Know Names (Colossians 4:7–18)

Paul’s little letter to the Colossians closes with a litany of names so large it is exceeded only by his grand epistle to the Romans. You don’t need to know these names so much as you need to learn that you should know names. Appreciate Paul’s letters, even these personal endings. Love, pray, and take interest in those who minister the word of Christ. Love the saints in other cities. Encourage them when given opportunity. Greet them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In chapter three it is clear that life in Christ is communal. Life in Christ is life in the body of Christ. In this closing, an added element this communal life in Christ is brought out by the repeated word “fellow,” which we might call friendship or camaraderie.

Friendship, as C.S. Lewis noted in The Four Loves, is about something.

“This is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even it were only an enthusiasm for dominos or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellows travelers.”

Friendship is about something, and here we see the greatest kind of something friendship could be about. Here we see friendship on the deepest level; that born out of a common love, a union with the one who said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

In this letter, Christ is all; Christ is supreme. This remains true in this closing. Jesus’ Name echoes through this litany of names. In union with Christ, we put the old to death and put on the new, and thus we are conformed to Jesus’ image. So it is that our love for the saints proves to be love for the Savior. Lewis later continues,

“We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love. It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger. When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His. In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself. But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we now do.”

Poorly Hung Church Doors (Colossians 4:2–6)

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” —Colossians 4:3 (ESV)

Paul’s “open door” has been installed in many churches incorrectly. This phrase has been hijacked in an attempt to sanctify a horrid way to seek God’s will. In his excellent little book, Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung quotes a Lark New satire piece,

TUPELO — Walter Houston, described by family members as a devoted Christian, died Monday after waiting 70 years for God to give him clear direction about what to do with his life.

‘He hung around the house and prayed a lot, but just never got that confirmation,’ his wife Ruby said. ‘Sometimes he thought he heard God’s voice, but then he wouldn’t be sure, and he’d start the process all over again.’

Houston, she says, never really figured out what his life was about, but felt content to pray continuously about what he might do for the Lord. Whenever he was about to take action, he would pull back ‘because he didn’t want to disappoint God or go against him in any way,’ Ruby says. ‘He was very sensitive to always remain in God’s will. That was primary to him.’

Friends say they liked Walter though he seemed not to capitalize on his talents.

‘Walter had a number of skills he never got around to using,’ says longtime friend Timothy Burns. ‘He worked very well with wood and had a storyteller side to him, too. I always told him, ‘“Take a risk. Try something new if you’re not happy,” but he was too afraid of letting the Lord down.’

To his credit, they say, Houston, who worked mostly as a handyman, was able to pay off the mortgage on the couple’s modest home.

Do you know how Paul found open doors? He prayerfully tried a bunch of handles. When one opened, he went through.

What are the open doors Paul asks for? Opportunity for the gospel, to declare the mystery of Christ. Upon returning to Antioch following his first missionary journey, we read that, “when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).” The open door for the word then isn’t just the opportunity to declare the gospel, but receptivity to believe the gospel. Listen to the same truth in different garb. In Acts 11 Peter reports of this same open door of faith for the Gentiles. When the church “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’ ” (Acts 11:18)

Paul desires prayer because He knows the work is the Lord’s. All opportunity and all receptivity for the gospel are gifts from God’s hand. Paul isn’t asking for prayer so that he might know who to marry, where to go to school, or what job to take. Paul’s personal request isn’t that personal at all. Paul doesn’t ask for an open door for himself, but for the gospel.

Why is Paul’s door installed incorrectly in so many churches? Because we are idolatrously bent in on ourselves. The crooked can’t hang straight doors.

A Call for Slavery (Colossians 3:22–4:1)

While some are repulsed by the command for a wife to submit to her husband, many ignore the command for slaves to obey their masters. They’d rather act like it’s not there, like dust quickly brushed under the rug as the guests approach. We wear the Bible’s slavery passages like a stain we got on our white shirt on the way to a job interview. We sit awkwardly trying to hide it.

The embarrassment goes as deep as our translations. It is as though a coverup is afoot made easy by a prior historical fumble. The Latin servus was used to translate the Greek doulos. The Latin then crossed over into the early English translations as “servant.”

