The Speech of Proclamation
praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (4:3–4)
Paul turns from prayer, which is speech directed to God, to the proclamation of the gospel, which is speech directed to people. Having exhorted the Colossians to pray, he gives them a specific request, to pray at the same time for us as well. The plural pronoun us probably includes the list of Paul’s friends and co-workers that begins in 4:7. The content of Paul’s request was that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ. A door in the New Testament usually refers to an opportunity. In 1 Corinthians 16:8–9, Paul writes, “I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” He later wrote to the Corinthians of the door that had opened for him at Troas (2 Cor. 2:12).
Believers are to pray for open doors because it is God who opens them. At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, he and Barnabas reported to the church “all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). In Acts 16, after several doors had been shut, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ ” (v. 9). Upon seeing the vision, Luke writes, “immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). Revelation 3:7 describes Jesus as the One “who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” That was literally the case when God opened locked prison doors and freed Peter to preach the gospel (Acts 12:1–11).
Paul desired an open door so he could speak forth the mystery of Christ. As already noted in the discussion of 1:26–27, the term mystery refers to something hidden in the Old Testament but manifest in the New. In the present context, it refers to the content of the gospel. Paul asks the Colossians to pray that he would have an open door to speak the full truth of the gospel.
It was for the sake of the gospel that Paul was imprisoned. In Jerusalem, at the end of his third missionary journey, he was falsely accused of bringing a Gentile into the area of the Temple forbidden to them. He was rescued from the angry crowd by the Romans and eventually sent by them to Felix, the governor of Judea. After languishing in custody for two years, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Following a harrowing voyage, during which he was shipwrecked following a violent storm, he reached Rome. The book of Acts closes with Paul under house arrest there (Acts 28:16, 30).
Paul’s imprisonment did not spell the end of his ministry. It was during this period that he wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. He also evangelized those he came into contact with, whether the mob in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1ff.), Felix (Acts 24:10ff.), Herod Agrippa (Acts 26:1ff.), Roman soldiers (Phil. 1:13), members of Caesar’s household (Phil. 4:22), or members of Rome’s Jewish community (Acts 28:17ff.). Paul’s activity during his imprisonment in Rome is summed up in Acts 28:30–31: “He stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” For Paul, there were no devastating circumstances, only unique opportunities.
Paul further asked the Colossians to pray that when God opened a door for the gospel, I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Ought can be understood in two ways. First, it refers to the compulsion Paul felt to preach the gospel. That was a constant burden in his life. To the Romans he wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). In 1 Corinthians 9:16 he said, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”
Second, ought to speak refers to the mandate for using the God-ordained method of presenting the gospel. Paul preached the gospel by “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). “Solemnly testifying” is from diamarturomai, which means to give a thorough and complete testimony. The gospel should be proclaimed clearly, boldly (Eph. 6:19), wisely (Prov. 25:11), and graciously (Eph. 4:15).
There are three popular kinds of evangelism that this instruction precludes. First, experience-centered evangelism is inappropriate. It focuses not on delineating the gospel message from Scripture passages, but on a person’s testimony of personal feelings and experiences. The obvious danger in this method is that people may not really understand the gospel at all, yet respond to what was said emotionally and think they are saved.
A second kind of evangelism to be avoided is ego-focused evangelism. This evangelism sells Jesus as the panacea for all of life’s problems and as the source of earthly comfort, well-being, and prosperity. It promises that continual happiness and freedom from struggle are available through Him in this life. In short, it is man-centered, not God-centered. Although salvation does bring joy and peace, the gospel does not guarantee a life without difficulty. Paul warned that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Jesus told the disciples that “a slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20; cf. Matt. 5:11, 44; 10:23). In fact, Jesus promised, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
A final form of evangelism to be avoided is expedience evangelism. This wrong method of evangelism uses high-pressure tactics, manipulation, cleverness, emotional stimulation, or technique to force commitments. It, too, often results in false professions of faith (Matt. 13:19–22; cf. James 2:14–26).
Paul wanted people to pray that he would speak as he ought to speak, as God wanted him to speak. That should be our prayer for everyone who proclaims Christ.
