************ Sermon on Colossians 4:2-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 17, 2013
"Don't Talk to Unbelievers"
One cold, wet Spring day my siblings and I were walking home from the bus stop – about a mile, up hill both ways, mud up to our ankles. A lady stopped her car and offered to take us home. "No," I said as the oldest, "we aren't supposed to talk to strangers." How many of you haven't had this drilled into your head?! "Don't talk to strangers." My brother jumped into the car anyway. Off he went while the four of us walked home in the rain. When we did get home, he was gloating and mocking.
"Don't talk to strangers." As a general rule, this is good advice for children to follow.
On this Mission Emphasis Sunday I cannot help but observe that many Christians treat unbelievers like children are supposed to treat strangers. With this in mind let me list eight rules or safety guidelines on how to deal with unbelievers:
1. Know who an unbeliever is.
2. Even if an unbeliever seems nice, they may still try to trick or hurt you.
3. Never let an unbeliever get too close, whether he or she is in a car or walking.
4. Never take candy, a present, a ride, or anything else from an unbeliever.
5. Never tell an unbeliever your name or address.
6. Never go into the dark or deserted places where you find unbelievers.
7. If an unbeliever tries to talk to you, yell as loud as you can for help.
8. Don't go with anyone, for any reason, who does not know the Christian "Secret Code Word".
Even if you don't find these rules to be humorous, I hope you find them to be sad. As believers in Jesus Christ, we often find ourselves in one of two extremes: either we run away from unbelievers or we run with unbelievers. The Biblical response, the one Christ calls us to have on this Mission Emphasis Sunday, is that we share our faith with unbelievers.
How do we do that? How do we "go and make disciples of all nations" (cf Mt 28:19ff) – as Christ commands us to do? In our Scripture reading Paul says we are to make disciples, we are to evangelize, we are to witness, first through our prayers, second through our lives, and third through our words.
I Through Our Prayers
A When it comes to the church's witness, we need to start off with prayer. Paul does not hesitate to ask for prayer support throughout his letters (Eph 6:19-20; 2 Thess 3:1-5; Col 4:3). If someone like Paul needs prayer, don't we and our missionaries need prayer as well? Effective and powerful witness starts off with prayer. How important is prayer? Let me list three quotes I found this past week:
Subtopic: Exhortations to
"The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray." (Samuel Chadwick)
"I would rather teach one man to pray than 10 men to preach." (Charles Spurgeon)
"The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history." (Andrew Murray)
In verse 2 Paul tells us how to pray for the church's missionary task. In verses 3 & 4 Paul tells us what to pray.
B How are we to pray? In verse 2, Paul lists three characteristics of evangelistic prayer that is powerful and effective:
(Col 4:2) Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
The first characteristic of evangelistic prayer: "devote" yourselves to prayer. Other ways of saying the same thing:
-Continue steadfastly in prayer.
In other words, do not stop praying. That word "devote" is used more than once to describe the early church (Acts 1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4). They devoted themselves to prayer. Is it any wonder that they ended up evangelizing the then known world?
How devoted are you to praying for the souls of the unsaved? How devoted are you to praying for our missionaries? How devoted are you to praying for our outreach as a congregation? Do you pray persistently, continually, steadfastly? Or, do you pray for a while and then stop? Do you pray only during times of crisis or all the time? Paul is encouraging us to continue in prayer for the lost. Don't stop! Don't quit!
The second characteristic of evangelistic prayer: be "watchful." We need to be alert and aware in our prayer life. Remember Peter and James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus wanted their prayers but they kept falling asleep (cf Mk 14:38). So, be watchful. Don't fall into the spiritual drowsiness brought on by the world. Be watchful because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (cf 1 Pet 5:8).
The third characteristic of evangelistic prayer: be "thankful." Giving thanks must be important to the Apostle Paul because he mentions it six times in his letter to the Colossians (Col 1:3, 12; 1:12; 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2). He is thankful for their faith and salvation; he is thankful for the Word; he is thankful for Christ; he is thankful for the Gospel. With all of life's problems, it is really easy to get down on life and even on God. When that happens, think about God's blessing and give thanks. Just like that you are back in the race and fighting the fight and spreading the Gospel.
