Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
The book of Colossians is one of Paul’s 4 Prison Epistles [Col 4:18] and likely to be written during his imprisonment in Rome, addressed to the Church of Colosse with the purpose of warning them against a possible relapse into paganism, which many Colossians had origins in and to direct them to the fullness of God. Col 3:11 is the ideal of a Church – no racism, no segregation, no division. All the differences of the church members whether in race or in status do not matter, because what’s most important is Christ.
Greek or Jew – Paul echoed the same sentiment many times before – There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus [Gal 3:8]. Nationality, race, place of birth, differences in culture – all these doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter even if there are traditional hostilities between your country and your fellow churchgoer’s country. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him [Rom 10:12].
circumcised or uncircumcised – it is clear that this refers to Jews or Gentiles, as Jews needed to be circumcised according to their culture and tradition – the Law of Moses. However, Gentiles did not come under the Law of Moses, but were saved by the gospel of Christ, and thus needn’t follow the Jewish tradition and go through circumcision. Paul could have simply said, Jew or Gentiles, but the issue of circumcision was a big debate in those days. Judaising false teachers preached the Law and wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised as well. Understandably, many Jews were not comfortable with the fact that the Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised, and this became a point of disagreement. Though Timothy was a Gentile (for his father was a Greek), Paul told him to be circumcised because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek [Acts 16:3]. While Paul did that so as not to stumble the non-believing Jews, circumcision was not an issue in the path of salvation – Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts [1 Cor 7:19].
Barbarian, Scythian – In its gentlest context, a Barbarian would mean a foreigner. But it’s perhaps rarely ever used as a gentle term. Barbarians are generally foreign people who do not speak your language, and on top of that, are likely physically intimidating, uncivilized and unrestrained by rules. They are usually feared and avoided by others, at the same time held at great disdain. The term Scythian never appears anywhere else in the Bible, but according to history the Scythians are more or less known as a people who are more barbarous than barbarians, not only uncivilized but also animalistic, wild and savage. Yet, even such threatening and ferocious people are not forbidden to the gospel – just like everybody else, they are welcome to the faith and are entitled to the same privileges. It doesn’t matter what kind of nation or culture or background one comes from. They’re all welcome to the gospel.
slave or free – Slavery has always been around since the Old Testament days, but the slavery culture perhaps came to a peak during the early church days due to the Greco-Roman influences. A slave is a man bound to his master and has no freedom beyond his master’s commands. The difference in treatment between a slave and a free man was tremendous in those days – but this difference in treatment does not extend to the gospel. God does not withhold his grace from a slave, and does not bestow his grace because one is a free man. In his eyes, they are equal. Like in the case of Onesimus, once a slave who ran away from his master Philemon, who was converted by Paul in the prison and called my son [Philemon 1:10] and my very heart by Paul [Philemon 1:12] – a slave may be a bound man in the eyes of men, but to the Lord, a slave too is a free man. In the society of men, slaves have no rights or privileges, but in the kingdom of God, a slave has equal rights and the same special privileges as any free man.
Christ is all, and is in all – Christ is all that’s important, not petty worldly things like nationality, status or race. If they call on the name of the Lord, they too will be saved [Rom 10:13]. If they turn to Jesus, then nothing else matters – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him [Rom 10:12]. This is the ideal of the Church – not (just) the physical church, but the Church as a whole, in general. The gospel is not forbidden to anybody. No one has no right to hear the gospel. Nobody is too evil, too poor, too foolish, too sinful, too lowly to know God. After all, if there were restrictions in the first place, somebody like me, a Southeast Asian, far plunged at the other end of the world, surrounded by a host of Muslim countries, descendant of a strong ancestral Chinese culture that worships Indian gods, with zero Jewish blood, lineage or connections – and all those other non-Jewish Christians would not have the opportunity to be bestowed with such grace. If we have not been deemed unworthy, why do we deem others unworthy?