On Mission in the World
INTRODUCTION: We are almost at the end of our study through the book of Colossians. Our message series is called “Living the Christ-Centered Life” and today’s passage answers the question: “What does the Christ-centered life look like in relationship to the world?” Last week we looked at Christ-centered relationships in the home and at the workplace. Now today we want to look at our relationships in the world with those who do not yet know Christ. (Read Colossians 4:2-6 and pray.)
We are talking about living the Christ-centered life and Christ-centered relationships. We’ve already looked at our relationships at home and at work, and now we want to look at our relationships with non-Christians in the world. Christ is central to all things, and so we should view all our relationships in light of Christ and the gospel.
Part of living the Christ-centered life means sharing Christ with others. If you live a sports-centered life, you probably spend a good portion of your time talking with others about sports. If you live a pet-centered life, you probably spend a good portion of your time talking with others about your pets. And so if you are living the Christ-centered life, you will spend a good portion of your time telling others about Jesus.
So how do we do that? How do we effectively share Christ with others? Today’s passage tells us three things in particular: 1) Pray for opportunities to share the gospel; 2) Live your life in light of the gospel. And 3) Guard your speech for the sake of the gospel. So let’s take a look at all three of these together.
I. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel (2-4)
First of all, pray for opportunities to share the gospel. When it comes to sharing the gospel with others, it always begins with prayer. And Paul tells us three things about prayer in these verses.
A. Devote yourselves to prayer (be persistent, watchful and thankful)
– Acts 1:14; Ephesians 6:18
First of all, devote yourselves to prayer. Look at Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2) The word translated “devote” here is a word that means “to continue in something, to give it your steadfast attention, to persevere, to hold fast and not let go.” We find the same phrase in Acts 1:14 where we read that the apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer.” (Acts 1:14)
We often say we are too busy to pray, but the Bible tells us we should be busy with prayer. Be persistent. Make prayer a regular part of your daily life. Prayer should be one of those habits that you just can’t quit.
We should not only be devoted to prayer; we should be watchful in prayer. The word translated “watchful” here is a word that means “to be awake, to be alert or vigilant.” We find a similar instruction in Ephesians 6:18: “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Anyone here ever fallen asleep while praying? I have! If you’ve ever fallen asleep in prayer, you can at least say: “Hey! The last thing I did before I fell asleep was pray!” Maybe bedtime isn’t the best time for our regular prayer time. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “No one in his senses, if he has any power of ordering his own day, would reserve his chief prayers for bedtime – obviously the worst possible hour for any action which needs concentration.”
But Paul is not just talking about wakefulness here but watchfulness, being alert – watching over your own life with prayer, watching over the people around you in prayer, being alert to opportunities and how your life affects your witness.
And then Paul says we should be thankful. Paul continues to sound the note of thanksgiving in this letter. In fact this is the seventh time in four chapters that Paul has mentioned thankfulness. (Colossians 1:3,12; 2:7; 3:15,16,17; 4:2) Thanksgiving is essential to keep prayer fresh and alive, to staying alert! Remember Paul is in prison as he writes these words. And if Paul could remember to be thankful in prison, we also can remember to be thankful in prayer. We should be persistent, watchful and thankful in prayer.
B. Pray that God will open doors for the message of Christ
– 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Timothy 2:9
The word Paul uses for prayer in this verse is the general word for prayer, but it is usually used in the New Testament in the sense of petition or intercession. Now remember this whole section has to do with sharing the gospel with others. So what do we specifically pray for in this regard?
Well first you can pray that God will open doors for the message of Christ. Look at Colossians 4:3: “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.” (Colossians 4:3) Paul prayed for the Colossians back in chapter one (Colossians 1:3-14) Now he asks them to pray for him.
We all need prayer. If the apostle Paul needed prayer, trust me, we all need prayer. Do you want a better pastor than you have right now? Then pray for your pastor! Do you want better sermons? Then pray for better sermons! We all need prayer, and Paul asked the Colossians to pray for him.
Now remember, Paul is in prison, and so there are all sorts of things he could have asked them to pray for him – for comfort, for daily food, for release. And yet what does he ask for? He asks them to pray for an open door for the gospel. He asks them to pray that God will give him further opportunity to share Christ. Paul would rather have an open door for the gospel than an open door for his jail cell! This is a vitally important prayer because God is the one who opens and closes doors in this life. God loves to answer this prayer, and he is the one who will open doors for you to share the gospel.
