In the last article, we dealt with Paul’s exhortation to slaves and masters in the Colossians as part of the household rules section of the letter. As those who now have Christ as their primary Master, Paul’s teaching is essential for it outlines how God’s people are to serve each other. As Paul comes to the end of his letter and gets more general in his closing appeals to the Church, they mainly relate to prayer (general and specific) and the Christian witness to those outside the church.
This is a little different because if we think about what Paul’s been focusing on in chapter 3, he’s been mainly talking about how the believers are to deal with themselves, others in the church, and those in their own homes. But now as Paul wraps up this letter, he directs their attention outward towards those that are outside the church, specifically towards those that are not part of the Colossian church.
Paul’s statements are significant and strategic. It’s significant because if there wasn’t much of a word from Paul regarding those outside the church, we might easily mistake the Christian life as a personal or an individual family thing to such a degree, we may think it doesn’t matter what the Christian does outside the home before non-Christians. Christianity then would become a holy huddle thing or a “me and Jesus” personal piety kind of thing. But that kind of thinking goes entirely against Paul’s teaching and what he was about in taking the gospel to the places that had never heard it and calling people to trust in Christ. And it goes against what he wants for the Colossian church also, along with his desire for you and I today. In fact, we see in this passage that is assumed that the Colossian Christians have interactions, relationships with those outside the church and that they were being observed, so it matters a great deal how Christians acted and spoke to them.
And it’s strategic because Paul’s been telling them what it means to seek the things and set their minds on things that are above where Christ is, not the things that are on earth but that only as Christ-filled, heavenly-minded Christians that are different than the world should they seek to engage the world. Or put it another way, the church needed to be Christ’s church in how they put away sin, loved each other, forgave each other, ministered to each other with the Word, if they were to speak and witness to the world for Christ. And we need to hear this message today, as we wrestle with the tension of the relationship of the church and the world, the God-given responsibility we have as the Church to be Christ’s witness to a dying world. It forces us to take a look at ourselves, our prayer lives and our relationships with those that do not know Christ.
So what does Paul tell them to do exactly? In Colossians 4:1-6 , it boils down to two things that Paul tells them. And each of them starts general and gets more specific. One it has to do with what Paul says about prayer in v.2-4 and then in v.5-6 what he tells them about their conduct and speech to unbelievers. So let’s look at each of them.
Paul starts by saying to them in v2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer; being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” This Paul says, is the Christ-centered life, true religion….not visions, not special festivals, not worshipping angels, not what you eat or drink…prayer! “Devote yourselves to prayer!” Notice he says, “continue…” Which means they have been praying and so essentially Paul is saying to them, “Don’t stop praying, keep at it…continue steadfastly in prayer.” But then he says “being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” So Paul’s not just telling them to “keep praying,” but to “be watchful in prayer with thanksgiving.” The word for watchful means “being alert,” always praying and always ready to pray…it reminds me of what Jesus told his disciples to “watch and pray” that they wouldn’t fall into temptation. There are always situations, opportunities that necessitate us coming before God in prayer, for our church, our families, our nation, and so on and Paul commends them to prayer and calls them and us to devote ourselves to prayer. But he also says, “with thanksgiving.” This has been a theme throughout the letter as the way back since Paul’s opening prayer for them that he always thanks God when he prays for them in Colossians 1:3 and Colossians 1:12. And then most recently in the chapter 3 passage about letting the word of Christ dwell in our hearts…singing all kinds of songs to God with thankfulness in our hearts to God. Not only should our singing to God be full of thanksgiving but Paul says our prayers should be full of thanksgiving as well. The content of our prayers and the heart attitude of our prayers should be full of thanksgiving. Not only does it please God, who deserves our thanks but it guards our hearts in approaching God sinfully or with a wrong heart. So again, Paul tells them in a general way… “keep giving yourselves over to praying, be watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
Brothers and sisters, it should never be that we hear and read God’s Word, hear the gospel and not pray. Listen to EM Bounds and what he says is the relationship between receiving the gospel and prayer: “One of the constitutional enforcements of the gospel is prayer. Without prayer, the gospel can neither be preached effectively, promulgated faithfully, experienced in the heart, nor be practiced in the life. And for the very simple reason that by leaving prayer out of the catalog of religious duties, we leave God out, and His work cannot progress without Him.”
So how do we grow in it? I recognize that I’m writing about two of the things that bring the Christian the most guilt: prayer and evangelism. I’m sure that you are no different. A quick word of counsel.. you want to grow in prayer? Not only should you seek to do it often but you find someone who is devoted and gifted in prayer, and you pray with them. Go to an elder or mature Christian in your church and ask them to pray for you and pray with you. That, like so many other things as a Christian, is how you grow in those areas. Another thing I would suggest is to respond to impulses to pray…even if they are short quick prayers. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his famous book Preaching and Preachers talked about not dismissing impulses to pray. He says we shouldn’t brush that off as a distraction…it could be the Holy Spirit tugging on your heart to come to God now in prayer. Pray right now…the more you ignore it, the easier it is for you to keep ignoring it, and eventually, you forget and don’t pray at all. Now that season has passed, and you’ve missed an opportunity. Yield to the Spirit’s work in your life that you would depend on God in prayer.
