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Colossians (2013)

Personal Notes

Colossians  4:2-18

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Notes

We are taking this section out of order purely for the convenience of education. The section is at the tail end of Colossians, and therefore contains a number of personal notes from Paul.

Tell You Everything

As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.

(Colossians 4:7-9)

 

It is customary at the end of letters written during this time to include a number of personal notes. It is often convenient for the teacher to skip over this section, as we really know quite little about the people who are mentioned in it. In this particular instance, however, we have a hint as to the passion which is involved. Notice that both men mentioned are referred to as a “beloved brother.” It costs Paul quite a bit to send these people back home to carry the news. Remember, Paul is in chains, in jail. That’s not comfortable, and it is often a very lonely experience.

In particular we have one name which does occur elsewhere in the New Testament — Onesimus. We know him from the book of Philemon. Onesimus was a runaway slave, and it is possible that this is the time at which Paul sent him home to his master. His master was Philemon. Please appreciate the peril of Onesimus in this instance. As a runaway slave, Philemon would’ve had the right to insist that he face a wild animal in the arena to prove that he was still worthy to live. He would certainly have been branded with the mark of a runaway slave on his forehead. It is most likely that he would’ve been castrated, to prevent any rebellious offspring. Paul sent with him a letter, which is now known as the book of Philemon, which you should study at your leisure. But consider the temptation it must’ve been to Paul. Philemon was brought to Christ by Paul. So was Onesimus. Had Paul been there to make the case face-to-face, it is likely he would’ve gone back with Onesimus. But Paul is in jail; Onesimus must go home alone, relying on Paul’s letter to Philemon. What a temptation for Paul to simply say that he would write Philemon a note and hang on to Onesimus. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a triumph of courtesy and kindness; Onesimus returned in an act of great courage.

Greetings

Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.

(Colossians 4:10-16)

 

It seems that Paul was very much comforted by having those of the Jewish race around him. You can understand why; they share the same stories and background that Paul does. They also share the traditions of the Jews which include great hospitality and care for their fellow Jews who happen to be in prison. I suppose it’s like having homeboys with you.

Epaphras, who you will recall was the person who got Paul started on this letter, is mentioned here as “laboring earnestly” in his prayers for the folks at home. Other translations include the phrase, “wrestling in prayer.” We’ll talk more about this in the next section, but for now it is sufficient to point out that prayer is not, as many of us suspect, something which is dull, inert and takes so little energy.

The main feature of this passage is a minor mystery that has gone unsolved for 2000 years. Paul mentions that the Colossians should read the letter to the Laodicean church. The problem with this is rather simple: we know of no such letter in existence. Apparently Paul wrote them one, and they lost it. Some other books of the Bible have been suggested as being this particular book, in particular the letter to the Ephesians, but no one is really certain of this. I leave it to the reader to discover what can be discovered.

Remember My Chains

Say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

(Colossians 4:17-18)

 

Do you see the statement that Paul wrote this letter with his own hand? Most scholars agree that Paul did in fact dictate this letter to someone. It’s likely enough that he put his signature at the end so that they would know it was authentically his writing. The suspected reason for this is that apparently Paul had cataracts; to see his own handwriting he had to make it very large. Paul also had some trouble with people writing letters in his name; therefore, it was wise to be prudent enough to include a sample of the handwriting.

Archippus, mentioned here, is the son of Philemon. We don’t know what particular ministry had been given to him, but evidently Paul thought it important enough to single him out in a letter that was intended to be read aloud. Generally speaking, Paul is probably not trying to deliver a rebuke, but an encouragement — and also a validation in the eyes of the other believers that the man’s mission was given by God.

Finally, it is clear from the rest of the New Testament that being in chains for the cause of Christ is an honor, not a disgrace. If somewhat like getting a Purple Heart in the U.S. Army; it’s proof you’ve been shot at in combat. Being locked up for the cause of Christ is proof that Satan takes you seriously. It is, therefore, a badge of honor. But it is also a tremendous mark of loneliness. Most of the readers of this work will never have had the opportunity to be inside a prison; but let me give you the closest equivalent — a hospital stay. There are plenty of other human beings around, most of whom don’t really care about you personally. Having a smiling, friendly face makes an enormous difference. If you’ve ever worked in prison ministry, you know how much more intense that experience is. In Paul’s case, it is an experience of controlled agony.

Prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.

(Colossians 4:2-4)

 

Devote Yourselves

As Paul noted elsewhere[1] devoting yourselves to prayer is a reason for not having sex! Do recall that the biblical view of sex is that it is an important part of maintaining your marriage; one of the reasons for getting married is given as being the fact that your sex drive is running and you’re having trouble handling it. It’s probably more clear to us that it was to the people in Paul’s time that this is a major sacrifice. So being devoted to prayer is a normal part of the Christian life when it’s running correctly.

The phrase “devote yourselves” reminds us of the necessity of perseverance in prayer[2]. The parable of the Unjust Judge reminds us of this. It’s important to remember however that devotion in prayer inherently implies perseverance. If you are devoted to Christ in prayer, you will approach infrequently. It just can’t be done any other way.

One reason many Christians are not devoted in prayer is that they think that God is not interested in their little problems. May your poor author share with you a personal note on this? My son is a lawyer who lives on the other side of the continent. The job pays quite well, but includes within its frustrations of dealing with people who are less than ethical and file frivolous lawsuits. Whenever I talk with him over the phone, I ask about how his job is going and what lawsuits he might be involved with. The rules of the business do not allow him to tell me names and companies, but I’m interested to hear what his frustrations are — simply because I’m his father. Your father is interested in what you’re doing. So is your heavenly father, even if you think the stuff involved is trivial. He wants to be a part of your life and therefore cares about what you care about. It is therefore reasonable for you to be devoted in prayer and bring him all that small stuff too. All things are subject to prayer — not just the high and the mighty, but the low the trivial just as much.