C As we think about missions, what are we to pray? We need to pray for open doors. Look at verse 3:
(Col 4:3) And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Paul is in prison when he writes this. He is in chains. What is Paul's biggest need? What is his number one prayer request? Most prisoners pray for freedom, their freedom. They pray that the doors of prison may open so they can get out. But that isn't Paul's prayer. Paul prays for open doors for the Gospel. Paul is more interested in winning souls than in his own freedom.
So what happened while Paul was in prison? Onesimus, a runaway slave, met Paul and became a Christian (Philemon 10). Members of Caesar's household became Christians (Phil 4:22). Everyone of the palace guard knew Paul was in chains for Christ (Phil 1:13). And,
(Phil 1:14) Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
Pray that today there will be open doors for the Gospel. One of the causes we are again supporting through our Faith Promise giving is Good News Jail & Prison Ministry in Pakistan. Pakistan is a Muslim land. It is against Islamic law for Muslims to become Christians; converts are usually killed as heretics. So what has God done? He has opened the doors to Pakistan's prisons. Christians can evangelize all they want in Pakistan's prisons. Pakistan doesn't care what happens to prisoners so there is no persecution or death if they convert to the Christian faith.
Pray for open doors. Pray that Rev Van Heemert is able to get on board ships and evangelize the crew. Pray that foreign students will be welcomed back to their homeland as ministers of the Gospel. Pray that Rev Lenzner in Colorado will make inroads into the community. Pray that Rev Schering will be given more opportunities to teach governing officials in Papua New Guinea. Pray that those who surf the internet will find our website and be challenged by the Gospel. Pray that many people will get a Talking Bible.
A friend of mine is involved in a new church plant in Boise, Idaho. Boise is the third most populous metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest behind Portland and Seattle. It is a large mission field that is only getting larger every year. A new church plant can be one of the most exciting things you'll ever be involved in. There is a certain giddiness to God's providence as details are worked out, little things fall into place and people enter into fellowship with one another. My friend writes,
Our prayer is the same as the Apostle Paul's in Colossians 4:3 "pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mysteries of Christ."
Pray for open doors. The most important door to pray for is the door into the human heart. Pray that people will be receptive to the Gospel, that they will hear the Gospel, that they will receive the Gospel and believe it. Pray for conversions – lots and lots of conversions.
D Pray for open doors. And, pray for clarity in communicating the Gospel when doors open. Paul writes,
(Col 4:4) Pray that I may proclaim [the mystery of Christ] clearly, as I should.
The great temptation today is to water down the Gospel. The great temptation today is to take away the offense of the Gospel. The great temptation today is to avoid all talk of sin and repentance. I received a letter from another consistory this past week. They were writing about a sinful pastoral situation. Not once did they quote the Bible; they talked about forgiveness without repentance; they talked about peace where there is no peace. This is not the clarity that Paul has in mind.
In its three headings, the Catechism gives us a clear presentation of the Gospel: Sin, Salvation, Service. Or, to expand on this, we can put it this way:
1. Every person is a sinner.
2. God's penalty for sin is physical and spiritual death.
3. In His great love, God sent Jesus to save sinners.
4. Each person must repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. Saved sinners lead a life of thankfulness before God.
This is the clear presentation of the Gospel for which Paul wants us to pray. Pray that the Gospel is never watered down. Pray that sin remains sin. Pray that sinners are clearly called to repent and believe. Pray that Jesus – and Jesus alone – is presented as the way of salvation.
II Through Our Lives
A Our second point is that we are to evangelize through our lives. Paul writes, "Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders" (Col 4:5).
The actual Greek uses the word "walk." Be wise in your walk. Paul is talking about lifestyle. Paul is talking about the way you live your life. Paul is talking about whether you walk the talk and live out the faith. Paul is warning against hypocrisy.
