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The Bible has a lot to say about words.
Why do we speak?
Why are we humans characterized by communication?
The Bible indicates in a variety of ways that we communicate because God communicates.
God speaks!
Eternally, before creation, God was a communicating God.
Within the eternal bliss of the Trinity, the Father was in continuous communication with his Son.
I think that’s true because of what Jesus said once about the Father’s love for him; Jesus was praying, as recorded in John 17, and he said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Love is always expressed in communication of some form.
Do you want to know the wildest, most unbelievable truth about that verse?
If you’re a Christian today, Jesus, about 2000 years ago, was praying that prayer for you (see John 17:20).
God is a loving, communicating God.
Therefore, we, his adopted children, are to be loving, communicating people.
Within the pages of Scripture, God has told us in many ways how our speaking should be.
If communication is fundamental to human existence—and it is—then what should communication be like for those in Christ?
Addressing this question seems to be the apostle Paul’s aim as he concludes his letter to the Colossian Christians.
Please open your Bibles with me to Col. 4.
Last week, we listened as Paul painted a beautiful picture of how it should look for Jesus to be Lord over our relationships, particularly in the home.
As we pick up this morning with Col. 4:2, we find Paul returning to something he had mentioned immediately before he began addressing specific kinds of people (wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, masters).
Look back at Col. 3:16-17: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
When we looked at these verses a few weeks ago, Pastor Barry pointed out the interpersonal focus in the verse, which suggests that Paul is calling for the “word of Christ” to dwell among the people of God, guiding their interactions together.
Notice that he then mentions several forms of speaking: teaching, admonishing, and singing.
Teaching and admonishing involve us speaking to each other, while singing could be addressed either to God or to each other; in fact, Eph.
5:19 specifically refers to “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
In Col. 4:2-6, Paul clearly elaborates on how Christians ought to be speaking, both to God and to other people.
I also think he still has this theme of speech in mind through the end of the book, and I hope you’ll see it too as we bring our study of Colossians to a conclusion today.
So, let’s start with Col. 4:2: Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
We think of prayer as any speech addressed to God, but the word used in the New Testament specifically refers to petitions or requests most of the time.
Paul commands the Colossian Christians to be devoted to prayer; that is, he wants them to regularly, habitually, and perseveringly ask God for the things they need.
This same phrase is used to characterize the disciples after Jesus ascended to heaven in Acts 1:14: All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Likewise, after the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples on the Day of Pentecost and 3000 Jews became Christians, Luke describes them like this: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
What does this look like?
Well, Paul characterizes the devotion to prayer that he’s calling for with the words “watchful” and “thanksgiving.”
The idea of “being watchful” in prayer recalls Jesus and his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.
The night before Jesus died, he takes his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, away from the rest of the disciples, and he says to them, My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.
Remain here and watch (Mark 14:34).
That word “watch” is the same word Paul uses here, and it basically means “stay awake.”
If you remember the story, that’s exactly what these three disciples did not do.
After Jesus had prayed, asking his Father to remove the cup of wrath from him, but also asking for the Father’s will to come to pass, Mark 14:37-38 says, And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep?
Could you not watch one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Jesus wanted his friends to stay awake with him.
While they were sleeping, Luke’s Gospel says, And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44).
On the night before Jesus died, in agony he prayed.
Paul tells the Colossian Christians about their pastor—or at least the one who had organized the church in Colossae with his preaching—Epaphras, using similar language to describe his praying for them.
Look down at Col. 4:12-13: Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.
The Greek word translated “struggling” is agonizomai, and the phrase translated “he has worked hard for you” can also be translated “he is experiencing pain on your behalf.”
Perhaps when Paul saw the exertion of Epaphras and the obvious concern of Epaphras for the Colossian Christians, he was reminded of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and Epaphras is being held up as a model of one who devoted himself to prayer, remaining watchful in it with thanksgiving.
The word “watchful” has another important significance; it was often used to describe the task of a guard on duty for the night shift; he was to remain awake, vigilantly alert, ready for any kind of danger the night might bring.
With the idea of expectant readiness, this word appears in the New Testament to indicate the posture we ought to maintain concerning Jesus’ return.
In Luke 12:35-38, Jesus says, Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.
Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.