Many modern English translations now used a mixture of slave, bondservant, and servant. When it comes to passages where cause for offense might be most intense, translators often waffle and default to servant or bondservant. Doulos, means slave. Every time. No exceptions. Murray J. Harris writes:

“In New Testament Greek there are at least six terms that are often translated or could be translated by the English word ‘servant.’ But only one New Testament word—doulos—has the distinctive meaning of ‘slave’, and this word occurs 124 times in the New Testament.”

The ESV translates this same word as “slave” in 3:11 and there is absolutely no reason to do otherwise in 3:22. At the close of chapter 3 Paul is speaking precisely to those just addressed as slaves and the free lords they serve.

The term slave should cause us to blush at our national heritage, but not at our Biblical heritage. Put shame where it belongs, on sinful men, not the Holy Word of God. Do not ever be embarrassed at the Scriptures. We shouldn’t blush to take any portion of God’s Word on our lips. If there is any right to embarrassment, the Word of God should blush to be on our lips. We are the stain. God’s Word is pure.

There is a radical difference between a slave and a servant. Most notably, servants are hired, whereas slaves are owned. Some argue for a translation of “servant” because ancient slavery was different from modern slavery and they fear an anachronistic reading of our ideas back into the text. Yes, it was different, but why is it any better to read our modern idea of servanthood back into the text? Modern slavery is a good deal closer to ancient slavery than modern servanthood is. Use the right words so that the right questions are asked. Making it easy doesn’t make it clear. Rather than making our translations soft, we need to do the hard work of teaching the sheep to be good readers of God’s good Word.

A Boat that Won’t Float Downstream (Colossians 3:21)

When the New Testament addresses parenting, it is the father who is addressed. There are only two places in the New Testament where parenting is explicitly dealt with.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21 ESV)

The father is the head. The father is responsible.

Adam’s first sin was that he failed to be responsible. Following on the heels of this, he sinned by failing to take responsibility for his irresponsibility. First, Adam does nothing. He received the charge to keep, to guard and protect the garden. When the snake came. He did nothing.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6 ESV)

When Adam did do something, it was just as bad as his doing nothing; he blamed his wife. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate (Genesis 3:12 ESV).”

When there was sin in the garden, God came calling for Adam. Men, when the fruit of sin is eaten in your home, when the lies of Satan are tolerated in your garden, it’s you God will call for. When a general loses a war, he can’t whine about the soldiers. A good general will bark at the soldiers, but he may not blame them. This isn’t to give a father license to bark, but to show the sissiness of blame shifting.

Responsibility travels upstream. You can’t float the boat of responsibility downstream with a thousand oars. Responsibility always goes up, so you can’t pass the blame down. Fathers, beware of blame shifting in the home, for the only step up from you is the Father. This is what Adam did when he said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me.”

Sacrificial responsibility is something a man can bear only in the Second Adam—the Christ, who though innocent, bore responsibility for our sins.

“Family-friendly”? (Colossians 3:20–21)

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” —Colossians 3:20–21 (ESV)

A saboteur has not only been largely welcomed into our midst, but afforded a cabinet position. We’ve promoted the spy.

While fleeing Absalom (2 Samuel 15–17), David strategically sent one of his loyal advisors, Hushai the Archite, back into Jerusalem under the guise of a defector, with the purpose to give bad counsel veiled as wisdom. It takes a great deal of cunning to disguise folly as wisdom. Hushai successfully offered what seemed to be superior counsel which proved Absalom’s undoing.

A Hushai is in our midst, but one that is not loyal to God’s King. He isn’t a servant of the Savior, but the serpent. He is just as sly, dressing up folly as wisdom, but to the saint’s destruction. His successful campaign flies under the banner “family-friendly.” A couple of examples should suffice.

We have “family-friendly” programming for TV, so that the children are occupied while dad and mom do their own thing. Rather than being educated in adulthood, adolescence is reinforced, and this is said to be friendly to the family? The commercials are “friendly” as well, catering to the children, developing an addictive appetite for more stuff. We keep the tube playing just so that we won’t be interrupted by pleas of “I want!”

We have the family-friendly church; a safe place to drop off the kids and escape them for a while. We segregate the family in the name of family-friendliness. The family is segregated so each individual can do church in a way attractive to them. And we wonder why once they’ve grown, we have a traditional church, a contemporary church, and others suited to personal taste.

Instead of such safe, sterile, “family-friendly” environments, what our children desperately need is some fresh air. They need some parental supervised and sponsored danger that prepares them for life outside the bubble. Instead, we coddled them into perpetual immaturity.

