We have been talking about the practical applications of the sufficiency of Christ in all things. We have seen how the sufficiency of Christ affects relationships in the home and in the marketplace. We turn to the internal world of one’s own soul and Paul is giving his final instructions to the church at Colossae before he leaves them and he wants to build the basics of the Christian life so they would not forget those things which are most profound in their affect upon one’s soul and upon the life of the church.
In James 4:2, God says, “You have not because you ask not” and many believers are living below their privilege in Jesus.
Colossians 3 has reminded us of the great possibility for every Christian to live joyfully, holy lives. It is possible for us to live a life in which our minds and our hearts are set upon God and Jesus Christ. We can live a life in which sin is put to death and a life in which we are clothed in the beautiful arrayment of humility, compassion, kindness, and patience. We can live a life of fruitful service to God and which brings glory and honor to the name of Jesus. Husbands can live lives of love toward their wives. Wives can live lives of respect toward their husbands. Children can live lives of blessed obedience and parents can live lives of wise nurture and instruction.
In view of such a grand possibility, we ask ourselves these questions, “Why, in view of this great potential, why do I grow so slowly toward a life of Christ-likeness? Why is it I make so little progress toward holiness? Why is it so few souls are won to Jesus? Why do sins still win the day? Why are we, as a church, not more vibrant in our love for God and in our love for other people?”
James 4:2 rings out the response, “You have not because you ask not.” The measure of the fruitfulness of our life, of our pursuit of holiness, of our service to God, and of our fullness is measured upon our dependence and our neediness. Such neediness and dependence are largely measured by our commitment to prayer.
R.A. Torrey would say, almost one hundred years ago, “There is nothing else in which the church and ministry of today have departed more notably and more lamentably from apostolic precedence than in this matter of prayer. We do not live in a praying age. We live, instead, in an age of hustle and bustle, of man’s effort and of man’s determination, of man’s confidence in himself and in his own power to achieve things; an age of human organizations and human machinery, human push and human scheming in achievement, which, in the things of God, means no real achievement at all.”
The church, since Torrey’s day, I believe, has slid yet to new lows in regards to her dependence upon God in prayer, and has slid all the more to dependence upon man’s wisdom, man’s strategy, man’s methods, man’s plans, and man’s power to do her work. Perhaps today God will begin a new work in each one of us. I urge you to long for this and I encourage you to expect it. Even now, where you are setting, I call you to breathe a prayer unto God and say, “God, would you begin a new work in me? I recognize the great need for greater fullness. I do often ask why there has not been more progress and I do not want it to be said of me that I have not because I am not asking. God, would you begin a new work in me?”
In this study of Colossians 4, we meet again these two very basic topics: prayer and evangelism. If you study the Bible very long, you will find these two topics come up over and over again. They are so central to the life which pleases God and a life which walks with Him.
Paul, in giving his final instructions to the church in Colossae, now leaves them with this challenge of becoming lively and energetic in these two areas: prayer and their witness. This challenge which Paul gives to this church is as necessary and as relevant to this 21st Century as it was to the 1st Century. The challenge is for the church in Colossae to leave a mark, make a difference, and enter into their godless culture and make Christ known. Two instructions are given to this church in order for them to leave a positive work and fruit in the midst of a godless world. They are two very simple commandments, yet very profound and weighty.
The first commandment is to talk to God about people and that is the call to prayer. Effective ministry begins with prayer.
The second commandment is to talk to people about God and this is the area of witness and evangelism. Effective praying always leads to ministry and evangelism.
When we consider the first commandment to talk to God about people, we read,
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
From Scripture we discover prayer is not supplemental in the Christian life or in the church, but rather it is fundamental, basic, and the root by which the plant is nourished. The Apostle Paul, in this very brief verse, presents to us three attitudes which are necessary if we wish to become a praying man or a praying woman. We long for an age in which the church prays and may we be those people who affect such a change because of our longing and because of God’s gracious work in us.
These three attitudes which are essential to become a praying man or a praying woman would be devotion, watchfulness, and gratitude.
We first see this attitude of devotion right at the beginning of the commandment when Paul says, “Devote yourselves to prayer.” Other translations say, “Continue steadfastly in prayer”, that is to say, hold on and do not stop holding on to the vehicle of prayer to drive your life forward and to move you toward God. Another translation says, “Cling close to prayer.”
