Colossians 4Our apostle concluded the foregoing chapter with an exhortation to servants, to discharge their duty with all fidelity to their masters, remembering, that whatever wrong is done by them, shall, sooner or later, be revenged by God; he begins this chapter with advice to masters, to give unto their servants that which is just and equal; that which is just, or that which is according to compact and agreement, either explicitly or implicitly made; as work, wages, food, cloathing, and all fitting accommodations; also that which is faithfully, to serve their masters cheerfully, not exercising a magisterial, much less a tyrannical power over them; and the argument to enforce it is strong, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven; remembering they have one above them, from whom they must expect the like.
Learn hence, That justice is to be observed towards poor servants, and that there are several offices of humanity and charity which are due unto them by the command of God:
Such are these, 1. That we look upon them not barely as servants, but as brethren, partakers of the same common nature, and capable of the same grace with ourselves, consequently not to treat them as vile persons.
2. That we wink at some of their miscarriages which are not apparently sinful, and do not punish every transgression committed by them: He must keep no servant that will have a servant with no faults.
3. That we do not rule with rigour, without giving some reason for what commands seem hard and difficult, and that we permit them to plead their cause, and to defend their right, provided they do it with humility, no contradicting, or refusing to execute the command of their master.
4. That to well-deserving servants we give something above their wages, allowing them all fitting encouragement whilst they are with us; and when they go away, not suffering them to go empty from us. Thus doing, masters will give unto their servants that which is just and equal: But how ordinary is it for them that are a little above others, to forget there is one above them?
Observe here, 1. The duty exhorted to, and that is prayer; a transcendent privilege, as well as an important duty.
Observe, 2. The manner of the duty, and how it must be performed, with constancy and perseverance.
1. Continue in prayer, that is, continue instant in prayer; not that every other duty is to be neglected, that we may always perform this, but we are always to keep our heart in a praying frame, and be found in the practice of the duty at all fitting seasons; we are then said to do a thing continually, when we do it seasonably: what a man does out of conscience, he will do with perseverance. Nature will have her good moods, but grace is steady.
2. Watchfulness in prayer is here directed to, Watch in the same; particularly, we ought to watch for the duty, in the duty, and after the duty: to watch for the fittest praying season, to watch our hearts in our affections flag; to watch after the duty, that our hearts be not lifted up by any assistances received in the duty; nor be too much dejected, upon the score of those infirmities that mingle themselves with our prayers; but direct the eye of our faith to Christ as our intercessor, who pleads for the gracious acceptance both of our persons and services, notwithstanding the imperfections of them both.
Observe, lastly, What must always accompany prayer for mercies we want, namely, thanksgiving for mercies received: Watch in the same with thanksgiving. There is no such effectual way of begging, as thanksgiving; God is offended, when we are loud and clamorous in asking favours, but dumb and tongue-tied in returning thanks: Need will make us beggars, but grace only thanksgivers.
Our apostle having directed the Colossians to the duty of prayer in general, here he requests an interest in their prayers for himself, and all the ministers of Christ in particular.
Whence observe, 1. That the ministers of Jesus Christ are, and ought in an especial manner to be remembered in the saints' prayers.
Observe, 2. The mercies he desires may be prayed for, on his behalf, namely, utterance and boldness: Ministers depend upon God, as for other ministerial gifts, so particularly for the gift of utterance, and it is their people's duty to be earnest and instant with God for the same: And as for utterance in delivering their message, so for boldness in suffering for it, when called to it.
No prayers can be too much to strengthen the hands, and encourage the hearts of the ministers of Christ unto an holy boldness, who suffer persecution for what they preach; therefore is St. Paul so earnest here with the Colossians, as he was before with the Ephesians, Eph 6:18 and with the Romans, Rom 15:30 desiring them to strive together in their prayers for him:
Where, by the way, remark, That the apostle thus passionately desiring the living saints to pray for him, but never desiring once the prayers and intercessions of the saints departed, nor of the Virgin Mary, is an evidence that he approved not of their prayers, nor looked upon them as mediators and intercessors with God then, as the church of Rome does now.
By them without, are meant the Heathen, who are yet without the pale of the visible church; to walk in wisdom toward them, is a duty of great latitude, but imports particularly here, an endeavour to the uttermost to promote their conversion and salvation, by begetting in them a due veneration for the gospel, and a love and liking to the Christian religion.
Learn hence, That private Christians, by walking wisely before them that are yet unconverted effectually to Christianity, may be exceedingly helpful to promote the entertainment of the gospel amongst them. They may pray, and pray in faith, for their conversion, and the further spreading of the gospel, in order to that end. The ardent devotions and the holy conversations of private Christians are excellent means to recommend the gospel and the Christian religion, and to represent them as most amiable and desirable.
