of the Lord Jesus. Look at Him in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18-25). While He spoke of grace, they wondered at “the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth,” but when He added “I tell you of a truth,” they sought to hurl Him over the brow of the hill. Some are fond of hearing words of grace, telling of the promises to and the privileges of saints, but they do not like to hear of the precepts and commandments of the Lord, given for His peoples’ obedience. They like Ephesian grace, much better than Colossian responsibility. But those who speak must not tone down the truth to suit the ears of those who hear, but deal out God’s grace and truth in due proportion, giving each a portion “in due season.”

Verse 7.—From verse 7 onward, we have a description of the characters and service of seven individuals, and they are given here as representative persons. We are to regard them as anticipations of the Lord’s servants before the coming judgment-seat; a suitable and solemn ending of this Colossian Epistle, in which we learn so much of the present Lordship of Christ, and the obedience of His saints and servants, with reward or loss in that coming day. Tychicus is first. A beautiful character is given to him, “a beloved brother, a faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord.” Coming from the Holy Ghost, this is a good commendation. How grand to hear from the Master’s lips at His judgment-seat: “Well done.”— Bravo—“good and faithful servant.” Would you rather have that, or the clapping of hands and eclat of thousands of people? Perhaps you will say: “Both may go together.” No, they cannot. Look at Demas, the popular man, the man who loved the present world (2 Tim. 4:10), and was doubtless loved by it, how his name appears last (verse 14), without a single word of approval or of praise by the Holy Ghost. Saved he may have been, but no more. It reminds us of Deuteronomy, chapter 33, where the name of Simeon is omitted. The tribe bearing that name no doubt entered the goodly land, but owing to their conduct in the wilderness (see Numb, 25.) there is not one word of praise given them here. There is such a thing as being saved, yet so as by fire (1 Cor. 3:15), escaping, as Job says, as “by the skin of the teeth “(Job 19:20). What a contrast between Tychicus and Demas! Then observe the order in which the Holy Ghost commends Tychicus. “A beloved brother, a faithful minister (servant), and a fellow-servant in the Lord.” A brother before a servant. All God’s children are in the circle of love, although all may not be faithful in service. Mark, it is not successful, but “faithful.” What men call “success” is very often not what the Lord commands, or what He will commend in that day. “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).

Verse 8.—Paul had not seen the saints at Colosse personally, nor had he been the means of their conversion; yet he cared for them, and was anxious to know their state, and to help and comfort them. This shows how we ought to love and care for God’s saints and servants wherever they are found.

Verse 9.—“Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.” He had been converted through Paul’s instrumentality at Rome. He had been a sorrow to Philemon, his earthly master (Philem. 10, 11), but since his conversion had turned out well. “A faithful and beloved brother.” What a joy for Paul to write such words, to those who had known him best in his unconverted days. How happy when one who has been outrageous is saved, and goes on well. Alas! many professed converts in our day do not go on well, but the reverse.

Verses 10, 11.—Mark, who had once been a cause of trouble to the Apostle (Acts 15:38, 39) had now become a “comfort” to him, and profitable for service (2 Tim. 4:2). This is very striking, and it shows that Paul’s severity towards him, as shown in Acts, had done him good. It brought Mark to a sense of his naughtiness and indolence, and at last we see him restored to the Apostle, and to his place of service. Though Paul’s attitude towards him seems severe, he would, no doubt, eat the sin-offering (Lev. 10:11) about him in secret, and the lessons Mark then learned were salutary and helpful to his growth in grace.

Verse 11.—“Jesus, who is called Justus.” “Jesus,” was a common name then among the Jews, as Joshua is now. It gradually got into disuse after the Lord was pleased to take that name. He had evidently three names (Acts 1:23). These were all “of the circumcision.” What a nice word that is for the Holy Ghost to write. “They of the circumcision” (Titus 1:10) were not generally helpers of Paul, but these were his “fellow-workers unto the Kingdom of God” and “a comfort.” How blessed to have such work-fellows in the service of the Lord! Then follow three from among the Gentiles.

Verse 12.—“Epaphras, who is one of you.” Not your minister, although he had been the means of their conversion (ch. 1:7), but “one of you”—all put together. How different are the dissenting and clerical notions of our day! “Always labouring fervently in prayer.” Epaphras was not content to know that they were saved. He agonised in prayer that they might stand complete in all the will of God. To be saved is the beginning, to go on in the knowledge of God’s will, walking in His ways, is next.

