Explore the Bible Series
May 22, 2011
Background Passage: Colossians 3:18-4:18
Lesson Passage: Colossians 3:23-25; 4:2-13, 17
I always have trouble with goodbyes, especially when the goodbye marks some kind of finality to a relationship. Just last week, I said my farewells to my classes at the college. Over a semester or two, I grow attached to many of my students, and the end of the academic year means these relationships change. Many of the young people I will never see again. They move on to other experiences and responsibilities, and, I, of course, remain at the college. Thankfully, I hear, on occasion, from former students, and I always enjoy getting reacquainted. Yet, the relationship is never the same.
On another level, I think of my dear grandmother, Anna Tullock. During the last years of her life, I never left her that I didn’t wonder if I would ever see her again. Eventually, she grew ill, and she died, in 1991. I will never forget seeing her standing at the window, waving to my family when we drove home from Saint Louis. Always, I fought back tears as we drove from her home – a really hard goodbye.
Paul had to know that he neared the end of his life as he endured his imprisonment in Rome. He did not personally know the people in Colossae, but he clearly felt a deep emotional bond with these folk. Circumstances in Colossae troubled Paul, but, more importantly, he wanted to express his love and thanksgiving for people who supported and prayed for him. I sense a profound sadness in Paul, a sadness born of an awareness that he might never see these people, on this side of eternity. I have some meager understanding of his emotions. Week after week, for nearly seven years, I have written these outlines. Occasionally, I hear from folks that tell me they pray for the work, folks I will never get to meet. Though I have little prospect of personal contact, I treasure these long-distance relationships. What lesson does this epistle hold for us? In addition to the gracious descriptions of the glory of Christ and his many admonitions to fellow Christians, Paul was, I think, saying his goodbyes. He wanted to end his life with a sweet awareness of affection toward others.
Dr. Curtis Vaughan provides a helpful introduction to our lesson passage.
I. Christ’s Lordship and Close Personal Relationships (3:18-4:1)
A. The duty of wives (v. 18): In Paul’s theological understanding, wives were to submit to their husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. H.C.G. Moule believed “submit” denoted loyalty, fidelity to the husband. Obedience to this injunction must occur in the context of the lordship of Christ; that is, the wife is not constrained to submit to a husband who requires that she disobey the Lord.
B. The duty of husbands (v. 19): Husbands were to love their wives, refusing to treat them harshly (Greek word could be translated “act bitterly”).
C. The duty of children (v. 20): The verb implies a willingness to listen to and obey one’s parents.
D. The duty of fathers (v. 21): Pal singled out fathers in this verse, but surely the admonition allies to mothers as well. Parental harshness can break the spirit of a child.
E. The duty of slaves (vv. 22-23): Paul enjoined slaves to obey their masters in all things, in sincerity of heart, in the fear of the Lord. The apostle seemed particularly concerned about slaves obeying their masters, even if the master was not present.
F. The duty of masters (4:1): Paul enjoined masters to treat their slaves justly and fairly. It seems difficult to reconcile this command with the institution of slavery, the buying and selling of human beings, like livestock. Perhaps Paul simply meant to make the best of bad situations. Master, Paul reminded, must recall that they served Christ, a loving, gracious Master.
II. Final Injunctions (4:2-6)
A. “Continue steadfastly in prayer” (vv. 2-4): This command builds on the previous paragraph. Believers must carry out their relational responsibilities in the context of fervent prayer and thanksgiving. In particular, Paul hoped the Colossians would pray for his continued missionary labors. Note that the apostle’s concern centered, not on eloquence, but on the faithfulness and manner of his preaching.
B. “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders” (vv. 5-6): Paul had great concern for the witness of the Colossian church. Under the threat of persecution and false teaching, the church may have wavered in public conduct. Some years ago, I pastured a church with some serious relational problems with the larger community. For quite some time, it seemed very where I went, someone would tell me another sorted story of misbehavior of church members. This situation proved most disheartening, and it made evangelism very difficult. Paul did not want this to happen in Colossae, and he encouraged his readers to watch their speech, in particular.
III. Finally Greetings from Paul’s Companions (4:7-18)
A. Tychicus (vv. 7-8): A native of Asia Minor, Tychicus, according to Paul’s plan, carried this epistle to Colossae. He accompanied the apostle on much of the Third Missionary Journey, and, on occasion, carried out special assignments for Paul (See II Timothy 4:12 and Titus 3:12). An ancient church tradition holds that Tychicus died a martyr.
B. Onesimus (v. 9): Paul called him “a faithful and beloved brother.” Apparently a native of Colossae, Onesimus escaped from his master, Philemon, stealing some of his master’s possessions. As we will see in next week’s lesson, Paul sent Onesimus back to Colossae, to face Philemon.
C. Aristarchus (v. 10): This man’s name appears in the Acts narrative as a companion of Paul, at Ephesus, Jerusalem, and Rome. Church tradition indicates that Nero executed Aristarchus.
D. Mark (v. 10): Very early convert to Christianity, Mark’s family housed a portion of the church, in their home, in Jerusalem. At one point, Paul and Mark were estranged because of the younger man’s unfaithfulness during the First Missionary Journey. Barnabas, Mark’s kinsman, continued to preach the gospel. Apparently, Mark and Paul had reconciled, and Paul warmly commended his friend. Many believe the Gospel of Mark reflects the preaching of the Apostle Peter, another close friend of this young man.
E. Jesus who is called Justus (v. 11): Sadly, we know nothing of this man. These men, mentioned first in Paul’s list, were the only Jewish/Christians who remained faithful to the apostle.
F. Epaphas (vv. 12-13): Paul included a particular commendation for Epaphas. This native of Colossae struggled manfully in his prayers for the church, asking that his friends might continue to mature in the faith and remain assured of the will of God. Apparently, Epaphas also had strong ties with the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis, cities near Colossae.
G. Luke (v. 14): Some early church leaders believed Luke came from Antioch, and was from Greek lineage. Obviously, this ancient physician possessed an impressive educational background, and conservative scholars believe he penned the Gospel bearing his name and the Acts of the Apostles.
H. Demas (v. 14): At one point, this man served faithfully as an assistant to Paul; however, in time, he abandoned the work and perhaps apostatized from the faith (See II Timothy 4:10).
I. Nympha (vv. 15-16): Bible scholars remain somewhat uncertain about this person. Probably, this name refers to woman, from Laodicea, who hosted a church group, in her home. Paul greeted her affectionately, and he instructed his friends to read this letter, in Laodicea.
J. Archippus (v. 17): Some think he was the son of Philemon, but this cannot be proven. Evidently, he taught in the church at Colossae. Paul concluded the epistle with a handwritten signature.