The Gospel Proclamation

August 20, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Colossians 4:2-6 |


The Gospel Proclamation | Colossians 4:2-6
Brad O’Dell | August 20, 2023

If you can open your Bibles to Colossians 4, we’ll be there this morning.

To start, I want to put up a graphic on the screen. This is something I worked through with my small group leaders. I’m not going to go through all of it, but we’re nearing the end of the book of Colossians. This is really the closing of the body of the letter, as it were. What I have here is a graphic—I don’t know where I got this from, I’ve just had it for so many years that it’s become part and parcel of how I understand the Christian life—but I think it’s a good graphic to describe what our Christian life should be as individuals and as a church gathered together as the people of Jesus. There are three directions where we’re always supposed to be looking and pursuing as individuals and as a community.

This is a very out-focused sermon. This is an out-focused text. That comes from this foundation that happened in the letter to this point, where Paul has had an upward focus at the beginning. He’s talked about who God is, who Jesus is in creation and in new creation, and he’s given us this high theology about who Jesus is. Then he says, “So this is what this means in your life,” this inward focus, both at an individual level and at a group level. “Hey, this is how this fleshes out. This is what it means about who you are and what you’re pursuing and what your hopes and promises are. But also this is what it means for how you’re supposed to interact with one another.”

Really, at the end of the letter, the letter wouldn’t be complete until he said, “Now, this isn’t all there is to the Christian life. There’s also an outward focus.” I think this is important for us, because as Christians it’s not just about our personal walk with the Lord and it’s not only about coming to church on Sunday and hearing the preaching of the word. It’s not only about looking inward and making sure we believe the truths of the gospel and making sure we’re encouraging those and pouring into the church community—it’s not just about that, but we’re called to focus out as well. Who has not heard the gospel yet? Who has not come into a relationship with Jesus yet? How do I be a part of bringing this message that has brought me life and is building me up and encouraging me to those who have not yet heard or who haven’t grasped this fully yet?

That’s what this message is today. This is just a good paradigm for you. The key with the arrows is that you need to constantly be pressing in all directions. If you give up on one direction and you’re not there, then life collapses. It doesn’t stand the way it should.

With that, let’s read Colossians 4, and I think you’re going to see some of that. We’re going to be in Colossians 4:2-6. Paul ends the body of his letter saying this:

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, 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, which is how I ought to speak.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

This is going to be my outline: I’m just going to take the text in order, and we’re going to see this:

1. We Must Be a People of Prayer
2. We Must Be a People of Gospel Proclamation
3. We Must Be a People of Wisdom and Winsomeness

I think you see that that’s the progression of Paul’s thought as he goes through there. The “must” language comes from the fact that these are all commands of Paul, what are called imperatives in the grammar of the language. These are things that are written as commands, so as we go through it today I’m going to just say, “Hey, this is what we are called to do. These are the people we must be based on everything that’s come before; so let’s get after what that looks like and let’s figure out why we might have some hangups in some of these areas.” That’s going to be how we work through it.

I think there’s a progression in these points as well, and we’re going to see how that plays out over the course of the message.

1. We Must Be a People of Prayer

First we see that we must be a people of prayer. We see that in verse 2. It says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

“Be a people of prayer and thanksgiving.” This is what Paul starts with. I think this is really one of those things that we can say this is what it means to be a Christian. We’re a people of prayer and we’re a people of thanksgiving. This is who we are, this is what we do. We see it put in fine form in 1 Thessalonians 5. He says there, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What is God’s will for us, for those who are in Christ Jesus? It’s to at least do this, to be focusing on these core things: rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances.

So, I want to start where Paul starts, talking this morning about where our prayer life is. What does that look like right now? I think the word I want to use is a Puritan word that they used when they were talking about prayer a little more often than we would use it here, and it’s the idea of communion with God. That’s the words of John Owen and some other Puritans. When they’re talking about prayer, they talk about this life or these times of communion with God.

David Clarkson, a Puritan, said it like this: “He that has communion with God is in heaven while he is on earth.” To have communion with God is to experience heaven even while we are on earth.

I think this idea of communion with God, and our prayer lives representing this, this is an area that if you’re a Christian here today I think all of us can probably look at our lives and say, “This is maybe one of my biggest areas of improvement. This is one of the areas where I think there can be some improvement in my spiritual walk.”

We were with the men’s group on Friday morning and we were setting goals for the next six months to a year of our spiritual walks, and saying, “Hey, how can we support one another and come alongside each other and hold each other accountable?” And almost every person there said, “A big aspect of my Christian walk is just my prayer life. I feel like I need to give a little more time and focus and dedication to my prayer life.” I think that’s likely the case in a lot of our lives.