3. Pray also for us. He does not say this by way of pretence, but because, being conscious to himself of his own necessity, he was earnestly desirous to be aided by their prayers, and was fully persuaded that they would be of advantage to them. Who then, in the present day, would dare to despise the intercessions of brethren, which Paul openly declares himself to stand in need of? And, unquestionably, it is not in vain that the Lord has appointed this exercise of love between us—that we pray for each other. Not only, therefore, ought each of us to pray for his brethren, but we ought also, on our part, diligently to seek help from the prayers of others, as often as occasion requires. It is, however, a childish argument on the part of Papists, who infer from this, that the dead must be implored2 to pray for us. For what is there here that bears any resemblance to this? Paul commends himself to the prayers of the brethren, with whom he knows that he has mutual fellowship according to the commandment of God: who will deny that this reason does not hold in the case of the dead? Leaving, therefore, such trifles, let us return to Paul.
As we have a signal example of modesty, in the circumstance that Paul calls others to his assistance, so we are also admonished, that it is a thing that is replete with the greatest difficulty, to persevere steadfastly in the defence of the gospel, and especially when danger presses. For it is not without cause that he desires that the Churches may assist him in this matter. Consider, too, at the same time, his amazing ardour of zeal. He is not solicitous as to his own safety; he does not ask that prayers may be poured forth by the Churches on his behalf, that he may be delivered from danger of death. He is contented with this one thing, that he may, unconquered and undaunted, persevere in a confession of the gospel; nay more, he fearlessly makes his own life a secondary matter, as compared with the glory of Christ and the spread of the gospel.
By a door of utterance, however, he simply means what, in Eph. 6:19, he terms the opening of the mouth, and what Christ calls a mouth and wisdom. (Luke 21:15.) For the expression differs nothing from the other in meaning, but merely in form, for he here intimates, by an elegant metaphor, that it is in no degree easier for us to speak confidently respecting the gospel, than to break through a door that is barred and bolted. For this is truly a divine work, as Christ himself said, It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you. (Matt. 10:20.) Having, therefore, set forward the difficulty, he stirs up the Colossians the more to prayer, by declaring that he cannot speak right, except in so far as his tongue is directed by the Lord. Secondly, he argues from the dignity of the matter, when he calls the gospel the mystery of Christ. For we must labour in a more perfunctory manner in a matter of such importance. Thirdly, he makes mention also of his danger.
4. As I ought. This clause sets forth more strongly the difficulty, for he intimates that it is no ordinary matter. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, (Eph. 6:20,) he adds, ἵνα παῤῥησιάσωμαι, (that I may speak boldly,) from which it appears that he desired for himself an undaunted confidence, such as befits the majesty of the gospel. Farther, as Paul here does nothing else than desire that grace may be given him for the discharge of his office, let us bear in mind that a rule is in like manner prescribed to us, not to give way to the fury of our adversaries, but to strive even to death in the publication of the gospel. As this, however, is beyond our power, it is necessary that we should continue in prayer, that the Lord may not leave us destitute of the spirit of confidence.
3–4 Despite his being an apostle par excellence (1:1, 24–29), Paul was by no means too prideful to ask the Colossians to intercede for him and his coworkers in the gospel (cf. Ro 15:30–32; 2 Co 1:11; 1 Th 5:25; 2 Th 3:1). Paul has engaged in ceaseless prayer for the Colossians (1:9); he now asks them to return the spiritual favor by remembering him in their prayers. The apostle does not ask the assembly to expend their prayers for the sake of his petty preferences or personal pleasures. (Contrast the narcissistic prayer of Jabez [1 Ch 4:10].) On the contrary, Paul asks them to pray that God might “open a door,” i.e., make or enable a way (cf. Ac 14:27; 1 Co 16:9; 2 Co 2:12; Rev 3:8), for Paul and his associates to declare the word, i.e., the gospel (cf. 1:5, 25; 3:16; see also Eph 6:17; Php 1:14; 2:16; 1 Th 1:6, 8; 2:13 [three times]). How Paul envisioned this open door eventuating remains an open question. Was he hoping to be able to declare the gospel freely in chains (cf. Ac 28:31; Php 1:12–14)? Was he entertaining the idea of being released from his chains (cf. Php 1:23–26)? Though Paul was bound, he wanted the boundless love of God expressed in the gospel to be unbound so that people might abound in grace.
