Priorities - Colossians 4:2-6

This is a sermon by Dave Lynch from the evening service on 24th November 2002.

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By way of introduction, I wanted to tell you a little about a rather remarkable man named Kim Philby. Philby was born in 1912 into an upper class family and in 1929, he went up to Trinity College Cambridge to read history.

The Cambridge that welcomed Philby has been described as a bastion of ruling class privilege. It was a place of parties, idle frolicking, punts and strawberry teas. Now Philby became disgusted with this world of wealth and privilege and he also became horrified at the poverty that much of the English nation was living in, and so, Philby began to flirt with left wing ideas.

In 1934, Philby's life took a dramatic swing. He was approached by a man who asked him if he would like to work for the Russian intelligence service. Philby accepted this invitation and then promptly began what would become his life's work, the infiltration of the British Special Intelligence Service or S. I. S. as its also known.

Philby pretended to shed his communist ideas and became a respectable English gentleman. In 1940, he was finally recruited by the S. I. S. and he eventually became the head of the anti Soviet section. This effectively meant that the man who was running secret operations against the Russians, was in fact a Russian agent himself.

With a position of such power, he was able to provide his Russian masters with dangerous information and he informed them of all of the activities of the British agents working in the Soviet Union. Most of these men and women died at the hands of the K. G. B. as a direct consequence of Philby's commitment to Communism.

Philby gave his life to this dangerous and difficult work, because he was a Communist. He did not do it for money or fame. He believed that the world's problems could be solved by a communist revolution. Because of his beliefs, his priority in life was to aid this cause in any way that he could. Even if it meant that he had to become a spy.

His priorities are spelt out very clearly in this revealing dialogue with his wife Eleanor. After puzzling over Philby's interrogation of her about her contacts with the C. I. A. and the S. I. S., Eleanor waited a while and then asked outright:

'What is more important in your life, me and the children or the Communist Party?' Philby answered firmly and without a moments hesitation: 'The Party, of course'.

You don't have to be a genius to work out that your beliefs will drastically effect your priorities in life. This is a point that the amazing story of Kim Philby illustrates very clearly.

Now as Christians, we have a great belief! Paul describes it here in our passage in verse 3 as the mystery of Christ, in other words, the Gospel. It is through the work of the cross that God made us alive with Christ forgiving us all our sins! What an amazing belief we have!

Now it's no surprise that such an amazing belief should effect our priorities. It should shape the way that we look at things and define what is important to us. So the question we need to ask then as Christians is this 'well what should our priorities be?' and in answering that question the letter to the Colossian Christians is a great help.

You see throughout the letter to the Colossians, Paul has been exhorting them to stay rooted in the Gospel that they received! They're to stick to it and continue in it no matter who comes along and how convincing their arguments sound. Perhaps one of the key verses in the letter is 2: 6 - 7 where Paul writes this :

'So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness'.

So that is what the Colossians are to do. Paul then goes on in chapters 3 and 4 to explain practically what it means to live as one who remains rooted in Christ Jesus. and when we get to 4: 2 - 6, we are left with little doubt as to what our priorities are to be. But before we turn to these it will be very helpful for us to consider something else first. You see amongst 4: 2 - 6, Paul gives us an incredible insight as to what his priorities are. So first of all we are going to look at Paul's priorities, as this will be a help to us when we come to look at what ours should be.

1. Paul's priorities.

Well our passage tonight is interesting because it is the only Point in the letter where Paul asks for prayer. It's the prayer letter part. Now if we're to fully appreciate the significance of his prayer requests, then we're going to need to remember his circumstances at the time of when he wrote the letter. Now this is spelt out clearly for us in verse 3, he is in chains. He is in prison, probably a Roman one.

Now just think for a moment. You've been locked up in a first century prison. You've been allowed to write to St. Johns and you decide to ask for prayer. Now what will you ask the people to pray for? What would be your prayer requests? Well, judging by the sort of prayer requests that we often give one another, they would probably be something like this:

'Dear St. Johns, Please pray for my health, it's cold in here and I'm quite sick. Pray to that I wouldn't get beaten up tomorrow as the last time this happened I couldn't move my leg for a week. I'm getting no sleep in here so please pray that I would get some. Finally, the food is terrible and I'm often hungry, please pray that they would feed us well.'

I imagine that our requests would be something like that. But take a look at what Paul's prayer requests are. Verse 3:

'And pray for us to, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains. Pray that I would proclaim it clearly as I should.'

It's amazing isn't it? Paul's locked up in a prison and what does he want prayer for? That God would give him opportunities to preach the gospel . He asks that God would help him to preach it clearly! It is crystal clear what Paul's priority is, it is the preaching of the word and that God would use him in it! It's striking isn't it. Paul believes in the mystery of Christ and this shapes his priorities.

So we're left in no doubt as to what Paul's priorities are. Now this is all very well isn't it. It's great to know the priorities of the great Apostle Paul, but what has his priorities got to do with ours? Well he goes on to tell us.

2. Our Priorities.

Well it's quite simple really, you see Paul's priorities are to be our priorities! This work of preaching the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is not just Paul's job, we'd be in trouble if it was because he's been dead for nearly 2, 000 years. It's not just Billy Graham's job again we'd be in trouble because he's getting on too and it's not even just the job of those who are paid to do Christian work full time. No, this priority is to be shared by all of us. Look down at verse 5!

'Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; (we are to be in touch with non - Christians) make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone!'

So what does all this mean?

