Walk in Wisdom Toward Those Outside
I hope that by the time we are done this morning you will sense a refreshing wind blowing through this text. Paul has a remarkably positive and happy angle on personal evangelism. I hope we can see and it and feel it before we are done.
The text (Colossians 4:2–6) falls naturally into two parts: verses 2–4 are the first part, and verse 5 and 6 are the second part. The first part has to do with our indirect involvement in evangelism through prayer for God's specially called spokesmen. The second part has to do with our direct involvement in evangelism through wise conduct and seasoned speech.
Let's focus first on verses 2–4—our indirect involvement in frontline evangelism through prayer.
INDIRECT INVOLVEMENT THROUGH PRAYER
I have often said that one of the reasons we feel so weak in our prayer lives is that we have tried to make a domestic intercom out of a wartime walkie-talkie. Prayer is not designed as an intercom between us and God to serve the domestic comforts of the saints. It's designed as a walkie-talkie for spiritual battlefields. It's the link between active soldiers and their command headquarters, with its unlimited firepower and air cover and strategic wisdom.
This is the picture that I think helps capture the spirit of prayer in Colossians 4:2–4.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; and pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak.
Here's one way to picture what is going on here. Paul and Timothy (1:1) and Aristarchus (4:10) and Epaphras (4:12) are a unique team of storm troopers in the spiritual battle to recapture the hearts of men for God. They have made a strike at the enemy lines and met a tremendous counterforce. Paul and Aristarchus are prisoners of war. And it looks as though the enemy has a tactical victory in his pocket.
But Paul manages to smuggle a letter out of the prison camp to some fellow soldiers stationed to the rear—that's the Colossians. In the letter he asks them to get on their walkie-talkie, call command headquarters, and ask headquarters to fire a missile that will blast open a door in the prison wall and in the enemy's front line so that Paul and his squad can get on with their mission to release people from the power of Satan and bring them to God.
So the point that we are most interested in here is this: the soldiers to the rear with the walkie-talkie of prayer are very crucial in the frontline successes of evangelism. If they weren't, this text would be a sham.
How to Pray: Three Aspects
But of course all analogies are imperfect. So let's look straight at the text for a few minutes. I see at least three things that tell us how to pray and three things that tell us what to pray in this context of frontline evangelism support.
Verse 2: "Continue steadfastly in prayer." Or: "Devote yourselves to prayer."
Prayer is not like these remote control telephones that you can buy nowadays. They store up energy when you are not using them, and they run down while you use them. Prayer is just the opposite. It increases in power the more it is used, and when you hang it up, the power drains out of it. If you want to have a crucial role in the great spiritual warfare of these days, and not just be passed over as a useless soldier, you need to keep the walkie-talkie with you all day, keep it in the on position and ask again and again for God to give you your bearings and guide you through the mine fields of temptation and make you alert to every opportunity to witness to his promised victory.
The second answer to how we pray is watchfully. Verse 2: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it."
This means that the enemy knows the danger of these walkie-talkies. He will try to jam the airwaves or steal the transmitter or just put you to sleep with some drug. He jams the airwaves by filling the atmosphere of our lives with the clutter of nonessentials. He steals the transmitter by deceiving us that it is broken and won't work. He puts us to sleep by tempting us to stay up to late so that we are so tired we cannot concentrate. The only way to get victory over Satan's devices is to be watchful. The reason I stress the wartime analogy of the Christian life so often is because I don't know of a better way to keep this utterly crucial truth before us—namely, that vigilance must mark spiritual lives every day. Without it we are sitting ducks for Satan's constant barrage of flaming darts.
The third answer to how we are to pray is thankfully. "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."
In case the wartime analogy gives you the jitters, this word is added to take them away. Watchfulness and vigilance might signify a lot of nail biting and perspiration and heart thumping. But this would be a big mistake. Sometimes our hearts do thump and the hands get clammy, but that is not supposed to be the normal feeling of the Christian soldier.
What we are supposed to feel normally is a sense that the command headquarters in heaven is in control, progress is being made on all the strategic fronts, the battle is the Lord's, the decisive engagements of Christ and Satan in the wilderness and in Gethsemane and on the cross and at the empty tomb have all been won by Christ, and he is leading his church in triumph to a great day of worldwide consummation. And so woven through all our walkie-talkie requests for fire cover, are sentences like: "Nice shot, Sir, thank you." "The door blew open wide, Sir, thank you." "We made it through, Sir, thank you." "Aristarchus' arm has healed, Sir, thank you." "Coming now in with 20 happy captives, Sir, thank you."
When Paul says that our praying is to be done with thanksgiving, he means that we should keep our eyes on the victory of God. We do not fight as losers or even as those who are uncertain. We know God will win. And if we have eyes to see, we will recognize the path of his power again and again.
What to Pray: Three Things
Now in verses 3 and 4 Paul tells us at least three things about what to pray in our support of frontline evangelism.
1. For the Storm Troopers
Pray for the storm troopers. Verse 3: " . . . and pray for us also . . . "
God has called some people to give most of their time to direct gospel warfare. All Christians are soldiers. All have walkie-talkies (priesthood of all believers!). But there is a differentiation of assignment on the battlefield. He has given some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). We can call these the storm troopers.
Paul's point here in verse 3 is that all Christian soldiers should use their walkie-talkies for the sake of the storm troopers. Every one should have some missionaries and pastors that they focus on specifically.