Prayer is simply talking personally to God. When the Apostle Paul says, “Devote yourselves to prayer”, he is not calling us to devote ourselves to the recitation of some formulas we learned as a child or we learned as an adult; that if we say these lines in rote manner good things will result. No, prayer is real and personal connection to God Himself and if we are to have a devoted prayer life we must first begin with a real and personal connection, a relationship with God. We must be born again and we must have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
I ask you, before I call you to devote yourself to prayer, do you know this God to whom you are praying? Do you know Him personally? Have you been reconciled to Him? Have you come to faith in Jesus Christ and do you understand your relationship with God is dependent upon Jesus and Jesus alone, and not upon your own good works or upon religious activity, but upon what Jesus Christ has done on your behalf?
I also call to your observation, in commanding this to the church in Colossae Paul is speaking to all who are in the church. The church in Colossae is very much like the church of today, such that in that church there were some people who were very mature in their walk with God and there were some people who were immature and who had not grown very far. Yet, there is something in this commandment for everyone. For those who had walked with God and who are walking deeply with Him and serving Him and obeying Him, does not this call reverberate within your soul to say, “Yes, Lord, I need this!” Devote yourself to prayer.
We do not sit back and say, “I have already devoted myself to prayer.” No, we say, “I need to be reminded of this. This is a call back to the very essential of my life.”
Is it not true for those who are new to the faith, or who have stumbled along throughout life in a very shallow walk with God, when we hear this there is something there for us? We do not say, “That is for really spiritual people so that commandment does not necessarily apply to me and I do not have to pay attention to it.” Isn’t there something of God’s Spirit which pulls us in this direction to say, “This is where I must begin if I am going to have change and have a walk with God which is joyful, effective, and powerful. It has to begin here.” Devote yourself to prayer,” the Apostle Paul would say.
This is not the only place he calls us to persistence and perseverance in prayer. In 1 Thessalonians 5, he says,
7 …pray without ceasing…
In Ephesians 6, Paul writes,
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions…
It is possible for us to follow this commandment. This is not for unreal people living in an unreal world. We know that because we see an example of this in the early church. There are a few snapshots in Acts. We could read the whole book and find over and over there is a commitment to prayer, but Jesus, in Acts 1, is giving the Disciples a commandment. He has told them they will be His witnesses in all the world and then He ascends into Heaven. What do we find the Disciples doing prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit? We read in Acts 1,
14 They all joined together constantly in prayer…
They devoted themselves to prayer and they said, “What do we need at this time when we are waiting for the Spirit’s arrival? We need to pray!”
In Acts 2 the Spirit of God arrives and indwells the church and what happened? Did they say, “Now that we have the Spirit we do not need to pray.” No, we read, the church, with many who had come to faith in Jesus,
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
They were talking to God, to calling out upon Him, giving praise and making petition. What does this devotion look like? We read, in Acts 2,
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
It was not enough for them to pray on their own, but they said they needed to pray together and everyday they met together for prayer. Such was their devotion.
After the church begins, and with the proclamation of the Gospel, immediately persecution sets in. In Acts 4, the church’s persecution begins. Peter and John are thrown into prison, and we read,
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
They needed to pray in response to the coming of the Spirit. They needed to pray in response to persecution. In every circumstance this was the response of the church unto God.
Why should we devote ourselves to prayer? In Acts 4, there is some indication to the answer to that question. The impetus and motivation to prayer is the character of God. On the basis of the knowledge of who God is, the early church said they needed to pray, not just as a religious exercise or some sort of spiritual obligation, but in response to their understanding of the revelation of the knowledge of God. Notice their prayer,
24 …“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth… 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David…”
In response to their understanding God is the Creator, they were praying. In response to the fact God is the God of revelation and He revealed Himself, they were praying. Then, in thinking of Jesus’ death and crucifixion, they were still praying and reviewing history. They were talking about Herrod and Pontius Pilot and the meeting with the Gentiles, and we read,
28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
On the basis of the fact God is the God of circumstances and history and a God who is Sovereign on the details of life, they were praying, and what did they pray,
29 “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”
They prayed in light of who God is. They considered, “You made, so in light of you being the Creator”, they prayed. They said, “You spoke, so in light of you being the God of revelation, we are going to pray.” They said, “You decided, and in light of you being Sovereign Power, we are going to pray.”
If we find ourselves listless in prayer and not devoted to prayer, the first place to begin is not with more discipline; to kick ourselves more to get ourselves going, but the first place to begin is with more discovery. The reason why we are not devoted to prayer is because we have a shaded view of who God is and if we can draw near and understand more of whom God is, then the motivation to pray will push us in greater devotion and perseverance.