1) well firstly what does it mean to make the most of every opportunity? At this point I think that it's helpful to look at the way the Revised Standard Version translates this passage as it's closer to the original. It says this:

'Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time!'

So, how are we to behave around outsiders, non - Christians? Well we are to make the most of the time.

You see the Bible tells us that Jesus is coming back! He will return one day and when he does, those who have not put their trust in him, will be punished for their rebellion against God! If they have not trusted in Jesus to take their punishment for them, they will have to take it themselves and for such people as these, the return of Jesus, will not be a good day.

So the Bible tells us to be mindful of this! Jesus could return at anytime! We must therefore make the most of it! But we so often don't! We see many non - Christians every day ! These are opportunities aren't they? But we wander by them as though we have got all the time in the world, but we don't necessarily. This is an urgent work that we're about! If time ran out tomorrow, would you have made the most of it? We have all of these opportunities to say something, say anything, but do we take them?

I was reading not long ago about the students that started the Christian Union movement in this country a very long time ago now. The British C. U. found it's origins in Cambridge University, amongst students that had very bright futures. Now days almost anyone can go to Uni. if they want. But not back then. Then only the cream of the nation went to Uni. These young men were to be the leaders of Britain. They had wonderful careers ahead of them when they graduated, enormous amounts of money and popularity. But do you know what many of them did? Upon graduation, Christian student, after Christian student went to the mission field. Now back in those days, mission work was a guaranteed death sentence. You went away to preach the gospel as much as possible before you died a very early death. With lack of medicine and hospital facilities, western missionaries were lucky to survive much longer than a year.

Can you imagine what the parents and lecturers and friends and girlfriends said ? Can you imagine the heart ache and the suffering? Yet the priorities of these young men is clear. They lived as though the time was short and they made the most of it! Oh I know that it's good to have Christian doctors, and lawyers and politicians, but brothers and sisters, who knows when Christ will return, do you make the most of the time? We could do with a bit of that Cambridge C. U. attitude couldn't we? I'm sure the current Cambridge C. U. could do with it to.

2) Secondly what does it mean to have your conversation always full of grace and seasoned with salt? Well this is quite simple really, don't be rude and horrible and don't be completely wet and boring. The conversation should be seasoned! Spicy! Salty!

Rabbis used to use the word salt to describe wisdom , now in the context of Christian evangelism it involves being able to answer people, being faithful to the Gospel and including gospel truths.

It's amazing you know, but so often when we are confronted by a non - Christian who questions us, we tend to either get all self righteous and aggressive, or we become total wimps who cop out of proclaiming the Gospel and become completely unseasoned!

It's amazing how easy it is to fall in these areas. Not long ago my Father in Law came to visit. Now he's not a Christian and we got involved in a conversation about the Gospel. Now my father in Law is a Greek and as Greeks are apt to do when involved in a debate, he got somewhat excited and he started to raise his voice. Now I was doing real well on the salty side of things, in fact I was so salty you would have had to of spat me out of your mouth! But man I lost the grace and flew off the handle and before I knew it I was behaving like a rude, arrogant, disrespectful fool!

Now after I had spoken to him like that, there was no way that he would come round and see my side of the argument. In fact he probably ended up disagreeing with me out of principal for my rudeness and who could blame him.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.

3) Well finally but certainly not least importantly, we are to be devoted to prayer (v. 2) and the focus in these verses is prayer regarding evangelism! It's interesting that even Paul, the mighty evangelist, thoroughly acknowledges his desperate need for God's help if his evangelism is to be even remotely successful. He knows that he needs God to give him the opportunities, he knows that he needs God to give him boldness and he knows that he needs God to give him the clarity to explain things.

Now let me ask you are you devoted to prayer? We're devoted to so many things in life aren't we? We're devoted t our families, and our careers and our boyfriends and our girlfriends and our studies and our friends, man we' re even devoted to a bunch of blokes that we don't know who run around on a big grassy field kicking a little white ball into nets! We can be so devoted to those blokes! We're devoted to so many things, but are we devoted to prayer. Now if you're a communist here tonight, It's really not my intention to pick on you. But I want to read a small piece of communist literature that I find very moving.

It says this:

We communists have a high casualty rate. We are the ones who get shot and hung and lynched and jailed, slandered and ridiculed fired from our jobs and in every other way made as uncomfortable as possible. A certain percentage of us get killed or imprisoned. We live in virtual poverty... we have been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor. The struggle for world communism.

We communists have a philosophy of life, which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us, in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. There is one thing in which I am in dead earnest and that is the communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my wife and my mistress, my bread and meat. I work at it in the daytime and dream of it at night. It's hold on me grows, not lessens as time goes by. Therefore I cannot carry on a friendship, a love affair, or even a conversation without relating it to this force which both drives me and guides my life...I've been to jail because of my ideas and if necessary I'm ready to go before a firing squad...

What amazing commitment. There is no mistaking the priority in this man's life. It is not a subtle point that he's making. You see often the commitment of such people really puts us to shame doesn't it? Look at our belief! It's much better news than communism! You see even if the vision of Marx and Lennin was truly achieved, it still doesn't solve man's biggest problem! People will still die. Communism along with every other political movement can't solve the problem of death! But Christians! the Gospel can!! We have the words of eternal life here in the Bible. In the gospel is the answer to mankind's real problem What we believe is the best news the world can ever hope to hear! Yet this communist has more passion than us!

Our belief should shape our priorities and Paul has made it clear here in Colossians what our priorities should be. It's logical isn't it, if the message we believe is as amazing as it is, then surely our priority should be to share it with others.

Let's pray.

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