Paul’s desire is to declare the gospel; he has been grasped by God to share with Gentiles Christ’s reconciling work (1:24–27; cf. Ro 1:15–16; 1 Co 9:16; Gal 1:15–16; 2:7; Eph 3:7–10). In this verse, Paul describes the word as “the mystery of Christ.” Earlier in the letter, Paul employed the term “mystery” (mystērion, GK 3696) to speak of the glorious riches of Christ dwelling in and among Gentile people (1:27). In 2:2–3, he depicts Christ as “the mystery of God,” the divine repository of “wisdom and knowledge.” Taken together, these passages show that Paul regards Christ and the proclamation of him to the nations to be a divine mystery. Previously hidden, the mystery is now a clear revelation of God in Christ and of the gospel, which is for and to be shared with all peoples (see esp. Ro 16:25–27; cf. Eph 1:9). Paul had become a minister of this mystery (1:23, 26; cf. Eph 3:7–10) and now was a prisoner for this mystery.
Paul does not indicate where he is in captivity, nor does he offer historical reasons for his detention. Instead, he asks the Colossians to pray that he may have an opportunity to declare the mystery and that he may proclaim the gospel “clearly” (“openly” or “boldly”). The apostle regards his proclamation of the mystery to be a necessity, a commission that God has given him, a fire that God has put within him (cf. Jer 20:9). Paul heralds the gospel not because he might but because he must. Here, as elsewhere (cf. esp. 1 Co 9:16), he says, “It is necessary for me to speak [the gospel]” (lit.). For Paul, the true gospel, initiated by a gracious, righteous God and grounded in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Ro 1:16).
3–4 As in the parallel passage in Eph. 6:18, the exhortation to general prayer leads into a specific request for prayer for Paul and his associates. The plural pronoun in “pray also for us” refers primarily to Paul and Timothy (cf. Col. 1:1), but no doubt it includes friends and companions who are mentioned later in this chapter. But Paul is conscious of his special need of spiritual strength and wisdom. His commission to make known among the Gentiles the Lord who had been revealed to him on the Damascus road remained unfinished so long as earthly life lasted; and his present restrictions, far from hindering the prosecution of this commission, gave him unforeseen opportunities of discharging it. The “mystery of Christ” which he has to declare is identical with the gospel which he received at his conversion “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12); indeed, in the light of Col. 2:2, we might treat “of Christ” as a genitive of definition and identify the mystery with Christ, the Son of God, whom the Father “was pleased to reveal” to him on that occasion (Gal. 1:16). For Paul, to preach the gospel was to preach Christ, and so to make known the “hidden wisdom” of God, which was “decreed before the ages” for his people’s glory (1 Cor. 2:7).
The Colossians are asked to pray, then, that a “door” may be opened for the message. The figure of a door being opened for the gospel message (and for the messenger) is found elsewhere in the NT; we may compare 1 Cor. 16:9 (where Paul says that at Ephesus “a wide door for effective work has opened”) and 2 Cor. 2:12 (where at Troas, he says, “a door was opened for me in the Lord”). Deissmann thought that Paul might have found the expression current in general speech;13 this may very well be so, as similar phrases are known from contemporary idiom. That an open door was indeed set before Paul in Rome is evident from the closing words of Acts and from his own account in Phil. 1:12–18 (“what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”). The opportunities were great, but the situation called for special wisdom, whether Paul was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” to those who frequented the lodgings where he lived under house arrest (Acts 28:30–31), or looking forward to his appearance before the imperial tribunal when his appeal came up for hearing. He would have to answer the charges brought against him, but he desired to do so in such a way that the content and nature of his apostolic preaching would be made plain to all who heard. He was in Rome, under official custody, on account of Christ and the gospel; it was of the highest importance that the interests of Christ and the gospel should be promoted by the way in which he made his defense before the supreme court. For this he prayed himself, and asked his friends to pray too.
