Open Doors for Ministry
Scripture: Colossians 4:2-18
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul emphasized several things such as the supremacy of Jesus Christ over everything, the importance of putting away those old habits that are not Christ-like and putting on the new ones that are Christ-like, and fullfilling the ministry God has called us to do. I began this series on Colossians with the topic of church growth. For many believers church growth is about more people coming to church. For others it is having more programs, more events, or seeing more children and youth in the church. I challenged the church to not think of growth as more people, or more programs, or more events in a church. Church growth, however, should to be measured by increased faithfulness to God and more disciples of Jesus Christ. Basically, “Are we growing in Christ and are we making disciples of Him?” Our purpose as God’s people is to increase in love and faithfullness of Him and to multiply that through sharing the Gospel with others. If we are doing that, then we are growing.
In this closing passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he mentioned about an open door to share the Gospel. Paul had probably preached the good news of Jesus Christ at one time where a new believer, named Epaphras, heard it and responded to it. Epaphras then returned to his hometown, Colossae, where he began sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. This resulted in the birth of the Colossian church. Church growth happens by obedient and faithful Christians spreading out from one location, from one church congregation, into the world around them. Who in the church now will be like Epaphras? Who will be the beloved servant of Christ who shares the Gospel with someone else? That is how the church grows. That is how the Church increases, by more people hearing and responding to good news of Jesus Christ. The work of ministry in the Church belongs to the whole Church, not to just a pastor, the deacons, and the Sunday School teachers. It is the responsibility of us all.
The passage today reveals several things we ought to be doing to fulfill the ministry God has called all of us to do. We do this by praying constantly for opportunities to share the Gospel, by being wise and gracious in our dealings with unbelievers, and by working with each other for the common goal of sharing Jesus Christ with the world. There are four areas from the text I would like to emphasize:
- Pray constantly
- Be wise with people and your time
- Be gracious to one another
- Work together for the Kingdom of God
Pray Constantly (vss. 2-4)
Paul ended this letter much like he opened it – urging his readers to pray. In verse two of this passage, Paul encouraged the Colossians to continue steadfastly in prayer. Another way to say this is to devote yourselves to prayer or to persist in prayer. This is something that is a struggle for many people, including myself. My natural reaction to something is to do it myself. I do not want to rely on someone else, even if that is God. But that attitude leads to failure. We must be constantly dependent upon God, for Jesus said, “Without Him, we can do nothing.” The means by which we prepare ourselves and we commune with God is through prayer, and we ought to be doing a lot of it. We should not just pray though, we should be watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Being watchful means to be alert and not fall asleep. Certainly, if we are praying we ought to be awake. I suppose it is possible to pray while dreaming, but it is probably not that effective. The idea here was that the Colossians were to know the circumstances of life, particularly those which affected the spread of the Gospel. They were to be aware of the current events and situations in order to pray effectively. Informed prayer is likely to be more purposeful, more personal, and more powerful. Being intentional with our prayers can help us to be spiritually stronger. Jesus told His disciples to “watch and pray” (Mark 14:38) so that they would not fall into temptation. Without that constant direct line with God, we are denying ourselves an important source of strength, and the enemy knows it. Without being alert and prayerfully dependent upon God, we open ourselves to temptations and all sorts of attacks from Satan.
Paul added that we ought to be thankful in our prayers. Oftentimes, praying can be like a vending machine. We expect to deposit some prayers to God like coins in a vending machine and receive answers to our prayers – like we have purchased His response. Prayer does not work like that. Certainly, we are told to ask for things, but prayer is more than petitioning God for something. Prayer should always include thanksgiving. Without it, prayer becomes a selfish pleading to have one’s desires fulfilled, even if those desires are good intentions. Note that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Colossians and he told them to be thankful – to pray with thanksgiving. Even in the worst conditions, such as prison, we can be thankful for what we have.
Paul also asked the Colossians to pray for him. He did not ask, however, for the Colossians to pray for his release from prison or to be treated fairly. If I were in prison, I might ask for those things. Paul asked the Colossians to pray for two specific things: an “open door” for the Gospel and that he would present it clearly. Paul was seeking for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and when he had those opportunities, that he would proclaim the message clearly. In spite of his imprisonment and difficult circumstances, Paul asked for opportunities to share the Gospel. May that be the Church’s prayer. May we pray for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of work to be done. Are we praying for it? Are we ready to do it? May God open those doors to fulfill the ministry of the Church and may He prepare the hearts of those we meet to receive the message of Christ.
Be Wise with People and Your Time (v. 5)
Having urged the Colossians to be devoted in prayer for the ministry, Paul told them, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Basically this meant that they should be wise in their conduct toward those outside the Church – to unbelievers. At the beginning of the letter, Paul prayed for the Colossians to know wisdom. At the end of the letter he prayed for them to live it. They should be wise in their interaction with unbelievers. The Colossians lived in a pagan environment. Their neighbors did not believe in Jesus Christ and their lives probably showed it. Paul encouraged the Church to show evidence of a changed life. He encouraged them to order their behavior in such a way that demonstrated their new life in Christ, a different life than their pagan neighbors.