Do you know the best way to attract people to Christ and the church? The lives of Christians. Do you know the best way to keep people away from Christ and the church? The lives of Christians. Your life, my brothers and sisters, can either be a hindrance or an attraction to the Gospel. This is what Paul has in mind when he writes, "Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders" (Col 4:5). In my sermon illustration file I found the following story from Charles Chu:
A few years ago the bus ahead of us skidded off the road and tipped over on its side in a rice field. I quickly jumped off my tour bus, ran to the overturned bus, and jumped on top. Windows were shattered, and people inside were obviously hurt. The emergency door was facing upward, so I grabbed the handle of the emergency door and pulled. The door did not open. I kept pulling hard, but it wouldn’t budge.Sometimes those who want to lead others to Christ become the biggest obstacle to their salvation.
By this time, others had come and were pulling people out through the windows, so I gave up on the door and joined them. After I moved away from the door, another man went over to the door. He turned the door handle, and the door opened easily.
I suddenly realized why the door did not open for me: I had been standing on the door as I tried to open it. With good intentions to save lives, I had become the biggest obstacle blocking the door of rescue.
B "Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders" (Col 4:5). Be wise. Don't act like a fool. Be wise. Wisdom is the ability to take the truth of God's Word and apply it to how you live your life. Your first thought when you face a situation or a temptation is, "What does the Word say?"
C "Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders" (Col 4:5). Notice that word "outsiders." Let me remind you, my brothers and sisters, that you are being watched. I'm not talking about big brother. I'm not talking about traffic cams. I'm not talking about remote cameras – from my office I sometimes watch my wife at home or the people at Sierra Village. I am talking about non-Christians and unbelievers; those whom Paul calls "outsiders." They are called "outsiders" because they are outside of the church and outside of the kingdom and outside of salvation. More people are watching you than you think. Most people you have contact with in day-to-day life don't read the Bible, but they do read or watch you.
So, what do outsiders see when they watch you? Are you paying your bills? Are you cheating on your taxes or next week's math test? Are you all about making money? Do you gossip? Do you dress appropriately as a Christian? Do you indulge in too much wine or beer? Do you treat your family well? Do you play fair on the basketball court or soccer field?
Remember that people are watching you. Don’t give people an excuse to reject the gospel because of the way you live.
III Through Our Words
A Our third point is that we are to evangelize through our words. This is what Paul writes:
(Col 4:5-6) make the most of every opportunity. (6) Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
"Make the most of every opportunity." We must capitalize on every chance we are given to spread the Word. The time and opportunities are unlimited.
"Make the most of every opportunity." I was helping an outsider with his computer. This man knew I was a pastor and asked me not to push religion on him. I pushed back. Every visit I would say something about Christ and faith and he would say, "There you go again." Then came the day he faced serious surgery and possible death. "Make the most of every opportunity." So I pushed and pushed hard. He entered the operating room as a Christian. One never knows so make the most of every opportunity.
A year ago I did the funeral of my friend Tom. Tom was a lapsed Catholic. "Make the most of every opportunity." On bike rides and over meals we talked often about faith and religion. Tom ended up in the hospital. He opened his eyes and cried when I presented the Gospel. That was the last time he responded to anyone or anything. "Make the most of every opportunity."
B "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt." Be pleasant to outsiders. Make friends with unbelievers. Build rapport with non-Christians. Remember, you are to be a witness, not a prosecuting attorney.
Do you hear the assumption? It is assumed you have relationships with unbelievers. In our circles I suppose it is easy to be so wrapped up in our family, the church, the Christian school, and our friends that we have little or no contact with outsiders. If this describes you, get out of your shell. If this describes you, how sad.
C "So that you may know how to answer everyone." We need to have answers ready for those who ask about Christ and faith. Think about Philip. The Ethiopian eunuch did not understand what he was reading from Isaiah 53. So he asked Philip. Philip did not say, "Give me time to go home and study the matter and I will get back to you." Philip did not say, "Let's go ask my pastor." Philip did not say, "Ask me next week when I have more time." Any of these answers and Philip would not have made the most of the opportunity.
Instead, Philip knew the answer. He was well-versed in Scripture.
I hope, congregation, you realize something on this Mission Emphasis Sunday. I hope you realize evangelism is not something that is just done overseas. It is not something just done by pastors and missionaries. Instead, it also involves you and me. We are to be involved in the Lord's mission to the lost through our prayers, through our lives, and through our words.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page