Complete the Task!
Background Scripture: Colossians 4:2-17.
Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27.
I would have preferred that the ecumenical committee responsible for choosing the scripture passages each week had included Colossians 3:18 to 4:1 for this week. This passage, dealing with the relationships between wives and husbands, parents and children, masters and slaves, is often skipped over in various lectionaries, perhaps so that the reader may not be troubled or confused by the content.
Paul appears to be advocating the subjugation of wives to their husbands and the acceptance of slavery. Are we to follow Paul on these matters?
First, we must remember that Paul believed the glorious return of Christ was imminent. Therefore, he counseled Christians not to get involved in changing their life situations, lest they not be ready for the day of the Lord.
If Paul had believed that the return of Christ was further “down the road,” would his views on these relationships have been different? We do not know. But his view on the second coming must have shaped his responses.
Second, Paul was not Jesus and therefore he was not infallible. Paul’s mission was not to change society, but to persuade people to accept Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. He knew he had to work within the societies of his times, just as we have to work within ours.
Many of the eventual changes in those societies were brought about by the efforts of Christians.
The remainder of Colossians 4 comprises his final instructions for the churches of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Their mission for Christ would be daunting without fervent prayer. They are to live prayerfully: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving” (4:2).
Paul is not just a prisoner who is also a Christian. He is a prisoner of Rome because he is a Christian. Furthermore he is not asking prayer for himself to survive the ordeal, but for his work and witness as a prisoner for Christ.
Next, he counsels the Colossians to “conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (4:6).
Paul then does a quick and interesting rundown on those fellow workers who have been carrying on the work of proclaiming the Good News. These are obviously fellow workers who are known to the Colossians. They have ministered to him in jail and are exemplary for placing themselves at risk.
First, he lists Tychicus, a kind of courier between the Christian communities who will bring the Colossians up to date on Paul’s situation beyond the information in the letter.
Next, Paul peaks of Onesimus, the runaway slave who ministered to him in prison and whom Paul is sending back to his master Philemon, but as a faithful brother in Christ, not a runaway slave (Philemon 1-22).
A Worker Redeemed
Paul also lists Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4), who was with Paul in Ephesus during the riot in the Temple of Diana (Acts 19:29). Now he is in Rome as a fellow prisoner (Acts 17:2).
Next is Mark. He began with Simon Peter, who called him his son (1 Peter 5:13). Mark later used the preaching of Peter as the basis for his Gospel. But Paul stopped traveling with Mark because, when the going got tough in the middle of a missionary journey, he hurriedly departed for home.
Mark’s actions after that break are unknown, but when Paul was imprisoned for the last time in Rome, Mark was with Paul and was helpful to him (Philemon 24:2; 2 Tim. 4:11).
In Col. 4:10, Paul instructs the church to welcome Mark, if he visits them. Paul lists a “Jesus who is called Justus” and Epaphras who acted as a kind of overseer for the churches of the area (Col. 1:7).
Mentioned also is “Luke, the beloved physician” who was with Paul at the end of his life (2 Tim. 4:11).
Mentioned next is Demas, the only co-worker who failed to be regarded as praiseworthy. Although mentioned as one of Paul’s “fellow laborers” in Philemon 24, he is simply listed as being with Paul in Col. 4:14, and in 2 Tim. 4:10, we are told: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”
He closes with mention of “Nympha and the church in her house” (4:15) and an admonition to tell Archippus: “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”
As Paul’s fellow workers, I think that is his message to us as well.