Here’s the thing: I think a lot of us pray, right? We probably pray somewhat regularly. We have these short moments of the day where we pray for things. At meals we thank God for the food and we pray for what’s on the top of our minds. When we’re sending our kids off to school we pray that our kids would be safe and that they would learn well. We pray for God’s blessing on the day. At the end of the day we thank God for the day and we pray that we would sleep well so that we can have what we need for the next day. We pray for big events in life, when those are coming up. We remember to pray for those. We pray for people in our lives, people that we love, people that are on our hearts and our minds.

We pray for things, but this idea of an extended time of focused prayer, with no distractions, where you are just on your knees or in a quiet place and just spending time communing with the Lord—maybe there’s not a clear agenda, just spending time with the Lord, listening as much as you’re praying, walking with him in close relationship. I think that’s something that a lot of us struggle to find time for. It’s something of an ongoing communion with God, where even throughout the days we know that we are walking alongside and where he is walking alongside us even as we engage, even as a close friend and confidant.

I think this is something that I want us to just pull attention to. Are we a people of regular, constant prayer? Are we steadfast in it? Are we continuing in it? Thomas Goodwin says this, and I think it’s helpful. He says, “Mutual communion is the soul of all true friendship, and a familiar converse with a friend has the greatest sweetness in it.”

He’s saying, “Hey, I’m trying to say that this is what your walk with the Lord should involve some of.” So he goes on.

“So, besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to God, take the occasion to come into his presence on purpose, to have communion with him. This is truly friendly, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits. [Then listen to this.] And these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business or solemnity.”

I wonder if you have that in your spiritual walk with the Lord, that you come to him at times just to be with him, just to hear from him, just to spend time with him, just to worship with him, just to talk with him. “Here’s what’s going on in my life, Lord. What do you think about that?” Do you ever laugh with the Lord as you’re talking with him? “You’re with me in my days and I know you’re here with me, and I have a sweet communion with my Lord. I don’t just come to you with my urgent issues and I don’t just come to you in the times that are really serious.”

Listen, the Lord wants you to come to him in those times. He calls you to come—he commands you to come to him in those times. The whole Psalter is full of times where people are coming to the Lord and they’re laying out these dire circumstances and they’re asking for God’s help, but also we have something of this call to just be with the Lord. Can you commune with him? Can you spend time? We are to continue in prayer steadfastly.

Then it says this: “Being watchful in it with thanksgiving,” two things that identify things that are supposed to be happening as we pray or in our prayer lives.

Watchfulness. There’s a lot we could say on this point. Brian wrote a whole book about it, so I would point you to the bookshelf. Grab a book. He said a lot more than I’m going to say in these few minutes here. I’m just going to focus on a couple aspects of it. But it’s this idea of watchfulness; it’s the idea of being awake or having a wakefulness about us. It’s being alert. It’s looking out in some ways; it’s looking out for different things that can happen.

I can say this in a couple ways. There are two ways we are supposed to be looking or being watchful or paying attention, being awake to what’s happening, things that we’re supposed to avoid or look out for that will come against us, and then also, positively, things that we’re supposed to be pursuing or meditating on that help us in our prayer walks.

First, negatively. What are we supposed to be watching out for? What are we supposed to be looking for? I think it’s just this: we’re looking out for temptation and we’re looking out for weaknesses of the flesh. We’re looking out for those things so that when they come we don’t let them just happen to us and we’re like, “Well, there goes my prayer for the day, and it’s not going to happen here or for the next couple of days.” No, no, no; we see them coming and we are prepared to meet them when they come.

These things will try to impact our prayer life. Even in those times when you’re coming before the Lord, these are embattled moments.

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in the faith . . .”

Did you know that as you come into your prayer times, as you come to spend sweet communion with the Lord, that the enemy will be seeking people whom he can distract, whom he can actually lead into temptations for sin and he can fill your minds with things, he can speak things into you in these moments? He doesn’t want you to spend time with the Lord and he doesn’t want your heart to be filled up with the joy and love of the Lord. These are embattled times. You need to see it coming and you need to resist him, firm in the faith.

In Matthew 26:41 we have Jesus’ words in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

What does this look like? What does temptation to sin look like while we’re trying to spend time with the Lord in prayer, while we’re trying to be a people of steadfast prayer?

I think it looks like desiring easier comforts or easier deliverances more than we desire the comfort of the Lord. Has that ever happened to you? You know you need to pray, you know you’re stressed out, you know you need to come to the Lord and spend some time with him, but that kind of seems like a high hill to climb. It seems difficult. It seems like it might be something you have to kind of hold onto and press through to really get anywhere. Maybe it’s easier to just take a nap. Maybe it’s easier to just turn the TV on and get some light entertainment that way. That can provide some release. Maybe it’s easier to go grab a cookie and eat that, and maybe three more, and then you really feel good, right? You don’t feel good long term, but it makes you feel good in the moment.

