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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
June 5, 2011
Prayer & Witness
This morning we come to Colossians 4:2-6 and the apostle Paul’s final instructional in this letter. In this passage he gives them direction on how to pray properly in order to be a good witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an important lesson for us as well because the lack of evangelism is directly tied to the lack of proper prayer, and proper prayer is directly related to living in a manner in keeping with being someone who has been raised up with Christ. I want to stress this point from the beginning of the sermon not only because it is the proper context for what Paul says here, but it is the only way in which Paul’s instructions can be carried out with faithfulness.
Praying properly in order to be a good witness for the Lord Jesus Christ is dependent on having the motivations and following the instructions Paul has given in Chapter 3. As Paul began that chapter, he pointed out that every true Christian has been raised up with Christ and therefore there should be certain changes in that person’s life. This includes having a mind set on the things above to seek them instead of the things of this earth. The importance of what is eternal replaces what is temporal. The manner of life is changed as sinful habits and attitudes are set aside and put to death and replaced by new habits and attitudes that are righteous and holy. Love for God and others replaces the sinful selfishness that resulted in all manners of hatred toward and exploitation of others. At the heart of this change in the manner of life is the change in the purpose of life. Life is no longer about you, your comforts, desires and glory. It is now about God and His glory. That is why Paul summarizes in Colossians 3:17 that “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to the Father.”
This change in the purpose and manner of life should have a positive effect on every relationship. We spent quite a bit of time examining the roles God has given within the family and the work environment (Colossians 3:18-4:1). These are our closest relationships. They are the people we will spend the greatest amount of time with and with whom we will have the greatest influence – and they on us as well. But there is another group of people that we as Christians must be concerned about and those are the unsaved.
If our general habits and attitudes are in keeping with those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved (Colossians 3:12) and our purpose in life is to glorify the Lord, then we will be concerned about those who are not believers and how we interact with them. We will desire to be good witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ that we might be used of God in their lives. Our ability to be good witnesses begins with prayer.
Follow along as I read 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.” (NASB)
Devoted to Prayer – vs. 2
Paul begins with a command to be devoted to prayer and to stay alert in it with thanksgiving. It is a failure in this that leads to a failure in witnessing. You must always remember that salvation is a matter for the Holy Spirit and not your ability to argue someone into the kingdom. You certainly need to be well prepared in knowing the gospel message and be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15). However, it is the Holy Spirit that brings a person to conviction about sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). It is God in His rich mercy because of His great love that takes a person who is dead in their transgressions and makes them alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). If we want to see God at work and people get saved, it begins with diligent prayer.
The verb translated here as devote, proskarterevw / proskartereô means to give unremitting attention, continue steadfastly, persevere. It is not the idea that it is the only thing that occupies your mind and time, for that would not only be physically impossible but also would then demand the neglect of all of God’s other commands. It is the idea that you keep coming back to it. You do not give up on it. You will give your attention to other things, but you will return once again to diligent prayer. That was part of the point of Jesus’ parable in Luke 18 about the widow that keep petitioning the judge. We need to persevere in prayer.
There are many errors that can mess up our prayer life and as in most cases, the two most common ones are the opposite extremes. When Jesus taught His disciples about prayer in Matthew 6:5-15, He corrected some of the wrong practices common at that time and which continue to this day. Jesus first pointed out that the religious hypocrites prayed to be seen by men and so gained their reward from men. God does not pay heed to such supposed prayers. Prayer is about talking with God and it is from Him you will receive so make sure He is the one to whom you are actually talking. Do not be like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11 who prayed “thus to himself,” nor like the religious hypocrites who prayed to impress other people. When you pray, you talk with God and make Him the focus of your attention even if other people are around.
Next, Jesus pointed out the practice of the Gentiles who prayed with meaningless repetition and with many words thinking that was the way to get God to pay attention and answer them. Many religions including some that claim to be Christian actua
lly teach this practice. Jesus corrected this by pointing out the practice was contrary to God’s character. The Father knows what you need before you even ask, so meaningless repetition and long, wordy prayers are a waste of time. Prayer is not about making God aware, for He already knows everything, nor is it about swaying Him to your point of view, for His point of view is far superior.
