Paul had explained to the Colossians how they were to show that they belonged to the new humanity, whether in life in general or in the specific area of household life (chapter 3 of his letter). We can imagine the Colossians, as they listened to the letter being read to them, responding at least to themselves, ‘How can we retain correct thinking about all these issues in our minds?’ If they were thinking in that way as they heard Colossians 4:1 being read, they received the answer in verse 2: ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’
Further, they may have said to themselves, ‘In addition to demands connected to life in the church, it is also the case that we have to face pressures from those outside the church. Our family members, our neighbours, the contacts we make day by day are not interested in what we have to say about Jesus. What would Paul, who we have never met, say to us?’ No doubt the apostle could say many things, but it is reasonable to assume that one response he would urge would be to ‘continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’
In addition, it is possible that the Christians in Colosse would face official investigations and punishments by the authorities. Although Colosse was a small town, it was not a backwater location because it was close to the cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. It was inevitable that the authorities would be curious at least about the appearance of this radical new group that involved different races, all levels of society, and did not participate in any of the official religions. One of Paul’s responses to such potential difficulties for the church in Colosse would be to ‘continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’
The church in Colosse had lost its pastor Epaphras. He had brought the gospel to Colosse after he had been converted through hearing Paul in Ephesus. Over the next decade or so, he had guided the church in Colosse. He then had gone to Rome to see Paul and had himself been arrested. There is no hint that Epaphras was about to be released and we can imagine the anxiety that the church would have when Tychicus and Philemon appeared – without Epaphras (vv. 7-9). Paul’s advice, I am sure, would be to ‘continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’
Two men had left the church in Colosse in the past while. One was their faithful pastor Epaphras and one was the unreliable slave Onesimus who had ran away from his master Philemon in whose house the church in Colosse met. I am sure that they prayed for both men, although with different desires for each. They would have prayed for the release of Epaphras and the conversion of Onesimus. Now they could see that the Lord had kept his promise and answered prayer for Onesimus. But what were they to do with regard to their prayers for Epaphras? The answer was to ‘continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’ Be thankful for Onesimus and continue to pray for Epaphras.
Of course, Paul wanted them to pray for him. He knew that his colleagues Tychicus and Philemon would convey information about his circumstances when they delivered the letter to the church, and in their report they would mention his confinement as a prisoner. We will look in a future reading at what he requested about himself, but it is the case that with regard to these specific requests in verses 3 and 4, Paul would want them to ‘continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’