The Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
Interpretation of the Epistle
10. Commandments to Church members, with respect to the new life (3:18 - 4:1):
(Contd. from part 4)
We subsequently come to the master-slave relationship which, clearly, was centuries-old, poor, and fault-plagued. The commandment strives to raise the stature of slaves, such that they become equal, believing, brothers and sisters, without abandoning their assigned posts in the work force.
Here again, St. Paul starts with the slaves - the burden falls upon their shoulders to change their masters' perspective towards them. The master-slave relationship remains valid, but only in the flesh; since we all have only one Master in heaven, Who will judge each one of us according to his/her deeds. It is thus incumbent on the slaves to obey their masters, but in conformance with a new understanding. Their motivation should neither be fear, humiliation, nor "with eye-service, as men-pleasers;" rather, "in sincerity of heart, fearing God." Furthermore, work should not be a mechanical process, performed simply for people's satisfaction, rather, it should be done "heartily" and "as to the Lord," since the slave is now "God's," and not "the master's," servant. How great indeed is the honor which the slave has now reaped by transitioning to "serve the Lord Christ," from Whom he "will receive the reward of the [eternal] inheritance!" At the same time, the slave's master, like the slave, is also subject to the Judgment of God. If, despite their obedience and Christian behavior, slaves are nevertheless oppressed or treated unfairly, God's absolute and lasting justice is such that the perpetrator "... who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality." Conversely, masters - who are also believers - are required to be "just and fair" when treating their slaves, and to change the old ways which they had inherited from the hierarchical society. St. Paul goes on to remind masters that they, too, have "a Master in heaven," Who is a just, impartial, God, and Who will resist oppression; falling into the hands of our living God is indeed a fearful prospect!
Christianity never instigated a revolution aimed at liberating slaves; rather, it changed the nature of the relationship between worker and master. All were rendered brothers and servants of God through the Faith(1); for both sides, God became the Master. St. Paul referred to Onesimus, the runaway slave, as his son "whom I have begotten while in my chains"; he returned him to Philemon, his previous master, "no longer as a slave but more than a slave - a beloved brother ..." (Philemon 10, 16) Faith in Christ has thus eliminated the barriers between them, unified them, and rendered each one of them complementary to the other. The hierarchical society thus remained, but with honor and equal rights for all. Consequently, natural evolution of life in a Christian society eliminated the practice of humans enslaving one another.
11. Exhorting the Church to pray for the service and for evangelizing others (4:2-6):
In his epistle's conclusion, St. Paul exhorts Colossian believers to persist in unceasing prayers ("... men always ought to pray and not lose heart ..." (Luke 18:1) and "... pray without ceasing ..." (1 Thes. 5:17)), and to pray enthusiastically "... being vigilant in it with thanksgiving ..." He emphasizes thanksgiving supported by their new faith in Christ, as well as prayers for St. Paul and the servants accompanying him - not prayers for himself, his upcoming trial, or his release from prison - rather, for the service, so that the Lord "would open to us a door for the word," to preach salvation through Christ, for Whose sake St. Paul was being tried. This, St. Paul said, while dwelling "in his own rented house" (Acts 28:30), and a permanently chained prisoner ("... ambassador in chains ..." (Eph. 6:20)) Nevertheless, those circumstances did not dissuade him from evangelizing and presenting the Person of Christ "... as I ought to speak." (Also "... for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16)) A true servant does not seek rest from his toil, rather, he seeks the strength supporting his labor in realizing the goals of the service.
St. Paul places on the shoulders of "ordinary" believers the responsibility of evangelizing to those surrounding them; How? by behaving wisely when dealing with non-believers, presenting to them the beautiful face of Christ, and "redeeming the time," in other words, using the short time granted to them in attracting others to the message of salvation, by whatever means possible. He finally exhorts them to watch their speech at all times, meticulously choosing their words, through the work of the grace of God, hence "seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" desiring to learn about the Faith.
12. Concluding salutations, instructions and petitions (4:7-18):
Now that he is writing his epistle's concluding remarks, St. Paul reverts to a personal note, informing the Colossians about his news, and pointing out that Tychicus, "a beloved brother, a faithful minister, a fellow servant in the Lord", the bearer of the epistle, will elaborate to them all the details pertaining to his personal life, his service, and his imprisonment. Accompanied by Onesimus, "a faithful and beloved brother," Tychicus would also know their circumstances and comfort their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Onesimus, a Colossian, had attached himself to St. Paul in the Roman prison, and was very helpful in the service.
+ St. Paul subsequently sends greetings from his Roman co-servant Aristarchus(2), a Macedonian hailing from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4 and 27:2)
+ He then conveys the greetings of Mark "the cousin of Barnabas," who was a close friend of St. Peter's ("Mark my son" (1 Peter 5:13)), and who had consulted Peter, as an eye witness, when he authored his gospel. We know that Mark had accompanied Sts. Paul and Barnabas in St. Paul's first evangelical journey (Acts 13:5); he nevertheless parted from them halfway - which displeased Paul. Consequently, Paul rejected Barnabas' request that Mark accompany them on their second journey; this led to their separation, and Barnabas took Mark with him (Acts 15:36-40). However, Mark was with St. Paul in prison, and Paul looked favorably upon him ("... he is useful to me for ministry ..." (2 Tim. 4:11 and Philemon 24)); hence, their previous disagreement was not personal, rather, it pertained to the ministry. Paul even goes further, stating his confidence in Mark, and instructing the Colossians to welcome him: "... about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him ..."
