Letter to the Colossians 4:1-18

4  You masters, treat your slaves in a righteous and fair way, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.+  Persevere in prayer,+ remaining awake in it with thanksgiving.+  At the same time, pray also for us,+ that God may open a door for the word so that we can declare the sacred secret about the Christ, for which I am in prison bonds,+  and that I may proclaim it as clearly as I ought to.  Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside, making the best use of your time.+  Let your words always be gracious, seasoned with salt,+ so that you will know how you should answer each person.+  Tychʹi·cus,+ my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I am sending him to you so that you will know how we are and that he may comfort your hearts.  He is coming along with O·nesʹi·mus,+ my faithful and beloved brother, who is from among you; they will tell you all the things happening here. 10  Ar·is·tarʹchus,+ my fellow captive, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark,+ the cousin of Barʹna·bas+ (concerning whom you received instructions to welcome him+ if he comes to you), 11  and Jesus who is called Justus, who are of those circumcised. Only these are my fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, and they have become a source of great comfort to me. 12  Epʹa·phras,+ a slave of Christ Jesus who is from among you, sends you his greetings. He is always exerting himself in your behalf in his prayers, so that you may finally stand complete and with firm conviction in all the will of God. 13  For I bear him witness that he makes great efforts in your behalf and in behalf of those in La·o·di·ceʹa and Hi·e·rapʹo·lis. 14  Luke,+ the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and so does Deʹmas.+ 15  Give my greetings to the brothers in La·o·di·ceʹa and to Nymʹpha and to the congregation at her house.+ 16  And when this letter has been read among you, arrange for it also to be read+ in the congregation of the La·o·di·ceʹans and for you also to read the one from La·o·di·ceʹa. 17  Also, tell Ar·chipʹpus:+ “Pay attention to the ministry that you accepted in the Lord, in order to fulfill it.” 18  Here is my greeting, Paul’s, in my own hand.+ Keep my prison bonds+ in mind. The undeserved kindness be with you.

Footnotes

Study Notes

making the best use of your time: Lit., “buying out the appointed time.” This expression also appears at Col 4:5. To apply this counsel requires sacrifice, for it implies the need to buy the time from other pursuits, exchanging nonessential activities for spiritual ones. Paul was not speaking of time in a general sense but, rather, of a particular period of time, or season. The Ephesian Christians were then enjoying a season of favor, during which they had a measure of freedom to carry out their Christian ministry. Paul urged them not to squander that favorable opportunity but to take advantage of it, to make the best possible use of the time.

those on the outside: That is, those who are outside the spiritual brotherhood that unites all of Christ’s true followers. (Mt 23:8; compare 1Co 5:12.) Paul urges Christians to act wisely because such outsiders would tend to scrutinize this spiritual family to see whether its members lived up to the standards they claimed to uphold.

making the best use of your time: Lit., “buying out the appointed time.” Paul uses the same expression at Eph 5:16 (see study note). Paul appears to be making a similar point in both instances, for he wrote this letter and the one to the Ephesians about the same time.​—Eph 6:21, 22; Col 4:7-9.

salt: A mineral used for preserving and flavoring food. In this context, Jesus likely focused on the preserving quality of salt; his disciples could help others to avoid spiritual and moral decay.

Have salt in yourselves: Jesus evidently here uses “salt” to refer to the quality in Christians that causes them to do and say things that are in good taste, considerate, and wholesome and that tend toward preserving the lives of others. The apostle Paul uses “salt” in a similar way at Col 4:6. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of his apostles’ arguments about who would be the greatest. Figurative salt makes what a person says easier for others to accept and can thus help to preserve peace.

gracious: The Greek word khaʹris, generally used in the Scriptures to describe God’s undeserved kindness, has a broad range of meanings. Here Paul uses it to convey the idea of speech that is beneficial, kind, appealing, even charming. (Compare Eph 4:29, where khaʹris is rendered “beneficial.”) The same word is rendered “gracious” at Lu 4:22 regarding Jesus’ speech in his hometown of Nazareth. (Compare Ps 45:2 [44:3, LXX], where the Septuagint uses khaʹris to describe the gracious speech of the Messianic King.) A Christian’s words should always be beneficial, kind, appealing, even charming. Paul thus suggests that gracious speech is not to be reserved for selected individuals or special occasions; rather, it is to be a Christian’s habit.

seasoned with salt: Salt is mentioned several times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, in both a literal and a figurative sense. These occurrences help to explain what Paul means. (See study notes on Mt 5:13; Mr 9:50.) Paul seems to be referring to the ability of salt to enhance the taste of food, add flavor, and act as a preservative. So he is urging Christians to use speech that is “seasoned” to make it palatable as they convey a message that can help to preserve the life of the hearer.