The opposite extreme of this is just as deadly to a healthy prayer life. Those who think they have to wear God down will spend a lot of time in prayer trying to do so in order to get what they want. Those who emphasize God’s sovereignty can fall into the danger of a practical fatalism. Prayer becomes a duty which diminishes over time because if God is going to do what He is going to do, then why spend a lot of time trying to change His mind? Underlying this is a false understanding of God, His nature and the purpose of prayer.
We often refer to Matthew 6:9-13 as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but it is actually a pattern of prayer for the disciples. The pattern of prayer Jesus gave to us focuses on the position and nature of God and acknowledgment of our dependence upon Him. All the petitions within it match promises God has already made, so our requests are not so much to gain them, but to acknowledge that we are dependent on receiving them from His hand. – “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]”
That then brings us to the purpose of prayer. It is not about us getting our way or convincing God to change His mind. It is about glorifying Him through declaration of His position and nature, acknowledging our dependence upon Him and aligning our will with His will so that we might be used by Him. Now in saying this I must make the disclaimer that from the human perspective it appears that God is swayed by prayer and so it will be described in those terms. There are many examples of answered prayer throughout the Scriptures including Moses’ entreaty in Exodus 32:11-13 to which the Lord “changed His mind” about the harm He was going to bring. James 5:16 gives Elijah as an example and then states that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Many people also point out verses such as John 14:13, 15:16 or 16:24 where Jesus states that if we ask anything in His name He will do it or God will give it. However, it must always be pointed out that there are qualifiers to those promises concerning prayer. It must be in His name which means according to what Jesus’ desires or as stated clearly in 1 John 5:14-15 “And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us [in] whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”
All prayer is dependent upon God and His will. The good thing is that the Lord God is not arbitrary, but is always consistent with Himself and takes into account all of His promises. This includes relenting from judgment, for as Joel 2:13 states, “He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, And relenting of evil.” We do not know what He is planning to do, but He does, and through prayer we enter into His will so that we can praise Him as that will unfolds over time.
Being devoted to prayer means being persistent to continue to pray about a matter over however long we might need to wait for the Lord’s answer. I recall reading that George Mueller, who was a great man of prayer, petitioned the Lord concerning the salvation of some of three of his friends for well over 20 years. All did eventually become Christians, with one of them repenting after Mueller’s death.
Paul also states we are to keep alert in prayer with thanksgiving. To be alert is to be watchful, vigilant in prayer. It comes from a word (grhgorevw / gr goreô) which has a root meaning of being awake. So don’t be like Jesus’ disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane who kept falling asleep. The spirit may be willing, but the body gets tired, so set aside time to pray when you will not be as prone to fall asleep. Do whatever you may need to do so that you can be alert in prayer. I also find it is helpful to pray out loud and not to sit in a comfortable chair otherwise I may interrupt my effort to pray silently with snoring – which even charismatics will deny is a prayer language.
Thanksgiving describes the proper attitude of prayer. Thankfulness requires us to be humble and recognize our dependence on God. Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). We must learn to see life through God’s eternal perspective. We must set aside our natural selfishness which would quickly result in demanding from God and being disappointed or even angry when we did not get from Him what we wanted – an all too common response of non-Christians and immature believers.
Open Doors – vs. 3
Paul next gives specific direction about what he wants the Colossians to be praying about – “praying at the same time for us, 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 am imprisoned.”
This is the connection between prayer and evangelism. Paul understood this clearly and it was common for him to make a request like this one to those to whom he was writing (Ephesians 6:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). His desire was to be able to preach the gospel wherever he might be and he was concerned that he would be clear in what he said and bold in its proclamation. If Paul understood his need for prayer for opportunity, boldness and clarity, then how much more do we need others praying for us! If you want to tell others about the Lord Jesus, then begin by praying yourself and then getting others to join you in praying for such opportunities. Continue on to have them pray that you will be clear in presenting the message of salvation from sin through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is easy to get side tracked or tongue tied when talking to someone about their sin and need for the Lord. It is also easy to be intimidated so that even obvious opportunities are lost. Certainly you must look for opportunities and engaging people in conversation will create them, but if you are praying and having others pray for you, I can guarantee you will have more than enough opportunity.
