Most of us who are 16 or over, drive some type of vehicle - cars, vans, trucks or SUVs. But there are some who drive motorcycles. Now I had a motorcycle in high school and college and I know that when you drive one you must be alert!
Why, because bad things can happen if you’re not. You must be alert when you drive any vehicle whether it’s on I 40 or around town. But driving a motorcycle you must be very alert. You must be watchful!
That’s because other vehicles don’t see you or they see you at the last second. On top of that there are potholes and gravel and slick roads that one must be ready for.
I’m not saying don’t drive a motorcycle. I am saying if you drive one be watchful. Well in our text today Paul tells the Colossians to be watchful. This idea of being alert or awake is mentioned often in the gospels and the epistles of the New Testament. In Ephesians 5 Paul writes about being awake-why? Because the days are evil.
We must be awake and alert and sober to the dangers of the world, the flesh and the devil. Because when we aren’t, (bad things can happen) things can affect us in ways that they wouldn’t have, if we had been awake and ready for whatever comes our way. Being watchful means to be ready, to be spiritually awake and aware and vigilant concerning the temptations and dangers in our lives and those that God has called us to care for.
But also when we live ready, when we live watchfully and prayerfully we will be able to bear fruit in the opportunities that come our way. One of the ways that we can grow to be more fruitful in sharing the love of Christ and the saving message of the gospel is to be watchful for open doors that the Lord has for us and then to walk through those doors into the good works he has prepared for us to walk in.
I know that for many Christians when they hear of a teaching on evangelism they get nervous. It’s an area most of us need to grow in and it’s easy to be condemned or discouraged when we look at our own track record. And that’s true for me. In fact last week at the end of Daniel’s message/so that you know whose preaching this morning!… God loves to use weak people. Despite our weaknesses in this area we are called to grow in the grace of evangelism We must look not to ourselves but to God whose grace is more than enough for us.
We want to grow in our evangelism as a church and that requires us to grow as a praying church. I shared the following quote at the prayer meeting last week but it stands to be repeated: (it’s from the introduction of Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Church)
“A church with rich history, flawless music, powerful preaching, amazing childcare, a paid-off mortgage and stellar attendance but sleepily operating out of the resources of the flesh instead of prayer is headed toward tragic inconsequentiality. “ Dan Ortlund
That’s a sober exhortation to remember that long term fruitfulness in any local church is tied to many things, prayer being one of the most important. May we all carry a sense of the responsibility to pray for our church community to grow (inwardly and outwardly). .
Life as a Christian is sustained by prayer. And an integral part of prayer is persistence, endurance, steadfastness. Verse 2 of our text reads Continue steadfastly in prayer. Some translations read: be devoted to prayer. We have been called both individually and corporately to a life of prayer.
That doesn’t mean that we all become nuns or monks and have no life other than prayer. But it does mean that at some level we become devoted to prayer. And so one of the things we should be asking ourselves as a result of this teaching series is “what are some ways that I can build more prayer into my life?”. To actually make it a lifestyle.
This spiritual discipline of watchfulness is closely linked to prayer. Jesus said in Luke 21 to stay awake at all times praying that we might have strength to withstand hardship and persecution. In Matthew 26 he said that we should watch and pray that we may not fall into temptation. Prayer and watchfulness go together. That’s because watchfulness is cultivated in prayer as we realize our need for the Lord and call out to him for his power.
If we lived in a city that was under siege from an enemy, where on a regular basis bombs were falling and enemy soldiers could be seen in our vicinity - we would be much more watchful in our attitude and actions and we would be much more vigilant in praying towards how we live in the midst of the war going on around us! You would also be watchful for opportunities to help your side win the war.
Do you ever feel that sometimes you sleepwalk through part of life. That you miss opportunities to be used by God because you weren’t ready? I do. I have much regret in that area. Why wasn’t I ready for that opportunity? Why was I spiritually dull or caring too much about trying to impress people or fit in rather than looking to the Holy Spirit for what I should speak?