3 Because the Colossians devote themselves to a life of prayer, Paul asks them to pray for his mission (cf. Eph 6:19–20). It all begins innocently enough: “And [at the same time] pray for us, too.” That is, for Paul and Timothy (Col 1:1) and Epaphras (4:12–13) and all Paul’s co-workers in mission. Paul says that Epaphras devotes himself to prayer for the Colossians (4:12–13), which suggests reciprocation on their part (see 1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 3:1; 2 Cor 1:11; Rom 15:30–32; Eph 6:19). The most forceful of these requests is Rom 15:30–32 (followed closely by 2 Thess 3:1–2): “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.”
Paul gives concrete clarity to what he wants them to pray: “that God may open a 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” (4:3–4). At heart Paul was an apostolic evangelist who established new churches by evangelizing Gentiles into the new family of God. So Paul wants opportunities, which he here calls “a door for our message,” but he wants God’s work to move forward, so he asks the Colossians to pray for God to open doors. We read much the same idea in 1 Cor 16:9 and 2 Cor 2:12 (Acts 14:27) and also at Eph 6:19–20. Notice, too, that he asks for a door not for himself but for the gospel because this gospel is alive and active (cf. Col 1:6). The hinge here is that the door is open for the “message” of the gospel (so NIV) or “word” (CEB: logos), a specialized term Paul uses for the public proclamation or declaration of the gospel, namely, that the Jesus who was unjustly crucified was raised from the dead and in his name there are both forgiveness and hope of everlasting life (Col 1:5, 25; 3:16). Most dramatically, Paul preached a thoroughly Jewish Messiah in the Roman world and watched God’s Spirit prompt one Gentile after another to participate in that Jew’s death and resurrection. In this prayer request about the open door, we now ask, what specifically did Paul have in mind? Two answers are possible: release from prison to carry on the mission (Phlm 22), or expansion of the gospel while imprisoned (2 Thess 3:1; Phil 1:12–14; Acts 28:17–31). The second seems more likely.
The open door for the message finds its purpose in “so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.” The focal energy of Paul’s mission is not simply to preach the gospel but to preach the gospel to Gentiles in order to bring them into the new fictive fellowship, a church of both Jews and Gentiles (3:11). Paul calls this mission God’s “mystery.” As observed at 1:26 (see commentary there), there are two elements of Paul’s mystery: (1) something formerly undisclosed is now disclosed in Christ and (2) through his gospeling the people expands to include the Gentiles. This term “mystery” is Paul’s favorite term for describing the newness of the age in mission: what was once given to Abraham as intended to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12) is finally fully underway in the Pauline mission to the Gentiles. Hence, the “mystery” is not so much something mysterious, secretive, and known only to a select few (as in the mystery religions) but something previously unknown or “hidden for ages and generations” but now revealed to all in the power of the Spirit. In Col 4:3 he says the mystery “of Christ,” or better yet the mystery that is Christ, while the near parallel in Eph 6 speaks of the mystery “of the gospel” (6:19).
Paul’s gospel mission has its own risks: “for which I am in chains.” Courageous preaching of the gospel, sometimes in the face of opposition from Jews and at other times from Roman authorities, landed Paul in prison more than once (see 2 Cor 11:23, 26; Phlm 1, 9; Eph 6:18–19; Phil 1:7, 13–14, 17; Acts 16:23–40; 21:27–28:31). The experiences were unforgettable and matchless as experiences of God’s grace and power, and so he inserts a reminder of where he now sits. We have argued in the introduction that Paul is in prison in Ephesus, though the traditional theory locates Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.352 Imprisonment was not, as is the case most often in the United States, the result of a sentence and thus the punishment itself but instead a place of waiting—for trial, for protection, and for execution. The discomfort, disadvantages, and outright dangers have been adequately summarized by Brian Rapske, and while they may differ somewhat from prison to prison, the general experience remains the same: “The wearing of chains and/or stocks, while securing prisoners from escaping, was an additional physical rigour. Weighty iron chains restricted prisoner mobility and were also frequently the cause of untold sufferings: rusty, they chafed and corroded the skin; too tight, they were an innovation in torture; too heavy, they would pain or even cripple their wearers; in addition they contributed, when the prisoner moved, to the general din and sleeplessness of the whole prison environment.”
