Pray for completing the mission
Topics Covered: What is taking Jesus so long to return?
How do I proclaim Christ?
Glossary: proclamation; wisdom; maturity; assurance; partnership; mission; evangelism.
What would you do if you found a medicine that would cure all illness in the world?
The book of Colossians began with the description of the gospel coming to Colossae via Epaphras and that when they heard the gospel, they understood the true meaning of God’s grace. We heard from Paul how the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world. Now, at the conclusion of his letter, Paul will ask the church to pray for the gospel to keep moving around the world. The gospel is the powerful work of God, achieved through Christ, to move people from death to life. Only in the Lord are we able to put sin to death and to explore new life of faith. But it is the eternal hope that we have received in the gospel that produces faith and love in the church. And the mission of God is not to stop with us. Just as we received Jesus Christ as Lord, we are to continue to grow up in our faith and we are to do our part to ensure that the message of the gospel moves out to others.
Read Colossians 4:2-18
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 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. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; 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.
7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
What did you see?
- Mission abroad and at home (2-6)
- Speaking to God about people (2-4)
- Speaking to people about God (5-6)
- Missionaries coming home (7-9)
- The many workers of the gospel (10-15)
- Personal notes from the writer of scripture (16-18)
Mission at home and abroad (2-6)
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” It has been said that prayer is faith speaking. That means that prayer is not simply talking to God. It is speaking to God in response to what we know to be true about him. We ought to pray as good reflective listeners. 1) Be devoted to prayer because faith tells us that God has provided access to him and why would we dare treat that invitation with contempt? It is grace that saved us and nothing that we have done. We received Christ by faith as we prayed for forgiveness and to surrender to him – that is how we are to continue – in prayer to him. Note that Genesis 4:26 describes the first moment of prayer in the bible and the content and purpose and almost definition of prayer is that of those who call upon the name of the Lord. The attitude of our prayers include watchfulness and thankfulness. Watchful perhaps that we remain true to the faith and living in the Lord and not straying. Watchful that we pray for present matters and watchful as we see God’s hand at work. Thankful as we see the kingdom grow and His answers to our prayers. Thankful forever that God would save us and qualify us for the kingdom.
“And pray for us, too…” Paul has described his prayers for the church back in chapter one and invites them to pray for him.
“…that God may open a door for our message…” See how the content of our prayers ought to be gospel focussed? We should pray for the government and for those who are sick and for anything that we are anxious about, and we must pray for God’s mission.
“…so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…” It’s not that Christ is a mystery but that Christ is the mystery revealed (Colossians 1:26, 27; 2:2). Paul knows what he needs to proclaim, that is not the mystery, but he needs doors opened so that he can speak.
“…for which I am in chains.” Paul was apparently in prison. He was arrested a number of times as we read in Acts. He did not speak of his imprisonment as a disaster but as part and parcel to gospel work in his era and location. Coming to Christ does mean freedom from sin but it does not come with a rosy life. He has been imprisoned for speaking the gospel. But this does not deter him…
“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Since we know the gospel let’s desire to be able to explain it to others clearly. Paul was dependent on God for the ability and the focus to do just that and not to muddy the gospel with side issues that do not matter and which actually detract from the gospel. Paul desires prayer from a church of Christ to support him in his mission abroad. Verses 2-4 were about speaking to God about people and Verses 5-6 are about speaking to people about God.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders…” Now Paul teaches the church how to be missionaries in their own town. The outsiders are those who do not yet belong to the church. Our approach to outsiders is to be wise which at the very first means being thoughtful and mindful of them – not disinterested!
“…make the most of every opportunity.” The context clearly means to be ready to proclaim Christ when a door opens for it!
“Let your conversation be always full of grace…” Let’s paraphrase: every time you open your mouth to speak with someone, make the content ooze with grace – be patient, kind, loving, truthful, listening, gentle and controlled. Allow others to speak. Allow others to close the conversation if they wish. Offer encouragement to all – no matter what their tone or nature is. We were instructed to put away evil uses of our mouth and here we are told to positively fill our mouths with gracious words. It may mean keeping your mouth closed if you have nothing kind to say!
“…seasoned with salt…” Your conversation is not to be dull and tasteless so that everyone wants to run away as soon as you start speaking. But season your words with attractive stuff. Put simply, be human around people and don’t be preachy or boring. The gospel is exciting news so be ever growing in your knowledge of the faith and ever mindful of those outside the faith that should and ought to hear and respond to the gospel just as you did.
“…so that you may know how to answer everyone.” If you can explain the gospel to someone without Christian jargon, then you know that you have understood it well yourself and are equipping yourself to share it with outsiders. Answering someone presumes that there was a question asked. Now, we need to walk the thin line between waiting to be asked and fishing for questions. This is why being always mindful of outsiders, always talking to God about mission, always looking for open doors and speaking graciously with a splash of salt will attract conversations.
Missionaries coming home (7-9)
“Tychicus…” Mentioned in Acts 20:4. As is clearly stated in Verses 7 and 8, he is being sent to Colossae from Paul’s side to fill them in on all the details of what is happening and for him to encourage them. Church work is relational. Heaven forbid that we ought to join a church and never speak to anyone or form deeper connections. God has called us to be part of his kingdom mission work and to do that together! If you are a Christian, then join the team of God’s mission – or ask yourself where your heart really is.