Having in the former part of the verse, directed the Colossians to walk wisely before the unconverted Gentiles that were among them, in this latter part of the verse, he advises them to redeem every opportunity, for gaining over those infidels to the Christian religion. A Christian that knows the worth of time, will redeem it, will improve it for the soul, for the benefit of his own soul, and for the advantage of others: How this is done, see the note on Eph 1:16.
Direction is here given to all Christians for the right government of the tongue, and well ordering of the speech, that it be not corrupt and rotten, filthy or frothy, vain and unprofitable, but mild and courteous, savoury and gracious, wise and discreet.
Note here, 1. That we are not left at random in our ordinary discourse, to let our tongue run riot and talk what we please, without any regard to the edification of others.
Note, 2. That there ought to be both a gracefulness and grace in our speech, some savour of piety, someting that may testify there is grace wrought in ourselves, and tends to the working of grace in others.
Note, 3. That our speech may be thus savoury at all times, it must be seasoned with salt.
1. With the salt of truth: There must be an agreement betwixt the thing and our words, without falsehood; and an agreement betwixt our tongue and our hearts, without dissimulation.
2. With the salt of wisdom and prudence; this will teach us the time when, the manner how, and the measure how much to speak; those words must needs be unsavoury, that have neither truth nor prudence in them.
The people wondered of old at the gracious words which came our of Christ's mouth; and we may justly wonder at the graceless words which come out of the mouths of many that are called Christians.
Observe here, 1. That although St. Paul had now with him but a few friends at Rome to comfort him in his bonds, yet he spares two of them to visit and comfort these Colossians. See the public spirit of our apostle, who preferred the common good of the church at Colosse, before his own comfort at Rome.
Observe, 2. The persons whom St. Paul sent to them, Tychicus and Onesimus, whom he styles brethren, faithful brethren, beloved brethren: Nothing endears persons so much to one another, as religion and the grace of God. These ties are stronger than those of nature: No such love as likeness occasions, especially likeness to God.
Observe, 3. The design and end of St. Paul's sending these two persons to them, namely,
1. To make known unto them all things done at Rome:
Mark, All things, without exception, both his doings and sufferings, both in public and private, the apostle was ashamed of neither. Happy it is, when the conversation of Christ's ministers is such, both in public and private, that they need not be ashamed to have it known, or that the church may understand it.
2. That he might comfort their hearts: But how could Tychicus and Onesimus do this?
1. By making known to them the true cause of his sufferings, that it was for the gospel's sake.
2. To keep them from discouragement at the report of his sufferings, that they might not be offended at his chain, nor sink under the burden of immoderate sorrow upon his account.
3. To comfort their hearts with the report of that holy joy and cheerfulness which the apostle had in his own spirit, under the present burden of his sufferings. See the note on Eph 6:22.
Our apostle coming now to the conclusion of his excellent letter, sendeth (as his manner was) particular salutations to those he wrote to. These salutations were both from others and himself. Here we have three of St. Pauls companions sending salutations to the church at Colosse, namely, Aristrachus, a fellow prisoner; Mark, sister's son to Barnabas, who, though he did desert St. Paul and Barnabas, and went not with them to the work, yet returning to is duty, he is recommended to the church's reception; and Jesus, who was called Justus, possibly from his just conversation. Jesus is the same with Joshua, signifying a Saviour: However, we do not find that any Christians, since their Lord's resurrection, did ever give their children the name of Jesus, out of a due reverence to their Lord and Master, who is God-man, blessed for evermore.
Now we learn, That neither distance of place, nor length of time, ought to cool that love and good-will, that hearty and sincere affection, which Christians should bear to one another.
Note farther, That, as in the large catalogue of salutations which St. Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, Rom 16:1-27 in which particular persons are mentioned, St. Peter's name is not once named: So here, in this catalogue of salutations sent from Rome, no mention is made of Peter's name neither; doubtless had he been now at Rome, he had sent salutations as well as the rest; here are salutations from Aristrachus, Mark, and others, none from Peter. Behold here the weak ground which the Pope builds his pretended supremacy and headship upon, namely, that he is St. Peter's successor, who was bishop of Rome; nor is there any word in scripture to prove that he ever was at Rome when St. Paul wrote this epistle, there being only these, he says, whom he mentions, who are his fellow-labourers unto the kingdom of God.
Our apostle next mentions the particular salutation sent from Rome to the church at Colosse by Epaphras, who is described from his country; he is one of you, that is, a citizen of Colosse; by his office, a servant of Christ, that is, a minister of the gospel; by his fervour of affection towards these Colossians, evidenced by his prayers for them, he labours fervently for you in his prayers.
