Bible Month Magazine Bible Month Magazine- Colossians - Page 14

14 15 Week 4 Colossians 3:18-4:18 Professor James D. G. Dunn Household Rules (3:18-4:1) Household rules are a characteristic fea- ture of the later New Testament writings (cf. Eph. 5:22-6:9 and 1 Pet. 2:18-3:7), probably reflecting or based on codes of ‘household management’ that were widely followed. Because the earliest churches usually met in members’ houses, it was important that such meetings were beyond suspicion. So such rules were important, not only for good order in Christian meet- ings, but also for the reputation which such meetings would attract. It is important to note that the first to be addressed are wives, not women generally, and not husbands. Characteristic of the time, wives were regarded as subordinate to their husbands; in Roman law the ‘father of the family’ (paterfamilias) had absolute power over the other members of the family. Here however, we should note the Christian addition – ‘as is fitting in the Lord’ (3:18). The husbands’ corresponding duty is to love their wives, where the word ‘love’ is the distinctively Christian term (agapan) used particularly of Jesus’ self-giving on the cross. Such love is never ‘harsh’ (3:19). Children were technically the property of the father, and were in fact no better off than a slave (as Paul noted in Gal. 4:1-7). So it is unsurprising that the exhortation to children (3:20) is the same as the exhorta- tion to slaves (3:22), except that obedience is called for in relation to both parents. The equivalent exhortation to the fathers is simply that they should not ‘provoke’ their children, a surprisingly negative summary of paternal responsibility (3:21). It is also noteworthy that slaves are directly addressed, the assumption being that the household slaves would be in the congre- gation addressed by Paul. The word used for their masters is the same as that used for Christ (‘lord’); hence the qualification – ‘your earthly masters’; their responsibility to earthly masters does not distract from their loyalty to Christ (3:22). They are to perform their role wholeheart- edly, including when no one is watching them. Their motivation: that they are doing it for the Lord (3:23). Their primary relation is not with their masters but with the Lord, and they can be assured that they are his heirs. Under Roman law slaves could not inherit anything, so Paul’s reassurance was a reminder of their higher status in God’s eyes (3:24). The assurance of God’s impar- tiality – wrongdoers, whatever their status, will be paid back for the wrongs they have done (3:25) – must have been tremendous- ly reassuring in a society where as many as 50 per cent were slaves. Also notice the final counsel to masters, in effect reminding them that they too have obligations to their slaves. They were not mere chattels to be disposed of as their owners chose, but should be treated ‘justly and fairly’. Even, or especially, hard-nosed masters should remember that before God they too were but slaves (4:1). PREACHING POINTS Do the ‘household rules’ still provide a good model for today? with the confidence and assurance that their resources in Christ are more than equal to the potential challenges (4:2). Colossians is one of the most ‘thankful’ documents in the New Testament (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2). Characteristic of Paul is the request that prayer should be for his missionary work. What he had in mind is well illustrated in Phil. 1:12-14. It is striking that he should see his imprisonment as an opportunity to share the gospel and to proclaim the ‘mystery’ whose unveiling was one of his primary responsibilities (1:25-27) (4:3-4). It is notable that the final exhortation is di- rected to the Colossian believers’ relations with their non-Christian neighbours and those they encountered at work and in the market place. The probably small group of believers in Colossae needed to be both circumspect in their dealings with others and to be ready to respond graciously when questions were raised about their own faith (4:5-6). The picture is clearly of a Christian group who did not shut themselves away from the world, but were thoroughly engaged in their community. PREACHING POINTS How would you characterize and illus- trate speech ‘seasoned with salt’ (4:6)? CONCLUSION (4:7-18) Concluding exhortations (4:2-6) Maintaining Communication (4:7-9) Paul regularly rounds off his letters with a sequence of exhortations. Here in Colos- sians, his first request is that they should be persistent in prayer. They should keep alert, not in a spirit of fear or anxiety, but Tychicus was one of Paul’s closest associ- ates, numbered behind only Timothy and Titus (Acts 20:4; Eph. 6:21; Tit. 3:12). More than 50 of Paul’s close associates and ‘fel- low-workers’ are mentioned in his letters, at least 10 of them women. The warmth of the reference (‘beloved brother’, ‘faithful servant’, ‘fellow slave in the Lord’) should not be missed (4:7). Likewise the reason for his mission to bring news how Timothy and he were faring; the personal bonds were important (4:8). The party being sent to Colossae included Onesimus, the principal subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon (Phm. 10) – a letter well worth reading at this point. The (former?) runaway slave is also counted a ‘faithful and beloved brother’ (4:9). Greetings (4:10-17) As usual Paul signs off with a sequence of greetings. Aristarchus, from Thessalonica, described as a ‘fellow worker’ in Phm. 24, was a close companion in Paul’s later journeys (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2) and now a ‘fellow prisoner’ (4:10). It is notable that Mark, the earlier ‘failure’ (Acts 15:38-39), was evidently redeemed later on (2 Tim. 4:11; Phm. 24) and possibly acted as a mediator between Paul and Peter (1 Pet. 5:13). The language suggests that relations were still somewhat strained (4:10). The reference to Jesus Justus reminds us that ‘Jesus’ (the Greek form of ‘Joshua’) was a common name among Jews. ‘Those of the circumcision’ may simply refer to Jews, or since the phrase is used elsewhere for Jews who were hostile to Paul’s mission (Gal. 2:12; Tit. 1:10), Paul is possibly reminding the Colossians that there were several of his fellow Jews who supported his Gentile mission (4:11). Epaphras was probably an evangelist of Colossae and the other cities of the Lycus valley (1:7-8; 4:13), who now shared Paul’s imprisonment (Phm. 23). His prayers for the Colossians were notably that they should ‘stand mature’ and determined to do what God wills (4:12). The image of his prayers as a struggle (‘wrestling’) should not be missed. For more on Laodicea see Rev. 3:14-22. Luke ‘the beloved physician’ was a com- panion to Paul on his missionary journeys, a ‘fellow worker’ (Phm. 24), and Paul’s final companion (2 Tim. 4:11). Demas was later regarded as a deserter, ‘in love with this present world’ (2 Tim. 4:10) (4:14). As was characteristic for the first two centuries, churches met in homes, where the house- holder, in this case Nympha, would be the congregation’s leader (4:15). The exchange of letters to different churches helps explain how the influence of Paul’s letters must have spread (4:16). Sadly, we do not know what the ‘ministry’ or ‘act of service’ was with which Archippus had been commissioned (4:17; cf. Phm. 2). PREACHING POINTS Of those greeted and greeting, who do you most identify with? A personal greeting (4:18) The brevity of the final note (cf. 1 Cor. 16:21-24; Gal. 6:11-18) and the plea to ‘Remember my chains’ suggests that Paul’s imprisonment was becoming more severe.