These are easy things. I have a few moments in the car, it’s been a long day, I need to go and engage with my wife and kids well and I need to love them with the love of Christ. What do I do? Maybe I pull up a podcast, because that’s my release. Maybe I pull up some entertainment instead. Those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but sometimes we desire these things more than we desire the comfort and communion that we can have with the Lord. I think in those ways, those can be temptations to sin.

It might look like sins of disbelief. In the midst of your prayer, you don’t really believe that God hears or that he cares or that he’ll respond. It’s a lack of faith. It’s grieving the Spirit. While you’re in prayer you feel the Spirit putting something on your mind and heart and he wants you to yield to that and respond to him and to follow his leading, but there’s a hardness of heart there, or maybe even a laziness of soul, and you just kind of neglect it, and it grieves the Spirit.

Weakness of the flesh—what does this look like? We all know what this looks like. It’s just being tired, feeling spent, being overwhelmed. Do you sometimes just avoid prayer because you’re so overwhelmed and it’s so difficult to just say, “God, I don’t even know how to say this! I don’t even know how to wrap my mind around it; I definitely can’t get my heart wrapped around it, and I’d rather just avoid.” It can look like weaknesses of the flesh.

Here’s the thing. In your times of prayer—you have experienced this if you’ve walked the walk of Christ long—these things come at you. These things stream at you in the moment. Man, you’re so tired. Man, you’re overwhelmed. Man, you’re just spent. Surely you can spend your time doing this tomorrow. That’ll be a better day for it. Right?

I think we need to be watching out for those things, looking for them as they come, be prepared for them, and not listen to those voices of deception or those cries of deception in our lives, but to press into the Lord and find comfort from our Lord in those moments.

The old hymn says,

“Christian, seek not yet repose;
Cast thy dreams of ease away.
Thou art in the midst of foes;
Watch and pray.”

I think that’s a good way of saying it.

But also positively. It’s not just what things we’re looking out for, but there’s also something that we’re supposed to be setting our minds on, right? At the beginning of Colossians 3 we see this. Paul is saying, “Listen, you are a new people in Christ and here’s what this involves.” He says, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things above, not on things that are on earth.”

In our prayer lives, I know we can come to the Lord and we can have our minds set on the things of earth, what’s going on in our lives. There’s this, there’s this, there’s this, and I’m stressed out about this, and we can spend our whole time of praying to the Lord and not think about Jesus at all. We can be praying to Jesus and not actually think about and meditate on Jesus at all. Let us be watchful. Let us set our minds where they’re supposed to be set, so that we can be filled in the way that we’re supposed to be filled as we come to the Lord in prayer, and also so that we can honor this Jesus to whom we’re praying.

Set your minds on the things above and not the things on earth. Think of Jesus’ promises. Think of Jesus’ beauty. Think of his goodness. Think of his power. Dwell on those things as you lay these things out before the Lord. Be watchful in your prayer.

Also it says, “with thanksgiving.” This has been a regular emphasis throughout the letter, so we’ve hit it a number of times throughout this sermon series. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it this morning. But I like this quote by a commentator named R. Scott Pace. (I don’t know what R. stands for.) He says this:

“Thankfulness is what should naturally flow from the hearts of those who have been rescued [that’s what it says in Colossians 1:13], who have been redeemed [that’s what it says in Colossians 1:14], who have been reconciled [that’s what it says in Colossians 1:22], and who have been regenerated [that’s what it says in Colossians 2:13].”

This is what should be happening for those who humbly know that they don’t deserve all these things, but God in his great love gave it to them in full anyway. A heart of thankfulness. Do you have a heart of thankfulness? In your times of prayer with the Lord, as you’re praying, are you full of thanks? Are you meditating on these things? Listen, have you been rescued? Have you been redeemed? Have you been reconciled? Are you being regenerated by the Holy Spirit day after day into the image of Christ? Yes! You are if you are truly a son of God. Let us be a people of thankfulness in our prayer lives.

Here’s the thing. I think we all know this. We’re supposed to pray; we need to have that as a focus in our life. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground there, right? But I do think we all struggle to prioritize prayer in our lives. I struggle in my life, I talk to lots of people where this comes up. “Maybe the next season. Maybe in the next season I can do a little better.”

I listed a few things that might be indications of why this is the case. It’s not everything, but I think they might help us, and then I have a spiritual discipline connected to each one.

(1) First, why might we struggle to prioritize prayer in our lives? I think it’s this: along with all of our spiritual disciplines, it’s just a lack of time management. Some of you, I know, you’re responding like, “Listen, Pastor, I’m great at time management! I have schedules, I have three different schedules, I have them hung in the house, I know where I’m supposed to be day after day, I know where my kids are supposed to be day after day. My whole life is time management. What do you mean, a lack of time management?”