Like Theoden, a Grima Wormtongue has climbed the ranks, serving as our chief advisor. We are so poisoned by his lies that we cannot see the truth. We believe our sickness to be health. Our only hope is the liberating grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before this section on parenting and children, Paul first addresses marriage. In both instances, Paul is dealing with life in Christ. Enveloping the family, is the Christ who is sovereign over all, in whom we died and rose to the heights.

It is because Christ is not honored as Lord that children do not honor their parents.

It is because Christ is not honored as Lord that parents are not honorable.

We must repent, destroy these idols of family-friendliness, slay Hushai as a spy, and bow the knee to Christ Jesus.

Bleed Her Beautiful, Love Her Lovely (Colossians 3:19)

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” —Colossians 3:18–19 (ESV)

Wives are to submit. Husbands are to… love. Is that what you expected to be paired with submission?

This isn’t to deny, but define authority and headship. Men, the authority you have isn’t your own, it is a steward authority given to you by Christ. The only authority you have a right to exercise is the kind modeled by Jesus (Ephesians 5:24). Does your authority bleed for those under it?

A man’s marriage is his garden. He sweats. He bleeds. Blisters abound. Weeds, thistles, and pests are fought. Bones ache. His life is spent, but the garden thrives, and the garden is his glory. He does all this with a smile. At day’s end, stretching his cramping muscles and straightening his sore back, a man should look back on his well-tended garden with pride and joy, as a soldier having taken a hill to drive the enemy back, believing the sacrifice worth it all.

Husbands, bleed your wives beautiful and love them lovely (Ephesians 5:25–27). When we lead, may our wives gladly follow knowing we are leading them into their own splendor.

Think of your wife as talent (cf. Matthew 25:14–30) entrusted to you by the Lord. You’ve been given no greater treasure save the Triune God himself in Christ. Invest in her, and return her having increased many fold. No investment can make so great a return as this. She is your crown (Proverbs 12:4). She is your glory (1 Corinthians 11:7). Investing in her is polishing and embellishing your crown. The radiance and glory of your wife speaks to your authority. What kind of king are you? What kind of gardener are you? The quality of the gardener is generally testified to by the quality of garden.

Husbands, our authority should be so exercised, that to be treated as an equal would be a step down for our wives. May she mock the world saying, “Why would I desire to be treated as a knight, when I am loved as his queen? Why would I want to fight by His side as a comrade, when I can rest atop his head as his crown?”

The Splendor of Submission (Colossians 3:18)

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” —Colossians 3:18–19 (ESV)

These verses have always been startling, but for different reasons. In Paul’s time, the jolting word would not have been “submit,” but “wives.” Some think that Paul is capitulating to the culture; a fall leaf easily blown about by the wind of his age. No, Paul is a salmon tenaciously swimming upstream to deposit something precious. True, contemporary Hellenistic household codes also focused on authority and order in the home, but they only addressed men. They thought men alone worthy of address. This was Aristotle’s position. Funny how Aristotle is held in esteem as wise while Paul is ridiculed as a fool. Paul addresses women, and calls for them, with the authority of the Christ who rose to the heights, to submit to their husbands.

“Well, what progress,” the feminist sarcastically retorts, “so nice to be addressed as a human being.”

Roll eyes. Carry on.

Whereas children and slaves (yep, I’m not even going to play at taming that down to ‘bondservants’), are called to obey, women are told to submit, as though to emphasize the voluntary nature of the act.

Ladies, submission to your husband is a strength that comes out of you, not a weakness that is beat into you. A submissive spirit is a distinctly feminine glory to be worn like a wedding gown or a queen’s robe. Submission is your pomp and glory, not your shame. Submission is like a wedding ring; it is a sign of marriage and a beautiful one. Not having submission is as shameful as not having a ring*. The absence of either should cause others to wonder, “What kind of man does she have?”

The submission Christ calls for is not to men in general, but to one’s husband. He has authority, others do not. Submission puts women in a place of protection. Submission is not a prison to break out of, but a castle to rule in.

“Feminism is mixed up,” Chesterton says, “with the muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands (emphasis mine).” Feminism tells women they are free when slaves, and in bondage when they are queens.