It’s in prayer that we bring to God not only the areas that we need to be on guard against in terms of temptation and danger but also the areas of ministry and outreach that intersect with our lives. That is, the people we will engage in conversation with today or this week or the near future.
Connie and I will be attending our high school’s 50th reunions this fall… I am a weak person in the area of evangelism but God delights in helping weak watchful people. In fact it’s hard to be watchful if you’re not aware of your weaknesses and need for God.
What is going on in your life right now, today? In light of that, what should you pray for? Both in scheduled appointments but also praying for the unexpected interactions with your neighbors or co-workers or children or grandchildren? It’s not only watchfulness that’s cultivated in prayer but also a healthy dependence on God as we call out to him in our weakness and trust him to help us.
I want to move on to our next point but I don’t want to move on from prayer because it is connected to each of our points. Prayer and watchfulness go together.
Paul prays in verse 3, 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. This idea of an open door is mentioned a few other times in the New Testament. In Acts 14 Luke writes that when Paul and his ministry team had arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
Now a good question for us would be what constitutes an open door to talk about spiritual things with a non-Christian? There is a range of how each one of us would answer that question. Regardless of how you would answer it most of us love a clearly wide open door, the kind that as we pass by it’s wide open and calling us to walk through it. I had one of those, one Sunday afternoon when I went for a walk in a park that is near our house. It has a nice little pond in it and I went down and was sitting at a bench just looking out across the pond…
Now wouldn’t it be nice if all open doors were like that. But most are not. Sometimes we must push against a door to see if it’s open to us or whether it’s closed for now.
If we look at what preceded Paul’s open door that was spoken about in Acts 14 we see that he ministered in a number of ways. He and Barnabus went to the synagogue and shared the word of God. They also ministered outside the synagogue including to the proconsul of the area, a man named Sergius Paulus, who came to believe. They also encountered opposition from some of the Jews as well as a magician who was a Jewish false prophet.
My point is that they were doing the work of ministry and out of that God granted an open door for the gospel to be preached and to be received. Now some of us, some of our more evangelistic folks are good at pressing against that door to see if it opens up. Others of us are more “proper”- we would never walk through a door unless it’s completely open already and calling us in.
In our fourth point we will discuss wisdom but I would say that probably most of us need to grow in pushing against doors to see if they are open. So, how do we do that? I think this is where the nervousness starts to trickle into most of our souls including mine. It’s the nervousness that results from being encouraged to do something we may not be comfortable with or don’t think we can do.
I think the primary help with that nervousness is the promise and assurance of God’s grace and help. His grace says that he will help us do (the power) what he commands us to obey. This does not mean however that effort isn’t going to be required. All growth requires effort; effort that is empowered by God’s wonderful help and strength When we humble ourselves before him he meets us where we are. And when we are trusting him to help us, he will do so even in the midst of our weaknesses.
So when you’re in a situation with a non-Christian have the attitude “Lord: I’m willing. Lord, I’m willing but you need to give me wisdom and grace to speak or to reach out or to initiate a conversation.” We must trust our heavenly Father to do so.
do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11
Clarity, peace and confidence.
A few more words about open doors:
Are you praying for them regularly? Let’s as a church make that a regular prayer request for us individually and corporately. I believe God will give us open doors as we pray and believe him for them.
Sometimes these open doors are like open windows = they can open and close quickly and so we must be ready for them. We must be watchful and live ready for open doors. Ephesians 6 tells us to put on as shoes for our feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. (readiness in our heart and mind and attitude)
Even if you are limited in your time or physical circumstances God can provide open doors for you if you’re asking for them in faith. Paul was in prison and yet he’s asking for open doors to share the gospel. Colossians and Philippians were both written about the same time from prison and in Philippians 1 Paul shares that:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. Philippians 1:12-13
So even if your home with a number of small children, or have a medical condition that limits you or just feel like most of us that you aren’t really cut out for this PRAY
Know also that open doors can often be “small” open doors. We all want the open doors that lead to people being dramatically saved. But in reality that’s not how the kingdom of God often comes. It often comes through small interactions or acts of kindness or short conversations or even lengthy ones that don’t seem to have an impact on the person we are talking to.