Tychicus: A Christian minister from the province of Asia, whose service Paul greatly valued. (Ac 20:2-4) Paul entrusted Tychicus with delivering letters to the Colossians, to Philemon of the Colossian congregation, and to the Ephesians. Tychicus was more than a courier. His assignment included relating to the congregations “all the news about” Paul himself, likely including details about Paul’s imprisonment, his condition, and his needs. Paul knew that this “beloved brother and faithful minister” would do so in a way that would comfort the hearts of his hearers and would reinforce the vital teachings in Paul’s inspired message. (Col 4:8, 9; see also Eph 6:21, 22.) After Paul was released from prison, he contemplated sending Tychicus to Crete. (Tit 3:12) And when Paul was imprisoned in Rome for the second time, he sent Tychicus to Ephesus.​—2Ti 4:12.

Onesimus: This is the same Onesimus who is the principal subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon. Onesimus was a runaway slave who had served Philemon, a Christian in Colossae. Onesimus may have stolen from his master before fleeing to Rome. (Phm 18) While in Rome, he became a Christian, a beloved spiritual child of the apostle Paul. (Phm 10) Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to his master in Colossae, accompanying Tychicus, who delivered Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians. (Eph 6:21, 22; Col 4:7, 8) Perhaps Onesimus delivered the letter to Philemon. Onesimus may have made the long journey to Colossae together with Tychicus so as not to be seized by the Roman authorities, who were on the lookout for runaway slaves. Paul asks the congregation to receive Onesimus, a “faithful and beloved brother.”

Mark: From the Latin name Marcus. Mark was the Roman surname of the “John” mentioned at Ac 12:12. His mother was Mary, an early disciple who lived in Jerusalem. John Mark was “the cousin of Barnabas” (Col 4:10), with whom he traveled. Mark also traveled with Paul and other early Christian missionaries. (Ac 12:25; 13:5, 13; 2Ti 4:11) Although the Gospel nowhere specifies who wrote it, writers of the second and third centuries C.E. ascribe this Gospel to Mark.

John who was called Mark: One of Jesus’ disciples, “the cousin of Barnabas” (Col 4:10), and the writer of the Gospel of Mark. (See study note on Mr Title.) The English name John is the equivalent of the Hebrew name Jehohanan or Johanan, which means “Jehovah Has Shown Favor; Jehovah Has Been Gracious.” At Ac 13:5, 13, this disciple is simply called John. However, here and at Ac 12:25; 15:37, his Roman surname, Mark, is also given. Elsewhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures, he is referred to simply as Mark.​—Col 4:10; 2Ti 4:11; Phm 24; 1Pe 5:13.

a source of great comfort: Or “a strengthening aid.” In the preceding verses, Paul mentions a number of brothers who had helped him during his imprisonment in Rome. (Col 4:7-11) He describes them as “a source of great comfort,” which renders a Greek word that is frequently used in ancient literature and inscriptions but that appears only here in the Christian Greek Scriptures. One reference work explains that this word and various forms of it were especially used as medical terms, in the sense of alleviating symptoms of an illness. The same reference adds: “Perhaps owing to this usage, the idea of consolation, comfort, is on the whole predominant in the word.” In the case of Paul, the brothers mentioned earlier apparently gave him verbal solace and encouragement as well as assistance in basic, practical matters.​—Pr 17:17.

Mark: Also called John at Ac 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13. (See study note on Mr Title; Ac 12:12.) A disagreement about bringing Mark on Paul’s second missionary tour (c. 49-52 C.E.) led to “a sharp burst of anger” between Paul and Barnabas, who then went their separate ways. (Ac 15:37-39) However, Paul mentions Barnabas in a positive light at 1Co 9:6, which suggests that the two men had already reconciled by the time Paul wrote to the Colossians. That Mark was with Paul in Rome during this first imprisonment helps to show Paul’s increased regard for him. Paul even calls Mark “a source of great comfort to me.” (See study note on Col 4:11.) Perhaps while visiting Paul in Rome, Mark wrote the Gospel account that bears his name.​—See also “Introduction to Mark.”

the cousin of Barnabas: Paul here mentions that Mark is “the cousin of Barnabas,” a family relationship that may have intensified the disagreement mentioned at Ac 15:37-39. (See study note on Mark in this verse.) This is the only occurrence of the word “cousin” (a·ne·psi·osʹ) in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Its primary meaning is “first cousin,” but in a broader sense, it could refer to any cousin.

those circumcised: That is, circumcised Jewish Christians. The brothers whom Paul here mentions by name had come to his aid. (See study note on a source of great comfort in this verse.) They likely did not hesitate to associate with Christians of a non-Jewish background, and they must gladly have shared with Paul in preaching to non-Jews.​—Ro 11:13; Ga 1:16; 2:11-14.

