What do you find hardest about being a Christian?
Two of the most common struggles for Christians are prayer and evangelism, which is ironic as in the New Testament both seem to be second nature for the church.
As we look at our last session this morning what does Paul call on the Colossian believers to do; pray and evangelise. Don’t let the separate heading in your bibles fool you, when we look at the heading; ‘further instructions’ we can find ourselves mentally drawing a line under what has gone before and think, new heading new section. The headings and their placement aren’t part of the original inspired text.
These instructions continue from ch3, they flesh out, in part, what it means to live with hearts and minds set on things above. What it means to live as part of the new creation amidst the old creation, to be a new Kingdom ambassador in the old kingdom, what it means to be a disciple.
Being heavenly minded brings about transformation by God’s Spirit, it transforms our perspective, our personality, and our living. These are all marks of the truly spiritual person, of the wise person. This section contains two further marks of the disciple, seen as two instructions.
1. Passionate about people, dependent on God(2-3)
How can you tell if two people are devoted to one another? Constant companions, rarely apart, and miss each other when they are, they constantly text each other.
Paul’s first instruction is “Devote yourselves to prayer”. We know we should pray, we know it’s a privilege, but we find it hard. Some of our problems with prayer are practical and some are theological, our most common feeling, and some of you will have experienced it this morning already, is guilt.
Prayer is based not on what we do but on what God has done and revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Prayer isn’t dependent on how good we are, or even how good our praying is but on the perfect work of Jesus who makes us God’s children by faith. God gives us his word and his spirit to teach us how to pray as children coming to our loving and perfect heavenly Father.
As ambassadors of God’s kingdom what and how should the Colossians pray? “Being watchful and thankful” They are to pray alert and aware of the days they live in, that Christ is coming again, and given the situation with the false teachers in Colossae, aware of their salvation by grace alone that frees them to approach their Father in heaven. Freed from the ceremonies and religious rites the false teachers are so bound to, they have access to God by faith and they are to be thankful for that.
Paul also asks for prayer for his team, whilst modelling prayer for the Colossians and us. He asks for prayer for two things; what are they? Opportunities and clarity.
It is an amazing prayer from Paul. He is imprisoned but he asks them to pray that God would open doors for the word – the gospel which led to his arrest. He isn’t down hearted, he hasn’t been put off; he wants to see the kingdom grow. He knows that he can’t manufacture opportunities to share the gospel but that God gives them.
The second thing he asks for prayer for is clarity, isn’t that an encouragement? Paul the evangelist extraordinaire, church planter, gospel preacher, asks them to pray he would make the gospel clear or intelligible as he should. The only chains Paul feels aren’t physical but his call to make the gospel intelligible.
We need to echo this prayer? One of the dangers of our subject this weekend is that we treat it as how to training and we go back thinking if I live like this then opportunities will follow, cause and effect. But Colossians reminds us of our dependence on God both for opportunities to share the gospel, and that our explanations would be intelligible, because no matter how clear we are, how hard we work at it the gospel is unintelligible to those God is not working in by his Spirit.
But notice too that is as far as Paul sees his responsibility as going – he cannot save, he cannot win the lost them with the cleverness of his arguments, the brilliance of his presentation, or the emotional draw of his pleas. His responsibility is to pray for opportunities and to take those God given opportunities and explain the gospel clearly. God saves.
How is your praying? Are we praying this for others, for ourselves? Are we dependent on God in our evangelism? We need to be where unbelievers are, we need them to be seeing our discipleship lived out, we need them to see the difference Jesus makes and our passion or people, but we need God to be at work.
Part of developing an evangelistic lifestyle is dependency on God as we engage as his disciples with the world and people we are passionate about.
I use a little evangelism prayer card, I’ve got some spares, to remind me prayer is essential, to keep me dependent on God.
2. Real mission – Missional living(5-6)
What do you think of when you hear the word mission? Far flung places, a concentrated week, a big event…
There is a danger with that. Mission becomes something you do, short term or long term, and at a distance, or on a certain date, but it’s easily put in a box. Missional living is different – it says that everything I do is mission, everything commends the gospel.
It’s what Paul calls the Colossians to(5-6)“Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders…” to be wise in hip and lip.
Notice that Paul makes an assumption that they will be engaging with those outside the church, and not fleeting contact either but that they will be living their lives out in front of them and be involved in conversation with them. Here again is that call to beware the Christian rabbit warren. Paul is calling for real engagement, for believers to live out their faith in view of a watching world not underground.