It was expected that prisoners would attend to their own nourishment. Those who could rely upon provisions from family, friends, or contracted providers might have better prospects of staying healthy. Poverty and the need to rely upon officially provided prison rations, however, were often a recipe for disaster. The daily prison ration was more often than not severely restricted in its variety, quality, and quantity.
On this expression “for which I am in chains,” Markus Bockmuehl has suggested on the basis of typical Pauline grammar a different reading that separates 4:3c from 4:3b, with 4:3c opening a new thought—one more concerned with the divine intent of his imprisonment (e.g., Phil 1:7, 12–13). His translation looks like this: “And pray that God may open for us an opportunity for proclamation, so that we may speak for the mystery of Christ. [4:3c] For it is to this end that I have been imprisoned, in order that I might manifest it, as indeed I am obliged to do.” I find his proposal convincing, one that should lead to new translations or at least new marginal readings.
The best commentary on Paul’s imprisonments was penned by Paul himself:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Cor 11:23–27)
4 Paul’s request from prison: “[NIV: Pray] that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” This request takes us back to the prayer of 4:3 (and again, Eph 6:20). If Bockmuehl is correct, “Pray” is not necessary: instead, the imprisonment is tied to the proclamation. What he wants most is for the Colossians to see that a God-opened door for gospel preaching is at work in the imprisonment. The term Paul uses here, however, is a bit masked by translations:
NIV: “that I may proclaim it clearly”
CEB: “that I might be able to make it clear.”
The term behind “proclaim” or “make it clear” is phaneroō, which means “to make manifest.” The term is probably attached to the mystery theme in 1:26 and is intensely christological (3:4), so the emphasis in this term transcends proclaiming and refers to the divine disclosure, or revelation, of good news for Gentiles in Christ through the proclamation of the gospel. Thus, “It describes the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (1:26), the eschatological unveiling of the new life together with him (3:4), and the proclamation of the gospel in between the two (4:4).”
This conclusion leads us to another and more momentous conclusion about Paul’s ministry, namely that there is a redemptive implication in Paul’s own mission. This salvation-historical mission is Paul’s special calling, and hence he says “as I should,” with “should” meaning divine vocation and necessity. As especially with Jesus (Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 13:14, 16, 33; 17:25), so with Paul (1 Cor 9:16; Rom 15:17–22; Col 1:24)—God’s call makes their service a necessity for the unfolding of God’s plan and thus becomes noticeably cruciform in the experience of suffering in order to participate in God’s mission of redemption (Col 1:24).
that he will preach christ freely (v. 3a): Prayers are requested so that all obstacles hindering the work are removed and a door opened which will give Paul opportunity for the preaching and teaching of the gospel (Rev. 3:8). This, however, does not guarantee that Paul will not have opposition or trouble as he does the will of Christ (1 Cor. 16:9). Pastors and all engaged in evangelism and church planting need prayer support. This is an act of fellowship in the gospel, and Paul requested this fellowship on several occasions (2 Cor. 1:11; 1 Thes. 5:25; 2 Thes. 3:1–2).
that he will preach christ truly (v. 3b): Who and what Jesus Christ is must be faithfully and consistently made known when Paul and his team preach the gospel, for it reveals the incarnate Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of the world (Eph 6:19–20). Jesus Christ is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit and this is the ‘mystery’ Paul preaches (1:26–27; 2:2; Eph. 3:3–4, 9). There is no other Saviour (John 14:6).
that he will preach christ clearly (v. 4): He requests that he and his team will be able to speak clearly and boldly to sinners about the glories and love of Christ. He wishes to make the gospel ‘manifest’, ‘to make clear by uncovering’. He wants to speak plainly and not incomprehensibly, in order that others can share in the joy of eternal life (Rom. 15:13; 1 John 1:4). He wants to be able to discern when to speak and how much to say, and how to ‘package’ the message so that it is not misunderstood.