The word signifies to strive as in an agony, pointing out our ministerial duty to us, not only to preach unto, and to pray with, but fervently to pray for our people. God forgave our forgetfulness of, our backwardness to, our remissness in, this part of our duty. Too seldom do we bear our people upon our hearts, when we go in and out before the Lord: Oh! how far are we from praying ourselves into an agony for them, when our petitions freeze within our lips, which we put up for our own souls!
One thing might here be noted further concerning Epaphras, he was minister of (some think bishop of) Colosse; yet was he born there, he is one of you, that is, of your city. Now, Christ tells us, a minister is in hazard to meet with disrespect in his own country, he is usually of no honour there: However, Epaphras being called to the work of God in the place where he was born embraces it, and God give him reputation with the people for his faithfulness in his place.
Observe, lastly, What was the subject matter of Epaphras's prayer for his people at Colosse, namely, That they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God: it is the desire and prayer, the care and endeavour of every faithful minister of Christ, that his people may stand fast in their obedience, in universal obedience, in perfect and complete obedience to the will, the whole will of God, in all things; yet one thing more is observable in Epaphras, he had not only a great zeal for his own people at Colosse, but for them at Laodicea and Hierapolis, which were neighbouring churches.
Learn thence, That the ministers of Christ are to look upon themsleves, as ministers of the whole church; and although they take care of a particular congregation, yet is it their duty to desire and endeavour, that all Christians within the reach of their ministerial labours, may find some special benefit and advantage by them. Epaphras had a fervent zeal for the churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis, as well as at Colosse, and it was his commendation that he had so.
Still the apostle is sending salutations from Rome to the Colossians.
1. From St. Luke, who, of a physician for the body, becomes a physician for the soul, as Matthew of a publican, became a preacher. Luke well deserved the title here given him of beloved, in that he undertook the ministry at a time when civil authority did allow no maintenance for ministers, and when his employment as a physician would probably have advantaged him much more. Luke, the beloved physician, greets you.
2. Demas also, who when persecution grew hot, his affections grew cold; yet now he sends salutations with the rest to the church at Colosse. St. Paul complains of his forsaking of him, 2Tim 4:10 for the sake of this present world. Let no professor judge of himself by his external profession, by his performance of outward duties, by his associating himself with the people of God, nay, by his sufferings with the servants of God, (Demas did all this,) but by their sincere love to Christ and persevering faithfulness in the trying hour of temptation; we know not what we are till sufferings appear.
Our apostle had sent the salutations of others to them before, he sends his own now.
1. Generally to all the Christian brethren which were in Laodicea, to whom he directs this epistle to be read in the next verse. Now, to prepare them to hear it with greater attention, he sends salutations particularly to them, Salute the brethren in Laodicea. No particular people must desire or expect to monopolize and engross the whole of a minister's affections to themselves; but as he is the minister of the catholic church, so it is both his duty and desire, that all particular churches, yea, individual Christians, should share in his affectionate love towards them, in his care and concern for them. He salutes Nymphas in particular, a person perhaps very eminent for piety and charity, as may be gathered from the following words, And the church which is in his house.
By which, 1. Understand his family and houshold, who were so piously instructed, so religiously governed, so devoutly disposed, as if they had been a church.
Learn thence, That masters of families should train up their houshold in religion and godliness, instructing, reproving, exhorting, all that are under their care, that their house may deserve the name of a church; The church which is in his house.
2. Some by the church in his house, understand a material house, or some particular room in his house, which he had given to a certain number of Christians for a place of public worship. Although the church, in the apostle's time, had not the countenance of civil authority, to provide either places for worship, or maintenance for ministers; yet such fervour of zeal was found in the breasts of Christians, that then, such as were of ability, wanted not for inclination to contribute largely and freely unto both; charity moved to give more then, than force of law can compel and constrain now; Nymphas gives his house to be a place of public worship to the church. See the learned Mr. Mede on 1Cor 11:22.
Here St. Paul directs to the reading of this epistle themselves, which the Spirit of God had directed him to write unto them, Let this epistle be read amongst you. All holy scripture is to be read and perused by every private Christian; the same Spirit that did indite the scriptures, requires the reading and understanding of them.
And further, St. Paul desires this epistle, being read amongst the Colossians, should next be read in the church at Laodicea; who being their neighbours, received the same poison or errors from the false teachers, crept in amongst them, and consequently directed to some particular church or person, recorded in scripture, was of universal use to them, and may be now, to all particular persons and societies.
Much controversy has arisen in the church about this epistle from Laodicea; some have affirmed that it was written by St. Paul to the Laodiceans, but lost; from whence they would infer, that the canon of the scripture is not entire: But supposing it were so, yet it follows not but that we have all things necessary to salvation in the holy scriptures.