Epaphras prays here as Paul had done (chap. 1:9). He had been with Paul and had learned the importance of the second character of his ministry, “to fulfil”— complete— “the Word of God.” Epaphras had learned more of this than he knew when he was with them at Colosse, and he “strives earnestly,” agonizes in prayer for the saints, that they may be “fully assured of all the will of God.” What a lovely service for fellow-saints! And not only for those well known to him at Colosse, of whom he himself was one, but he had much labour for the saints in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Do we pray much for fellow-believers, not asking great or impossible things for them, but that they may know and be fully assured of the will of God, seeking to walk in obedience to the Lord’s commandments?

Verse 14.—“Luke, the beloved physician”—Paul’s companion in travel (Acts 21:8), and fellow-labourer (Philem. 24), who remained faithful to the end (2 Tim. 4:2)—”and Demas, greet you.” There is a word of praise for all but Demas. His name means “popular,” and the likelihood is, he was popular among men. But what avails this in God’s sight? “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). It is of this man that the aged Apostle, in prison, nearing his end, has to write,—“Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). It ought to read “this present age:” the word in the Greek is not the same as in John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” It is well to remember this, as otherwise we might infer that Demas was a lost soul. He loved the present age, and was, no doubt, allured by its caresses, from the path of companionship with the prisoner of the Lord, and from the reproach of Christ.

Verse 16.—Notice the word “from Laodicea.” It is believed to refer to the Epistle to the Ephesians. Laodicea was near to Ephesus, and it is very natural to suppose that the Epistle written by the Apostle to the saints at Ephesus, would be handed about and read, as there were churches springing up in all parts. So this Epistle to the Colossians was to be read in the church of the Laodiceans. “Cause it to be read,” says the Holy Ghost. What is the lesson to us? Always to combine Ephesian and Colossian truth, always to keep them together, like the two lines of rails on which the engine runs. It is most important in the holy omniscient judgment of the Holy Ghost, that we keep always together these two lines of teaching. Alas! it is not always done. When one gets hold of one side, and neglects the other, he is in danger. Hence the word is, to read both Epistles, and let grace and truth, divine grace and human responsibility, privileges and precepts, be known equally. If this had been attended to, good men would not have been found jarring, or clinging to only one side of truth. Verse 17.—“And say to Archippus.” It seems as if some one in the Church of Colosse was not in his proper place. Archippus means, “Master of the horses.” After the saints have been taken up to Heaven (Rev. 5), the power of evil will assume shape, and defy the Son of God to His face. The second Psalm asks: “Why do the people neigh,” like the neighing of horses? Presently the Lord will come down as the Rider on the white horse in judgment on His foes (Rev. 19:11-14), His faithful servants, who served Him here in lowly paths, now rewarded, and with Him. Philippians means “lovers of horses,” and chapter 2:1-3 shews how the saints are to fight by getting down, not seeking to be great in the world, or the Church, but going down in order that Christ may lift them up. “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” Whatever the service may have been, it was appointed by the Lord, and He was to complete it— carry it out. Every Christian ought to know his place and his work, and stick to both. Never budge an inch from the post where the Lord has put you; if you do, you will hear of it at the judgment-seat. To say: “I feel as if my work is done,” is only a bit of proud flesh. Your work will not be done till the Lord comes, or calls you to be with Him. Therefore, as long as you are here, take heed to the service, and complete it. Do not run about trying lots of things. Some are fond of new employments, but the word to Archippus, and to all of us who are in danger of being up and away to great things, to the neglect of that special work provided and appointed by the Lord, is: “Fulfil it.” Go on, and on, in patient continuance in well-doing, and the Lord will reward you. It is a strong word that, “fill it full.” It is used of the Lord Jesus in Luke 9:31—“The exodus which He should fulfil.” Paul’s aim was to finish his course with joy” (Acts 20:24), and at the end he was able to say: “I have finished my course,” and he saw the crown “laid up” for him (2 Tim. 4:8). So let it be our constant desire to fulfil our service and finish our course, keeping at it, going on and on, with unfaltering step, until Jesus calls us home, or till He comes to gather all His saints together, to be for ever in His unclouded presence. Some do not finish their course, or complete their service. Moses did not: he was hindered from crossing the Jordan because of his sin at Meribah. He accused the people of God, and spake unadvisedly with his lips, and his course as a servant was cut short. Elijah, mighty man as he was, stopped short of completing his service. Paul went on in the path of obedience, counting not his life dear to him, and completed his course with joy. Oh, to end as he did, with the Lord standing with us to strengthen and deliver, even should all others flee (2 Tim. 4:17).

Verse 18.—“Remember my bonds.” He was suffering for their sake (chap. 1:24), and in the fulfilment of his service for the Church. Yet what care he had for others, ready to pour out his life in service (Phil. 2:17) joyfully for Christ and His people. “Grace be with you.” As he begins (chap. 1:2) so he ends with “Grace.” And so end all the Pauline Epistles. It is so blessed to know that what Grace has begun, it will not cease to perform till the glory is reached.

“Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.”