We thought in the last session about friends – people we were committed to doing life deeply with. People we are close enough to that they see the transformation the gospel makes and is making, who you’ll pray for God to give you opportunities with?
How do we live missionally? It affects both hip and lip. What does it mean to live wisely? Wisdom is found in Christ, so we need to look at Jesus actions towards outsiders.
In Luke 4-5, we saw Jesus practical care for Peter, heal his mother-in-law and then engage with him personally and when Peter realises his sin - once the mystery of who Jesus is, is revealed to him – he calls him not to fear but to follow and join Jesus mission.
Or take Levi; the Pharisees judged, quarantined and isolated tax collectors, not Jesus; he deliberately engages with Levi, cuts through social conventions, the worries about what others may think, and calls him to follow in response to his message. What you see next is even more amazing Jesus isn’t just after one spiritual write-off he is at Levi’s house engaging with a whole house full of spiritual write-offs.
Jesus is wise towards the outsider, he shows compassion for them, he engages with them where they are lets them see his life and hear his words and calls them to start living for him. Jesus lived differently – people were his passion, not laws or traditions but he does it all without sin.
Live wisely engage with the outsider, let them see you are different, that you have been changed by following Jesus and make the most of every opportunity – be ready when the questions come.
Are you ready to take every opportunity. We need to be alive to opportunities, the other week a friend of ours rang to say her sons homework was to find out why people either believed or not in God. What a great opportunity – my wife was able to text loads of people and ask the mum herself. Make the most of every opportunity.
Being wise also affects our lips. Our words are to be grace filled, winsome and loving, they must be seasoned with salt – that means relevant and worth something. The Colossian believers speech should be relevant and witty, it should be appealing and loving but also truthful – not ducking the reality of judgement and sin but calling people lovingly to repent. Always ready to answer when God gives an opportunity.
That means practically we need to be thinking about what the issues are where we can engage with people. We need to understand people’s problems with church and faith and be able to articulate them better than they can and be ready to discuss them. For example hypocrisy, bad previous experiences, reliability of the bible, biblical morality, suffering.
We also need to be interrogating culture so that we understand where people are:
• What do people spend their time/money on?
• What is free time spent on?
• What do they fear/dream about?
• What do they care passionately about?
• Where do they shop?
• What music/films/DVD’s/books are they into?
• What do they find funny?
• How do they think of themselves(Christian, atheist, agnostic, spiritual, etc...)?
It’s been said that the great commission has become the great option. Evangelism is hard so we duck it, leave it to the evang sec, or committee, or the visiting speaker, or someone who is ‘gifted’ in it. But Paul doesn’t give the Colossians that option. Live missionally he says. We are living speaking missionaries in our homes, our corridors, our lecture theatres, our seminars, wherever and whenever we are.
“The believer must blend wise living with a sense of reckless urgency that exhausts every opportunity to share the gospel with others.” That’s the idea behind(5) make the most of every opportunity – it’s of a bargain hunter buying back, redeeming the time he has been given.
Are we praying for opportunities for ourselves and for others? Does God’s kingdom feature in my prayers? Do we pray that we are clear in explaining the gospel?
Am I living missionally, redeeming the time, making the most of those God given opportunities? How is our living? How is our speech? Are we ready to answer?
Living with our hearts and minds set on heaven matters because it enables us to live this way. It means we don’t worry about popularity when an opportunity arises, that we live in ways that are costly to ourselves. It makes us more concerned with the kingdom to come than with this one, it makes God’s priorities ours.
For some of us after this weekend we may need to change our diaries so that we live missionally. It may mean we need to do something to build relationships with others. Take up a hobby, invite people round for a meal – do it. Make resolutions this morning and ask others to hold you accountable for them.
For some it may mean working out how to answer questions, ensuring we are clear on the gospel. For all of us it will mean praying.
Maybe you are here and you aren’t a believer, and you are thinking; Why tell people? Isn’t religion personal? Imagine I told you this morning that I had found the cure for AID’s. What would you expect me to do with it? **What if I said I didn’t want all the fuss and was going to keep it quiet? You would conclude I didn’t love people, that I was supremely selfish and you’d be right. The gospel is the good news that Christ has died for our sins so we can have life. Sin, rebellion against God brings death and eternal separation from God, Christ is the cure.
Developing an evangelistic lifestyle is not something for keenies, or for the evangelism team, it is not something to put in our diaries. It is normal discipleship. Where a disciple of Jesus authentically lives out their developing, maturing discipleship in the context of, connected with and engaged in the world around him or her dependent on God their Father.