July 28, 2014

Devoting Ourselves to Prayer

Colossians 4:3-6 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Paul has just told the Colossian church that they need to devote themselves to prayer, and to not be sidetracked by distractions, and to pray with thankful hearts. And after having instructed the Colossians about their duty in prayer, Paul now asks that the Colossians would pray for him, and the needs he has.
Paul said the same thing to the Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 5:25 Brethren, pray for us.
In 4:3 the verb for “praying” is intensive, calling for the Colossians to be involved in this work themselves. Paul desired that his labors would be part of their prayer lives. And notice what Paul requests prayer for: open doors for the Word and clarity in speaking the Word. Pray, “that God may open up to us a door for the word” – The plural pronoun “us” no doubt refers to Paul’s friends and co-workers that appear in the following verses.
It is interesting what Paul didn’t request prayer for. He was a prisoner in Rome at this time. He couldn’t come and go as he pleased. But he didn’t ask for the Colossians to pray for his release from prison. But he wanted prayer so that the gospel would continue to spread. Paul’s concern was that the Lord would open the hearts of those he met while a prisoner in Rome. Sometimes, because of some special circumstance, the gospel comes to those who would otherwise never hear it. God causes certain events to happen in our lives that open to us opportunities to tell others about Jesus Christ. And when God opens the door, please go in.
If it were us in prison, we would be asking for people to pray for an open prison door so we could get out. But Paul wanted an open door for the gospel. And the reason why we pray for open doors, as Paul tells the Colossians, is because it is God who opens doors. If it were people who opened doors, then Paul would have prayed for strength to open doors. But he didn’t. Instead he prayed “that God may open a door” for the gospel.
Acts 14:27 says “And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
What does it mean to “open a door?” It means that there is an opportunity provided by the Lord, to present the gospel, where there normally would not be such an opportunity. Paul uses this metaphor of an open door several times, for instance:
1 Corinthians 16:8-9 But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; 9 for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
2 Corinthians 2:12 Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,
Since it is God who opens these doors for the gospel, we need to pray that He would do that for us. Pray that God would open, not only doors, but hearts also, that when the door opens, people would hear and respond to the gospel message. Paul never saw salvation as a human work. Salvation is always of God. It is only Jesus who saves. We can only share the good news of the Gospel of Christ, but it is God who turns the heart of stone into hearts of flesh. So, we need to pray for doors and hearts to be opened.
So why is it that Paul wanted an open door? “So that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.”
The word translated “mystery” is the Greek word musterion. and that’s where we get our English word “mystery.” Paul writes about this mystery in several of his letters to the churches. In Col 2:2, Paul said:
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”
In Ephesians 3, Paul completely explains this mystery:
Ephesians 3:4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
The mystery that Paul writes about is simply is that Jew and Gentile are brought together in one body called “the church.” In the Old Covenant, it spoke about the salvation of the Gentiles and the Jews, but it was not revealed that these two groups would be brought together in one body, the church. In the Old Covenant, we saw that salvation would come to the Gentiles, but it was always in the context of Israel. But now in the New Covenant, God brings both Gentiles and Jews together in a relationship of oneness in the body of Christ. Many Christians hold to a separate purpose and destiny for the Jews, than for the Gentiles, but the Apostle Paul’s writing does not support that view.
Paul ends verse 3 by saying it was the preaching of this gospel “for which I am in chains.” Paul wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon while he was in prison. A summary of what he did in prison is found in Acts 28.
Acts 28:30-31 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
Paul was in chains, and saw every person as an opportunity for the gospel. And he asks for prayer. Prayer is necessary in the spread of the gospel. And Paul asked the Colossians to pray that when God opened a door for the gospel, he would be able to clearly explain it:
Colossians 4:4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
The Greek word translated “clearly” means “to make clear (visible, manifest), make known.” Paul’s interest was to make a clear presentation of the gospel. He didn’t want anyone to misunderstand the facts about Jesus Christ. Paul certainly knew how to speak. He was well educated. But he still begged their prayers for him, that he might clearly proclaim the gospel truth. The open door is no good without a clear message. Only the Holy Spirit can make the gospel known to the blinded human heart. So Paul asks prayer for an open door for the gospel and for being able to present it clearly.
Col 4:5 continues the subject of evangelism:
Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Paul urges the Colossians to take advantage of their own opportunities for evangelism. If Paul could evangelize while in prison, then the Colossians could certainly take advantage of opportunities they had in their daily lives.
The word “conduct,” is the Greek word peripateo, and it literally means to walk about. It refers to our “walk” or “behavior” as followers of Christ. And why is this so important? For one thing, this pleases our Lord. Secondly, we are being watched. And I don’t mean watched by the NSA or CIA, or FBI. We are being watched by those who wish to find fault with us. We are watched by unbelievers to see if our confession and our walk are consistent. Do our lives show that we have an active relationship with Jesus Christ, or do our lives deny it? Paul calls these unbelievers “outsiders.” And they watch us.
They watch your attitude, the way you treat those in your home, how you react to stress in your life, what you say about others. They also listen to what you say and if our lives are consistent with what we say, and consistent with the gospel, then we may have the opportunity to present the gospel to these outsiders.
Paul uses the word “wisdom.” Where does that come from?
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Wisdom comes from letting the word of Christ dwell richly within you. When we conduct ourselves with wisdom it means that we are applying the truth of the gospel to every area of our lives. As we live out exhortations to the family, our walk will raise all kinds of questions. As we submit to one another in the church, we are preaching a sermon without a word; and by doing that, it opens the door for the words of the gospel.
In the last part of verse 5, Paul tells the Colossians to make the most of the opportunity. This word is often translated as “time” but it really has nothing to do with chronological time. It refers to a point where you need to make an important decision. It is a point in time when you need to take action. Jesus used the same word in Lk 19:44 where He looked over Jerusalem weeping, because the Jews “did not recognize the time of their visitation” It was a decision point that required action for the Jews.
The NIV says make the most of the opportunity. The Greek show a stronger emphasis with this word. It means to “take full advantage of, seizing a buying-opportunity, i.e. making the most of the present opportunity (recognizing its future gain). It is talking about making a sacrifice now, for some gain in the future. This word is also used in Gal 3:13.
Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”
Here the sacrifice was Christ’s becoming a curse for us, and the future gain was our deliverance from the penalty of our own sin.
In Col 4:5, Paul is talking about evangelism. Believers are put in situations where there are sorts of opportunities for evangelism. He is saying they these opportunities occur in the normal course of our lives. We don’t need to go out of the way to find opportunities to show Christ living in us. Often times Christians have developed these plans that they believe are sure to work in evangelism. When I was in college, I found out about the 4 spiritual laws used by Campus Crusade for Christ. These plans may work in some situations, but I think we should follow God’s method of evangelism because it is promoted by the apostle Paul. Living lives that show Christ living in us will open doors for evangelism. Paul’s concept of evangelism is simple: the Christian’s walk with Christ sets the stage for explaining the gospel to unbelievers.
Titus 2:6-8 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.
Paul says that the world should not be able to find anything evil to say about you. Live your life in a way that gives the world nothing to condemn you for. This is a Christ-like life.
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.
“Let your speech always be with grace” – Do you ever think about the way you talk? “Grace” implies that our speech should be pleasant and not offensive. And I don’t mean offensive in terms of what the world says is offensive, but what the Bible calls offensive. Paul wrote in:
Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Does your speech give grace to those who hear? Words are powerful. Our words have the power to build up or to tear down, to hurt or to heal. And our words have the power to communicate the message of Jesus Christ effectively when we are speaking with grace.
Our speech is also to be “Seasoned with salt.” Not only will our witness be gracious, but it will also produce an effect. Salt stings when you put it on a wound, but it can also prevent infection. Telling others about the gospel can initially cause the painful realization of their sin that nailed Jesus to the cross, but salt also is a purifying influence, as is the gospel.
Paul tells us to watch our behavior, seize opportunities for responding with truth, and guard your conversation so that it is gracious. That will lead to opportunities for us to witness to the grace of Christ in our lives “so that we will know how we should respond to each person.”
The unbelieving friend might not walk up and say, “How about telling me what I must know to be a Christian?” Instead, he may comment on some issue in your life or actions, or devotion; offering a puzzled look or thought as to why you are the way you are. Or he may ask for your advice to a problem situation in his family or work. Or he may question you about what you believe. Any of these are certain opportunities for pointing to Jesus Christ. The Christian must be ready to respond.