All I’m saying is if you don’t have time to spend some sweet communion with the Lord in prayer, then all that time management needs to be reoriented and needs to be reworked. So lack of time management.

Here’s the thing. I think this is a good spiritual discipline. It’s a discipline I learned, actually, outside of the Christian language and patterns that we typically learn, but I think it helps us in our Christian walk. It’s just this: the discipline of making time. That’s your first discipline: make time. Maybe before you reorient your whole life and try to spend an hour and a half in prayer every day, maybe before you try to spend two hours in the word and you read three systematic theologies—maybe before you do all of that, take a week or two weeks, and the only thing you’re doing is before the Lord saying, “Lord, give me wisdom. I want to make time. I want to make time, because I don’t want to start these things and then have them fizzle away when they get pinched out by all the necessities of life and all the struggles of life. I want to make time.”

It could be looking at your schedule. It might take some time. You have to clear some things out. You have to find a block of time where you can say, “That’s busy time. These are things that I am committed to, and it does not get pushed out by anything.” These are times where maybe you need to have some conversations with your spouse, have some conversations with your boss, even. “Hey, I need to find half an hour. What can we do to help me find that? That’s busy time for me.” It might take a little bit of time; start there. Make time, and then you can fill that time with good, sweet time with the Lord, because your soul needs it. If you’re going to live this life that we’re called to in Christ, you need that time.

(2) Second, it could just be this: a lack of awareness of God’s continual presence in our lives. A lack of awareness that God is continually present in our lives.

C.S. Lewis says this in his Letters to Malcolm on prayer: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito.”

God is everywhere. He’s always with us, even if he’s a little incognito. The thing is, as Christians, sometimes we can fall into a lack of awareness that God is here with us. So we don’t pray, we don’t commune with him, we don’t have a regular conversation with him throughout the day, because we just forget. We forget that he’s right there with us through it all, and he cares, and he wants to be a part of it all.

What does the spiritual discipline for this look like? It’s actually a spiritual discipline that is more focused on in other Christian traditions, but I think it’s something that we can use well here. It’s the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of the Lord.

What is this? It means drawing your mind to it and regularly remembering that Jesus is here with you. The Lord is here with me, and I’m going to act and respond in that way.

This book on spiritual disciplines that the women’s group is going to be through in the fall puts it like this—they have a section on practicing the presence of God. The author says this: “It’s developing a rhythm of living that brings God to mind throughout the day, and intentionally recollecting yourself before God as you engage in the activities and duties of life.”

I like that—recollecting yourself before God. There are activities and duties of life that are going to demand your attention. You’re going to have to focus on those. They’re going to absorb your days. However, as you are going through that, there is a discipline of recollecting yourself before God that says that I’m not doing this alone. God’s here with me, I’m supposed to be walking with these things, I’m supposed to be talking to him as I go through these things. I’m supposed to be listening to him and asking where he wants to move and how he wants to engage in these spaces.

The rest of C.S. Lewis’s quote says this—he says that God is everywhere incognito, and then he finishes by saying, “And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend; in fact, to come awake; still more to remain awake.”

Remain awake to the presence of God. We see some of that language that we used for the idea of being watchful; remembering who God is and that he’s there with you.

What does this look like? In the men’s group, Kenneth, one of the members of the church, was talking, and he was saying how blessed he was by just a few occasions where he was talking with people, “Here’s what’s going on in life,” catching up, “What’s going on in your life?” These people didn’t say, “Hey, I’m going to pray for you about that.” He said, “In the middle of the conversation they just put their hand on my shoulder and just started praying to God right there. Right in the middle of the conversation.” He said, “I was so blessed by that. It was unique to me. It was something that I was a little uncomfortable with at first.”

I’ve had those experiences as well. I think this is something that we can draw from or that we can learn from some of our charismatic brothers and sisters, who seem to do this a lot more. It’s that in conversation with people, as you’re talking about your days, as you’re talking about what’s good, what’s bad, all that stuff, remember that Jesus is there with you, the Lord is there with you, and just go ahead and bring it to the Lord right there. Yes, tell them you’re going to pray for them, but don’t just say, “I’ll pray for you,” as if you have to go find and time and place where you can find God so you can put that prayer request before him.

Instead, right there, in the moment, put your hand on their shoulders and say, “Lord, we’re thankful for these things are going on, but also our hearts are burdened over these things, and we just want to bring it before you,” because you’re recognizing that the Lord is there with you in those moments, and you bring him into the conversation the way you would anyone who’s right there in the conversation. I think that’s a good way it can look like.

(3) Last thing here in struggles for prayer. I know we’re spending a lot of time on this, but I think it’s an important point.

I think a lot of us struggle to prioritize prayer in our lives because we have a perceived lack of its tangibility. Right? The results don’t seem to be really noticeable and graspable and really clear and defined. Sometimes I think we have these times of worship before the Lord and our hearts are pretty warmed in the moment, but just as easily as they are warmed and as quickly as they are warmed they cool afterwards, and we can start to think, “Did that do me any good? Did anything happen there?”