a source of great comfort: Or “a strengthening aid.” In the preceding verses, Paul mentions a number of brothers who had helped him during his imprisonment in Rome. (Col 4:7-11) He describes them as “a source of great comfort,” which renders a Greek word that is frequently used in ancient literature and inscriptions but that appears only here in the Christian Greek Scriptures. One reference work explains that this word and various forms of it were especially used as medical terms, in the sense of alleviating symptoms of an illness. The same reference adds: “Perhaps owing to this usage, the idea of consolation, comfort, is on the whole predominant in the word.” In the case of Paul, the brothers mentioned earlier apparently gave him verbal solace and encouragement as well as assistance in basic, practical matters.​—Pr 17:17.

Exert yourselves vigorously: Or “Keep on struggling.” Jesus’ admonition emphasizes the need for taking whole-souled action in order to get in through the narrow door. For this context, various reference works have suggested such renderings as “Exert maximum effort; Make every effort.” The Greek verb a·go·niʹzo·mai is related to the Greek noun a·gonʹ, which was often used to refer to athletic contests. At Heb 12:1, this noun is used figuratively for the Christian “race” for life. It is also used in the more general sense of a “struggle” (Php 1:30; Col 2:1) or a “fight” (1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 4:7). Forms of the Greek verb used at Lu 13:24 are rendered “competing in a contest” (1Co 9:25), “exerting [oneself]” (Col 1:29; 4:12; 1Ti 4:10), and “fight” (1Ti 6:12). Because the background of this expression is connected with competition in the athletic games, some have suggested that the effort Jesus encouraged may be compared to an athlete’s exerting himself vigorously with all his power to win the prize, straining every nerve, as it were.

everyone competing in a contest: Or “every athlete.” The Greek verb used here is related to a noun that was often used to refer to athletic contests. At Heb 12:1, this noun is used figuratively for the Christian “race” for life. The same noun is used in the more general sense of a “struggle” (Php 1:30; Col 2:1) or a “fight” (1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 4:7). Forms of the Greek verb used here at 1Co 9:25 are rendered “exert yourselves vigorously” (Lu 13:24), “exerting [oneself]” (Col 1:29; 4:12; 1Ti 4:10), and “fight” (1Ti 6:12).​—See study note on Lu 13:24.

He is always exerting himself: The Greek verb a·go·niʹzo·mai, here rendered “exerting himself,” is related to the Greek noun a·gonʹ, which was often used to refer to athletic contests. (See study notes on Lu 13:24; 1Co 9:25.) Just as an athlete in the ancient games exerted himself to reach a goal or a finish line, Epaphras was earnestly and intensely praying for his brothers and sisters in Colossae. Apparently, Epaphras had helped to establish the congregation there and thus knew well the specific needs of his fellow believers in the area. (Col 1:7; 4:13) Both he and Paul wanted them to stand complete, or remain mature, full-grown Christians, and keep their hope firm.​—Col 1:5; 2:6-10.

Luke: The Greek form of the name is Lou·kasʹ, from the Latin name Lucas. Luke, the writer of this Gospel and of Acts of Apostles, was a physician and a faithful companion to the apostle Paul. (Col 4:14; see also “Introduction to Luke.”) Because of his Greek name and his style of writing, some have claimed that Luke was not a Jew. Also, at Col 4:10-14, Paul first speaks of “those circumcised” and later mentions Luke. However, that claim runs contrary to the indication at Ro 3:1, 2, which says that the Jews “were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” Therefore, Luke may have been a Greek-speaking Jew with a Greek name.

Luke: Luke is mentioned by name three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, in each case by the apostle Paul. (2Ti 4:11; Phm 24) Luke was probably a Greek-speaking Jew who became a Christian likely sometime after Pentecost 33 C.E. He wrote the Gospel bearing his name and then the book of Acts. (See study note on Lu Title.) He accompanied Paul during the apostle’s second and third missionary journeys. And he was with him when the apostle was imprisoned for two years in Caesarea. He traveled with Paul to Rome when Paul was first imprisoned there. That is when Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians. Luke was again with Paul during the apostle’s final imprisonment, which apparently led to Paul’s martyrdom.​—2Ti 4:11.

the beloved physician: This is the only verse that directly mentions Luke’s profession. Dynamic though Paul was, he was not immune to physical illness (Ga 4:13); thus, it may have been an added comfort to have Luke as his companion. Christians in Colossae were likely familiar with professional physicians, as there were several medical schools in the area.