It was very encouraging to hear Daniel’s story last week of the man who came to Christ 85 years after he had heard the gospel. He still remembered what had been said.Do not despise the day of small beginnings as you reach out to others in small gestures of grace or conversations about the Lord.
In verse four Paul asks for prayer that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Paul the apostle, the one who heralded the gospel throughout the known world, is asking for prayer that includes making clear the mystery of the gospel.
Paul spoke to a lot of different people when he was on his missionary journeys. If you look at two of the places where Scripture reports open doors for him he spoke to Jews in the synagogues, government rulers, disciples of John the Baptist, Gentiles, other tent makers like Aqilla and Priscilla. He needed the Spirit’s power and insight to communicate the gospel clearly.
In I Corinthians 9 he declares:
I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. I Corinthians 9:19b-21
The gospel message doesn’t change but the context of how we share can. Paul needed wisdom and grace to make it clear to each person or group he spoke to and so do we. Daniel is going to speak next week on making the gospel clear. What I want to touch on in this point is being watchful for ways to clearly transition to gospel conversations.
It’s good to think deeply and clearly of the core truths of the gospel and how to bridge into spiritual conversations. In the context of a friendship or relationship it’s often easier to do as opposed to a short one time interaction with someone.
Regardless of who you are talking to and what the context is we should be ready/awake to ask people things like:
What are your spiritual beliefs?
Who do you think Jesus Christ is ?
Do you think there is a heaven or hell?
Do you go to church?
What’s your church background?
These questions and others are found in a book that Cort Walker used when he taught an evangelism class a few years ago. It’s entitled Share Jesus Without Fear by William Fay. These questions are gentle and respectful ways to see if the person is interested in talking about spiritual things. And if they’re not it’s usually a sign that it’s not an open door.
We must find ways of talking with others about the Lord and we must pray for and depend on the power of the Spirit to do so. Acts 1:8 tells us that the filling or baptism of the Spirit was given to us in order that we would be given power to be witnesses for Christ.
Similarly in Ephesians 5:16-17 which touches on similar topics as our text does, Paul encourages the church to awaken, to be careful how they walk, to walk in wisdom, to use their time wisely. Then in verse 18 he says don’t be drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit.
So our prayer should be for open doors including open transitions to talk about God and also we should pray for the power of the Spirit to communicate not only the gospel message but also ways to connect with others in Christian love and friendship.
Praying daily for the filling of the Spirit is a good discipline and habit of grace. Apart from his power we can do nothing (even if we’re gifted in a certain area) but through the Spirit’s help we can walk in the good works he has provided for us.
If we are going to live ready, live watchfully we need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Because being watchful is an attitude, a spiritual disposition, a spiritual readiness that is rooted in being dependent on the Lord and relying on the fact that the Spirit will go with us into every situation we encounter. We should seek to grow in our awareness and trust in that fact.
Paul states in verse five walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Outsiders here means non-Christians. Some translations use the phrase “those who are without”. They are without Jesus Christ! And we must be watchful because eternity is at stake.
We can’t let that truth paralyze us but we can let it motivate us to the need for wisdom with non-Christians. We must wake up to the fact that though we can’t convert anyone (that is the work of the Spirit) we are the means that God has chosen to reach them.
We need wisdom to develop relationships with non-Christians. I’ve heard, that often, people come to faith through a friend. Here’s an assignment: Take inventory and make a list of all the non-Christians you know, especially those you might be able to develop a friendship with. And from that come up with a plan to do so.
This will require time to invest in them. You may say, Mike, I just don’t have time for that, I’m too busy. Remember being busy does not mean the same thing as being fruitful and faithful. We have many things that we are called to do in being faithful Christians. Seeking to reach others for Christ is one of the most important. .
Don’t overthink it. It may be a neighbor or a work colleague or maybe it’s a family member that doesn’t yet know the Lord. It can be embarrassing to realize how few people may be on that list. But having a few names is better than having none.