Sometimes we’re praying for people in our lives and difficult circumstances, and we hammer on the door and say, “Lord, would you please change the circumstances of this person’s life?” or, “Would you please change this person, his character, his heart?” We can pray for years and years, and it doesn’t seem like anything’s happening. I think a lot of us are like, “What am I even doing here? Is anything happening?”

Sometimes we seek strength, solace, deliverance, and we can see how our lives are okay, but we’re like, “I don’t know; was that God, or was it not?” I think this is part and parcel of what it is to walk with the Lord this side of eternity.

The Bible is very honest about that. We get lots of prayers of people in the Bible who are praying in these realities.

Here’s our spiritual discipline—it’s a core spiritual discipline, and we can’t emphasize it enough. It’s this: the spiritual discipline of faith. Do you believe that God is who he says he is? Do you believe his promises are true, and do you believe that he is there, he hears, he cares, he is working, he is responding, even though you don’t see it? That’s what the author of Hebrews says. He says, “Faith is the conviction of things not seen.” You can’t see it, but you have a conviction that it is true because you know your God and you believe that he is true.

We get an example of this in Luke 18, this parable that Jesus tells about the widow and the judge. There’s this widow who goes and she’s hammering on the door of this judge, and she’s like, “Give me justice! Give me justice! I need justice for this circumstance in my life!” He says even a wicked judge, after a time, is going to open the door and say, “Okay, fine! Here’s what you need; here’s your answer. Leave me alone.” Even he will respond in due time.

It’s this funny occasion, but he’s drawing a contrast. He says, “If that’s how a wicked judge is, how about the heart of your Father who loves you dearly, who calls you to himself, and who has given you eternal promises in your life?” Right?

It says, “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Always to pray and not lose heart.

There’s a circumstance. Jesus knows this is going to happen in our prayer lives. This is why he gives us this parable. He says this at the end. He says, “Will not God give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give them justice speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Will he find faith? Why does Jesus add that in? Because he knows that in this experience of bringing things before the Lord day and night, day and night, we can be led to think, “Man, maybe God doesn’t hear and doesn’t care. I can’t really see how it’s playing out clearly in my life.” Jesus says, “When I come, am I going to find faith in your hearts? Do you believe me? Do you believe God is who he says he is?”

2. We Must Be a People of Gospel Proclamation

We also see that, not only are we to be a people of prayer, but we are to be a people of gospel proclamation. I think this is what Paul is really focused on in Colossians 4:3-4. He says, “At the same time, pray also for us, 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, which is how I ought to speak.”

You hear Paul’s heart. He’s saying, “Man, I am about the gospel, and I need to proclaim the gospel. The gospel is why I am in prison. Proclaiming the gospel is what put me here. But listen, I need you to pray for me that I might have boldness and I might have opportunity to continue to speak that gospel, come what may. I need to have prayers that I might speak it clearly, because I am about this gospel message getting to people who have not yet heard. This is what I’m about.”

I think Paul is putting this in here: “Listen, as you pray for these things, this is what you should be about as well.” That’s how it lands for us today. We are to be a people of gospel proclamation.

We need to clarify what the gospel is before we go on. We throw around the word “gospel” a lot in the church, but I think it helps us to remember what it is so that the waters don’t get muddied.

Here’s the gospel: it is a message about what Jesus has done in history. The gospel is a message about what Jesus has done in history, and that message is good news. That’s what the word “gospel” means: good news about what Jesus has done in history. In history, Jesus died as a substitute for our sins. Not only that, but he rose to new life in victory and deliverance over that sin, and then also he ascended to the Father, where he will perfectly intercede for us and he will send us the Spirit to seal our salvation, so that it’s everything about what Jesus has done and is doing, and it’s not about what we can do or what we can be. That is the good news.

Our response is simply to believe that, to say, “That’s a good message. I think that’s true, and I’m putting my faith in it. I’m building my life on that message, because when I stand before God someday at the end of this life, that’s what I’m going to need. I’m going to need to know that I’m okay, and it’s not because of something I did, it’s because of what Jesus did. He accomplished it fully, and he gives it to me freely. I’m believing that that is what lets me stand before God someday.”

That’s the gospel, that message. Our response is to believe in that, to put our faith in that.

I don’t want to move on without asking this question—I’m not going to make any assumptions—are you putting your faith in that message? Do you believe it? Do you believe it happened? Do you believe it’s true? Do you believe that that is what gives you your access to God and that is what gives you new life? Are you resting on that, are you walking in it day by day? If not, now’s the time. Now’s the day. We always have another opportunity to believe that message and start walking in it today.

