Walk in Wisdom: Seize the Moment
This is the second in a series of messages under the theme "I am God Almighty: Be Fruitful and Multiply." Those are the words of God to Jacob in Genesis 35:11. I suggested last week that the logic of those words is just like the logic of the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18–19, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; go therefore and make disciples."
"All authority has been given to me" corresponds to "I am God Almighty." And "Go therefore and make disciples" corresponds to "Be fruitful and multiply." In other words, the people of God are an evangelizing, persuading, recruiting, missionary people because God is God Almighty and Jesus is the absolute authority in the universe.
Christianity Is an Evangelistic Way of Life
There is a necessary place for religious pluralism in this fallen age because true Christianity can only spread without coercion. "My kingdom is not of this world . . . if it were my disciples would fight with the sword." We must make room for other faiths to have free expression because faith in Christ cannot be forced. But there is no ultimate pluralism. No eternal pluralism—because God is God Almighty, and Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. There are no parallel gods and therefore no parallel faiths. There is one true God and one Lord, Jesus Christ. In the age to come all that have rejected the true God and his Son Jesus Christ will be judged by God and cast out of the kingdom (Matthew 8:12). "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
Therefore Christianity has from the very beginning been an aggressively evangelistic way of life—for the sake of life, and love. Jesus commanded it as his parting passion for the church: "Go and make disciples." He said just before he ascended into heaven, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8). The early disciples of the Lord had this word burning in their hearts, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21). So they took up their cross and laid down their lives to be fruitful and multiply.
The result recorded in the book of Acts is amazing.
- Acts 2:41: "There were added that day about three thousand souls."
- Acts 4:4: "The number of the men came to be about five thousand.
- Acts 5:14: "All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number."
- Acts 6:1: "At this time . . . the disciples were increasing in number."
- Acts 6:7: "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly."
- Acts 9:31: "The church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace . . . [and] continued to increase."
- Acts 12:24: "The word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied."
- Acts 16:5: "So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily."
This is what Jesus had meant when he said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). As the Father sent me to seek and to save those who are lost, so I send you.
The Need for a Wake Up Call
From time to time in the life of the church there needs to be a wake up call to some simple and central and basic things. One of these is: Christianity is a converting religion. It is evangelistic. It is persuasive and expansive and missionary. It is not coercive. It does not use the sword, manipulation, or brainwashing. But it does proclaim, and persuade and plead and pray. And where this is not believed and practiced, Christianity ceases to be Christianity and starts to become another religion with another king who no longer says, "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply." When we lose a passion to see people won over to Jesus, we lose Jesus.
Christianity is a soul-winning, out-reaching, mind-persuading, heart-entreating, rescuing, missionary faith, or it is not true Christianity. We need to be reminded of this, because it is almost incredible how listless we can become while calling ourselves Christians. Little by little our whole orientation can become inward. We can go for months and years and not think about those who perish. We become so dull and spiritually callous that we don't even ask if we believe in hell or lostness or the preciousness of Christ and the power of the cross and the freeness of the gospel and the command of Jesus. We just go about our in-house religious business like a medical clinic that sees fewer and fewer patients and has more and more staff meetings, until there is nothing left but a smooth running program for the doctors and nurses and their families. That is what happens to many churches.
So this series is a wake up call for us. "I am God Almighty, says the Lord, be fruitful and multiply." The first word in our Mission Statement is "Spreading"—"Spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things." And the last word in our Mission statement is "peoples"—" . . . for the joy of all peoples." So the word from the Lord in these days is, "I am God Almighty; do that!"
Today's word from the Lord comes from Colossians 4:2–6.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 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; 4 in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. 5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 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.
In verses 3–4 Paul has his own evangelistic ministry in mind, and in verses 5–6 he has the outreach of the ordinary Christians in Colossae in mind. This morning and this evening we will focus on verses 5 and 6 and our calling to evangelize outsiders.
The Necessity of Prayer in Gospel Spreading
But let me say a word about verses 3 and 4. Don't miss the utter necessity of prayer in the spread of the gospel. Paul pleads for prayer from ordinary Christians. A fruitful and multiplying band of disciples will be a praying band. Do you pray for the gospel to advance and triumph?
Paul asks for two things, one external in the situation outside himself, the other internal to his own soul.
Pray for an Open Door for the Word
In verse 3 he asks them to pray "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." In other words God will create opportunities for the gospel to be heard in response to prayer. He will open doors for speaking. He will take down iron curtains. He will cause earthquakes in prisons. Barnabas asked at the breakfast table this week, "When Paul was arrested and beat up in Philippi, why didn't he tell them he was a Roman citizen instead of waiting until he was in jail for a night?" I said, I don't know, but it may be that God had a jailer he wanted to reach with the gospel, and so he simply blocked Paul's mind for a few hours, until the door for the gospel was literally thrown open by an earthquake. Pray for doors to open. That's Paul's plea for external help through prayer.
Pray for Courage and Clarity
But there is a plea for something internal in verse 4. He says, "[Pray] that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak." This is not a prayer about the external situation of doors opening. This is a prayer about the courage and clarity of Paul's heart and mind. Pray that something happen in me so that my speaking will be courageous and clear and open and powerful.
Both are needed. What good is an open door if no one has the courage or the clarity to go through it and speak? And what good is courage and clarity if all the doors are slammed shut on the people who need the Word? Therefore pray, pray, pray. O may we be a praying people! Would some of you please join me at 6:00 PM in the prayer room Wednesdays? (And others Monday morning 7:00 AM, and Tuesday morning 6:30 AM, and Friday morning 6:30 AM, and Sunday morning 8:15 AM.)