4:3–4 / From a general admonition on prayer, Paul turns to a personal and specific request that God will open a door for our message. Door comes from the Greek thyra, and is an expression used in Scripture as a metaphor for opportunities to witness (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). The content of Paul’s message is the unveiling of the mystery of Christ, something that he already has explained in 1:26 and 2:2 (cf. Eph. 3:3–6, 9).
Paul indicates that he is in chains (dedemai, a perfect passive of deō; cf. 4:18). His request for an opportunity to preach may imply a desire for personal release (cf. Philem. 22); but Paul often used his imprisonment to share the gospel as well (Acts 28:30) and felt that these circumstances “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). This desire is not only for himself, since he includes his co-workers (the plural us) such as Timothy (1:1), Epaphras (1:7; 4:12), Tychicus (4:7), Onesimus (4:9), and others he mentions in his final greeting (4:7–18). The desire for clarity (Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, phaneroō) in his proclamation must not be taken as a second request, because this “purpose clause” is subordinated to the previous one: Paul simply wants an opportunity to preach the mystery of Christ clearly.
Ver. 3.—Praying at the same time also for us (Eph. 6:19; Rom 15:30–32; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1, 2; Heb. 13:18). In Ephesians and Romans the apostle implores prayer for himself alone, and dwells on his personal circumstances. Here and in the Thessalonian letters he unites his fellow-labourers with him in the request. That God may open to us a door for the word (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:9; 2:1). “The word” is the Word of God which the apostle preaches (ch. 1:5, 25; 1 Thess. 1:6; Gal. 6:6; 2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 16:6); and “a door” is wanted, in his presented difficulties, through which that Word may freely pass, such as he speaks of in 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12 (comp. Acts 14:27; Rev. 3:8). It is fanciful to give “door” here the sense of “mouth.” The “opening of my mouth,” in Eph. 6:19, expresses the subjective freedom (corresponding to “as I ought to speak,” ver. 4); “the door for the word,” the objective liberty desired by St. Paul in his imprisonment. To speak the mystery of Christ, because of which also I am bound (ch. 1:23–29; Eph 6:19; 3:1–13; 4:1; Phil. 1:12–14; Philem 9; 2 Tim. 2:8–10; Acts 20:22–24). Were his prison door once opened, the apostle would be able freely to preach the gospel to the Gentiles—for this “the mystery of Christ” chiefly signifies (ch. 1:25–29; Eph. 3:1–8; 1 Tim. 2:3–7.) (On “mystery,” see note, ch. 1:26.) It is this very mission which makes him long for freedom, that keeps him a prisoner (ch. 1:23; Eph. 3:13). He is in the strange position of an “ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:19; Philem 9, 10: comp. 2 Tim. 2:9). This “I am bound” (singular) shows that the “for us” of the former clause designedly includes others with himself.
Ver. 4.—That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak (Eph. 6:20; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:1–6, 5:11, 20–6:10; Rom. 12:6; 2 Tim. 2:24–26; 3:10; Acts 20:18–21, 27, 33–35). This clause qualifies the last; the “open door” is to be asked for the apostle, that he may make effective use of it. The mystery has been made manifest by God in the mission of Christ (ch. 1:27; 2:15, note; 2 Cor. 5:19, etc.); but that manifestation has to be made known to the Gentile world (Eph. 3:9; 2 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 10:14). To this end he had received a special manifestation of “the mystery of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:19; Gal. 1:15, 16; Acts 9:15, 16; 22:14, 15, 21; 26:16–18). How the apostle conceives that he “ought to speak” appears from the parallel passages (see especially 2 Cor. 5; 6; and Acts 20.).