Consider where Paul was at when he wrote this letter. Paul was in Rome sitting in prison, or more likely a house arrest situation in which people could come see him, but he could not go see them. That was the situation Paul was in at the close of the book of Acts and what is described in his letter to the Philippians. Paul could not go out, yet the Lord brought him all sorts of people to whom he proclaimed the gospel. This include
d Jews and Gentiles. Philippians 1 records that Paul had even had an impact upon the Praetorian guard, Caesar’s elite personal guard, and Caesar’s household. Yet, Paul wanted the doors opened so that he could preach to even more people. Paul did not like being in prison, but he rejoiced over what God was doing through him while he was in prison (Philippians 1:12-18). Such is and should be the heart of the one raised up with Christ, for the things that are eternal in nature, the souls of men and women, are more important than current living conditions.
But consider this as well. Paul himself was devoted to prayer and he had many people who were also devoted to prayer that were praying for him, and Paul was in prison because he did boldly proclaim the mystery of Christ, which is the fact that God has made available to Jew and Gentile alike salvation from sin through faith in the Lord Jesus. Paul was in prison precisely because the Jews were upset and could not accept the message that Gentiles did not have to become proselytes of Judaism and keep the Mosaic Law in order to be accepted by God. The Roman guard had first arrested Paul in order to protect him from the efforts of the Jews to kill him in the Temple (Acts 21). He remained in prison because they continued to intimidate the Roman Governors (Acts 22-26).
There is this tendency in American Christianity to think that if you do well at keeping God’s moral commands and have a good prayer and devotional life, then God is only going to allow good things to come into your life. That is why professing Christians here so quickly become discouraged or even mad at God if things do not happen the way they would like. That includes even small things such as your car or appliances breaking down, getting a cold at an inopportune time or not having enough money to buy the things your friends or neighbors are purchasing. The truth is the opposite.
Jesus said in John 15:20 that if they persecuted Him, then they will also persecute you. Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus added in John 16:33 that in this world we would have tribulation, but we could be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that you would be blessed if men cast insults, persecute and say all manner of evil against you falsely on account of Him. He added that you should rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
If you are devoted to prayer and have others diligently praying on your behalf, then don’t be surprised if God gives you opportunities beyond your expectations and uses you in ways beyond what you thought was possible. But also don’t be surprised if our adversary and those of this world that are under his control will hate you for it and do all they can to make your life miserable. If you want a quite life far removed from any possibility of trouble and turmoil, then you do not want to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. His peace is always present and does surpass all comprehension, but it exists in the midst of the turmoil of this world.
Proper Speech – vs. 4
Paul was already suffering because of His witness for Christ, and though He mentions this is the reason he was in prison, his concern was to speak, act and respond properly. Notice what he says in verse 4 – “in order that I may make it clear in the way in ought to speak.” Paul wanted them to pray that he would speak properly – the way he ought to speak – and might proclaim the gospel clearly making it evident to others. The good news of Jesus Christ is a precious message and one that we need to treat properly. We should never be flippant with it, for it is a serious message of eternal life and death. It is not a product that is being marketed so its truths cannot be compromised in order to make it acceptable to the masses. It is not a club to be wielded by the self righteous in the futile effort of trying to prove their superiority, for that dishonors the message and results in self-condemnation. The gospel is a message of light and darkness; righteousness and sin; life and death; hope and condemnation. It is a message of light, life and hope for those that will believe and be made righteous by faith in Christ. It is a message of sin, death and condemnation to those who remain blinded to walk in the darkness of unbelief. We want to be sure that we present the gospel clearly without distortion lest we proclaim a false gospel.
