************ Sermon on Colossians 4:2-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 6, 2011
"How to Pray for Missions"
In our Scripture reading on this Mission Emphasis Sunday Paul's focus or theme is on his missionary task. But before we look at this, let me make some introductory comments on the book of Colossians.
Colossians was written by Paul and Timothy. It was written from Rome where Paul was in prison. It was written to the church at Colosse. Paul's purpose was to oppose false teachers who were telling the people of Colosse that their Christian faith was incomplete unless they worshiped angels and followed special rules and ceremonies.
Take note of how this relates to our passage on this Mission Emphasis Sunday. Paul was a prisoner in Rome. He was in chains (Col 4:3,18). He realized he would soon be martyred for the faith. Yet, what was his number one concern? Not himself. Not his needs. Not his fears. Not his health. Paul's number one concern was the spread of the Gospel. Paul's number one concern, as Paul puts it in our Scripture reading, was to "proclaim the mystery of Christ" (Col 4:3).
I The Mystery of Christ
A What is the "mystery of Christ"? "Mystery" does not mean mysterious, or strange, or weird, or unexplainable. Rather, in the Bible "mystery" means what is known only because God reveals it to us. Or, to put it another way, it is what is unknown until God reveals it to us.
So, what is this mystery of Christ that has been revealed to us who believe? The "mystery of Christ" involves two things. First, it involves the Gospel. It involves the death and resurrection of Christ and how, in justification, this work of Christ is applied to sinners.
Pretend I am Paul and you are in his audience at the river's edge in Philippi, an audience that includes Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. Paul's Gospel message would go something like this:
You are a sinner in God's sight. A sinner deserving judgment and everlasting damnation. You question that? You think you are basically a good person? You slaves, have you ever cheated on your master? Lydia, have you ever short-changed a customer? Have you ever had adulterous thoughts about your neighbor? Have you always been loving to your children and spouse? I am no better. I consider myself the worst of sinners. I, with you, deserve God's judgment.This is the first part of the mystery of Christ that was proclaimed by Paul.
There is only One Who lived a perfect life on earth. His name is Jesus. He is the eternal Son of God. He took on our flesh. According to the plan of God, He was crucified, died, and was buried. But the third day God raised Him from the grave. Do you know why this happened? Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. The great exchange took place. God gave Jesus our guilt and our shame and our punishment. God gave us Jesus' perfect and obedient life.
If you believe in Jesus it is as if you have never sinned nor been a sinner. It is as if you have been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for you.
B Secondly, Paul's message is that the Gospel, the mystery of Christ, was also meant for the Gentiles. I spent some time this past week reading Acts 21-28. It begins with Paul preaching in the Temple. I cannot help but note that the Jews listened to Paul until he stated he was being sent to the Gentiles.
(Acts 22:22) The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!"After this, Paul was arrested and was about to be flogged. All because he included the Gentiles in the Gospel.
You need to realize that the early church was mostly Jewish and had a kind of bigotry against Gentiles. The more extreme legalists wanted the Gentiles to become Jews before they became Christians. Paul and Barnabas met this threat head-on at the meeting of the Jerusalem church council and the council decided in their favor. But the legalistic party continued to oppose Paul and his ministry. They did not want the Good News of the mystery of Christ to get to the Gentiles unless they first became Jews. Unless they first were circumcised and scrupulously followed all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament.
There is a much abused Bible verse that speaks to this. I hesitate to use this verse because it has been twisted and distorted by those in favor of women in church office and by those who see nothing wrong with homosexual practice.
(Gal 3:28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Paul is not approving of sinful lifestyles or unbiblical principles. Instead, he is saying the Gospel, the mystery of Christ, is for everyone. It is for Jew, Greek, and Roman. It is for Dutch, Polish, Hispanic, Russian, and Chinese. It is for slave and free. It is for male and female. It is for every race, every color, every ethnic group, and every economic level.