3. The apostle’s exhortation to persevering prayer is immediately followed by a request for the intercession of the Colossians for himself and his coworkers. He offers petition regularly for them (1:3, 9) and now asks that as they pray for the coming of the kingdom they will at the same time (ἅμα denotes the coincidence of two actions in time, BDF para. 425, BAG, 42) consistently remember him before the throne of grace (προσευχόμενοι, “praying,” a present tense, suggests an ongoing intercessory activity). Clearly he attached great importance to this regular, reciprocal intercession by his converts and other Christians in the gentile mission since he appeals for this prayerful support elsewhere (Rom 15:30–32; Eph 6:19; Phil 1:19; 1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 3:1, 2, and Phlm 22). He earnestly desired their understanding and help in his struggle for the gospel and there was no better way to express this than by intercessory prayer. The request is that they might pray “for us” (περὶ ἡμῶν, which corresponds to the περὶ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι, “praying for you,” of 1:8; cf. v 9 and note the similar correspondence at 2 Thess 3:1 and 1:11; see Riesenfeld, TDNT 6, 54, and Wiles, Prayers, 259–84), a reference that no doubt includes his friends and colleagues mentioned later in the chapter who were messengers of the gospel (perhaps Timothy, [1:1] and Epaphras [4:12, 13] are especially in view; so Lightfoot, 229). But it is clear that Paul is thinking primarily of his own need for he slips into the first person singular later in the sentence (“for which I am in chains, that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should,” vv 3b, 4).
ἵνα ὁ θεὸς ἀνοίξῃ ἡμῖν θύραν τοῦ λόγου. The content of the prayer (expressed by ἵνα, “that”; cf. Rom 15:31; Eph 6:19; 2 Thess 3:1) is not for the personal benefit of Paul and his companions but for the preaching of the gospel: it is that “God may open a door for our message.” The image of an open door turns up in Hellenistic thought (Epictetus employs it in the sense of a person being free to go anywhere; “opened doors” is also a figure of literary activity, cf. Jeremias, TDNT 3, 174) as well as in later Judaism where man opens the door to God by repenting, while God opens the door to man by giving him opportunities for intercession or repentance, or by granting grace (Str-B 1, 458; 2, 728; 3, 484, 485, 631; Jeremias, TDNT 3, 174). Within the New Testament this picture of an open door, which is used in missionary contexts, denotes the provision of opportunity. God opens a door for the missionary by giving him a field in which to work (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12) and he opens a door of faith to Gentiles so that they might believe (Acts 14:27; elsewhere ἀνοίγω is used of the opening of the eyes, Luke 24:31; Acts 26:18; of the understanding, Luke 24:45; of the heart, Acts 16:14; and of Scripture, Luke 24:32; Acts 17:3). In Colossians 4:3 God is to be petitioned to open a door for the gospel message (several commentators, both ancient and modern, on the basis of Eph 6:19, have taken this to mean “the door of our speech,” i.e. “our mouth,” cf. Beza, Bengel; note also Lohmeyer, 161, who understands it of access by Paul to the right thing to say. But this interpretation is less likely)—this of course also means a door for the messenger, but here the emphasis falls upon the dynamic, almost personal, character of the Word (cf. 2 Thess 3:1, a prayer request, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may run and be honored”). Paul is concerned for an opportunity for effective evangelism; and it is just possible that he is asking them to pray for his release from prison (so many commentators; cf. Phlm 22, and on Paul’s imprisonment see xlix–liv). On the other hand, even when he was at liberty such doors did not open up to him automatically (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12) and the apostle did not regard imprisonment as a serious interruption of his missionary work (Phil 1:12, 13; so Caird, 210). At the conclusion of the Book of Acts (28:30, 31) Luke indicates an open door was set before Paul in Rome. The opportunities were considerable though special wisdom was called for (cf. Bruce, 298).
The apostle earnestly desires that God would open a door for the word (and requests the Colossians to pray along these lines) λαλῆσαι τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ Χριστοῦ (“so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ”; the infinitive λαλῆσαι, “to speak,” “to proclaim,” could be either one of result or intended result, which is tantamount to purpose, for the distinction between the two is a fine one, cf. Robertson, Grammar, 1089, 1090; see also Lightfoot, 229, Abbott, 297, Meyer, 465, Lohmeyer, 161). Once again in Colossians the word “mystery” is used to denote God’s plan of salvation centered in Christ and which has special reference to Gentiles (cf. 1:26; 2:2 and see on these verses; here as at Rom 16:25 and Col 1:26 “mystery” is closely related to the message or Word of the gospel, for it is in the effective preaching and teaching of the gospel that the mystery is made known; cf. Brown, Background, 55; the genitive too τοῦ Χριστοῦ, “of Christ,” could be either epexegetic indicating that Christ himself is the mystery [so Feuillet, Christ, 292], or objective meaning “the mystery as it is revealed in the Messiah”: Zeilinger, Der Erstgeborene, 113, claims both are possible).