Keeping Alert

Other translations use the verb “watch” in place of the phrase “keeping alert.” The phrasing in question is often used to warn Christians to be alert to the second coming of Christ. We don’t hear much about this anymore, at least not in our church. But it is a serious mistake to assume that, since Christ hasn’t returned yet, he isn’t going to return it all. Paul is warning you that there will come a day of judgment — so watch out!

The phrase can also be interpreted as meaning that you should keep alert to the circumstances around you. It does not take a major genius to see that American civilization is declining rapidly in this day. Yet our particular church congregation, like many others in the emerging church movement, does not consider this a subject fit either for sermons or prayer. Questions of this time were much more aware of the fact that persecution was not just the possibility, but a likelihood. Therefore they were to be wise and keep alert.

Thankful

There is no substitute for “an attitude of gratitude.” The reason most of us don’t have such an attitude is that we are firm believers in the idea that we are entitled to something. Sometimes this is relatively innocent; we see somebody else with a new car and think, “why can’t I have one of those?” The problem here is that we start with the idea that were entitled what everybody else says. The question starting point is, in all honesty, the idea that is entitled to nothing. Your center; why should God do anything for you? The answer has nothing to do with your merits, or the geography were in which you were born, but has everything to do with his love for you.

Another reason that this thankful attitude isn’t very common today is our view of the water glass. Some of us view it as half-full; some of us view it as half empty. As one sober, scientific fellow pointed out the glass is always full. It’s half full of water and half-full of air. We should be thankful for the water we have and the air we breathe; we should therefore also be thankful for the blessings in our life, and for those things which God has withheld from us for our own good.

Spread of the Gospel

Paul begins with a prayer request here: that he will be able to spread the gospel as he should. Please note: Paul’s in jail. Most of us view that as an excuse not to be an evangelist. After all, doesn’t Billy Graham work in a great big auditorium? There are three things about which we can pray for the spread of the gospel at practically any time:

·         First, as our Lord said, that he should send workers out to the harvest.

·         Second, as Paul puts it here, but God will clear some of the obstacles to evangelism out of the way — to open the door.

·         Finally, he prays that his own work will not be blemished by any fault on his part. He wants to do what he ought to do — and asks for prayer in that regard.

Outsiders

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

(Colossians 4:5-6)

 

Wisdom

The word “wisdom” is seldom used today. The ancient Greeks clearly separated the concept of knowledge from the concept of wisdom. To put it in the simplest form, wisdom is composed of imperatives: words that tell you when you ought to do something. Knowledge is composed of indicatives: when you do something, this is what will happen. Both of these items are necessary for human conduct, but by placing our modern emphasis on knowledge over wisdom we have missed the moral imperative. Such an idea would’ve been completely foreign to St. Paul.

Wisdom is not the same as a cynical, all-knowing view. You’ll recall that our Lord commanded us to be innocent as doves and shrewd as snakes[3]. We might define it as knowing the right thing to do, and being persuaded we ought to do it. Knowledge, on the other hand, tells us how to do it. But wisdom must come first; if your method of bringing people to Christ was taken from PT Barnum you probably have a problem.

For most of us this concept seems a bit strange. We think of wisdom is something that belongs to some guru sitting on a mountaintop. The Scripture, however, tells us that we may apply for wisdom and that God will grant it[4]. The trick is to apply for it before you need it, rather than after you think to yourself, “I should have said…”

Make the Most

If you ask the average preacher to talk about stewardship, you get a sermon on the subject of money. Certainly there is no lack of teaching in the New Testament on the subject of money; Christ mentions it often. But, I submit, there is also a stewardship of time. We are to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.”[5] The principles by which we steward our money can be applied to time as well; it’s just that it can’t be saved up. But each of you should be asking ourselves whether or not what we do is the best use of our time.

The most difficult concept to get across to most questions in this is that we don’t have an infinite amount of time in this life. Our days are numbered; God knows how long were going to live. The question is what were going to do with the time we have. We very often fall into the trap of thinking we have all the time we need; life is so long. Eternal life is so long, but this life is not. Therefore, we should make the most of every hour we have. This lesson is far too short to go into the details of this, but you should examine the problem yourself.

Seasoned with Salt

The word “salt” has a detailed history, and it would’ve meant much more to them than it does to us. We may take it simply, however, that we are to be (to use Christ’s exquisite phrase) “the salt of the earth.” The fact that we still use this expression today to describe people gives us a pretty good feeling for how it’s supposed to be used. We are to avoid the extremes of being extremely technical in our Christianity (turn with me to Second Hezekiah) or being completely ignorant of what we really believe. We should know we’re talking about, and be able to put it plainly, without prejudice, for the benefit of those here.

It’s very hard to practice that as an act. So you’re going to have to do with the natural way; that salt of the earth attitude has to come from the heart. But it must be informed as well, so that you may deal with the objections of those were not Christians. As Peter puts it to us,

“…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; “ (First Peter 3:15)

 

This is the rationale behind studying apologetics. If you think that Christianity makes sense, you should be able to explain it to someone else in a way that makes sense to them too.

 

The hardened cynic is not going to be convinced, nor is the fellow who has his own position to defend. But there are a lot more people out there who just need to be told what the gospel says in a quiet way that makes such good sense. Have the knowledge to know what you’re talking about, and the wisdom to deliver it as Christ would.



[1] First Corinthians 7:5

[2] Luke 18:1-8, the story of the unjust judge."

[3] Matthew 10:16

[4] James 1:5

[5] Ephesians 5:16, King James Version

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