The prayer request here covers both the message delivered and the manner in which it is delivered. Evangelism is not an effort to prove your intellectual superiority, gain spiritual scalps for your belt or get more converts than someone else. It is a heart felt matter of humbly caring for the lost and pleading with them as ambassadors of Christ to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
What is the gospel message? That man by his own sin in breaking God’s commandments has separated himself from his holy and just Creator and therefore abides under God’s condemnation. However, God out of His great love, mercy and grace provided a means by which man could be forgiven his sins and reconciled to Him by sending His son, the second person of the eternal triune Godhead, to become a man. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, then lived a sinless life, then willingly died on the cross of Calvary as the payment for man’s sin. Jesus was buried, but then rose from the dead on the third day, after which He ascended to heaven to prepare a place for His followers and sit at the Father’s right hand. He will return one day for His disciples and to set up His millennial reign upon the earth in fulfillment of God’s promises. All those that turn from their sin and place their faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, cleansed from their sins and granted eternal life being adopted into God’s family. While Jesus’ disciples may have tribulation in this world, they have a sure promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the present and of being in heaven with Jesus for eternity. Our plea is for all men everywhere to turn from their sin and self righteousness and cast themselves by faith on the mercy of the Lord as demonstrated in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Proper Conduct – vs. 5
In verse 5 Paul changes his focus from his prayer request to final instructions to them on their conduct in keeping with those who are raised up with Christ. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.”
The word translated as conduct here, peripatevw / peripateô, is a compound word meaning “around to walk” or “walk about” and hence conduct and manner of life. The believer must be careful to live in a manner in keeping with godly wisdom if they are going to have a positive impact on those who are not yet believers. Remember that wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge. It is not enough to know a lot about the Bible and theology, in fact, that can be detrimental if it is not accompanied by wisdom for knowledge puffs up and such pride would harm the message of the gospel. Knowledge of the truth must be applied in the actions of life. Christians are to conduct themselves am
ong non-Christians in similar manner to how they behave among believers except lacking the openness and intimacy that can only come with the common fellowship we have in Christ. The believer has one standard of conduct – holiness. That means the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearing, forgiveness and love Paul spoke about in Colossians 3:12-14 is also extended to non-believers.
It is by wisdom in living in this manner that you will be able to “make the most of the opportunity” or “redeem the time” as translated in the NKJV. Time is precious for it is the measure of life and every man has a very limited amount of it on this earth, so wisdom demands that what we have of it is used to its fullest extent. Time presents us opportunity, the question is how will we use it? Every one of us has 1,440 minutes per day, 10,080 per week, 3,679,200 per year, yet at the end of each day, each week, and with the passing of each year, can we say we have used them wisely? Only if our priorities match those that God has given to us, for it is not a matter of how much you get done, for that criteria would only lead to frenzied activity. It is a matter of accomplishing what God wants you to accomplish, and only He is the final judge of that. We can only strive to use godly wisdom to make the best use of our time as it unfolds before us. If you are living as one raised up with Christ with your mind set on the things above rather than the things here, then you will do this.
Proper Response – vs. 6
The effort to be wise and have proper conduct will also result in having a proper response. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, [as it were,] with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each other.”
Salt was a precious commodity in the ancient world. It is so inexpensive for us that we spread it on winter roads just to keep things from being icy, but back then great effort was made to get it and it was even used as a method of payment. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is described as being required as part of the grain offering in reflection of the covenant God had made with them (Leviticus 2:13).
Salt has several properties but the most important ones were being a food preservative and a seasoning to make food taste better. The reference in this passage is specifically as a metaphor of its seasoning properties. Gracious speech is always more palatable than speech which lacks it. As Proverbs 15:1 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:18 adds, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger pacifies contention,” and Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.”
Grace is extending a benefit that is not deserved. We live in a contentious society that seems to have lost its manners. It seems that people now prize pointed quips, sarcasm and put downs. While those things may be effective in making a point and gaining acclaim from friends, they do nothing to help turn an enemy into a friend, and yet that is what Christians are striving to do with non-Christians. They may be acting as our enemy because they are being controlled by Satan, but the truth is that they are the mission field and our striving is to get them to defect and change sides. That is done with gracious speech that reflects godliness even when they may be indifferent, harsh or even cruel to us. To go back to 1 Peter 3:15, we respond to each person that asks with a defense and account of the hope that lies within us with gentleness and fear.
