- Locate the Passage
Serving as the final paragraph in the hortatory section of the book, 4:2-6 is one unit, marked off from the previous and subsequent paragraphs by the type of material contained in it. The previous section is clearly bound together by the pairing of wives/husbands, children/fathers, etc. The subsequent section contains Paul’s concluding instructions to the church and serves as the close of the letter. 4:2-6, the section in the middle, contains exhortations for the Colossians’ prayer and behavior as it concerns Christ-honoring relations to the world.
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
4:2-6 has two divisions: 4:2-4 deal with the topic of prayer; 4:5-6 deal with the topic of how the Colossians should live around those who are “outsiders.”
The prominent exhortation in 4:2-4 is the command to “persevere in prayer.” This is modified by two participles, gregorountes (“being vigilant”) and proseuchomenoi (“praying”). The first participle describes the manner in which the Colossians are to persevere in prayer. They are to persevere in prayer, “remaining vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (4:2). The second participle describes the purpose of their prayer. They are to persevere in prayer, praying that God will open a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, “for which I am in chains.” Paul uses a purpose (hina, “so that”) statement in 4:4, modifying “for which I am in chains.” The purpose of Paul’s imprisonment was so that he could make known the mystery of Christ. Thus, the Colossians should pray to that end.
The prominent exhortation in 4:5-6 is the command to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders.” This command is modified by a participial phrase, by an adverbial phrase, and by an infinitival phrase. The participial phrase, “making the most of the time,” describes the manner in which they are to walk. The adverbial phrase, “your speech always being in graciousness, seasoned with salt,” also describes the manner in which they are to walk. The infinitival phrase, “so that (eidenai) you will know how you must answer each person,” describes the result of their wise walk.
- Exegete the Passage
This paragraph contains the final specific exhortations flowing out of the general exhortation in 3:1ff to seek the things above. These verses give very practical instructions for how to do that in the context of relations to the world.
The first exhortation is a call “persevere in prayer” (4:2). If the Colossians will come out the other side of the theological threat the Colossians heresy poses, it will be not only their commitment to allow the word of Christ to dwell in them richly (3:16) but also their commitment to prayer. Paul modifies this command with the participle, “being vigilant,” which could be translated more colloquially, “stay alert.” This spiritual wakefulness should be accompanied by thanksgiving, a theme mentioned earlier in 3:15-17.
The purpose for their prayerful “alertness” is “that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should” (4:3-4). Paul describes both the purpose of the Colossians’ prayers as well as the purpose of his imprisonment. He states that he is in chains for the sake of the mystery of Christ, so that he will make it known. Thus, he asks the Colossians to pray for an open door for the word. Paul’s faithfulness in evangelism, in the midst of his circumstances, is the end to which the Colossians should pray.
The second exhortation is a call to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (4:5). To “walk” (peripateite) refers to the whole deportment of a person’s life. Paul says, “Make sure the entirety of your life is conducted with wisdom toward those who are not believers.” Paul gives a sense of urgency to the manner in which they conduct themselves, instructing them with the participial phrase to redeem, or “make the most of,” the time. He refers to kairos, the time of opportunity. He’s saying, “don’t miss the moment.”
The adverbial phrase, “your speech always being in graciousness, seasoned with salt” (4:6a), also describes the manner in which they are to conduct their lives. They should give attention not only to the manner of their walk, but also to their speech. Their speech should be seasoned with grace (chariti). The result of their conduct is defined by an infinitival phrase: “so that you may know how you should answer each person” (4:6b). Keeping the Colossian heresy in view, the Colossians needed much wisdom to know how to give an answer (apokrinesthai) to the heretics in their midst. Yet more generally, every believer needs to know how to bear witness to the gospel, and Paul says the believer will know how to do so when they conduct their life with wisdom.
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
- Pray with your eyes open (4:2-4)
- Live as a light before the world (4:5-6)
- Your Walk (4:5)
- Your Talk (4:6)