διʼ ὅ καὶ δέδεμαι, “For which I am in chains.” It was on account of his apostolic activity in making known this mystery that Paul was imprisoned (on the use of δέω, to “bind,” as signifying imprisonment see Matt 14:3; 27:2; Mark 6:17; Acts 9:2, 14, 21; 12:6, etc cf. Büchsel, TDNT 2, 60, and BAG, 177, 178). This is the only place in which Paul uses this verb in a literal sense, though he employs δεσμοί of his “bonds” or “fetters” at Philippians 1:7, 13, 14, 17; Colossians 4:18 and Philemon 10, 13 (cf. 2 Tim 2:9) as well as δέσμιος (“prisoner”) at Philemon 1, 9 (cf. Eph 3:1; 4:1; 2 Tim 1:8). The transition to the singular was natural since he moved from what was common to himself and others to what was peculiar to himself (regarding his imprisonment, see the Introduction).
4. The verb φανερόω (“reveal,” “make known,” “show,” cf. BAG, 852, 853, Bultmann/Lührmann, TDNT 9, 3–6, and see on 1:26) when used with reference to the manifestation of the mystery (1:26; Rom 16:26; 1 Tim 3:16) normally describes God’s revelation. Here, although God is the person whom the Colossians are to petition to effect the opening of the door, it is the apostle who is said to reveal the previously hidden divine purpose (the ἴνα clause, “that …,” of v 4 is dependent on the preceding ἵνα ὁ θεὸς ἀνοίξῃ “that God may open …,” of v 3; Lightfoot, 229, and Abbott, 297. Von Soden, 67, makes the clause dependent on δέδεμαι, “I am bound,” and argues that Paul who was awaiting trial wished to make it clear to his judges as to what he preaches and why he must preach it). Further, this same verb “reveal” is not employed elsewhere to designate the apostolic proclamation (it is usually to “announce,” καταγγέλλω, 1 Cor 2:1; “preach,” εὐαγγελίζομαι, Eph 3:8; “speak,” λαλέω, 1 Cor 2:7; Col 4:3, 4; “proclaim,” κηρύσσω, 1 Cor 1:23, etc). So when Paul’s activity is described as making known the mystery its unique significance of being the proclamation of divine revelation is emphasized (Lohse, 165). What is elsewhere called the work of God is here said to be Paul’s activity, no doubt because of his key role in the plan of God that includes Gentiles. His ministry has salvation historical significance. Yet it is no less the revelation of God for all that, since it is God who is asked to open a door for the Word, and it is he alone who can enable the apostle to publish the mystery openly and in a manner that Paul ought to: the final clause ὡς δεῖ με λαλῆσαι could refer to the necessity of the preaching (so keeping strictly to the meaning of δεῖ) and be rendered “since I am bound to speak it” (see 1 Cor 9:16; Acts 23:11; note Meyer, 466), or the manner of the proclamation (the rightness is then viewed with reference to “any given circumstances in which the apostle is called upon to speak,” Moule, 133, cf. Dibelius-Greeven, 50, and Schweizer, 172) and so paraphrased as “in the way in which it is right that I should speak it.” At first sight it might seem that only the first alternative gives the δεῖ, “it is necessary,” its due weight. However, “a thing which is necessary if one is to do right in certain conditions is virtually what one ought to do” (Moule, 133). We therefore prefer the second alternative.
Accordingly the Colossians are to persevere in prayer with their eyes fixed on the second coming, at the same time interceding for the apostle whose ministry to Gentiles has a salvation historical significance in the purposes of God. Through him God reveals his divine purpose of blessing in Christ for Gentiles.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 183–185). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 223–224). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 345–346). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 172–174). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (pp. 371–375). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (pp. 84–85). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 96–97). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Colossians (pp. 209–210). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 O’Brien, P. T. (1982). Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 44, pp. 238–240). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.