Being Full of Grace and Well Seasoned
[Colossians chapter four]
Today we will be finishing the book of Colossians, and so today will be devoted to chapter four. As you remember, when we finished up chapter three last week we left off where the apostle Paul was writing about the rules for Christian households. In a Christian household, husbands should be loving and gentle with their wives, the wives should serve their husbands and families as if they were serving the Lord (except that I think husbands and wives should be equals, because marriage is a partnership, not a dictatorship), children are to be obedient to their parents, and parents may never “embitter” their children. Meaning, if we want to have Godly families then we must never, ever act abusively towards our spouses and our kids, and never be overbearing, manipulative or domineering towards one another. A dysfunctional family, no matter how “religious” they appear to be, is a perfect example of how not to maintain a marriage, not to mention being the wrong way to raise children. Show me parents who are too demanding or impossible to please because they’re never satisfied, and especially if they are perfectionists, and I’ll show you a family who is CINO (Christian in name only). People who treat others like this and then claim to love God will end up worshiping in vain. Their names are most definitely not in the Lamb’s Book of Life (see Revelation 20: verses 11-15) because of the way they treat others. If they treat their spouses and their children poorly and with disrespect, how will they treat others who they never loved or respected either? Paul also commented on the treatment of slaves, which still has meaning today because of the extremely unfair and immoral way in which employers treat their employees. Working for somebody else for what amounts to a bare-bones existence is the equivalent of slavery by any standard, and the enslavement of others is never a Christian act. Moreover, it’s an injustice! And so today let’s take up where we left off last week, starting once again with the topic of slavery, beginning at verse one.
“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us too, that God may open the door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4, verses 1-6, NIV)
The first verse of chapter 4 can be translated, or be equivalent to, modern employers and employees. It is true that slavery still exists today, mainly in parts of third world countries. But economic slavery, as I pointed out last week at the close of chapter three, is very much alive and well throughout the world, including the United States. Here in America, the minimum wage is still only $7.25 per hour in many parts of the country. That works out to be about $840.00 per month after taxes and Social Security, not counting state income taxes like they have here in Georgia where I live. Has anyone ever tried living on such a pitiful wage? Do the math and see how ridiculous the “federal minimum wage” truly is. Based on this verse of Scripture alone, American employers are clearly coming up way short. In factories in China, India, Russia, Southeast Asia and Mexico, workers are living on the equivalent of $2.00 per day. Factories in the third world pay even less. What would Jesus say to them about this? Would he congratulate them? On the contrary, he would be furious about it, and he would treat them the same way as the money changers that he threw out of the Temple in Jerusalem during the week leading up to his crucifixion. Next, it says, “… you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” Read this carefully, all you employers and business owners. Refusing to pay a living wage is pure greed and raw selfishness, and it smacks of elitism, which is the very opposite of Christ’s message that we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves”. We are commanded to be merciful and generous with others, it’s all over all four gospels. “I desire mercy,” Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. Don’t tell Christ how much you gave at church on Sunday morning, or call much attention to your good works. While these things are important, how we treat people on a daily basis is what matters the most to Jesus. “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brethren”, Jesus said, “that you do for me”.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” This is good advice every day of the year. For anyone to say that they pray every day is not sufficient in the eyes of Christ. It’s not bad either, but it’s up to each of us to give our all for Him. Pray constantly, first for the Church and for Israel, second for the congregation where you attend services on the Sabbath, then for your loved ones at home or work, and for yourself last. Whenever I see an ambulance go by I stop and pray for the person inside. That’s just one example of what I mean, but you get the idea. “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders…”. Have you ever been in a church, or seen someone on the street or where you shop or work, that thinks they’re so elevated towards Christ that their feet hardly ever touch the ground? You know the ones, they are those who are so high and mighty in their “walk” with the Lord that they can’t do any earthly good, or who look down on others who aren’t as spiritually “advanced” (to their way of thinking) as they are. Get away from those people! They think they are saved but they are not because they treat others so poorly. To put it bluntly, they have a rotten attitude that will get them sent straight to hell whether they are a “good person” or not! Their eternal judgment awaits them, and it’s going to be very bad indeed for all snobbish people. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” This is a clear reference to something Jesus spoke of so eloquently at the start of his Sermon on the Mount. I quote from Matthew chapter 5, verse 13 when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” If you claim to be a Christian but have no zeal or enthusiasm for Christ, or if you are unmoved by human suffering and have no pity or compassion for those who are less fortunate, your Christianity won’t pass the smell test. And you know what that means. Time to get busy. Having made my point, let me continue with the rest of chapter four.
“Tychicus will tell you all about the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (you have received instruction about him; if he comes to you, welcome him). Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among our fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hieropolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church at her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you have completed the work you have received in the Lord’. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Col. 4, verses 7-18, NIV)
As you can see, the majority of the remainder of chapter four has to do with the Church’s business and communication of its day. There was none of the modern communication technology available back then that we all take for granted today. No phones, no computers, no internet, nor voice mail. There wasn’t even a mail service back then like the USPS today, although there were what we would call couriers in today’s terminology. Because of this, everything had to be written by hand because the printing press was not invented for another 1,400 years. It must have taken Paul weeks or even a few months to write this 4-chapter letter to the church at Colossi. But there are a couple of things here that are noteworthy, such as Paul’s reference to a 1st century minister named Epaphras. Paul wrote that, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you …”. This is a clear reference to Genesis chapter 32, verses 22-30, where Jacob wrestled with God all night long, even until daybreak. You remember this story, it’s the one where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel by God. This heralds back to the apostle Paul’s Hebrew education and upbringing, which we discussed in detail in our study of the Corinthian letters, among others. There is also a reference to Luke the doctor, who is the same apostle of Jesus Christ and who wrote the gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts – proving that they all worked together, and that the apostle Paul had access to what we now call the gospels of Christ, and was very much aware of their content. There have been those within the Christian world who erroneously teach that Paul could not have known about the Gospel since it had not yet been written down. But I maintain that since Paul knew Peter, who had opened his eyes after he been blinded for three days while on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts, he must have known about the Gospels as well, not to mention some of the other apostles such as Mark and John. And that pretty much wraps up the end of the book of Colossians. Starting next week we will move on to the book of Ephesians. Until then, keep yourselves in prayer with much thanksgiving and with a grateful heart. Shalom.