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Living on Mission Means Living on Purpose

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Date: November 25, 2018

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: n/a

Category: Biblical Exposition

Scripture: Colossians 4:3–4:6

What is evangelism? Faithfully teaching the gospel with an aim to persuade (Stiles).

What do you think of when you hear this word?

Evangelism is something that we know we are called to do but often struggle doing. In a 2012 Lifeway study, 80 percent of those surveyed believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith but over 60 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the last 6 months. To make the point further, Lifeway identified 8 biblical attributes that are consistently evident in the lives of maturing believers and sharing the gospel had the lowest average score among those surveyed. 

What does this mean? It means that the majority of people have a biblical understanding about our responsibility for evangelism but an incorrect application of this understanding. In other words, we know what we are supposed to do but are not doing it. 

It doesn’t just happen, nobody falls into evangelistic faithfulness. Living on mission means living on purpose.

Like most things in life, evangelism requires personal effort, endurance through difficulty, and the regular repetition of basic (unglamorous) tasks.

We must live with evangelistic intentionality if we want to reach people with the gospel.

Outline: 3 priorities for your personal evangelism

(1) Pray

It’s interesting, isn’t it, when we think about evangelism and mission work, we tend to think very little about prayer. But, when we read the New Testament, we find that prayer and mission are inextricably linked (Matthew 9:35-37; Ephesians 6:18-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). This is because our life as Christians is made up of a spiritual battle. This battle, this ongoing struggle against opposition, is seen prominently on the front lines of evangelism. This is because prayer fuels mission. Evangelism is a spiritual work, so we must pray for the Holy Spirit to open doors and hearts.

I wonder, before we get started looking at the what and how of Colossians 4, does your prayer life include evangelistic prayer? Are you praying for the advancement of the gospel? Hopefully, as we work our way through this passage of Scripture, we will grow more and more shaped by the Word of God in this area.

Let’s look then at verse 3 of Colossians 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—

Right away we see that this verse is connected to the previous verse. In verse 2, Paul instructs the Christians at Colossae to be devoted, alert, and thankful in their praying. Now he broadens things out a bit to include a prayer request for himself.

Notice first, that this is part of the normal life of Christians. Paul just adds it in. He says, “As you are praying for your regular items, please do remember to pray for us.” It’s like asking a friend to pick you up something at the store since you are going that way anyway. 

Do you see how normal this is? Not only to pray but to pray for gospel advancement. It was assumed not only that people were praying but that they were praying for mission work. 

It is also an ongoing request. Pray and keep on praying for me. It’s not the type of thing that is a one-off. It is to be characteristic of the Christian to pray for one another.

But look also at the reason for the prayer. “That God would open to us a door for the word.” 

What is Paul requesting prayer for? He wants God to open a door for the Word. Throughout the Scriptures, we see this door metaphor used to communicate the opportunity for entrance or blessing.

Acts 14:27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

1 Corinthians 16:9 for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

2 Corinthians 2:12 Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,

But notice what Paul prays for here. He does not as much ask for the door to be opened for him as he does ask that the door would be opened for the word. That word is spoken of as personal and living. 

This makes perfect sense in that Paul knows that if people are truly going to be transformed by Christ then it is not merely him that needs an open door but the Word. Paul is praying for the word to be unleashed and for it to work powerfully and effectively.

Why does he need to pray for openings? It because the heart is closed.

It is like he is standing outside of a fortress without a way to enter. In the book (and movie) The Hobbit, Bilbo and the Dwarves tried unsuccessfully to access The Lonely Mountain. They ran into it, pushed upon it, and finally were ready to give up. Soon after, the “last light of Durin’s day” shined upon the keyhole. Bilbo opened the door and they entered the mountain.  Similarly, in evangelism, we stand locked outside of the human heart. It is a formidable mountain, unable to be open by any amount of human exertion. What is left to do? Pray. We must pray that God would open a door for the Word. Pray that God would grant us opportunities with the gospel where he opens hearts to hear the Word of God. 

Have you seen God open the hearts of people to hear the Word of God?

How about yourself? I was contacted recently by a man who met me when I was a young man, he prayed for me for years and years only to find out now, some 25 years later that God had not only saved me but called me to be a minister of the Word.

Can you recall examples of God answering the prayers of your church for an unbeliever or for opportunities among a particular people?