This is Jesus point in His parable in Luke 18, where He is teaching His Disciples specifically about this matter of persevering in prayer, and we read,
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Will He find people who know their God and who love Him? Will He find people who, as a result of their knowledge of God, are found on their knees, calling out to Him in a devoted way throughout their life? Jesus is not saying God the Father is like the unjust judge. He is using the unjust judge in sharp contrast to God the Father, but He is saying, “If this is the way an unjust judge reacts, how much more, if we know who God is, when we persist in prayer?” If this woman, who understood this man did not care about her at all, and did not care about justice at all, yet she continued to persist, how much more will we persist when we know we have a merciful and just God who loves us and who is gracious to us?
The second attitude God calls us to is the attitude of watchfulness, and we read in the text,
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful…
The New King James Version says, “Be vigilant.” Others read, “Stay alert.” The picture is of a guard on duty during a time of war. He dare not sleep or he will suffer horrible consequences. If he falls asleep while he is at an outpost, is it not true he opens himself up to certain punishment and possible death? Is it not true if he were to die as a result of his drowsiness he exposes his whole camp and the whole war effort to danger because he has fallen asleep? Be watchful!
Do we not know we have an adversary, the Devil, who prowls like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us? If we understood the dangers, certainly we would be alert.
I recently spoke with a member of the church who had taken a trip during a snowstorm. They said all the way they were driving they were praying God would keep them safe. It was the awareness of the clear and present danger which caused this family to be constantly vigilant in prayer, but what does that tell us when we stop being vigilant in prayer? It tells us we feel “safe” and we feel as though there is no danger, but you know, as Christians, that is not true for us or for those we care about. Satan is an active adversary. He is one who constantly prowls to devour. Just because we cannot “see” the danger does not mean the danger is not present. It is present, so the call to watchfulness is a call to spiritual discernment about the nature of life itself; that we would be discerning as to the nature of this world in which we live, both for ourselves and for others.
Let me draw a specific application for moms and dads with their children. Is it possible we have grown sleepy and listless, and we have lost our alertness and watchfulness, over our sons and daughters in this matter? “Sleepy prayers” are prayers which are prayed in shadowy generalities; “Lord, bless my son. Lord, be kind to my daughter. Lord, help them. Lord, keep them safe.” There is nothing necessarily wrong with these prayers as long as we go much further than that and as long as we are watchful.
James says, “You have not because you ask not.” What do we desire for our sons and daughters? What dangers are out the lurking to devour them? Should we not also pray, “Lord, protect my son, protect my daughter, against the peer pressure they face at school today. You know these pressures are grave and there are many. I know they will be pressured to speak in a certain way and to begin to think in a certain way and ultimately to act in a certain way. Lord, protect them.
“Lord, protect my son, protect my daughter, against sexual impurity. The temptations they face are grave and severe and they will be ridiculed by their peers because of their commitment to purity. Protect them and hold them.
“Father, protect my son, protect my daughter, against doctrinal deception. There are all kinds of philosophies in this world they will hear from both teachers and even those within the church. Father, protect them that they might know your Word is true and they might build their life upon Jesus and nothing else.
“Father, protect my son, protect my daughter, against the spirit of rebellion which would cause them to turn away from authority rather than submit to it. Protect them from laziness and a lack of watchfulness in their life regarding their own soul and regarding the resources you have given to them in their lives.”
Do you see how an alert prayer is a different kind of prayer from a sleepy prayer? What would happen if we knew our children would only receive that which we asked for? Would it not change the way we pray? Have we not grown sleepy because God, in His graciousness, is so willing to give us so much more than we ask and so we assume He is going to give it? But, what a horrible day it will be to wake up and find our 18-, 19-, or 20-year old son or daughter has been devoured by the evil one in one of the areas I have mentioned, or by one of many others. We look at our own heart and our own lives and we ask ourselves, “Did I pray for this for my son or my daughter? Is it possible I do not have now because I didn’t ever ask?” Friend, be alert and be watchful!
The third attitude is the attitude of gratitude when Paul writes,
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Thankfulness is the crown of prayer. Thankfulness is that which puts joy and energy into our praying, even in dismal circumstances. Grumpiness to life and discontentment of spirit always leads to prayerlessness. That is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to learn contentment and gratitude because if we do not learn gratitude we will not be praying men and we will not be praying women.
Certain circumstances rob us of a thankful heart and our prayer life will die, for prayer cannot exist without praise for praise is the very fuel and the gasoline which drives forward the vehicle of prayer.
For what are we to pray? Paul connects prayer to evangelism in Colossians 4, and we read,
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.