Maybe it’s a friend or family member who lives far away who you can reach out to via phone or text or email. I regularly email a family member who is currently in prison.
Evangelism is in some ways a discipline to be planned for. Yes it involves spontaneous conversations with others. But planning how you are going to reach out to others within the context of your schedule falls within the area of wise planning. Be willing to invest in others.
Go to lunch with them. Have them in your home. And look for opportunities to serve them and events you can invite them to. I know personally I have had to discipline myself when I’m outside working in the yard to stop and go and talk with a neighbor when they are outside too.
As a church we are looking into opportunities to serve in our community that will hopefully help us to do more of serving others and testifying to them in word and deed about Christ. One of the ministries that is already in place is Safe Families. Joy Sasser wrote the following:
I am not great at straight-up verbal evangelism …But if, in humility and kindness, I can walk alongside others to bring justice or hope in the peace and love of Christ, then the conversation naturally leads to the gospel. About 6 ½ years ago, we began our engagement as a church with Safe Families for Children. This has led to many opportunities to enter into the lives of families in crisis in our community. In Safe Families, there is a variety of roles and opportunities to fit any gifting and season of life. Some opportunities are quick, and we pray that the care and service given, planted or watered seeds of the gospel. Some relationships built have gone deep and long. These have presented opportunities to pray with moms, pray over children, and see God work to answer these prayers. When walking through hardship with a mom who has hit the end of her rope, the gospel is compelling and the only hope we honestly can give. Our handout or help only goes so far; the gospel will take them the distance. Having the gospel at the center of why and how we love others points me to the source when I am weary or walking in my strength, but out of the abundance of God’s love for me, I can love others and point them to God.
- Joy Sasser.
Joy is stressing that evangelism is relational, it grows out of genuine relationships with others.
We don’t love our neighbors to convert them; we love our neighbors because we are converted.
—Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon
I think part of wisdom in interacting with “those who are without” involves genuine love, genuine friendships. Yes we are doing so with the ultimate goal of seeing them come to faith but our main motivation is the love of God. This compels us to, in wisdom, look for and be ready for opportunities to share the gospel but this should not be the only reason we are in relationship with them. Genuine love and friendship are the reasons.
In our praying for open doors let us pray that God will enable us to reach out in Christian kindness to others, serving them, offering them hospitality, friendship and a Christian witness. Wisdom is very personal. God knows who we are. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He will give you wisdom to reach out to others as you ask him in believing prayer.
Recently there’s been articles about loneliness being a national epidemic. People are starving for genuine relationships. One scripture that came to my mind recently is from Luke 14:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14
Both inside the church and outside the church we should be on the lookout for those who may not be able to reciprocate our kindness (pay us back) but to whom we can offer the love of Christ.
Verse 6 reads Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
When it comes to sharing the gospel and/or speaking about spiritual things with non-Christians you can err in one of two ways. One extreme is trying to turn every conversation into a conversation about the Lord. The other is the person who isn’t living ready at all. One who is never ready to share the gospel or willing to venture out into that realm.
If the second error is you and that is probably true for most of us more than we’d like to admit, remember, change begins in prayer. Regularly praying that the Lord would give you open doors and that you would have wisdom to speak and that your speech would be seasoned with grace and truth.
The Weymouth translation of this verse reads Let your language be always seasoned with the salt of grace, so that you may know how to give every man a fitting answer. O may God help us to be ready to do so. Jimmy Buffett, passed away last week. Lost shaker of salt. We need to find that shaker of salt and develop friendships with non-Christians where we are regularly sprinkling them with the salt of a life lived for Christ and his glory.
Peter speaks about this in his first epistle:
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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 I Peter 3:14b-15
This is a good place to close - by remembering Christ is our Lord and seeking to honor him as holy. This is the reason we make a defense for the gospel - our love for him and for others. Out of that attitude of worship and love for our Savior may we put on a readiness to make a defense for the hope that we have in Christ. Daniel will pick up from there next week.
We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.
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