+ Next on St. Paul's list is "Jesus who is called Justus" - a Jew, like Mark; these were St. Paul's "only fellow workers for the kingdom of God," from whose presence he derived comfort and consolation in difficult times, as well as support for enduring the travails associated with his imprisonment and, finally, encouragement for persevering in the evangelical service without losing heart.
+ He then sends greetings from Epaphras, "who is one of you," (since he was a servant from the Colossian Church, 1:7); St. Paul describes him as a faithful servant of Christ, and testifies for his service to the Church of Ephesus, saying, "... always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis." (He was serving all three Churches.)
+ On St. Paul's list of honor we also find "Luke the beloved physician," who stayed by Paul's side until his last hour: "Only Luke is with me." (2 Tim. 4:11) Luke was not only Paul's personal physician, but he was also a spiritual servant, and a faithful recorder of all St. Paul's evangelical journeys, as we see in the "Acts."
+ Demas' greetings follow, with no descriptions or attributes. However, Paul does mention that Demas abandoned him in his last days, "....having loved this present world...." (2 Tim. 4:10) We wonder whether he returned eventually to the right path, or whether he sold out completely to the world ...?
+ St. Paul then sends his salutations to the brethren of the Church of Laodicea especially to Nymphas who, apparently, looked after all church matters; it also seems that the Church assembled in his house - which was the custom for the Church in its early days, examples being Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3,5 and 1 Cor. 16:19), and the house of Philemon (Philemon 2). Similarly, every believer's house should be a church of Jesus Christ.
+ St. Paul request that this letter be read in the Church of Laodicea. He also asks the Colossians to read the Laodicean's letter. What about the latter? It is likely that either the Laodicean letter was lost, or that it was the same letter addressed to the Ephesians - he simply left the church's name blank, so the name would be added later; hence, although the letters would seem to be addressed to specific churches, the essence, to the Ephesians and the Laodiceans, would be the same.
+ In his closing exhortations, St. Paul asks the Church to relay an important request to Archippus, to "take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." Possibly, that was a way to encourage and urge him to remain committed to that which he had accepted, and not to turn back from completing it for Christ's sake.
+ In the last line, where he gives his salutation, Paul signs the letter which he had dictated to Tychicus(3): "This salutation by my own hand - Paul." (Similarly in 1 Cor. 16:21, Gal. 6:11 and 2 Thes. 3:17)
+ Also in his concluding remarks, St. Paul asks them to "Remember my chains;" he had referred several times previously to his imprisonment for Christ's sake: "the prisoner of Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:1), "the prisoner of the Lord" (Eph. 4:1), "an ambassador in chains" (Eph. 6:20) and "a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Philemon 9). The purpose for his mentioning his chains is neither to elicit their sympathy, nor to remind them of his imprisonment, rather, to have them pray, so that the Lord may grant that he testify, despite his shackles, which he perceived to be analogous to our Lord's passion: "for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Gal. 6:17), to be a source of his joy: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,...." (Col. 1:24), and to be a source of encouragement for his co-servants to be bolder: "so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." (Phil. 1:13, 14)
+ St. Paul's last word is a typical prayer, from a servant to his church: "Grace [the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit] be with you. Amen." Therein lies the secret of empowerment and victory: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness ... For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:9, 10) This is how St. Paul customarily concludes his epistles, surrendering the souls of churches' believers to the care of God's grace, which gives us sufficiency in everything.
(1) St. Paul took pride in being "a bondservant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10) and a "prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3:1, 2 Tim. 1:8 and Philemon 1 & 9). He referred to those who served with him as "bondservants of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:7 and 4:7 & 12). He even did not hesitate to say that he and his brethren were "bondservants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5) to those whom they served.
(2) In Acts we read that he was with St. Paul in Ephesus when Demetrius, the silversmith who made silver shrines for Diana, incited riots against Paul and his companions, and the crowds "rushed into the theatre with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions." (Acts 19:23-36) Those travel companions prevented Paul, for his safety, from going in to the people. We encounter Aristarchus again, when the vessel set sail, with St. Paul aboard, towards the Roman prison (Acts 27:2); there he became Paul's servant and prison companion. Aristarchus is thus the companion in times of hardship.
(3) Phoebe, servant of the Church in Cenchrea, wrote the epistle to the Romans which was also written, in its latter parts, by Tertius (Rom. 16:22), Tychicus wrote also the epistle to the Ephesians, Epaphroditus wrote the epistle to the Philippians, and Onesimus wrote the epistle to Philemon.