Five Questions About Verses 4 and 5
But for the rest of this morning, and then again this evening, I want to focus our attention on verses 4 and 5.
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 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.
There are five things here that call for explanation and application and—I hope—exultation.
- What does it mean (literally) to "walk in wisdom toward those outside"? What is this wisdom? What is it's aim and origin?
- What does it mean to "make the most of [literally: purchase] the opportunity"? What is the opportunity and how do you purchase it?
- How do you "let your speech always be with [or in] grace"?
- What does it mean to be "seasoned with salt"?
- How do you "know how to respond to each person"? Why does he assume that people will say things that need to be responded to?
That's what I want us to think about from this text, and it will take us both this morning and this evening to do it. In fact we will only cover the first this morning and the other four tonight.
1."Walk in Wisdom Toward Outsiders"
Let's start with 4:5a, "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders." What does it mean (literally) to "walk in wisdom toward those outside," that is, toward those outside the fellowship of believers, outside the church? Let's ask three questions: What is the goal of this wisdom—what does it aim to accomplish? What is the origin of this wisdom—where does it come from; how do you get it? And what is the path of this wisdom—what does it look like?
1.1. The Goal of Walking in Wisdom
Wisdom is the use of knowledge to reach worthy goals. You can know lots of things—be a Ph.D.—and be very unwise. Having knowledge and using knowledge are very different. Wisdom is being able to take what you know and make use of it to reach worthy goals. So wisdom has worthy goals in view. Now what is the goal of walking in wisdom toward outsiders?
Wisdom aims at winning outsiders to Christ. There are two remarkable texts in the Old Testament that connect wisdom with this goal. Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls." "He who is WISE wins souls." The aim of wisdom is to win over (literally: "take" as in spiritual conflict) the souls of those who reject God and his Word and his Son. One writer said, "A soul is a kingdom. As many as we can bring back to God are so many kingdoms reconquered" (Quesnel, quoted in Charles Bridges, Proverbs, p. 130).
So the goal of wisdom in Proverbs 11:30 is to win souls. Here's the way Daniel puts it in Daniel 12:3: "Those who have insight [= are wise] will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." The goal of the wise—the goal of true wisdom—is to lead people to righteousness. And we know now that Christ is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). So the goal of wisdom is to lead people to Christ.
1.2. The Path of Walking in Wisdom
What does this wisdom look like when it is happening? There is a good example of what this wisdom looks like in part in 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 where Paul is again teaching about how to act toward outsiders: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders [= walk in wisdom] and not be in any need." Notice the key phrases: "attend to your own business," "work with your hands," "not be in any need."
In other words walking in wisdom towards outsiders here means, Work hard, be competent, don't meddle, and don't be lazy and dependent on others for your livelihood. In other words, don't give people the argument that Christianity makes people lazy or nosy or incompetent or unproductive. Walking in wisdom means living so as not to bring reproach on the faith. Wisdom takes note of the manners and social customs of the community and avoids offensive and rude behavior. It "adorns" the gospel, as Paul says in Titus 2:10. It reinforces it. Or, as he says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, "Love does not act unbecomingly." Instead it acts wisely and does not offend customs and mores and cultural expectations that are not sinful.
We will see more tonight how wisdom actually looks when we take up the phrases, "make the most of the opportunity," and "let your speech always be with grace," and "be seasoned with salt," and "know how to respond to each person." All those spell out more fully what it is to walk in wisdom. But we turn now finally to the question of the origin of our wisdom toward outsiders.
1.3. The origin of Walking in Wisdom
If you say, Yes, that is what I want; I want to know how to walk in wisdom toward outsiders and win people to Christ, then you need to know where to turn for the wisdom.
Paul gives one essential answer earlier in this letter, Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another." Wisdom comes from letting the Word of Christ dwell richly within you. None of us is spiritually wise by nature. We are foolish until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. And Paul says that happens by the Word of Christ richly dwelling in us. "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom."
When I stop and ponder what we've seen it amazes me again that the way to live the Christian life boils down again and again to earnest prayer and extended meditation on the Word of God. In verses 3 and 4 Paul pleads for prayer and shows us that external doors open and internal resources rise in answer to prayer. Then in verse 4 he says that we are to walk in wisdom toward outsiders. The goal is to win their souls; one of the means is to live exemplary lives before them, and the origin this wisdom is from letting the Word of Christ dwell richly in us. In other words prayer for the power of God and meditation on the Word of God are the key.
This is not all. There is more—some very important things yet to be said in verses 4 and 5. But this is key. Are you asking the Lord to open doors? Political doors. Family doors. Heart doors. Are you asking him for courage and clarity? Are you letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly? Richly! Lots of it. Lingering over it. Meditating on it. Feeding your soul, until you are rich with the wisdom of Jesus. You start to think the way he thinks. You catch onto how he would respond in a situation because you have pondered his reactions so often and so richly. You find words for outsiders because you have listened to Jesus' words so much.
I close with a pastoral plea and prayer: pray for the goal of wisdom in your life and go to the origin of wisdom in your life. The goal of wisdom is to win souls and lead people to the righteousness that is in Jesus. The origin of this wisdom is to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. Pray and meditate. Pray and meditate. Pray and meditate.