We are reminded Paul is in chains, and in relationship to gratitude, it is possible for us to say, “You do not understand the circumstances of my life. I cannot be grateful and thankful at this moment.” Think of where Paul is as he is talking about thankfulness and as he is encouraging the church to be thankful. He is in a Roman prison cell which is not a fun place to be, and yet this letter, and all of his letters, sings with the melody of thankfulness and gratitude.
Paul says, “Pray. I do not want you to pray for the Lord to open up the door of the prison so I can be free (although I am sure he would not mind that kind of prayer), but that is not my first passion and my first priority. Pray for me that God may open a door for our message. Pray for open doors!” This is interesting.
If I were in Paul’s shoes I do not think that is the first thing I would ask others to pray for me. It would not be my first thought. Imagine yourself being arrested by Roman guards and being roughly treated. You are taken to a prison which is not like any prison in the United States where people are provided for. You are thrown into a dirty, smelly cell and you hear the big wooden door “clunk” shut and you hear the key “chunk” the lock. What is your first thought? Here is Paul’s first thought, “What am I going to do now? I am used to being able to go out into the synagogues and preach the Gospel. Who am I going to be able to preach the Gospel to now as I sit alone in this prison cell? How is it now, when I am used to being able to proclaim the Gospel freely and boldly in the streets, I am assigned to a cell? Here is my concern and here is what I want you to pray for me – pray there will be opportunities even here!”
You know what, God graciously answered those prayers of the Colossian believers? We read in the Book of Acts the Apostle Paul witnessed to fellow prisoners and to guards. Can you imagine being chained to the Apostle Paul for an eight-hour shift? You do not stand a chance because his life exudes the Gospel and here is all of this pent up preaching in him to proclaim the Gospel, and Paul says, “All right! A new guard and a new shift!”
Not only that, but Paul was able to proclaim the Gospel to Roman authorities, such as King Agrippa, Felix, and Festus. In those trials he was able to proclaim the Gospel to the Jewish community.
He understood his circumstances did not rob him of his opportunities; it only presented him with new and unique opportunities. That is true for us. Many times, when we enter into some difficult circumstances, we withdraw from our witness rather than understand and pray God will open doors through them, and He will.
The second thing Paul asked for through prayers was for clarity in his witness, as we read,
4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Paul understands evangelism is the ministry of proclamation and this is something which is being challenged today. Many have adopted the ideology contrary to Scripture which says, “We can be a witness without any proclamation. All we have to do is ask questions, live out our life, and we have a dialogue.” While all of those things are a part of a witness, ultimately, for witness to be a witness we must declare a message. God has given us a message to declare and apart from declaring or proclaiming that message we cannot be faithful to the call of being ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Didn’t Paul understand the Gospel clearly? Why would he have trouble proclaiming it as clearly as he should? There are two reasons why the Apostle Paul asks for this specific request. First, he knew the Gospel was offensive and he knew he, like all other men and women, he was susceptible to the temptation of removing the offensive parts from the Gospel and, thus, making it less offensive, but also less clear. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 1, says,
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…
He says that because he knows the temptation is for us to be ashamed because the Gospel is ridiculed and rejected by the majority in this world. He says, “Pray I do not compromise the Gospel and I do not water it down to gain the pleasure of other people’s ears. Pray I might proclaim it as clearly as I should. Pray in my own human weakness and desire for other people to like me or to relieve myself of the difficulty of the circumstances I am in, imprisonment and maybe death, pray I do not lose the clarity of the message which was delivered to me.”
The second reason I believe the Apostle Paul is asking this is he understands, while he may be able to explain the Gospel in such a way people can intellectually comprehend it, apart from the active work of God’s Spirit, no one can spiritually understand its value. He writes this in 1 Corinthians 2,
14 The man without the Spirit…cannot understand…because they are spiritually discerned.
He is not saying they cannot understand it logically; they can follow it and even spit it out and present it, and many even do, but they cannot understand its value and why it is worthwhile to give up one’s life and to build one’s life upon it.
Let us consider the second commandment of talking to others about God. Prayer and evangelism are always linked together and that is exactly what Paul does here. He provides for us, in the text, with some elements to help us talk to others about God,
5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders…
This is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, Paul talks about a certain group of people as “outsiders”. We may say, “Isn’t that exclusive language?” Yes, it is and it means if there are “outsiders” then there are “insiders”. This is not the only time he uses this terminology. He uses it in two or three other places in the New Testament in talking about “unbelievers” being “outsiders”.