Submission is not ugly and weak. It is glorious and powerful. Solomon captured the splendor of feminine glory when he wrote, “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners? (Song of Solomon 6:10)”

Submission is the garment of Chris’s bride. Do not treat the royal robes of Christ’s bride as rags. Do not put them on as shame.

*I only want to cause offense, um, conviction in the right way, so by way of disclaimer, this was only meant as an illustration non-ringbearers.

The Fruit of Salvation is Grown in a Community Garden (Colossians 3:12–17)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” —Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV)

Growth in Christ, or sanctification, has two parts, mortification and vivification. If mortification is an odd cat, vivification is an extraterrestrial green alien. The word is rare, the reality likewise. To mortify is to kill, to vivify, to enliven.

One reason that vivification is rare is that it requires community. Solo spirituality cannot sanctify. The virtues of Paul’s vivify list all deal with people and they assume people are something to deal with. Just as you must kill the old, know that your brother is doing likewise. He has to deal with you and you with him. If you want to kill the old man, you must do so in community. False spirituality is an individual sport where you get to show your best. The Christian faith is a team sport. We see one another at our best and at our worst, and we admonish and teach one another for the good of the whole.

Too many pick a community where there is no need for this. They don’t really know anyone and they come together on the basis of secondary issues. Hobby churches, instead of carrying a byline like, “est. 2010,” need to be honest and say “dividing the church since 2010.” The unifying factor of the church becomes Jesus plus. Jesus plus bikes. Jesus plus cowboy culture. Jesus plus hipster culture. Jesus plus music preference. Michael Horton warns:

“It is not my church to shape into my image, according to my own cultural preferences, ethnic background, politics, or socioeconomic location. It is Christ’s community—and he is the location that we all share together. He is the demographic niche and the political rallying point of this kingdom. I still belong to other groups based on my cultural affinities, but my family is not something I choose; it is something I am chosen for.”

Get in a church that is centered on Jesus so that it crucifies your flesh, so that you center on Jesus. Get in a place where you have to put on love; a love that has its roots in Christ.

Sanctification is communal. We are not simply to put on the new man, we are to put on the new humanity, a new humanity comprised of Jew and Gentile, black and white, cowboy and biker, hipster and boomer, all because Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Plumbing Matters (Colossians 3:5–11)

“5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” —Colossians 3:5–11 (ESV)

Religiously, man doesn’t care much about the plumbing; he just wants a shiny faucet. Shame may be felt once the faucet is turned on and the water spits, sputters, and leaks, but that’s tolerable compared to the idea of having a plain old faucet. Man’s religion is a shiny body covering an engine ready to blow. It’s a stunning mansion built on a defective and doomed foundation.

Many scholars have likened Paul’s vice and virtue lists to those of the Greek Philosophers. It seems likely that the false teachers threatening the Colossians had the very same list, it’s just that their asceticism was of “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).” Paul’s list is different not in what it consists in, but in what surrounds it and grounds it. Sin is to be killed because we have died with Christ.

This isn’t contradictory, but rather, it’s the only rational basis upon which to wage war against sin. It is only the free former slave who can really fight against his slave behavior. Those locked in the dungeon cannot fight in the battle. The Prince of the Puritans, John Owen, wrote, “Men must be gold and silver in the bottom, or else all refining will do them no good. Mortification is a refiner’s fire. Iron cannot be refined into gold. It must be miraculously transformed. Only then can the refining work be done.

Union, All the Way Up (Colossians 3:1–4)

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” —Colossians 3:1–4 (ESV)

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:5–6 (ESV)

The saints union with Christ isn’t hanging by a thread. Nor is our connection with Christ one of steel cables linking us to certain points of Christ, say His death and resurrection. You are as immersed into Christ as a baptized Baptist. With respect to my Presbyterian brothers, you are not sprinkled into Jesus. Further, when you come up out of the baptismal waters you don’t come out of Jesus. Jesus is the ocean the saints swim in. As united as a man is to his wife, so Christ is united to His Bride; two have become one.

Jesus is in such union with His people, that now, as the God-man, He does nothing without them. This union goes all the way. If you are in Christ:

Jesus’ death, is your death.

Jesus’ resurrection, is your resurrection.

But the glories do not stop there.

Jesus’ ascension, is your ascension.

Jesus’ session, is your session.

Jesus’ appearing, will be your appearing.

These are things that are above. These are heavenly things. The ascension and session of Christ are two neglected doctrines. Perhaps this is why our lives are more earthly than they ought to be.