Demas: Paul mentions this fellow worker in his letter to Philemon as well. (Phm 24) Only a few years later, however, Paul was imprisoned in Rome for the second time. From there, he wrote: “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things”; Demas had returned to Thessalonica, perhaps his hometown.​—2Ti 4:10.

the congregation that is in their house: The first-century believers often met together in private homes. (Ro 16:3, 5; Col 4:15; Phm 2) The Greek word for “congregation” (ek·kle·siʹa) refers to a group of people gathered together for a common purpose. (1Co 12:28; 2Co 1:1) Some Bibles use “church” to render the Greek word ek·kle·siʹa in this and other verses. However, since many think of a church as a building used for religious services rather than as a group of people engaging in worship, the rendering “congregation” is more accurate.

to the congregation at her house: See study note on 1Co 16:19.

In my letter I wrote you: Paul is clearly referring to an earlier letter that he wrote to the Corinthians, one that we do not possess today. God apparently chose not to preserve the earlier letter, possibly because it was essential only to those to whom it was addressed.​—See study note on 1Co 1:2.

read the one from Laodicea: Paul here refers to a letter he wrote to the Laodicean congregation, a letter that we do not possess today. (Compare study note on 1Co 5:9.) Reference to this letter indicates that Paul wrote letters in addition to those that became part of the inspired Bible text. The letter mentioned here may have repeated points adequately covered in canonical letters. At any rate, Paul’s statement here reveals that important letters, such as Paul’s, were circulated among the first-century congregations for public reading. (1Th 5:27) There is in existence an apocryphal letter purporting to be from Paul to the Laodiceans that was likely written about the fourth century C.E. However, it was never considered canonical by the ancient congregations.​—See Glossary, “Canon (Bible canon).”

treasure in earthen vessels: Or “treasure in jars of clay.” The Scriptures often compare humans to earthen jars. (Job 10:9; Ps 31:12) In Paul’s day, there were mounds of broken vessels near ancient harbors or market areas. These vessels had been used to transport food or liquids​—wine, grain, oil​—and even silver and gold coins. Often, the vessels broke or were discarded once the more valuable contents had been delivered. Although the clay vessels were inexpensive, they were useful in getting valuable goods to their destinations. Such vessels were also used to preserve important items. (Jer 32:13-15) One example is the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were preserved in jars in the Qumran area. The “treasure” referred to in Paul’s illustration is the God-given commission, or ministry, to preach the life-giving message of God’s Kingdom. (Mt 13:44; 2Co 4:1, 2, 5) The earthen vessels are the frail humans to whom Jehovah has entrusted this treasure. Although they are ordinary people whose imperfect bodies have limitations, God uses them to get the “treasure” to its destination.

Archippus: This appears to be the same Archippus whom Paul calls “our fellow soldier” in his letter to Philemon. Paul addresses that short letter “to Philemon . . . , to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus,” as well as to the congregation in Philemon’s house. (Phm 1, 2) Many Bible scholars suggest that those three Christians may have been family members in the same household. This conclusion seems reasonable, although it cannot be proved. Other than the fact that Archippus accepted a ministry, the Bible reveals little about him. Paul was not necessarily correcting him when he told him to “pay attention to the ministry.” Paul wanted all Christians to cherish and fulfill their ministry.​—Compare study note on 2Co 4:7.

Here is my greeting . . . in my own hand: Paul writes the concluding greeting in his own hand, apparently to confirm the authenticity of the letter. He included similar greetings at the end of some of his other letters, which likely indicates that he often used a secretary to write his letters.​—1Co 16:21; 2Th 3:17.

Media

A Physician and Some of His Equipment
A Physician and Some of His Equipment

The artifacts shown in the photo (left) are just some of the medical equipment used by physicians in Roman times. Some physicians worked with high-quality tools like scalpels, scissors, and forceps. They also used medicines from plant matter, including antiseptic substances like wine and vinegar. (Compare Lu 10:34.) Medical practices were not regulated by the State. While some physicians were professionals​—skilled at treating diseases or performing surgery​—others fraudulently pretended to be doctors. A physician’s income and social standing may have been determined by his patients. Some doctors worked exclusively for a wealthy person or family. Others were doctors for a village, a city, or a military hospital. Some physicians worked at home, whereas others visited patients in their homes. “The beloved physician” Luke traveled with Paul during some of the apostle’s missionary journeys.​—Col 4:14.

Paul’s Prison Bonds While He Was Under House Arrest
Paul’s Prison Bonds While He Was Under House Arrest

During his first imprisonment in Rome, the apostle Paul was permitted to live under guard in a rented house. (Ac 28:16, 30) Roman guards typically restrained prisoners with chains. The prisoner’s right wrist was usually chained to the guard’s left wrist. This kept the guard’s right hand free. Paul referred to his chains, bonds, and imprisonment in most of the inspired letters that he wrote during his house arrest in Rome.​—Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Php 1:7, 13, 14, 17; Col 4:3, 18; Phm 1, 9, 10, 13.