Paul calls the message of the gospel here “the mystery of Christ.” We spoke about this mystery back in Colossians chapter one. We saw there that the mystery was Christ in you, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:26-27) In other words, it is all about the gospel. We are talking about living the Christ-centered life, and the gospel is a Christ-centered message. To preach the gospel is to preach Christ. If there is no Christ in your words, then there is no gospel, because the gospel is all about who Christ is and what he has done for us. Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God who died on the cross for our sins so we could return to God. It’s that simple.
Notice Paul says he is “in chains for the gospel.” The whole reason he is in prison is because he was sharing the gospel, and yet here he is praying for more opportunities to do the same thing which sent him to prison to begin with! Later on Paul would be in prison again, and he would write these words in 2 Timothy 2:9: “I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” (2 Timothy 2:9) Paul cared more for the spread of the gospel than he did his own well being. And so he tells us to pray that God will open doors for the message of Christ.
C. Pray for open mouths to proclaim the message clearly
– Acts 28:30-31; Ephesians 6:19
And then he tells us to pray for open mouths to proclaim the message clearly. Look at Colossians 4:4: “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Colossians 4:4) Paul says something similar in Ephesians 6:19: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19) And so we not only pray for open doors but open mouths. We talk to God about talking to others.
Notice Paul says it is necessary to proclaim the gospel clearly. This is in contrast to the false teachers at Colosse who shrouded their teachings in mystery. The job of the real teacher or preacher is to make the word of God clear and plain to the hearer, to make it known, to share the gospel in such a way that people understand. If you don’t know how to do that, we can teach you! Next time we offer evangelism training, I encourage you to come and be a part of it.
The wonderful thing about these two prayer requests Paul made while in prison is that we see both of them were answered. We read this about Paul’s imprisonment at the end of the book of Acts: “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30-31) Paul prayed for open doors and an open mouth to share the gospel. God granted him both of them, and God will do the same for you.
If you want to have opportunities to share the gospel with others it all begins with prayer – committed prayer, faithful prayer, devoted prayer. Last month we had a special Sunday evening prayer service just to pray for our unsaved loved ones. If you look on the back of your sermon outline for today, I’ve included the outline of seven prayer requests for unsaved loved ones that we prayed through at the prayer service. And you will see that we covered some of the same points we just covered here but in much more detail.
Devote yourselves to prayer. Pray for open doors for the gospel. Pray for an open mouth to share the gospel. That’s the first step to sharing Christ with others effectively. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel.
II. Live your life in light of the gospel (5)
The second step is this: live your life in light of the gospel. Look at verse 5 with me now: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5)
Here we are given general principles of Christian conduct, especially concerning the way we relate to non-Christians. And verse 5 tells you two things about living your life in light of the gospel. You should be wise in the way you act towards outsiders. And you should make the most of every opportunity.
A. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders
– Ephesians 5:15; Colossians 1:9, 21; Titus 2:10
So first of all, be wise in the way you act towards outsiders. The word “outsiders” here refers to non-Christians, those people still outside the Christian faith. God says you need to be wise in the way you act towards non-Christians. In other words your walk needs to match your talk, because, rightly or wrongly, people will judge your talk by your walk. It’s been said your life is the only translation of the Bible some people will ever read. Is it a good translation?
Paul says something similar in Ephesians 5: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15) Living wisely will present a gospel that is attractive to people around you. As we read in Titus 2:10 we need to show that we “can be fully trusted, so that in every way [we] will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:10)
Your reputation has a great impact on people’s receptivity to the gospel. Ever hear someone say something like: “You mean you want me to be a Christian – like so-and-so?” You want to share the gospel with people, so you need to be careful not to say or do anything that will make it difficult for you to do that. This means living a godly and upright life, being a person of good reputation, treating people with courtesy and respect, and apologizing when you’ve done something wrong.
I remember getting into an argument with a mechanic once and saying some things I probably shouldn’t have said. I had just moved into a new town and this was one of the first people I had met. I went home and felt so bad, because I wanted to maintain a good reputation for the gospel. So I wrote out an apology note and brought it back to him. He tore the note in half in front of me and threw it in the wastebasket. I told him, “That was an apology note, sir. You don’t get a lot of those in life, so you may want to read that one.” He took it out of the wastebasket, read it and shook my hand. You see, we need to be wise in the way we act towards outsiders so that we do not present any obstacle for the gospel going forward.