2. For Openings for Gospel Opportunities
Pray for gospel opportunities to open in the world for these storm troopers. Verse 3: "Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word." Paul is aware that there is a difference between regular, ordinary speaking about Christ to those he is with, and periodic, extraordinary opportunities for effective proclamation. In 1 Corinthians 16:9–10, he says, "I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." And in 2 Corinthians 2:12 he said, "When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord." And in Revelation 3:8 Jesus says to the church at Philadelphia, "Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut."
This should be our constant request going over the walkie-talkie for the storm troopers here in Minneapolis and among the unreached peoples of the world—"O God, blow the door off the hinges in Albania, Guinea, Japan, China, Downtown Minneapolis!"
3. For the Mystery of Christ to Be Made Plain
Pray for the whole mystery of Christ to be made plain when God opens a door. Verse 3b–4: " . . . to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak."
Put together the two words, "clear" and "mystery." The goal of evangelism is to make a mystery clear. The gospel is not a mystery because it is confusing or obscure like a tricky riddle. It's a mystery because no one would ever know it or think of it unless God had made it plain.
- That the Son of God should become man.
- That he should live a life of poverty and love.
- That he should die in the place of sinners and bear the curse of the law though he was sinless.
- That he should rise from the dead and reign in heaven today.
- That the ungodly should be justified by faith.
- That Jew and Gentile, red and yellow, black and white should be reconciled in one body to God.
- And that Christ should dwell in our hearts and seal us for glory.
These things no one would have ever dreamed of. They are the mystery hidden from the ages in God, but now to be revealed and made plain to the world—that is evangelism. And that is what we should pray would be happening all over the world, and right here.
DIRECT INVOLVEMENT THROUGH WISE CONDUCT AND SEASONED SPEECH
So I want to turn now to verses 5 and 6 and shift our focus off of our indirect involvement in evangelism through prayer for the storm troopers, to the daily direct involvement in evangelism that every soldier is supposed to have where we live and work and play.
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.
I said at the beginning that Paul has a remarkably positive and happy angle on personal evangelism in this text. There is a refreshing wind that blows through these two verses.
These verses answer the question how all of us believers are supposed to relate to the unbelievers in our lives. Paul has in view accomplishing as much spiritual good as we can in these relationships. That's what he means in verse 5 when he says to "make the most of the time." Literally it says, "Buy up the opportunity."
In other words life is a series of never to be repeated opportunities for buying up spiritual blessings. This is a thrilling way to look at life. It's a perfect continuation of last week's point about detours. Whether on course or on a detour, every hour of your life brings a situation that can be bought up for eternity or missed.
Jesus said, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . " The kingdom of God is like a man who went on a long journey and gave money to each of his servants to deal with while he was away. What are we to do? Buy up the opportunities of life for eternity. There is never a dull or insignificant moment for the Christian who is radically devoted to shrewd purchasing of life's moments for eternity.
How Can We Buy Up Every Opportunity?
So the question Paul answers in these two verses is how can we buy up every opportunity as we relate to the unbelievers in our lives? He gives three answers.
- Wise behavior,
- salty speech,
- and individual attention.
1. Wise Behavior
Verse 5: "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders." Wisdom is knowing what to do for the glory of God when the rule book runs out. It's knowing how to become all things to all men without compromising holiness and truth. It is creativity and tact and thoughtfulness. It's having a feel for the moment, and having an eye for what people need and want. In order to buy up opportunities for God, we have to be wise in our behavior.
There are four sources of wisdom.
- Meditation on the Scriptures: Psalm 19:7, "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple."
- Prayer: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God."
- Sound counselors (the book of Proverbs!).
- The practice of principles in real life experience (Hebrews 5:14).
2. Salty Speech
The second answer to how we buy up opportunities for eternity is salty speech. Verse 6: "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt."
I take this to mean that what we say about Christ and about the Christian life should be made as appetizing as possible. When food is not salted, its taste is bland. People don't want to eat it. It's unappetizing. Our speech is not supposed to be like that.
This is one of the most refreshing things I have ever heard anyone say about personal evangelism. Think about it for a moment. How can you develop the ability to speak about Christ so that there is an appetizing flavor to it? How do you learn to talk about Christ in a way that makes people's mouth water?
I think the answer is simply to spend time every day reminding yourself from Scripture why the gospel tastes good to you. Some of us who have been Christians for a long time begin to neglect the crucial business of enjoying Christ. Then an opportunity comes along to commend him to someone and we realize that all the reasons he is wonderful have been neglected and the keenness of our own taste buds has grown very dull. It's hard to salt your speech with the deliciousness of Jesus when you haven't been enjoying the taste yourself.
So the wonderful thing about Paul's advice here is that the best way to prepare to be an advertisement for the satisfying taste of Jesus is to enjoy him yourself. Every day we should go to the Bible and look for reasons why knowing Christ is the greatest thing in the world. And when we get up off our knees with our hearts happy in him, we will be in the best position to make our speech appetizing for Christ. (See Jesus' example in John 4:14; 6:35; etc.)
3. Individual Attention
The final answer to the question how to buy up every opportunity for God is that a person should get individual attention. Verse 6b: " . . . so that you may know how you ought to answer every one."
The point is simple: each person is different and each situation is different. The gospel is the same, and Christ is the same, but there are countless ways to serve the meal. We need wisdom how to serve and wisdom how to season it.
So let's pick up the walkie-talkie and support the storm troopers with persistence and watchfulness and confident gratitude. And let's buy up every opportunity for eternity with wise conduct and salty speech and individual attention.
And beneath it all let's set our eyes on Christ in the gospel until we taste how appetizing and satisfying he is for our own souls. "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."