Using the opportunity - Colossians 4:2-18
Picking a plan
When English people first came to settle in Australia it didnít take them very long to work out that it was quite a different place to England. There are more poisonous creatures in Australia than the rest of the world put together. Itís extremely big. And when you flush the toilet the water swirls the opposite way.
One of the important differences of course is that Australia is a fair degree hotter and drier, especially when you start going inland. That was something the first explorers of the Australian outback didnít bear in mind. They had a vision that there was a great inland sea and so they set off to try and discover it. But their plans didnít quite work.
Setting off to explore the outback of Australia in a 3 piece suit was not exactly picking the right plan. One of these explorers was found some months after he died, still inside his badly frayed but fully buttoned up 3 piece suit. Next to him was a tree in which he had scratched one word, ĎThirstyí.
If we have a vision, if we want to achieve something, then it is absolutely vital that we have the right plan. If we pick the wrong plan then the results could be disastrous.
You see, Paul had a vision, he wanted something to be achieved. It is summarised back in Colossians 1:28. He wants to present everyone perfect in Christ. In other words he wants the whole world to become true Christians, and to stay true Christians. Thatís the vision not just of Paul but of the whole bible. In fact itís Godís vision.
In the passage we have before us tonight we have an insight into Paulís 3 point plan to achieve that. It is a 3 point PEP plan, 3 priorities that should be our priorities; prayer, using every opportunity in evangelism, and partnership. Itís is Paulís 3 point plan to convert the world for Jesus.
It will be a great help tonight if you can have two things open in front of you as I speak. The outline, so you can follow where Iím going, and can work out how close I am to finishing. And a bible open to Colossians chapter 4 so you can work out whether what I am saying comes from the bible or from the top of my head.
1. A Priority on Prayer (verse 2)
The first priority in Paulís three point strategy to convert the world is prayer. To speak to the God whose plan it actually is.
The main thrust of this passage is what the Colossians are to be praying for and we will come to that in a moment. But we canít go past verse two without hearing Paulís encouragement to pray.
Read verse 2. Paul commands the Colossians to be devoted to prayer. They are persist in it.
All Christians everywhere are to be people who are devoted to prayer. Itís a simple command. It was Godís command to the Colossians then, and itís Godís command for us here in Hull tonight. It is not something we do just in a crisis or in church (perhaps in many cases thatís the same thing). It is something all of us should be doing all of the time.
The reality is that we all struggle to find the time and the desire to pray. Thatís why Paul is urging us to pray and to keep at it.
Surely we should rejoice in prayer. It is the most wonderful and joyous thing that a Christian can do. Speaking to our heavenly Father in prayer, the one who knows the deepest desire of our hearts.
We all know that we should pray more. Letís just do it.
Paul gives us two things in this verse that sit neatly beside prayer. Two things that will help us in our prayer.
b.) Being Watchful and Thankful
Read verse 2. As we devote ourselves to prayer we need to stay alert, we need to be watchful. We need to have our minds focused by the knowledge that Jesus is going to return. We need to keep watch that we keep praying.
As we pray we need to be thankful. Thankful for what?
Look at 1:12-14. Paul is thanking the Father. What has he done? He has freed us from the tyranny of living in the darkness of separation from Him. The price for our rebellion has been paid in full and we have been given a place in Jesus kingdom.
If all of that is not enough to make you thankful then you probably donít believe it. Thankfulness at being saved should guide and prompt our prayers. Instead of beginning our prayers with our problems, how different it would be if we began our prayers with thankfulness. This thankfulness at being saved will keep everything else in perspective.
But we need to see that the particular reason why Paul is asking for their prayers is because of his vision to see the whole world won for Christ. Look what Paul asks them to pray for in verses 3-4.
2. A Priority on Evangelism (verses 3-6)
Read verses 3-4. He wants them to be praying for him in his work of preaching the gospel. Paul wants opportunities to preach Jesus. He wants an open a door for the message to go out (v. 3). He wants them to be praying that he will make the most of those opportunities by proclaiming Christ clearly (v. 4)
Paul wants an open door. Not an open door to get out of prison, but an open door for the message about Jesus to get out.