There was a time when the Colossians themselves were outsiders. We read in Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1:21) This is a good thing for us to remember as Christians. We were once outside the Christian faith too. Everyone on the inside was once on the outside. So don’t forget what God saved you from. And don’t lose sight of those who still need Christ.
B. Make the most of every opportunity
– Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 5:16
How do you live your life in light of the gospel? 1) Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders.
And 2) Make the most of every opportunity. That’s what we see at the end of verse 5: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5) We see the same thing in Ephesians 5: “Be very careful, then, how you live … making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
This phrase “make the most of every opportunity” literally means “to redeem the time, to buy up the time.” The form of the word in the original language indicates an additional intensity to the action. This is not “window shopping” for time on a leisurely stroll through the mall. Rather this is more like a shopping spree or buying hurricane supplies when a Category 5 storm is bearing down on you. I like the way Peter O’Brien translates it: “by snapping up every opportunity that comes.”
Sometimes we act like we have all the time in the world, but the truth is your time is limited. And when you recognize that your time is limited, that will help you to live wisely. That’s what we read in Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) We have limited time, and so we must redeem the time that we do have, making the most of every opportunity. That’s the second step to sharing Christ with others effectively. Live your life in light of the gospel.
III. Guard your speech for the sake of the gospel (6)
How do you share Christ with others? 1) Pray for opportunities to share the gospel. 2) Live your life in light of the gospel. And then finally, 3) Guard your speech for the sake of the gospel.
Notice both your life and your speech are important to your witness. This is the same combination of “word and deed” that we saw back in Colossians 3:17 where we were told: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17) We’ve already seen the importance of your lifestyle to your gospel witness. Now let’s look at the importance of your words to your witness. Look at Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)
A. Let your conversation be always full of grace
– Psalm 141:3; Luke 4:22
The first instruction here is let your conversation always be “full of grace.” This means that the words that come out of your mouth should be purposeful, edifying, loving, thoughtful and kind. This was the testimony that people gave concerning Jesus in Luke 4:22: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” (Luke 4:22)
King David in the Old Testament knew the importance of the words that we speak. He wrote in Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
So that’s the first step in guarding your speech for the sake of the gospel. Let your conversation be always full of grace.
B. Let your words be seasoned with salt (wholesome; attractive)
– Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 3:8
And then secondly, God says, let your words be “seasoned with salt.” Salt was used in New Testament times both as a preservative to guard against corruption and then also for its flavor. So when this verse talks about your words being seasoned with salt it’s talking about speech that is both wholesome and attractive, speech that guards against corruption and is also attractive or appealing to others.
We see a similar instruction in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
By the way this “guarding against unwholesome talk” is especially important for us guys to get a hold of. Guys, it’s easy to get caught up in street language or locker room talk when everyone else is doing it, but you have a higher calling. And you have an opportunity to set yourself apart by refusing to go there in your language. Ladies, you need to guard your speech as well, but guys, let me especially encourage you to watch yourselves in this area.
C. Be prepared to share the gospel with anyone at any time
– 1 Peter 3:15-16
How do you guard your speech for the sake of the gospel? Let your conversation be always full of grace. Let your words be seasoned with salt, that is, wholesome and attractive. And then finally, be prepared to share the gospel with anyone at any time. That’s what we read at the end of verse 6: “so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)
This is one of the main reasons why you are supposed to guard your speech – so that when the opportunity comes to share Christ, you will be ready, you will be prepared. You will know how to say the right thing at the right time with each person that God brings our way. We read the same thing in 1 Peter 3:15: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Your words are important because your patterns of speech will often open or close doors for the gospel. If you want to share Christ effectively with others, then you must guard your speech for the sake of the gospel.
CONCLUSION: All these things are essential to your witness for Christ. If you do not pray for opportunities to share the gospel, if you do not live your life in the light of the gospel, if you do not guard your speech for the sake of the gospel, you will miss out on many opportunities to share Christ with others.
People, we are on mission in the world. And as such God calls us to devoted prayer, wise living and gracious speech so that we may fulfill our mission of sharing Christ and the gospel.
Living the Christ-centered life means sharing Christ with others. Let us commit ourselves to grow in each of these areas so that we will be better equipped and prepared to share the gospel with the people God has placed in our lives.