Feb. 24, 2013
Background Scripture: Colossians 4:2-17
Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27
I would have preferred the ecumenical committee responsible for choosing the scripture passages each week had included Colossians 3:18 to 4:1 for this week. This passage, dealing with the relationships between wives and husbands, parents and children and masters and slaves, is often skipped over in various lectionaries, perhaps so that the reader may not be troubled or confused by the content.
Paul appears in this passage to be advocating the subjugation of wives to their husbands and the acceptance of slavery. Are we to follow Paul on these matters?
First, we must remember Paul believed the glorious return of Christ was imminent. Therefore, he counseled Christians not to get involved in changing their life situations, lest they not be ready for the Day of the Lord.
If Paul had believed that the return of Christ was further “down the road,” would his views on these relationships been different? We do not know. But his view on the second coming must have shaped his responses.
Secondly, Paul was not Jesus and therefore, he was not infallible 100 percent of the time. Paul’s mission was not to change society, but to persuade people into accepting Jesus as the Christ and Son of God.
He knew he had to work within the society and societies of his times, just as we have to work within ours. Many of the eventual changes in those societies were brought about by the efforts of Christians.
The remainder of Colossians 4 comprises his final instructions for the churches of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Their mission for Christ would be daunting without fervent prayer (so would ours). They are to live prayerfully: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving” (4:2).
Paul is not just a prisoner who is also a Christian; he is a prisoner of Rome because he is a Christian. Further, he is not asking prayer for himself to survive the ordeal, but for his work and witness as a prisoner for Christ.
Next he counsels the Colossians to “conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (4:6). The manner in which they respond to “outsiders” will likely affect the reception of their efforts.
“Seasoned with salt” is just a way of saying, “Don’t let your witness be boring.” Reciting a pre-approved formula will win no one. Why do Christians assume they can argue people into becoming Christians? Argument usually produces resistance, not agreement.
Paul then does a quick and interesting rundown on those fellow workers who have ministering to Paul and carrying on the work of proclaiming the Good News. These are obviously fellow workers who are known to the Colossians. They have ministered to him in jail and are exemplary for placing themselves at risk.
First, he lists Tychicus, a kind of courier between the Christian communities. Tychicus will bring the Colossians up to date on Paul’s situation, informing them of matters that go beyond the information in the letter.
Next, Paul speaks of Onesimus, the runaway slave who ministered to Paul in prison and whom Paul is sending back to his master Philemon, but as a faithful brother in Christ, not a runaway slave (Philemon 1-22).
A worker redeemed
Paul also lists Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4), who was with Paul in Ephesus during the riot in the Temple of Diana (Acts 19:29). Now he is in Rome as a fellow prisoner with him (Acts 17:2). When Paul was in trouble, Aristarchus stood with him.
Next is Mark. He began with Simon Peter, who called him his son (1 Peter 5:13). Mark later used the preaching of Peter as the basis for his Gospel. But Paul stopped traveling with Mark because, when the going got tough in the middle of a missionary journey, he hurriedly departed for home.
Later, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with them, but Paul refused to have him, causing a split between Paul and Barnabas. Mark’s actions after that break are unknown, but when Paul was imprisoned for the last time in Rome, Mark was with Paul and was helpful to him (Philemon 24:2; 2 Tim. 4:11). In Col. 4:10 Paul instructs the church to welcome Mark, if he visits them.
Paul lists a “Jesus who is called Justus” and Epaphras who acted as a kind of overseer for the churches of the area. He is noted as “a hard worker” for all the churches of the area (Col. 1:7), Mentioned also is “Luke, the beloved physician” who was with Paul at the end of his life (2 Tim. 4:11).
Mentioned next is Demas, the only co-worker who failed to be regarded as praiseworthy. Although mentioned as one of Paul’s “fellow laborers” in Philemon 24, he is simply listed as being with Paul in Col. 4:14 and, in 2 Tim. 4:10, we are told: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”
He closes out his letter with mention of “Nympha and the church in her house” (4:15) and an admonition to tell Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”
As Paul’s fellow workers, I think that is his message to us as well.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.