This is the second priority in our 3 step plan: evangelism, or proclaiming Christ clearly.
Paul puts it like this (verse 3) to Ďproclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chainsí.
a.) The Mystery of Christ
What does Paul mean when he says that he wants to proclaim the mystery of Christ?
Look back with me to Colossians 1:26-27. What is this Ďmystery of Christí? And what is the surprise?
The mystery had been hidden for ages past, but now it is revealed to Christians as the gospel is preached (v. 26). The secret now revealed is that in Christ is the hope of life and glory. In Christ the Saviour, God is pouring out his riches on all people.
But this mystery was a surprise. When Jesus came he wasnít just the Saviour and King of the Jews, he came as the Saviour and King, even for the Gentiles (the non-Jews, most of us). Thatís the Ďmystery now revealedí: that all people of every nation must come to Christ to receive life.
That doesnít sound like a mystery or a surprise to us. We live in a world in which almost all Christians are Gentiles not Jews. But it was a surprise then, and when we see the implications, it will be a surprise to our world when they understand it.
Godís saving king (the Christ) was sent into the world not just for the Jewish nation, but for all the world. That is the mystery of the gospel for which Paul was in prison, in chains.
The message of the bible is that Jesus is the Christ, Godís promised saving king, for all creation, for all people, everywhere.
Christianity is not a cultural religion, itís not a national religion. True Christianity denies national religion and cultural religion. It preaches a Christ sent to save all people, not specific nations or groups.
True Christianity says to the Hindu, you should become a Christian. It says to the Buddhist you should become a Christian. It says to the Jew you should become a Christian. It says to the pagan Australian, or Englishman you should become a Christian. It says to the person who trusts in religious good deeds, you should become a Christian. It says to the person who treats Christianity as a Sunday hobby, you should become a Christian.
That is mystery of Christ that Paul wanted to proclaim clearly. Jesus is the God of all, and so all people should receive him as their God. Regardless of your religion, class, background, race, age, sex or nationality, you should become a Christian. Jesus is the Christ, Godís universal saving king, not for some, but for all. Thatís the mystery of Christ Paul for which Paul was in chains.
No-one will really want to hear this message, will they.? The Jews of that day didnít want to hear it. They did their best to keep Paul and his message imprisoned.
If we teach that same message today then we will be hated and persecuted as well. In many countries we would be put into prison just like Paul was. But we need to keep proclaiming clearly the mystery of Christ. We need to keep telling people that Christianity is for them, that they need to receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
It is easier and more popular to help people in their sickness, or in their need. Or to preach Jesus as just one way to God amongst many. But the true gospel is offensive, it preaches change and conversion. It says to all people, the way you are going is wrong, you need to turn around and come to Jesus.
You may be here tonight and you may not know Jesus as your Lord and king. You may have been coming for a number of weeks or months. But you havenít accepted that Jesus is the Lord over all, and therefore should be your Lord. Maybe tonight is a good night for you to ask God to forgive you for the life you have spent ignoring Jesus as King. Asking God to help you to live with Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.
Jesus is not just a God to be put on the shelf with other Gods. He is not just the God of the Anglo-Saxons, he is the God of all. This mystery of Christ has now been revealed. Itís the message that you and I need to believe and then explain to our friends and family.
All of this is not just up to people like Paul or the people who speak in church. All of us need to be seeking opportunities to tell people about Jesus. Look at verse 5-6.
b.) Partners in Speaking
Read verses 5-6. God wants you to be involved in this task of telling people about the universal Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Like Paul our role will involve speaking. Some of us will go around publicly speaking like Paul did. But all of us will be seeking to speak some how.
All of us are can be involved by making opportunities and then by taking opportunities.
How can you and I be making opportunities to share the good news about Jesus? Look again at verses 5-6. To make opportunities you need to act wisely towards outsiders and you need to make your speech gracious and salty.
The idea is simple. You should be living your life with outsiders in mind.
If youíre a Christian then you need to think about everything in terms of this question: Will it lead to opportunities to share the gospel with unbelievers or will it will get in the way of sharing the gospel?