We are on the wrong path when we think the Gospel is not for certain groups or kinds of people. We are on the wrong path when we think the Gospel is only for us and people who are like us. This reminds me of what happened a number of years ago. A young man was attending our worship. Suddenly he stopped attending. I asked him why. Because are you ready for this because I stated from this pulpit that death-row inmates can be saved if they repent of their sin and believe in Jesus.
A So, Paul proclaims the mystery of Christ. He proclaims Christ crucified and resurrected. He proclaims the Gospel to Jew and Gentile.
Now, with this in mind note what Paul asks Christians to do. Paul writes,
(Col 4:2-3) Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (3) And pray for us, too ...Hear what Paul wants us to do? He wants us to pray for missions!
Note that word "devote." Other possible translations of the Greek are "continue, be steadfast, don't quit." In other words, this is a call to be faithful in prayer in prayer for missions. This is the way the early church prayed (Acts 1:14; 2:46). Faithful is the way we should pray.
How would you define faithfulness? Is your car faithful if it started nine times out of ten? Is your washing machine faithful if it flooded your house only once a year? Is your airline faithful if it gets you safely to your destination ninety-nine times out of a hundred (and delivers your luggage ninety-seven times out of a hundred)? Is a Christian doctor faithful if he does only one abortion for every ten pregnancies? Are you faithful if you attend worship two Sundays every month? Of course not! Notice how we define faithful in these instances? We expect our car and washing machine and airline and doctor and worship attendance to be right-on one hundred percent of the time!
Too many of us pray only occasionally when we feel like it or when there is a crisis. "Pray without ceasing" is God's command to us (1 Thess 5:17). This does not mean that we walk around muttering prayers under our breath. It does mean that we have a regular time of prayer. It does mean that we regularly, faithfully, remember our missionaries in prayer.
Every home has a Faith Promise booklet in its mail-slot (extras for visitors are on the entrance-way table) so everyone knows the missionaries and causes we support. We ask that this year you select just one cause or missionary. And, pray for this cause or missionary faithfully. Throughout the year we will give you regular updates so your prayers stay relevant. Of course, if you want, you can pray for all of the missionaries and causes we support.
"Devote yourselves to prayer." This is not to suggest that God is reluctant to answer prayer and that we must "wear Him out" by our praying. Quite the opposite is true: God wants and enjoys answering our prayers.
B Next, we notice the word "watchful." "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful ..." Our prayers must be watchful. We must be awake and alert as we pray. The phrase "watch and pray" is found more than once in the Bible ((Mt 26:41; Mk 14:38; Lk 21:36; cf Eph 6:18). It has its beginnings with Nehemiah. Under Nehemiah's supervision the walls and gates of Jerusalem were being rebuilt in spite of opposition. Nehemiah tells us they prayed to God and posted a guard to keep watch for the enemies who opposed them (Neh 4:9). Christ teaches us that to watch and pray is the way to victory over temptation (Mk 14:38).
We need to watch and pray. So we realize when the enemy is attacking. So we know when to pray for strength and courage for our missionaries. So we can attack the gates of hell with the Gospel.
C Also, our praying should always be "thankful." I need to praise this congregation for her thankfulness. After every prayer request we are asked to put a note in the bulletin expressing thanks to God and His people. Thanksgiving is an important ingredient in successful prayer for missions (Phil 4:6). If all we do is ask and never say thanks, we are selfish.
There is always so much for which to be thankful. Take note of how Paul starts his letter to the Colossians:
(Col 1:3-4) We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, (4) because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saintsNotice, Paul mentions the faith and love of the church in Colosse. Now, remember, Paul was a prisoner when he was writing this. Yet, he found many reasons to give thanks especially when it comes to the growth of the church and the progress of the Gospel.
D Next, our prayers for missions should be purposeful. Notice the first line of verse 3: "And pray for us too ..." Too often our prayers can be vague and general as in, "Lord, bless our missionaries." It is far, far better to pray for specific needs and specific people which is why we have asked and encouraged the congregation to sign up as prayer partners for our missionaries.