How do you suppose your evangelistic vision would improve if you prayed for opportunities?

Let’s say you are in the market for a new vehicle. You decide that you want a white van. Do you know what you will see when you are traveling around? White vans. Because white vans are on your mind you suddenly notice them. If evangelistic opportunities are on your mind (by means of your prayer list) then you will see them pop up everywhere.

How can you intentionally pray for personal opportunities for the Word?
How can you intentionally pray for our church’s witness here in Metro Boston?

Paul is praying for faithfulness with the gospel. Look again at verse 3, What is Paul going to do about this sovereignly opened door? 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—

It is simply that Paul and his partners would be faithful to proclaim Christ. What good is it to have an open door and then to not do what he is supposed to do. He has a clear shot at the goal and then he misses the ball when trying to kick it!

Paul tells his prayer partners to storm the throne for them so that God would sovereignly open a door for the word. But bound up in this is the responsibility that Paul and his team would proclaim or preach Christ faithfully.

Paul knows that he needs God to sovereignly work or else his preaching is not going to bring about true fruit. So he sweats in both the prayer closet and the street corner or the pulpit or the living room or in this case, in the prison, so that he might proclaim the mystery of Christ.

What does this priority of prayer look like for personal evangelism? 

Pray for the gospel to advance by God opening the door for the word in your church, in your life, and in the lives of those whom you partner together with, and that people would faithfully proclaim Christ.

Pray for God to open a door for the word — opportunities.

Pray for people to faithfully proclaim Christ — faithfulness.

Pray for the message to be clear — clarity.

Prayer reminds us both the priority and the difficulty of the task of evangelism. We need help to do the work he calls us to do.  If we want to reach people with the gospel then we must live with evangelistic intentionality. 


(2) Go

Paul now shifts from the prayer closet to the sidewalk. We need to do something and go somewhere. There is a call for intentional engagement. 

As with prayer, there are a few assumptions here that Paul makes that are worth noting. I’m sure you can see them.

First, Paul assumes that Christians will be on the move.

Second, Paul assumes that Christians will be around unbelievers.

Third, Paul assumes that they will be in difficult or at least pressing situations.

Do you see yourself as one who has been sent into your community with the gospel? 

I don’t think many Christians do.

But, I also think this is an error. 

The Bible teaches us that all Christians are called to a part of the work of evangelism. It’s not optional or only for the mature, extroverted believers. 

Let me give you an example. Turn to Matthew 28:19-21. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is telling his followers to go and make disciples. This means followers of Jesus. How do we make followers of Jesus? We do this by speaking the gospel to them. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:13).

But one might say, This is only for the Apostles. 

But it can’t be. Look again at the verse. We read that we are to make disciples and then to teach them all that is commanded of them by Jesus. Included in the textbook for the training for the Christian is the work of evangelism. This very verse is a command that Jesus would have us teach others.

In other words, the identity of the Christian is one who is sent as an ambassador or representative of Jesus. We are sent by him and for him.

Typically, the word missionary refers to someone who has been sent across cultural lines in order to teach and persuade people of the gospel. We refer to missionaries who go overseas. But, I think it might be helpful to see ourselves as missionaries. At least from the standpoint of an identity. In other words, imagine you were sent to live in China, Papa New Guinea, or the Dominican Republic as missionaries. How might you order your life? How would you pray? How might you read the newspaper? How would you interact with your neighbors? How would you talk to your boss or coworker? If you were sent there then you would view your life and ministry as a missionary with the goal of reaching the people around you with the gospel. 

Your life would be orientated around mission.

And this is the only way things actually get done. Nobody slouches into faithfulness. They do it on purpose. With our lives intentionally calibrated by the gospel and its expansion, we pursue what Christ has called us to do.

So, look around. If you notice, unbelievers are all around us but they are not flocking to us here at church.

We have a Savior who came to us when we wouldn’t and couldn’t come to him. This is one of the reasons why we must go to them. We are to speak the truth of Christ even as we intentionally go to them.

Our temptation when hearing this or perhaps rehearing this, depending on the case, is to reluctantly agree and resolve to prioritize this. Okay, I’ll make some changes here. I’ll do it in the new year. 

But, the Bible won’t let us do that. 

It actually attaches a sense of urgency to it. Look again at verse 5, Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. This phrase translated making the best use of the time is perhaps more literally buyback. It means to purchase out or redeem. It is a similar idea to what Paul also writes in Ephesians 5:15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil. 