As new people in Christ—here’s what we see from the text—we’re to be a people of gospel proclamation. We’re to be looking for opportunities and taking advantage of the opportunities to proclaim it ourselves. We’re supposed to be supporting those who proclaim it, either as individuals or in an institutional way, right? We’re supposed to be supporting those who are proclaiming the gospel and are about that, and we are supposed to be constantly praying for doors of opportunity for this gospel message to go forth.

If we believe that when we believe this gospel we have a new life in Christ, that means our lives in Christ mean this: that we love what Jesus loves and we pursue what Jesus pursues. That definitely means heralding the message about who Jesus and what Jesus came to do and the promises that he has for what he will do at the end of history. We are a people of gospel proclamation.

So, what does this look like? We see it a few ways in this passage.

(1) First, it’s this: we pray for doors of opportunity. We pray for open doors of opportunity. This is a foundational layer. When we’re talking about evangelism, that’s what’s in view here, right? Sharing the good news, proclaiming the good news. It is the idea of evangelism; that is, bringing the good news to others.

When we think about this, I think a lot of us focus on ourselves, and we’re like, “Yikes. I know that I’m not very good at this and I feel like I’m not very able to do all these things,” but the idea is we can think about all these things and forget that my responsibility is first and foremost to pray for open doors of opportunity and to let God open up those doors, and then to pray for boldness to do that.

I would just ask us, when was the last time you did that in your prayer life? When was the last time you sat before the Lord before you went to work and you said, “Today, God, today, can I have a door of opportunity to proclaim the gospel? This week, can you have an opportunity for me to proclaim the gospel? I want that opportunity and I want the clarity and the boldness to step into that opportunity.”

As you come to church week after week, are you praying that the gospel message would go forth clearly and that there would be an opportunity, that hearts would be open for that gospel seed to take root in people’s lives? Are you praying for doors of opportunity so that the power is in God’s hands, not about what we’re doing here in our own power?

(2) Second is this: it’s to unleash the word. After you’ve prayed for doors of opportunity and that’s a rhythm, you unleash the word.

Here’s what I’m trying to focus on. I’m focusing on Paul’s language where he says this in verse 3: “. . . that God may open to us a door for the word . . .”

That’s interesting. “Open a door for the word.” He didn’t say, “Open a door for me to go and speak the word,” he asked that there would be an open opportunity for the word. The thing is, the word is seen as the active agent. The word is the one who walks through the door and accomplishes its purposes in the lives of others. I think that’s really important. This is how Scripture speaks. In Acts it says multiple times that “the word of God increased and multiplied.” The word was going forth and increasing and multiplying. It says here in Colossians 1, at the beginning of this letter, the word is what bears fruit and increases.

Now of course, we are bearing fruit and increasing, but the idea is the word is the active agent that is doing this.

Here’s where I want to bring this home—we talked about this—we can tend to focus so much on ourselves when it comes to evangelism that we essentially discount the fact that there is power in the word of God and there is a Holy Spirit at work to bring that to bear on other people’s lives, and it’s not about us! It’s not about how wise you are, it’s not about how cool you are, it’s not about how creative you are, it’s not about how persuasive you can be and if you have a cool relationship with this person that allows—it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that the word of God has power to draw people to the Lord and to change their lives. Your job is to simply unleash the word of God and let God do the work through it. That’s what evangelism is about, and we see that in Paul’s language.

It’s remembering this: God is the one who sends his word out, and he promises that it will not return to him void.

Spurgeon says it like this—it’s a classic illustration; I love it. We’re going to see it again. He says,

“The word of God can take care of itself and will do if we preach it and cease defending it. See you that lion? They have him caged for his preservation, shut up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes. See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door and the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? So let the pure gospel go forth in all of its lionlike majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself from its adversaries.”

Unleash the word; let God do what he’s going to do through the word. Just be willing and able to speak the word with clarity.

(3) I think that’s the last thing we see. Paul asks that they would pray for him that he would be able to make it clear.

What we see here is the idea of contextualization. Sometimes it takes time to see how this might play out in someone’s life, and sometimes it takes them time to really see the clarity of it. We live in a culture that doesn’t have the background of the Bible in their thoughts and language as much, so sometimes it takes some time to be able to see, “Where are you at? How do I make this clear for you? I’m not going to use all my big, fancy words; I’m going to try to make this clear for you.”

Here’s a good method, I think, that helps us let the word do the speaking and not us in our own creativity—though, of course, if you have creativity, if you have methods, use them, of course. But the idea is, how do we do this?

I think this is a good one. This is what a lot of evangelists around the world are doing now, and it’s with this in mind: it is asking people to read through a Gospel with you. Are you curious about what’s going on in the Lord? Are you curious about why I do this? “Hey, have you ever thought about Jesus? Have you ever actually read the Bible for yourself as an adult?” Ask that question. “Have you ever done that? Why don’t we just read through a Gospel together and we’ll talk about what sticks out to us,” right?