Followers of Jesus Christ must be careful with how they conduct themselves. The world is looking for Christians to mess up. If we want to have open doors for ministry, we must behave in such a way that matches the testimony we have and gives people something to believe. People will most likely hear what you have to say if your life is evidence of what you say you believe. If your life is no different than those outside the church, those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, then it will be more difficult for them to hear what you say. This in no way means that Christians are perfect or that our salvation depends on how good we are. It does not. Our actions, though, can impact the effectiveness of our witness. Therefore, Paul encouraged the Colossians to have a powerful and attractive testimony to non-Christians.
Paul also wrote that they should “make the best use of the time.” There is a common Latin phrase, Carpe Diem, which means, “Seize the Day.” It basically means to get the most out of each individual day. The church should “seize the day.” Paul may have thought about making the most of the time we have to win unbelievers to the Lord. All of us have a limited amount of time on this earth. We each have a limited amount of time to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We should make our time count for God. This means we should make the most of the time we spend with unbelievers. We do not know what will happen tomorrow or what opportunities or lack of opportunities we will have. Perhaps Paul reflected on his own limited opportunities as he was in a Roman prison and wanted to make the most of the time he had. We need to realize all of our opportunities to rescue the lost while there is time. Be wise with other people and the time you have with them.
Be Gracious to One Another (v. 6)
In speaking of our Christian walk, one thing that hinders our witness and reduces our walk to a slow crawl is our mouth. I am not just speaking about filthy talk or foul language, but what we say that hurts or discourages another. Paul wrote that what we say should be gracious and “seasoned with salt.” I mentioned earlier that sometimes people cannot hear what we say because of the way we act – our behavior does not match the message we need share. Sometimes, the way in which we speak to others can hinder our effectiveness as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Basically, Paul said that our speech should always be with the graciousness appropriate to Christians – those who live under God’s grace. We ought to be gracious in our speech to others, particularly those we are trying to lead to Jesus Christ. If you want to quickly bring an end to any chance of you leading someone to Christ, then speak to him or her in a judgmental or insulting way. It will end quickly.
Something else Paul mentions about the way we speak to others is that it should be “seasoned with salt.” This statement is similar to the teaching of Jesus when he called His disciples to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Salt was used for a couple of reasons. It was used to preserve food and to season food, much like it is used today. To season our speech with salt may mean that the way we speak to unbelievers should be interesting, acceptable, and wise. Our speech should not be offensive. However, we cannot always avoid someone being offended by the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel is offensive and we see it under attack more and more. Christian values are constantly attacked or ridiculed or both. Christians should expect it, for the world hated Jesus, it will certainly hate us. Paul stated that we should know how to answer each person who objects to the Gospel. Paul does not go into detail about what to say when someone objects to the Gospel, but called for the Church to be gracious and sensitive to the person and situation. A good answer given with a positive spirit can overcome many obstacles to the Gospel.
Work Together for the Kingdom of God (vss. 7-17)
Paul concluded the letter with an extended list of greetings to people who worked with him for the kingdom of God. Since he had never visited Colossae, the people mentioned in this list helped to establish and strengthen his relationship with the Colossians. This is a helpful reminder to us that the work of ministry is for the whole Church, not just a select few. The work in the early Church was not for just Paul, Peter and the other apostles. The Church’s mission involved a lot of people to serve God and to reach the lost. Everyone in the Church should be involved in the ministry of the Church. The Church calls people to lead them to do ministry, but it is a team effort where every member is expected to participate. We are all working together for the Kingdom of God.
Of Paul’s list of names, Tychicus may have been the person who delivered the letter to the Colossians. He was not just a brother in Christ, but Paul called him a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. Epaphras was the one who most likely became a believer after hearing Paul preach and then took the Good News to his fellow neighbors in Colossae and planted the church there. Mark was the same one who accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey a decade earlier and suddenly departed. As a result, a rift occurred between Mark and Paul. Oftentimes, we just do not agree with fellow believers and sometimes we do not get along with them. By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians, however, his perspective on Mark had changed. Paul and Mark were reconciled and Mark was ministering to him and on his behalf. This testifies to the power of the work of Christ to reconcile us and to the peace that should rule within the Church. Conflict will happen, but we should do our best to resolve it and to reconcile for the sake of the Gospel.
In closing, we should be looking for open doors for ministry and opening doors for ministry. We are all called to fulfill the ministry God has given us. The final passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians reveals several things we ought to be doing to fulfill the ministry God has called the Church to do. We should by praying constantly for opportunities to share the Gospel. We should be wise and gracious in our dealings with unbelievers. We should also be working with each other for the common goal of sharing Jesus Christ with the world. Serving Jesus Christ and sharing the good news about Him is the Church’s number one priority. Anything that hinders that mission ought to be resolved. May His people live radically different lives that draw attention to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and may His people take every opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world while there is time. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.