So if someone came to you and asked you how they may have eternal life, would you be able to share the gospel with them? What is the Gospel? Briefly the Gospel is this:
1. All men are sinners (Romans 3:10).
2. The wages (payment) for our sin is death (separation from the Father), eternal damnation (Romans 6:23).
3. Christ died for our sins, his death was substitutionary (Romans 5:8).
4. You must personally trust what Christ did for a payment for your sins. You must trust His work alone to get you to heaven (John 3:16).
The gospel is not: “Ask Jesus into your heart.” Nowhere in Scripture is anyone told to “ask Jesus into their hearts.” Nor does it say that Jesus comes into our hearts. What we are told is to “believe” in Jesus Christ with our hearts – and to the Hebrew mind, the heart referred to the thinking process.
You are not saved by praying the “sinner’s prayer.” We are saved by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. And in order to believe in Him, you must know who he is and what he has done. Before you can believe, you must have knowledge. You can’t believe what you don’t know. And we cannot explain the gospel clearly if we don’t clearly understand it.
Going to church does not make us a Christian any more than picking up a hammer makes us a carpenter. Christianity is not defined by going to church, it is defined as a living, active personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that comes when acknowledge our own sins and trust Him for forgiveness. The Gospel converts the heart. It does not coerce. It does not use the sword, it does not manipulate, it does not brainwash. But it does proclaim, persuade, and plead, and pray. And I think we need to be reminded of this from time to time.
Do we pray for the Lord to open doors, and hearts for us? Do we ask Him for courage and clearness in speaking to others? Do we desire the word of Christ to dwell in us richly? Do we meditate on His Word? Are we seeking the wisdom of Christ? If we do these things, we leave the rest up to God.