Rebecca Pippert, an evangelist, says this: “Most people are very critical of the church but they’re very curious about Jesus.” That’s true. A lot of people are critical of the church, but they’re very curious about Jesus—who he was, what he actually said. Read through a Gospel with them.

Then ask these three simple questions. I get these from David Helm, and here’s the point of these. These are not the questions that are allowing you to do a deep exegetical dive where you can speak for 45 minutes about everything you know in Scripture. No, no, no. These are questions that are supposed to draw the other person out and see what’s on their mind, what’s on their heart, where are they at, what questions do they have, and I’m trusting God to reveal Jesus through the word, and I’m just trying to keep us going in it. A few questions:
What shines out in the passage and draws attention? “What stuck out to you? What was interesting? What was compelling? What did you think was weird?” See where they’re at. Dialogue on that point.
“What’s hard to understand? Where might it help to have more information or explanation? What questions do you have? Let’s talk about that.”
What might apply to our culture or personal lives? “How do you think this hits us in our lives?” Dialogue on where they’re at. You’re not trying to teach them everything you know about the Scripture, you’re trying to get them to engage with the Scripture, trusting that the Lord will do his work as the Scripture goes forth.

3. We Must Be a People of Wisdom and Winsomeness

Finally, we see this point in verses 5-6: not only are we a people of prayer, not only are we a people of gospel proclamation, but we are also people whose lives are consistent with the gospel and represent the gospel well, and that means that we are a people of wisdom and winsomeness. We must be that, and that’s what Paul calls us to in verses 5-6. He says,

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

It says, first, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.” I don’t want to skip over the point that they are to engage with outsiders; that is, people who are outside of the faith, people who are outside of the church. This is interesting, because a large portion of this letter has been Paul warning against false teaching that’s going to come into the church. There are people who are going to come and they’re going to try to lead you astray, they’re going to try to teach you false things. There are people who are going to try to catch you up in some of these cultural patterns that you need to be aware of. He’s saying, “Because of that, you need to be wary, you need to be watchful, but it doesn’t mean you withdraw from the outside world and become your own little enclave.”

That’s important for us as individuals. We are supposed to be finding non-Christian spheres to engage with those who are far from Christ, and we’re supposed to be trying to seek friendships with those who do not yet know the Lord. We’re not supposed to withdraw from them, we’re supposed to be watchful and then we’re supposed to have wisdom to know how to engage with those people.

For light to make any effect, for it to illuminate and guide and reveal, it needs to go into the darkness. And for salt to season and purify and preserve, it needs to come into contact with that which it’s supposed to season and purify and preserve. These are things we are called to in the Christian life, and we need to ask ourselves, “Do I have anything like that going on in my life? Do I even know people and do I hang out with people who don’t yet know the gospel or aren’t yet walking in it faithfully? Can I be an instrument of the Lord in that space?”

We see that we’re supposed to be a people of wisdom. There’s a lot to talk about on this front. The Bible’s full of wisdom literature and teaching on this. Here’s what I want to focus on, two categories that Calvin gives us. He says this: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess [that is to say true and sound wisdom] consists of two parts [this is what he boils it down to]: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.”

If we’re going to be a people of wisdom who proclaim the word of God with faithfulness and with clarity, if we’re to be a people who represent the character of Jesus and the wisdom of Jesus and who embody that, we need to have a knowledge of God and we need to have a knowledge of ourselves. Let’s look at those two categories really quickly.

(1) The knowledge of God—his character, his ways, his purposes, and key, his word. We must know the word of God, who God is, what he says, what he’s called us to. We need to be grounded in these things.

But more than that, we need to remember how God has revealed himself in Christ. This is what the rest of the letter has been. What God has done through Christ and what he’s already accomplished and what that means for you who have new life in Christ and who have been brought into the new kingdom of Christ. This is what the letter’s all about. I’m not going to go over all that again, but this is what we need to know. We need to know the word of God, we need to know these truths, we need to believe them, we need to be grounded in these things, because only as we know God can we be a people of wisdom who bring the knowledge of God to bear in our lives and in the lives of other people. We are people who are grounded, who are steady in that.

(2) Also, we need to have a knowledge of ourselves. I think this is really important. We need to have a knowledge of ourselves. This can be hard. We don’t like to look at ourselves honestly. We don’t like to see all of our growth areas and struggles. It’s tough to see ourselves as other people see us in a lot of ways. But the life of wisdom calls us to know ourselves.

I’m going to use these categories that I got from a conversation with two evangelists through a podcast, Sam Chan and Tim Davis. I think they’re helpful to help us flesh out what this knowledge of self includes.