Paul assumes that youíll be trying to live a Christ-like life in front of non-Christians. For this to happen you need to know non-Christians and be around them. But more than that youíll need to be acting like a Christian in front of them. That sort of wise living will make opportunities.
Living wisely in front of non-Christians will especially mean a change in our speech. Not by all picking up a weird Australian accent, but by making our speech gracious and salty.
Our speech needs to be full of grace. God has saved us not because of anything we have done, but because of his grace (his free unmerited favour). And that grace must be seen in the way we speak. We will speak as saved sinners, not as self-righteous religious hypocrites.
Wise speech will also be seasoned with salt. Just because our speech is gracious doesnít mean it will be dull, insipid, compromised or sickly. Instead it will be salty: tasty, distinctive, well chosen and interesting. Our salty speech will make us stand out as different. And that distinctiveness will make us interesting, not dull.
There is a man at our old church in Sydney, a school teacher, who seems to me to have captured this idea of Christian speech perfectly. He had a terrible problem in the staff room, the conversation never rose about the naval. But he took a pro-active step. He got hold of the main Sydney broad sheet newspaper each day. He read the editorial over breakfast, trying to work out a Christian response, a Christian view on the issue. Every day when he came into the staff room he would raise the topic of the editorial and say what he thought about it, as a Christian. It was fascinating. Over a period of time more and more of the teachers came to talk to him about things that mattered. In fact one time a colleague came and offered to share play ground duty with him and explained: "I noticed that when youíre not in the staff room they never talk about anything worth listening to." Over a period of time he had the chance to share the gospel with that teacher. That sort of thing is what gracious and salty speech is all about. Living and Speaking to create opportunities.
We need to be speaking and living in such a way that we form an advertisement for the gospel of Godís grace in Jesus Christ. We have to speak and live in such a way that we challenge the non-Christian world in itís complacency, its depravity and its shallowness. If we act and speak like that then we will be making opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus.
Telling someone about Jesus is much easier if they have given you permission to speak. By living the wise life we can create situations where people give us permission to speak about Jesus. If you are sitting on a train, then read your bible. Not in secret, but with the cover facing out. Youíll be amazed at the number of people who ask you, ĎIs that a bible you are reading. Why would you read that?í. And there is your permission to speak about Jesus.
You need to be thinking about how you can live wisely in front of the non-Christians you know. You need to be living your whole life trying to create chances to tell people about Jesus.
But once we have made the opportunities, hereís the hard bit, we need to be taking those opportunities. When we have open doors we need to make sure that we walk through them with the gospel.
We need to make the most of every opportunity (v. 5). We need to exploit each chance to the full, because time is limited. When the chance comes up we need to be as clear as possible about Jesus because time is against us.
Out time is limited because life is unpredictable. People move, they change jobs, they grow cold towards the gospel, they die young, they die suddenly, and in the end you will die and your opportunity to preach the gospel is gone. We never have permanent opportunities, we need to take the chance fully now.
But time is also short because the world will come to an end, and it will come to an end suddenly. Like a thief in the night Jesus will return. The one who tonight can be the Saviour of anyone who trusts in him, will on that day be the judge of the whole world.
How would you go if you had a gospel opportunity tomorrow? Do you know how to answer the obvious questions about the gospel? Do you know how to explain the gospel simply and clearly to some one who asks you? If you donít know how to take the opportunities then I doubt you are really seeking them with all your heart. Look at verse 6, the aim is that you might know how to answer everyone.
Why donít you resolve tonight to commit yourself to learning how to be better at explaining the gospel? There are many ways St Johnís can help you in that. And there are books that will help as well.
3. A Priority on Partnership (verses 7-18)
We have seen that Jesus Christ is for everyone from every nation. But telling people that is not a one man job, itís a team operation. Back in the first century Paul was crucially involved. He calls the Colossians to be partners in this task by prayer and by also making and then taking their own opportunities. But there also a bigger team, a group who were partners in the gospel going out.