It is very probable that St. Paul himself, and several other apostles, wrote more epistles than are in the Bible: What then? We have what the wisdom of God thought fit to hand down to us, and what is sufficient to make the serious reader of it wise unto salvation. Surely Almighty God was not bound to bring down all that they wrote to us, but only what his own wisdom saw fit and necessary for us. Others understand it of an epistle from Laodicea to St. Paul, and that he answered it fully in this epistle to the Colossians, and sending it back, desired the Colossians might read it, for better clearing of some passages in this epistle to them.
Lastly, Some understand it of the epistle ot the Ephesians, Ephesus being the metropolis, or the chief city of Laodicea; and accordingly some called the epistle to the Ephesians, the epistle to the Laodiceans: The truth is, there is a very great affinity betwixt the epistle to the Ephesians, and this to the Colossians; the doctrines, exhortations, and many expressions are the very same; so that it is no wonder if he desired they should be both read at Colosse, to let them see that he wrote the same doctrine to other churches which he had done to them.
This Archippus is, with good reason, supposed to be the minister at Colosse, in the room of Epaphras, now with St. Paul at Rome. Some think, that in the absence of Epaphras, he was grown somewhat remiss and slack in his ministerial duty; he directs therefore the Colossians to admonish him to the exercise of greater diligence in discharging all the parts of his trust committed by Christ unto him, Say unto Archippus, Take heed, &c.
Observe here, A double charge, 1. A charge of message, Say unto Archippus: The Colossians must say it. St. Paul could have wrote a private letter to him; but they must excite him, yea, say to him to his face, not of him behind his back: It is the people's duty to stir up their ministers to the faithful performance of their duty; the fire of our ministerial zeal doth not burn so bright, but we may need our people's bellows to inflame it; but this must be done with prudence by the people, in a way of exhortation, not by the way of exprobation; so stir up your minister to his duty, that you forget not your own.
Observe, 2. The charge of an office, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received of the Lord, that thou fulfil it.
Here note, 1. A duty enjoined, to fulfil the ministry: But what is that?
Negatively, not to secure the success of our ministry, we may deliver our own souls, though our people's be not delivered; the nurse is not charged with the life of the child, but with the care of the child; she shall be paid whether it live or die: Nor is it absolutely to perform every part of our ministerial duty without the least deficiency; no, we rejoice in the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have done our duty:
Positively, to fulfil the ministry, is to perform all the parts of our duty with care and faithfulness, persevere in diligence, particularly, public preaching and private inspection. A non-preaching minister is no minister, a breastless nurse, a murderer of souls, a bell without a clapper, a cryer without a voice; yet doth not his work lye all in the pulpit, but the greatest part out of it: he is styled a watchman: For what? because he is to watch one hour with his people in a week? No, surely, but because he is to watch over them, and converse with them all the week, upon occasion. Is not the physician to visit his patient, as well as to prescribe his physic? Doth the husbandman cast his seed into the ground, and never come into his fields to see whether it comes up, or how it grows? Verily, our people are great gainers by them too. We may gain more experimental knowledge by an afternoon's visiting our people, than by a week's study.
Note, 2. The means here directed to, for the fulfilling of the ministry, Take heed to the ministry; What doth that import?
1. Take heed to thy study; ministerial abilities are not rained down like manna upon us. The apostles did not study indeed, but one reason was, they had no time to study, they were itinerary preachers.
2. Take heed to thy doctrine, that it be the pure word of God, and delivered purely; not only in opposition to error, but in opposition to levity.
3. Take heed, that is, to thy life and practice, that we may tread out the steps before our people, which they are to take towards heaven.
Note, 3. The motive to stir us all up to the fulfilling our ministerial trust: We have received it: There is the importance of a special favour, and also the importance of a strict account; what we have received, we must give an account for.
2. We have received it of or from the Lord; this implies assistance, that God has called us to it, will assist us in it: Lo, I am with you always to the end of the world; with you to assist, with you to succeed, with you to reward. Let Archippus then, every one in the work of Christ, take heed to the ministry which he has received of the Lord, that he fulfil it.
Here our apostle closes his epistle with a general salutation under his own hand, intimating thereby, that he had wrote the whole with his own hands.
He begs them to remember his bonds; that is,
1. To sympathize with him in his bonds.
2. To pray for him in his bonds.
3. To receive the word of God, which he had written to them in his bonds.
4. To prepare for sufferings themselves, his bonds being but the fore-runners of their bonds.
Thus it is the people's duty to remember the pious ministers in their bonds. He adds, Grace be with you, wishing them an abiding interest in the special favour of God, with a multiplied increase of all spiritual blessings flowing from thence; increase of all grace to enable them to glorify God on earth, and to prepare them for glory with God in heaven. Amen.
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