What does that mean and what are they outside of? They are outside of the saving grace of God. They are outside the redeeming mercy of God. They are outside of a personal relationship with God. They are outside of God’s inheritance. They are outside of God’s security. They are outside of God’s hope. They are outside of God’s Heaven. They are outside of all things which salvation offers and so much more.
Are you outside or are you inside, because you are one place or the other. The only way for us to become inside of God’s saving grace, His redeeming mercy, His inheritance, His complete acceptance, His hope, His life, and His Heaven is for us to receive the invitation. The invitation is not exclusive. It is inclusive, given to everyone. The invitation is offered to every person born into this world. Repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ. Call upon His name and you will be saved.
Paul says, “Be wise in the way you live.” In other words, people who are not born again and who do not have life in God’s Spirit are going to be watching you and make sure you do not live in such a way so as to negate any witness you may have.
Earlier, Paul talks about clothing ourselves with humility, compassion, kindness, and gentleness, and he instructs us to do this as God’s chosen people and as those who are inside the family of God. This is important for us and is somewhat convicting for us to ask ourselves this question, “Am I sometimes reticent to tell people about Jesus Christ because I have lived a certain way before them?”
You are in a restaurant and things during that meal are not going well; the food is burnt, it is delayed, and there is poor service. You become more and more frustrated and finally you let the waiter or waitress have it. At the end, you begin thinking, “Maybe I have an opportunity to witness to this person.” Have your actions caused you to become more reticent to take hold of that opportunity and you think, “Maybe I had better not say anything now that I have said the things I have already said.” Or, have they caused you to become more of a witness and you think, “Now that I have dealt with this frustrating situation in a godly way, I am more likely to take hold of an opportunity.” Paul tells us to be wise in the way we live before outsiders.
The second thing Paul says is,
5 …make the most of every opportunity.
We have many opportunities but we often do not see them. We need to begin to keep our eyes opened for opportunities and make the most of everyone. The opportunities we have in our lives to witness are finite. The numbers of opportunities we have to witness to our children are finite. It may not seem like that when they are growing up and we believe we have forever, but they are finite. It is the same with opportunities with other relatives, other friends, and other neighbors. They are finite. Paul tells us when we have an opportunity, take it and do not miss it. We must take advantage of it, use it, and not let it pass us by.
Many times we do not see the opportunities because we are not looking for them. One of my professors in seminary, a mission’s professor, was a fisherman and he was fanatic about fishing. He traveled the world to the various mission fields. He always carried with him this fishing pole. He saw the world differently than I did when he traveled to places. When I go to a place, I do not think, “Where is the lake or the river or the stream or the ocean?” But, that is the way he looked at life. Why did he do that? He saw opportunities to fish where I would never even imagine there would be any opportunities because he was looking for opportunities and he was passionate about it.
If we are passionate about something we begin to look for opportunities, so we need to make the most of every opportunity.
The last encouragement Paul gives us is to have a communication which is gracious. This is important for us as believers. We have strong convictions, but we need to remember to be gracious in our speech, as we read,
6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
There will be opportunities in our life when people will ask us questions about our perspective about things. We need to make sure our speech is seasoned with grace and seasoned with salt. The grace is the sugar and the salt is the purifying agent and we need both. We need sugar, not to the point of political correctness where our speech is so bland there is no punch to it. We need salt in there, also. But, all salt with no sugar stings and it causes people to react and move away.
Particularly in areas where we have strong moral convictions, it is important for us to speak with salt, we speak the Truth, and we tell them what the Bible says about God’s righteousness, but we also must make sure we season our speech with grace so we do not speak in a hateful way about people for various sins they have committed. We understand we are sinners and without God’s grace we all would be condemned by God, so we season our speech with grace and we are careful our speech is not so unnecessarily harsh and abrasive people turn away from Christ because of our abrasiveness.
There is no value in that, but at the same time we are challenged in our witness not to be so sugary there is no power to cause a person to stand up in our conversation and say, “Let me think about that because that is different from anything else I have heard anyone else say.”
We have prayer and witness. God calls us to live a transformed life so we might be used by Him as His instruments to transform the world to the Gospel. I ask you, once again, have you been transformed by Jesus Christ in your life? Have you personally connected to God through Jesus and by what He has done for you? Do not allow yourself to be content with the religiosity, a churchiness, or an external standard. God will be gracious to you if you call out upon Him in faith. God will do a miracle in your heart, but He calls us to repent of our sin and to believe in Jesus and embrace Him as the One we need more than anything else so we might have life.