Notice what Paul adds to this: "And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message" (Col 4:3). Now, remember, Paul is in prison. And he says, "Pray for open doors." When most prisoners pray for open doors, they pray for their own release from jail. Not Paul. Paul prays for open doors so the Gospel may be proclaimed. I want you to think of how this worked out in the life of Paul.
Think of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16). When it looked like all the prisoners had escaped because of an earthquake the jailer drew his sword and was about to kill himself. Paul, however, cried out and stopped him, presented the Gospel to him, and baptized him and his family. Open doors. That's what Paul was praying for and that's what God gave him in the case of the Philippian jailer and his family. The jailer and his family came to know the Lord all because Paul was given an open door.
Think, too, of what happened after Paul was first arrested in Jerusalem. Guards were chained to him and he witnessed to those guards. He was dragged in front of Governor Felix, then Festus, then King Agrippa. In each instance Paul proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus. Now, do you remember how the book of Acts ends?
(Acts 28:16, 30-31) When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him ... (30) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. (31) Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.Paul continued to be a prisoner. And, he continued to proclaim the Gospel. Open doors. That is what we see.
"Pray for open doors." Pray for opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. Pray that missionaries may see those opportunities and take advantage of them.
"Pray for open doors." Eventually, this prayer has to be about ourselves that we, like Paul, see the open doors God has put in front of us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those open doors may be at work, at school, on the dairy, in the factory, on the road, in your neighborhood, with a client, in the hospital, at home. Wherever God gives you open doors, take advantage of the opportunity to tell some lost soul about Jesus Who died and arose for sinners. As Paul puts it in verse 5 "make the most of every opportunity."
E Finally, notice Paul's last prayer request: "Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should" (Col 4:4). Paul does want to buckle under pressure. Paul does not want to give in to those who criticize him and his ministry and the Gospel that he proclaims. "Pray that I may proclaim it clearly." Pray that I will always give a clear call to repent and believe without changing the Gospel, without compromising the Gospel, without softening the Gospel. Paul's critics would have loved it if Paul stopped preaching to the Gentiles. Paul's critics would have loved it if Paul stressed the importance of Jewish rules and regulations in his preaching. Paul's critics would have loved it if Paul said Jesus' blood and righteousness are not enough to save us from our sins.
"Pray that I may proclaim it clearly." Paul had no intention of giving up his ministry or of changing his message. The other apostles were the same way. They were arrested by the Sanhedrin and put in the public jail. During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. Remember what happened next?
(Acts 5:20-21) "Go, stand in the temple courts," the angel said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life." (21) At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.The apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin. Remember their defense? "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).
When John Bunyan was arrested for preaching illegally and put into prison, he was told that he would be released if he promised to stop preaching. "If I am out of prison today," he replied, "I will preach the Gospel again tomorrow, by the help of God."
This is proclaiming the message clearly. Regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the opposition. Regardless of what men may wish and ask for. Paul, and the apostles, and Bunyan, and the missionaries we support must all proclaim the message clearly, without compromise.
A visitor at Spurgeon's Tabernacle in London was being shown around the building by the pastor, Charles Spurgeon. Is it any wonder that God blessed Spurgeon's preaching of the Word?
"Would you like to see the powerhouse of this ministry?" Spurgeon asked. He showed the man into a lower auditorium filled with people praying. "It is here that we get our power, for while I am preaching upstairs, hundreds of my people are in this room praying."
In the same way, you as a church member can assist our missionaries by praying for them.
I hope you realize you can assist Pastor Godfrey and myself the same way: by praying for us. Never say to your pastor, "Well, the least I can do is to pray for you." Prayer is not the least you can do. It is the most you can do!
So, pray when it comes to the church's mission. Pray constantly. Pray and watch. Pray and be thankful. Pray for open doors. Pray that the Gospel is clearly proclaimed.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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