A Door for the Word and Clarity:
Paul then gets specific and actually gives what we would call today a “prayer request.” He does this pretty often at the end of his letters; Paul was not shy in asking for prayer, we all need it! But here he specifically tells them, to pray for him to have opportunities to preach God’s Word even when he’s in jail! If I were in prison and I get to send out, a scrap of paper, one email from prison…you know 10 minutes of computer time, and back to the slammer I’m not sure if my prayer request from jail would be “Hey while you’re praying, pray for me that I’ll get more opportunities to share the gospel with these prison guards…” Yet we see here, Paul has one prayer request in the whole letter for the Colossians and it’s this “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Usually when someone goes to jail…they should stop doing the things that got them put in jail but not Paul…that was Paul’s priority, Paul’s calling from God, Paul’s burning passion was to walk through those doors that God opens to us for His Word. To declare Christ. And he knew that it would be God Himself that opens up those doors for it. He could try anything and everything, but it’s not happening unless God opens a door for the Word. And then he asks them to pray for him also, that he would make it clear. The gospel is a simple message even for a small child, but Paul wanted people to understand and have clarity on what he was saying. So Paul wanted opportunities to preach Christ and wanted to make the most of them and make sure that his message of Christ was clear. And so pray for me.
I was really convicted when I read this…I asked myself when’s the last time I prayed that God would open up opportunities for me to talk to an unbeliever about Jesus? I tell my college students to share the gospel… but do I share the gospel? Do I pray for and look for opportunities for the gospel? Do I pray and ask for God to help me make the gospel clear for people I speak to?
I remember I used to pray for that so much more; I was tired being surrounded by Christians all the time…I would go to work at a Christian missions office, and there were nothing but Christians there. I show up at my seminary, nothing but Christians there. Or maybe I’m rushing off to some church activity or function, even more, Christians. Being around Christians is great, but I remember asking myself, “Where am I going to find someone to evangelize to?” And so I prayed for that, and God slowly changed me and allowed me to be more open and bold with people in restaurants and cafes I would frequent, and I got opportunities to tell people about what I do and who this Jesus is that I serve. Would you pray that for me? That I would return to that? And then, would you join me in it? Asking God for an opportunity to share Christ with your family member, friend, neighbor, or whomever Christ has put in your life that doesn’t know the gospel?
Remember this isn’t just any news, Paul calls this the mystery of Christ. This isn’t the Sherlock Holmes’ kind of “mystery,” Paul has used this word throughout this letter to talk about God’s unfolding plan for the world and revealing his redemptive purposes centered on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and how great the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It was once hidden and in shadows but now completely revealed in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, do you realize what we have? We have this gospel in all its fullness that the Old Testament saints in their day would be so envious of. That is the grand theater of all history, of all time, in all of creation, heaven, and earth and under the earth, that all the prophets spoke of….finally, in the fullness of time…the Preeminent One, the one whom all fullness of deity was pleased to dwell in, has come to crush the head of the Serpent. To disarm all the rulers and authorities and rescue his people from darkness and bring them into his kingdom. To save his people from their sin by being nailed to the cross for their sin. That we would be made alive together with him and be raised to walk in newness of life with him because He has made us one with him! These are the things of salvation in Christ which 1 Peter 1 says into which angels long to look!
And so this is a mystery now revealed Paul wants to tell everyone about so he tells the Colossians to pray for him and those with him, that God Himself would open a door for the word.
And brothers and sisters we have the same gospel, filled with the same Spirit, and God’s Word here calls us to pray for those open doors for the word that whether it be those that are formally called and ordained men can preach the gospel and evangelize or whether it’s all of us as Christians who can be used by God a bold witness for Christ and his gospel to nonbelieving individuals, families in our workplaces, communities, our gyms, coffee shops, restaurants, wherever God opens those doors.
Christian Witness: Wise Conduct and Seasoned Speech (v.5-6)
And that is what Paul now then commends to the Colossians. He’s asked them to pray for his ministry, but now in v.5-6, he focuses on their ministry to outsiders. He says to them of their conduct, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time…” Other translations say for the second half “making the most of every opportunity…” So it’s about getting those opportunities to be a witness and then making the most of them. This verse tells us that it matters how we live and how we conduct ourselves with and front of outsiders. It’s an opportunity; we need to make the most of it. It needs to be done with wisdom, with discernment but also with a realization that there is an expiration date because our days are numbered, and we’re living in the last days. An opportunity is good when it’s here and but not when it’s gone; there needs to be a sense of urgency in us.
