“Be zealous and thankful as you pray and include us in your prayers that God will open a door for the Word, providing preaching opportunities to reveal the secrets regarding Christ, for which I am now incarcerated, that I may declare it openly as I should. Be tactful and discreet in your relations with the outside world, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversations be seasoned with salt so that you may properly answer any question you are asked. You will learn of my present circumstances from Tychicus, our much loved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord’s work. My reason for sending him to you is that you might learn of our circumstances and be encouraged. He is accompanied by Onesimus, who is also a faithful and beloved brother. They will make known to you everything that is happening here.” (4:2-9, paraphrased)
Paul has refuted the Colossian heretics (1:15-2:23), described the nature of the Christian life (3:1-17), demonstrated how doctrine affects human relationships (3:18-4:2), and now closes his letter with some pragmatic advice (4:2-18).
Perseverance in prayer is the initial evidence of new life in Christ. To “steadfastly continue” (proskartereite) means “to devote oneself to, be diligent in, and make it habitual” (Acts. 1:14; 2:42 & 6:4). Paul realized people are easily distracted from prayer. It must be accompanied by “watchfulness” (gregorountes), which bespeaks disciplined, focused vigilance. Gregorountes is used metaphorically and means “to give constant attention to” or “to be wide awake” (I Thess. 5:6). True Believers are spiritually alive, ready to hear and obey what the Holy Spirit whispers in prayer. Jesus teaches His disciples to “watch and pray” and exhorts them “always to pray and not faint” (Mt. 26:41 & Lk. 18:1).
Once more in his letter, Paul mentions the importance of being grateful to God (1:3 & 12; 2:7; 3:15-17). Maintaining this spirit is a perpetual reminder of one’s dependence upon the Lord for everything. Gratitude is the essential attitude for effectual communication with the Lord.
Paul asks prayer “for us.” This includes Timothy, Epaphras, and other ministerial companions (Col. 1:1). Paul does not ask the Colossians to pray his prison doors would open, but that doors of opportunity would open to explain the mystery of Christ. Although he wants his freedom, his all-consuming desire is to see others liberated from the bondage of sin. He is undeterred by his circumstances, considering himself “an ambassador in bonds” (Eph. 6:20).
Paul’s prayer is later answered when his sentence is reduced to house arrest and he is permitted to preach the Word of God “with all confidence and without hindrance” as Luke records in the very last verse of Acts. The fact Paul is still a prisoner of Rome at this time makes this “open door” all the more miraculous.
Even in jail, doors of opportunity abound for Paul. He is in constant contact with visitors, Roman authorities, and soldiers. To make something “manifest” (phaneroso) means to make it known or disclose it. He requests prayer for preaching opportunities, but confesses his need for clarity to articulate the mystery of Christ (Eph. 6:19). This verse reminds twenty first century Believers to pray for their pastors, that they may exegete the Word of God clearly and accurately.
Although the term “walk” is frequently used literally in Pauline literature, it is employed figuratively more than thirty times regarding personal conduct. In light of the opposition of the Colossian heretics, Believers are exhorted to exercise wisdom and integrity in their interactions with unbelievers. Jesus cautions His disciples to be “wise as serpents yet harmless as doves” (Mt. 10:16).
What is learned in private prayer closets (4: 2-3) must be taken to the public streets (4: 5-6). Paul calls for discretion while living in a world of infidels, whom he describes as “those without.” Indeed, they are without God, without Christ, and without hope (Eph. 2:12). Those outside God’s kingdom may not read the Word of God, but they closely “read” those who do. Believers are “living epistles, known and read by all men” (II Cor. 3:2).
“Redeeming” (exagorazo) means to “buy up; to purchase completely; to make the most of.” The Holy Spirit prompts us to make wise use of every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel message (Rom. 13:11).
Paul shifts his thoughts from how we should live (4:5) to how we should communicate. Because how we talk with others reveals our true character, we are given instructions about conversing with unbelievers. “Grace” (charis) is used here in the broad sense of “kind demeanor and pleasantness” (Eph. 4:29). Those who heard Jesus teach “marveled at the gracious words” that came from His mouth (Lk. 4:22). Whether discussing Bible doctrines or secular issues, a bitter or argumentative spirit turns people off. When Jesus was verbally attacked He did not “return the favor” (I Pet. 2:23). Today as in Paul’s day, Jesus’ reputation depends largely on the conduct of His followers. Courteous and tactful conversation verifies God’s work of grace within us.