Here’s what’s key at the outset: because we have an eternal life that is sealed by Jesus, and because we know that we have been fully loved by Jesus and we are accepted because of what he has done, then we can have this courage to be able to look at ourselves and know we have a hope of changing and adapting and growing in areas we’re weak. We have a courage and we also have a calling to that. We also have an inner peace in us before the Lord that allows us to take our eyes off ourselves and start knowing other people well and start paying attention to them and start saying, “Who are they truly and how do I know them better so that I can be a minister of the gospel to them?”

Here are these categories:
Awareness of ourselves
Awareness of how others perceives (which is an aspect of the former, but I want to focus on it as its own)
Emotional awareness
Others awareness

I think these are four helpful categories.

Awareness of ourselves—who are we? What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? Do we have people speaking that into our lives and helping us see these things? Are we walking in community such that we can discover these things a little bit more? What are the gifts that God has given us for the sake of other people?

Awareness of how others perceive us—this is important. What’s it like to stand on the other side of you? Do you ever ask yourself that question? Do you ask yourself, “Is my own self-perception consistent with what other people’s perception of me is? I want to see myself clearly because I want to be a person of wisdom who can be a representative of Jesus and who can bring his gospel clearly.”

Emotional awareness—this is very important. Do I see and understand my own emotions? Do I know what’s going on under the hood? What’s driving me? What’s influencing me? Do I see those? Also, can I regulate and control those, or do those things control me? That’s a growth path. Have some people speak into that. Maybe even get some counseling in those areas, because if you’re going to be a person of wisdom, as these Scriptures call for us, and if you’re going to engage with people in wisdom, you need that happening in your life.

Others awareness—this is just knowing other people. Do I actually know who these people are or am I making assumptions about them? Here’s the key with this, especially in gospel conversations. Sometimes we’re so nervous about what to say that if someone gives us an opportunity we’ll go on a diatribe for 30 minutes. Stop. Don’t do that. As you’re in these conversations, when they ask you questions, do what Jesus did most of the time. Turn it around and ask them a question. “Yeah, what are your thoughts?” Hear from them; see what’s going on in their hearts. See what’s going on in their lives. See that you truly know who they are and what’s going on in their lives so that then you can bring the gospel to bear at the deepest part of who they are.

These are things that we see Jesus embodied perfectly throughout Scripture, and as those who are in Christ we are called to do the same.

Last thing here: we’re to be a people of winsomeness. What does this mean? It means to have somewhat of an attractive character. Now listen, there’s only so much of this we can control. We know that as those who are in Christ and who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ that there will be people who will persecute us. There will be people who defame us. There will be people who come against us in many ways. There’s not much we can do about that. But we can be a people of winsome character.

What does this look like? We’ve already seen it in Colossians 3; it’s all those character traits listed in Colossians 3:12-17. It’s being a people with compassionate hearts, who are kind, who are humble, who are meek, who are patient, who bear with and forgive others readily. We’re a people of love and peace. This is the type of people we are. We have a winsome character. We’re comfortable not focusing on ourselves; we have this others-centered life. That’s what it is to be a winsome person. In that, we’re exhibiting these characteristics and we’re exhibiting the characteristics of Christ.

So, that’s what we have. We’re supposed to be a people of prayer. We’re supposed to be a people of gospel proclamation; this is what it is to be a new person in Christ. And we’re supposed to be a people of wisdom and winsomeness. These are things that must be happening in our lives and that we must be pursuing. Those are the commands of Scripture, so that’s what I’m laying before us this morning. Let’s get after pursuing these things.

Here’s the thing: we love our Lord Jesus. We love what he has done in our lives, we love what he is doing in our lives, we want to see his light and his life go forward to more people so that others can come to new life in his name, and we want to see his name magnified. We want to see his good news magnified. We want to see the name of God in this community, in this church, and in the city magnified so that he is glorified. That’s what we’re about. This is who we are. So this is a life that we are called to. Let’s come together, let’s support one another, let’s hold one another accountable; but also, let’s pursue these things together to the glory of God and to the salvation of the world. Amen? Let’s pray.

I want to read this prayer from David Platt over us as we finish this morning.

Oh God, we pray that the fruit of our lives, the results of our lives, would be to increase the multiplication of your word. May your word spread through us today, as we’re in this church, in our conversations with followers of Christ. Then, God, may your word increase and multiply through us in other people’s lives who don’t yet know your word and who have not yet come to fully believe your word. We pray that you would open up opportunities today for us to speak the gospel to other people; that you would open our hearts to believe the gospel even as we seek to speak the word to other people. Lord, may the fruit of our lives, when it’s all said and done and we don’t have breath left, may it be said that the word of God increased and multiplied through Redeemer Church.

We praise you, God, for the constancy of your word. We trust in it. We rest in it. We pray that you would help us proclaim it today. In Jesus’ name we ask these things, amen.