What does he mean here? He means we should not squander our time but instead, steward it.

Don’t presume upon time. We should not live as though we or others have an infinite amount of time. We don’t know how much time we have left. The people in our family, community, or office might only have a day or two left. We don’t know. We might only have a day or two left. We don’t know. We should not live in a way that presumes upon an infinite amount of time. 

We have already wasted time and shouldn’t do it anymore. Living as unbelievers we were professional time wasters. We failed to live in any way as for the glory of God. Even now as believers, to our shame, we have wasted time. So the Apostle here seems to be saying, you’ve already wasted time, don’t waste any more.

Use the time in a wise way. The urgency clarifies our thinking and priorities. It puts pressure on what is meant by walking in wisdom. Knowing the days are short (and evil), people are dying and going to hell, and that you have the message of eternal life, live with intentionality around unbelievers. Don’t waste your time but rather redeem it. Buy it back. Love God and others by ordering your life around the mission of the gospel.

We must live with evangelistic intentionality if we want to reach people with the gospel.

Like most things in life, evangelism requires personal effort, endurance through difficulty, and the regular repetition of basic (unglamorous) tasks.

The third priority for personal evangelism is found in verse 6, speak. Let’s read the verse again, Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you out to answer each person. 

(3) Speak

The first thing I want you to notice here is that words are necessary.

With our ambition to see people become Christians, we must notice how important words are. We cannot simply live and hope that by our moral and different lives, people will, in turn, become Christians. From a practical standpoint, we should note that there are lots of moral religious people in the world who don’t believe the gospel. One of the observations of people who spend time around Mormons is how moral the families are. And it is true. But, at the same time, we know that Mormons deny orthodox biblical teachings such as the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, and justification by faith alone. A saying that makes a nice bumper sticker but a poor biblical statement is Preach the gospel at all times use words if necessary. Biblically speaking we have to understand that words are essential when we are talking about conversion.

Let’s look at a couple of verses. 

Romans 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 

Romans 10:13–17 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Paul goes on to show us what to say and how to say it.

What we say.  

Look again at verse 6, Let your speech always be gracious. 

This intentional living results in intentional speaking. Our words are to be gracious. 

What do gracious words look like? 

Well, certainly, this involves speaking in a manner that is not rude or unnecessarily offensive. Gracious speech is winsome, tactful, kind, and loving. 

But Paul seems to be talking here about something more than simple manners. 

I think he is referring to words related to the gospel. In other words, speak about the person and work of Jesus.

Why do I think this? 

The context here involves mission. Paul has asked for prayer for an opening for the gospel (v.3). He wants prayer for mission. He wants prayer for clarity with his words. Then he wraps the Colossians in themselves to this mission. A term like grace is loaded with gospel freight. Paul delivers this to them and tells them to speak with gracious words. 

Notice also, the frequency of this speech. Always be gracious.

I think this corresponds with the reminder in verse 5 to redeem the time. The time is short therefore we don’t have time to waste on other things. We have to get around to the gospel.

But then there is also how we say it. 

Look again at verse 6, Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you ought to answer each person.

How we say it 

Paul’s using a metaphor here about our speech. It’s to be seasoned with salt. 

“The word “salt” is used in two other contexts in the New Testament, both of them metaphorical and both of them uncertain in meaning: Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”; Mark 9:50 (parallel in Luke 14:34): “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”  Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 330–331.

Salt had three uses at that time. It could preserve a food, “sterilize” a food (antiseptic), or season a food. Here Paul took the last meaning, to season. Our gracious speech our gospel speech is to be seasoned with salt.

This helps us to see there is a right way to talk as Christians. Certainly, there are many ways we can answer questions but here we see that there is one tone that we are to be sure we have, it is to be a tone that is befitting of the gospel.

We understand that the gospel is offensive. It tells us the truth about ourselves and about God. But, while the gospel is offensive we don’t have to be. Let our only offense be that of the gospel, and not ourselves.

Notice that this gracious, salt-seasoned speech is to for each persona and even customized to the moment. So that you may know how you ought to answer each person. 

The assumption here is that Christians living in this manner will get questions. And that in our questions we’ll need the wisdom to answer rightly.

1 Peter 3:15 (ESV) — 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) — 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

This type of living is intentional living.