If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!
With that in the background, Paul calls for the Colossian Christians to remain awake and alert to catch any opportunity to pray, knowing that our Master could return at any moment, and their praying should be characterized by an expectancy for God to respond and a longing for Christ himself to return to provide our deepest need: his presence.
So, we must pray with watchfulness and also with thanksgiving, Paul says.
Our words to God, our requests of God, must be spoken out of grateful hearts.
Paul mentions thanksgiving about 40 times in his letters, and this particular word for “thanksgiving” has appeared 5 times in Colossians.
We won’t review all of them now, but back in chapter 3, in verses 15-16, we read, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
As I was reflecting on this verse, I had the question: “What does Paul say about not giving thanks to God?”
And I remembered Paul’s characterization of human beings outside of Christ in Rom.
1:21: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
God has shown himself to be the good creator of the universe, but we naturally suppress this truth and explain the good things in this world by giving credit to “mother nature” or pagan gods or evolutionary processes.
Not giving thanks to God is condemnable.
So, Paul insists that thanksgiving must characterize and saturate our prayers; even as we make requests to God, we should not forget to thank God for what he’s already done for us.
Following this general call to persevering and grateful prayer, Paul adds a specific request he’d like the Colossian Christians to make on his behalf.
Verses 3-4: 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.
He wants them to ask God to open a door for him and his associates to preach the word.
Now, Paul reminds them at the end of this verse that he is in prison, but notice that he doesn’t ask for them to pray that God would bust him out of jail.
No, he’s wanting the Colossian Christians to pray that God would provide him opportunities to preach the gospel even while he’s in prison.
If Paul is imprisoned in Rome as he writes this, which is probable, by this point he had already spent a lot of time in a lot of different jails, and we ought to remember the famous story of Acts 16, where Paul and Silas are “praying and singing hymns to God” in the middle of the night, there was an earthquake that broke the doors of the prison and the chains off the prisoners, but no one left the cell.
Instead, the Philippian jailer comes in and asked that famous and all-important question, “What must I do to be saved?”
Paul and Silas were given an opportunity to proclaim the gospel to this man and his family, and, in that instance, God did in fact open the doors of the prison (Acts 16:25-34).
At the end of the book of Acts, we find Paul imprisoned in Rome, and we read these words: He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:30-31).
It was probably during those two years that Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians.
I’d say that it looks like God answered the Colossians’ prayers for Paul’s ministry quite favorably.
And, don’t miss the implication of this prayer request: “Paul implies that it is God who prepares the way for the message of the gospel.
He provides opportunities; he softens the hearts of listeners by his grace.”
We often talk about “open doors” as opportunities of various kinds that God provides for us when we need to make a decision.
We say things like, “God opened the door for me to get this job.”
However, when Paul makes this prayer request, we shouldn’t think that an open door means things are easy.
On one other occasion, Paul speaks of a door that God opened for him like this: But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (1 Cor.
Open door, but many adversaries.
So, an open door doesn’t necessarily mean God makes everything easy and there are no obstacles or hindrances.
Rather, when God opens a door, provides an opportunity for his word to advance, there may be great opposition; nevertheless, it is God who prepares the way, opens the door, and advances the gospel on through.
Paul wants an opportunity to declare the mystery of Christ, that is, the gospel message that the Jewish Messiah is the divine Son of God who has provided salvation for Jew and non-Jew alike, by living a full life as a human being without sin, offering himself as a perfect sacrifice by being executed as a criminal, rising from the dead, ascending to his rightful place on the heavenly throne, and coming to live in all those who trust him as the risen King of the Universe.
Verse 4, in the ESV, says that Paul wants to “make it clear,” to make the mystery clear.
This is probably an occasion of “over-translation”; the Greek word simply means “to reveal” and is an appropriate thing to do with a mystery, something that had previously been hidden.
In verses 5-6, he turns to instruct the Colossians how they ought to engage non-Christians: 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.
Where is wisdom to be found?
Well, Proverbs indicates that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov.
9:10), but what if I want all wisdom?
Paul is instructing the Colossian Christians that their daily conduct—their “walk”—should be characterized by wisdom, every step of the way.
Back in Col. 2:3, Paul had already taught them that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ, God’s mystery.
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