And thatís Paulís third priority. Prayer, evangelism and now teamwork, or partnership in the gospel. We need to be in gospel partnership with each other. Working together to make sure people hear about Jesus. Thatís what the Jesus 2000 mission week was all about. Itís what this church needs to be about every week if the people of Hull are going to hear about Jesus.
Gospel partnership means that Paul shares his work with others. Look at v. 7, we have a fellow servant (slave), and v. 11, fellow workers. The work in which they are partners is working for the kingdom of God (v.11). There is no hierarchy, they are working together for Godís kingdom. They are working together to see the gospel go out. Paulís fellow workers are partners in this gospel task.
Because we are all seeking to proclaim the true message about Jesus, faithfulness is vital. And so Tychicus is a Ďfaithful ministerí (v. 7), Onesimus is a Ďfaithful brotherí (v. 9). There is encouragement and sharing of news. Look at verses 8. That is why Paul is sending Tychicus and Onesimus to them, so that the Colossians might be encouraged by news about Paul and his fellow prisoners.
There are more fellow-workers who send their greetings in verses 10-14.
There are Paulís only remaining Jewish fellow-workers, Aristarchus, Mark and Justus. Jews who have understood the mystery of the gospel and are now actively involved in telling non-Jews about Jesus, Godís saving king for the whole world. They are a great comfort to Paul (v.11).
Epaphras, Luke and Demas are Gentile fellow-workers and they send their greetings.
Epaphras is particularly special, he was from Colossae, and was the person who first explained the gospel of Jesus to the Colossians. He works hard for them especially (v. 12) by always wrestling in prayer for them.
Epaphrasí prayer is perfectly in tune with Paulís vision. Paulís aim was to proclaim Jesus, so that everyone might be presented perfect in Christ (1:28). Epaphras is praying just that for the Colossians. He asks God that they might stand firm, following the will of God, fully assured of their standing in Christ.
Verse 14 is a sadder story. Read verse 14. Pick the difference between these two fellow workers. Luke of course is the author of the gospel and the book of Acts, 1/4 of the New Testament. He was a faithful companion of Paul and spent time in prison with him more than once. Demas is a different story. A few short years later Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Ti 4:10): "Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me." Demas ends up abandoning Paul and the work of the gospel because he loved this world more.
A life spent telling others about Jesus wonít be easy, and loving this world will be a temptation. In the midst of Paulís team was one who had love for the world rather than the ministry of the gospel.
Itís sad that sitting here in this room tonight will be some Demasís. It is a dreadful thought, that the person beside you may turn out in the long run to love the world more than Jesus and telling people about him. Make sure itís not you. We canít always pick it: ĎLuke and Demas send you greetingsí. How sad for Paul in the years to come to reflect on that line that he sent to Colossae.
This gospel partnership linked the Colossians with other local churches. They are told to swap greetings and letters with Laodicia. These churches, based in peoples houses (Nympha, Philemon etc.), work together in gospel partnership.
Paul signs off (v.18) They are to remember Paulís chains because they are for Gentiles like them, and us. He was in prison for the sake of our freedom in the gospel. He was enduring it so that we non-Jews can receive Jesus as our Christ. Paulís chains have long since rusted away, but the reason why he bore them is still with us. The mystery of Christ is now revealed.
Sticking to THE Plan
Paulís gospel and Paulís plan should dominate our thinking and our living. We need to stick to the plan. Not simply because it was Paulís plan, but because it is Godís plan. Godís plan for the world is Ephesians 1:10 "All things in heaven and earth together under one head, that is Christ". Godís plan is to bring all people, of all nations under Christís rule.
That was the mystery of Christ that Paul preached, Jesus Christ as Godís Saviour King, not just for the Jews but for all nations and all people.
It is the preaching of that message which should dominate our prayers.
It is that message that we should be seeking to spread amongst all people, by making and then taking every opportunity.
It is that message that is spread in the context of teamwork and partnership.
It is that message which you need to accept while you still have time.
Father, we thank you that you sent Jesus not just as a Saviour for some people but for all the world. Help us to be creative and wise in making opportunities to speak about Jesus. Make us better at taking those opportunities and using them to the full. Help us to work together in partnership so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. We ask this in Jesusí name, Amen.
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