And we have in the gospel and together as the Church, the resources for this kind of wisdom to be a witness before people. Paul has labored hard in this letter to show us that we have this wisdom in Christ “whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Juxtaposed against the false religion, he denounces as only having an appearance of wisdom but is actually worthless in chapter 2; he already told us that we are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. Since we have it, we can apply that wisdom in living a life of that speaks for Christ. And this is a corporate church thing as well, this letter was written to the Colossian church. It’s worth thinking about for our churches and us, “what is the collective witness of our church in this city?” It’s like when athletes represent their country in the Olympics, you see an impressive athlete on TV that you’ve never seen before and you want to know, what country is he or she from? When they are on that medal podium, they are representing their country. We… we are ambassadors for Christ and as members of the Church, and a specific local church, our lives outside these church walls add up to the collective witness of our church. While on the one hand, we shouldn’t live for the world’s approval, but on the other, we should care of what people think of our church in so far as it being a faithful witness of Christ. We must ask ourselves, “What do our actions say about the God we serve and us?” Does it adorn the gospel that we proclaim and say we believe?
Seasoned Speech (v.6)
Next, in v.6, we see that not only our actions matter but our words matter too. One commentator says, “Finally, the readers are exhorted to let their speech toward outsiders manifest both the grace and wisdom that Paul desires for his own utterance.” Paul practices what he preaches and leads by example. Paul says of their speech, “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” If Paul asking for an open door for the word was direct evangelism, this is responsive evangelism. It is assumed here that Christians are interacting with people outside the church, and Paul says essentially, “take care of how you answer them.” Increasingly, we live in a secular world that knows very little of the Bible, and many people may not even personally know an evangelical Christian. That means there are opportunities and there will be questions coming your way. “Why are you a Christian?” “Why must it be Jesus that I need to believe and no other religion’s gods?” “Why are you so caught up with what you call ‘sins’? Be free and live a little!” Often in Reformed circles, we know well what it says 1 Peter 3:15 to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” but don’t forget the rest of that verse… “yet do it with gentleness and respect.” And that is what Paul highlights here when he says their speech to outsiders; Bible illiterate, unchurched people need Christians to be gracious, seasoned with salt. And our speech should be this way as well. Now, it’s not entirely clear what “seasoned with salt” means as scholars have several different ideas, but it likely means something along the lines of being “winsome” or “not dull or bland” but there’s a “good flavor” and appropriateness to what we say. We are to be gracious in our speech, respecting unbelievers, winsome, even in such a way that piques interest and invites further conversation. And it’s different with every person; there are no magic formulas, talk to people and learn them, establish a good rapport with how you speak, that’s why Paul says at the end, “that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
So no matter whether we are extroverted or introverted we are called to be a part of the church’s witness to the world. 2 Cor. 5 says we are ambassadors for Christ, all of us. It’s part of what it means to be a Christian, as emissaries of the great King to speak his message and represent Him. If we’ve failed in that, we need to repent, ask those people for forgiveness and speak to them with gentleness and respect. We must not try to do God’s work using the world’s ways, for it discredits the very message we proclaim. Paul already addressed some of the sins of the tongue back in Col. 3:8 when he said we need to put away slander and obscene talk. We can do real damage to the witness of the Church, the witness of this local church, and bring reproach upon the name of Christ if we don’t watch our tongue. James 3 is all about this; he says, “With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” If we are sinning against each other, chances are we will also do to outsiders. The Lord is merciful, let us repent together and ask that by God’s grace may we witness to our great and resurrected Lord in all that we do and say.
And let us continue to devote our ourselves steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving and pray for opportunities to share the gospel. And as we pray, I believe that will give us the opportunities to share the gospel; He will give us the words to say, He will be pleased to use our feeble efforts to bring people to salvation. Why? Because… He is the God of salvation! Not only does he hear our prayers and open doors but He is the one that saved complete utter wretches like us! Like the Colossians, we too were once outsiders, alienated, hostile in mind, with no hope and without God and did not know Christ and yet God in his rich love and mercy, loved us, and brought us near by the blood of Christ, paid for all our sins, brought us into his house, into his family, into his fold. He has given Himself to us that we, now made alive with him, forgiven of all our sins, are now made one with Him and found in Him. So if the preeminent, all-sufficient, divine, and glorious Christ paid the greatest cost to bring us to himself, will he not show his love and power in using us to proclaim Him to others that they too may be saved?
That is our mission brothers and sisters, to grow and care about the needs of this body but God also calls us to show mercy to others, specifically to be prayerful and godly witnesses for Christ in our actions as well as our words remembering that God had used other saints before us to bring us to Him. What an amazing grace! And so as we remember that, shouldn’t that give us such confidence that God could use us to witness and lead people to Him? That He wants to and will use us to witness to others for Jesus Christ? That He could use this church to preach the gospel, multiply that, and give people saving faith in Christ? And the answer to all that is yes! May the gospel be our message and may it be the fuel that empowers our prayers and witness knowing that God will use His Church to bring glory to Himself.
 “And this I regard as most important of all- always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this- always obey such an impulse. Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is part of the meaning of, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:12-13). This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect. You will experience an ease and a facility in understanding what you were reading, in thinking, in ordering matter for a sermon, in writing, in everything, which is quite astonishing. Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently.” Quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers” pg. 182-183 (2011 ed.)