The grace we have received from the Lord will be reflected in our interaction with others. Food is seasoned with salt in order to make it appetizing, but too much or too little is detrimental. Salt serves a dual purpose, for it both seasons and preserves from corruption. Metaphorically, Christians must take care to “flavor” their words the way they season their food. All private and public communication should be well prepared and seasoned with the salt of graciousness.
Those who are the “salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13) are expected to readily defend their faith with grace and patience (I Pet. 3:15). Through experiential knowledge and the leading of the Spirit, every Believer becomes more and more skilled in explaining their relationship to Jesus, speaking the right thing to the right person at the right time.
Tychicus is sent as Paul’s delegate to inform the Colossians of his current circumstances. We find him with Paul on three separate occasions:
1. A native of Asia Minor, Tychicus travels with other disciples in advance of Paul to Troas, encouraging churches along the way, toward the close of Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 20:4-6). He is among the delegates chosen to accompany Paul to bring a collection to the poor saints in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17).
2. About four years later, Tychicus is close to Paul when he writes Colossians near the end of his first Roman captivity (Eph. 6:21). He is selected as Paul’s emissary to deliver three letters. Tychicus carries the Colossian epistle, the note to Philemon, and the letter to the Ephesians from Rome to Colossae. There he gives a firsthand report concerning Paul’s situation. The anticipated result is mutual encouragement.
3. Paul decides to send either Artemas or Tychicus to the isle of Crete relieve Titus so that he can join Paul at Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). This verifies Tychicus’ active involvement in ministry between Paul’s first and second Roman imprisonments. During Paul’s second imprisonment, Tychicus is sent to Ephesus to care for the churches in that area, which frees Timothy to rejoin Paul in Rome who desperately wants to see him again prior to his impending martyrdom (II Tim. 4:9,12 & 21).
Paul presents his friend Tychicus to the Colossians as he does to the Ephesians (6:21-22), but in his letter to the Colossians he adds the term “fellow servant.” His threefold description of the man validates his dynamic character:
A. He is a “beloved brother” (agapetos adelphos). The root word agape indicates the highest and purist form of love.
B. He is a “faithful minister” (pistos diakonos). The phrase means “steadfast and trustworthy.”
C. He is a “fellow servant” (sundulos). Paul gives Tychicus equal ministerial status with Timothy, Epaphras, and other co-workers.
Tychicus is consistently pictured as worthy of Paul’s confidence and trust. The name “Tychicus” means “child of fortune” and Paul is certainly fortunate to have such a friend in the ministry.
Tychicus is not traveling to Colossae alone. Paul specifically states he is accompanied by Onesimus, the former runaway slave described as “faithful, beloved, a brother, and one of you.” The one thousand mile trip into Asia is a strategic opportunity for Paul to return Onesimus to his master Philemon. He is heading for Colossae with Paul’s commendation now known as “The Letter to Philemon.” Part of Tychicus’ task is to ensure Onesimus receives a favorable reception (Philemon 12).
The epistle to Philemon has been preserved as proof of the success of Paul’s plea on behalf of Onesimus. Paul specifies that both Tychicus and Onesimus, the free man and the slave who are now brothers in Christ, will carry these letters to the churches of the Lycus Valley. Paul’s instruction to inform the Colossians of “all that has taken place here” includes the story of Onesimus’ conversion as well as the apostle’s impending release from prison (Philemon 22).
Points to Ponder
1. From the following verses, what can be determined regarding prayer and gratitude? Romans 1:8-9; Philippians 1:3-4; Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:3 & 4:2; II Timothy 1:3 and Philemon 4.
2. What question does Jesus ask His disciples regarding prayer (Luke 22:46)?
3. What advice does Paul give the Thessalonians and the Romans concerning prayer (I Thessalonians 5:17 & Romans 12:12)?
4. What is said regarding doors of opportunity in I Corinthians 16:9, II Corinthians 2:12, and Revelation 3:8?
5. Explain the concept of “the mystery” as described in Ephesians 1:9 & 3:3; I Timothy 3:9 & 16; Colossians 1:26 & 4:3.
6. In the following passages, what group of people is considered “outsiders”? What advice is given regarding them? I Corinthians 5:12-13, I Thessalonians 4:12 ,and I Timothy 3:7.
7. To what does Solomon compare the tongue of a wise person (Pv. 10:20)?
8. Paraphrase what is stated regarding the tongue and the heart in Proverbs 16:1.
9. According to Philemon 16, what change has taken place in the life of Onesimus?