As you live as someone raised up with Christ, your purpose of life changes and so with it your manner of life. These changes in living for God’s glory and walking in holiness enable you to to be devoted to prayer even when the circumstances turn bad, and to keep a focus on seeking open doors to reach the lost with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with proper speech, conduct and response.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Count how many times the terms “gospel” or “good news” are used. Discuss with your parents the importance of prayer and having proper speech and conduct in evangelism.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context of Colossians 4:2-6? How does your purpose in life affect your manner of life? How does being a Christian effect your relationships with other people? What is the role of God / Jesus / the Holy Spirit / in salvation? What is the importance of prayer in evangelism? What does it mean to be devoted to prayer? Why is it wrong to pray to be seen by others? Why is it wrong to pray with meaningless repetition? What did Jesus teach His disciples about prayer in Matthew 6? What is the danger to prayer of an over emphasis on the sovereignty of God? What qualifications does God place on His promise to answer prayer? What does it mean to be watchful in prayer? In what ways can you help yourself be watchful in prayer? Why is an attitude of thanksgiving so important in prayer? What is required of you in order to be thankful to God? Where was Paul when he wrote Colossians? Why was he there? What open doors did God give to Paul while there? Why is it wrong to think that God will not allow Christians who walk closely with Him to experience trouble? What does the Bible say about Christians and tribulation in this world? What then may be the result if you pray that you will have open doors for the gospel? What is the proper way to treat the gospel message? What is the proper motivation for evangelism? Explain the gospel your own words. Why is your manner of life so important in witnessing? Why is wisdom so important in the Christian life? What is the danger of knowledge without wisdom? How are you doing at making the most of your time? How will you know when you are using your time wisely? Why was salt precious in the ancient world and what was it used for? How does grace season speech? Contrast the effect of harsh speech and gracious speech. How should a Christian respond to someone who is harsh or even cruel? Why? What changes in purpose and manner of life would you expect from someone that professes to know and love the Lord Jesus?
Sermon Notes – 5/29/2011
Prayer & Witness – Colossians 4:2-6
Praying properly in order to be a good witness is _____________on following Paul’s earlier instructions
A change in the _____________ and manner of life will have a positive effect on every relationship
If you are _________in keeping with being chosen by God, you will be concerned about reaching the lost
Devoted to Prayer – vs. 2
Failure in prayer leads to failure in ___________________ – salvation is a matter of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit brings conviction and God in His rich mercy makes ___________ those who were dead
proskarterevw / proskartereô = unremitting attention, continue steadfastly, ______________
The religious _______________prayed in order to be seen by men – but prayer is about talking with God
The Gentiles used meaningless repetition thinking their __________________would get God’s attention
God knows your need ____________ you even ask
An over emphasis on God’s sovereignty can lead to practical ___________which will destroy prayer life
Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus’ pattern magnifies the position and nature of _____and our dependence upon Him
_____________ is about glorifying God, acknowledging our dependence and aligning our will with His
Promises of answered prayer are conditioned on it being God’s ________- “His Name” – 1 John 5:14-16
God is not arbitrary, but is _________________ with Himself and all His promises
Being devoted to prayer is to be _________________
grhgorevw / gr goreô = root of meaning of being ___________ – watchful, vigilant
Thankfulness requires us to be ________________ and recognize our dependence on God
Open Doors – vs. 3
If Paul requested prayer for opportunity, boldness and clarity – how much ____________should we do so
Paul was under house arrest at the time, so the Lord _____________ him people to him
Paul was devoted to prayer, had people praying for him and yet was in ________for preaching the gospel
Open doors are usually accompanied by ______________ – but Jesus’ peace is with us always
Proper Speech – vs. 4
The gospel is _________________ and should always be treated properly
Proper evangelism arises out of _______for the lost and humbly pleading for them to reconcile with God
The gospel is a message of sinners being ____________and reconciled to God through Jesus’ atonement
Proper Conduct – vs. 5
peripatevw / peripateô = “___________________” and hence conduct or manner of life
Knowledge without wisdom ____________________ and hinders the gospel message
_______________ enables you to make the most of your time and its opportunities
We are using our time wisely when our __________________ match those God has given to us
Proper Response – vs. 6
Salt was a precious commodity in the ancient world – included as an offering and ____________payment
Salt is a preservative and seasoning – grace is to _______________ our speech – Proverbs 15:1, 18; 10:12
We respond with _________________ even to those that are harsh because they are the mission field
Your manner of life reflects your ________in life – if it is Christ, you will seek open doors for the gospel
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