“Onesimus…” The book of Philemon is worth reading to hear how a criminal can find Christ and be treated as equal in the Lord. This is Onesimus. Once a runaway slave but now a companion with Paul and Tychicus. Like him, we were once living on the run from God, but now, because of hearing and truly understanding God’s grace, we are treated as equals with Christ in his kingdom. We are invited to always be ready to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ.
The many workers of the gospel (10-15)
“…Aristarchus…”Mentioned in Acts 19:29.
“…Mark…” Acts 12:12. A companion with Barnabas (Acts 4:36) and Paul on their early missionary journeys. The good news here is that Paul and Barnabas had a strong disagreement over the worthiness of Mark on their mission (Acts 15:36-41) but clearly, that has been repaired and Mark is on mission with Paul again.
“(You have received instructions about him…)” Not everything that Paul wrote became automatically scripture. See later in Verse 16 for a comment about scripture.
Personal notes from the writer of scripture (16-18)
“After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans…” We have here the clear intentions from Paul that his words be read out in church and not just in the church in Colossae but shared with another church. Paul has some understanding that he is writing words worth sharing with the Christian community. These words will make their way into the bibles as we know them. God did not write the bible by lowering tablets from the sky into some saint’s hands. The bible is written by men as the Holy Spirit carried them along in truth and understanding (2 Peter 1:12-21, esp. 20-21). The apostles were aware that they were contributing to the canon of scripture just as their ancestors the prophets had done. The church received the writings just as they received the gospel. Writings were collated and preserved by the church and the Holy Spirit. Paul was aware that he was writing as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
“…and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” The epistle to Laodicea is not listed in your bible’s contents page. Perhaps it was lost in history. If that is the case, then we know that the bible that we have is the bible that God meant for us to have. He is sovereign over all things. Some say, however, that this letter has come to us but is named Ephesians. I cannot say. Ephesians has an awfully similar shape and purpose to it. It was written by Paul.
“Tell Archippus…complete the ministry…” This is obscure and we cannot know what is going on here for sure. Archuppus is mentioned in Philemon 1:2. But consider this as the theme of Colossians – to complete the mission that God has begun in you. Don’t stifle it or put out the flame but pursue God and the work that he leads you to do, especially in continuing on in the LORD just as you received Him. Put to death the old self and clothe yourself with the new. Set your minds on things above where Christ is seated. The gospel has come to you, now grow up in it and share the good news with others.
“I Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” Paul would have had a scribe write out the letter but his habit and custom was to write his final note in his own hand (see 1 Cor 16:21; Galatians 5:16) probably as a way of authenticating his words and preventing frauds. When you think of what to do after reading this letter, remember Paul’s chains. It may have even been difficult to sign his name given the chains and the handwriting would reveal the struggle! Paul’s signature is a memory hook for continuing in the faith, pressing on, and proclaiming Christ as LORD whether that is welcome news or not!
“Grace be with you.” The letter ends as it began in Chapter 1 Verse 2. Grace be with you. The gift of God that we do not deserve and can never repay. Truly understanding the grace of God is what life is all about. Life comes from Him and so does Salvation. To put our hope in anything else is futile and foolish. May our faith and love for one another grow out of the eternal hope that is in our hearts.
What did we learn?
Just as the gospel has found a home with the Colossians, Paul urges them to get on board with spreading the gospel. He does this by asking for prayers for those who take the gospel abroad and by urging them to speak to their own community about Jesus. Gospel work is teamwork. We are not Loan Rangers and even Paul expresses his thankfulness for his partners who give him great comfort. Paul invites us to complete the mission which Jesus has drawn us into.
Topic A: Know your church’s mission. As we are not to do mission alone, the greatest asset we have is partnering with the church that we belong to. How does your church plan to complete the mission? Most churches have a mission statement of some sort but they all need to meet with the Great Commission that Jesus gave to his disciples: to take the gospel to the nations, teaching everyone all that Christ taught us and adopting people into the community who know God as Father Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). What questions can you ask your church about the plan for growing the kingdom? Do you know the names of the missionaries that your church supports? Do you know how to pray for them?
Topic B: Speaking with grace and salt. This advice is healthy for all humans to follow but even more so if we are hoping and praying to talk to people about Jesus. Being slow to speak and quick to listen is really great advice for anybody. As gospel-sharers, we want to avoid two extremes: bible bashing people and saying nothing about Jesus ever. But if we can listen and speak with love and interest and if we are growing in wisdom and understanding as the Spirit give us (Colossians 1:9) then speaking about the gospel can enter our conversations naturally and interestingly. And when we don’t get it right, that is an excellent time to reflect on what went wrong and grow from the experience!
Topic C: Praying with watchfulness and thankfulness. With watchfulness perhaps means knowing names and events that you would like to bring to God in prayer. Is there a sermon coming up that you could pray for the speaker about? Is there a missionary who has sent a recent update that you can pray about? Thankfulness means remembering the good things that God is doing and has already done through Christ and by His Spirit. Having a list of people to pray for has been very helpful for many Christians. The PrayerMate App has been a helpful modern tool to help our watchfulness and thankfulness in prayer.
Topic D: What is taking Jesus so long to return? Christ’s work during His first coming began a new age of the church – some say the age of the Spirit. It is an era which began at his Resurrection and will continue until He returns again to bring this world to an end. It is good and great to look forward to the new age – when Christ comes and we will see Him face to face and everything that we are hoping for in Christ will be fulfilled. But the age we live in is not a waste of time. We are to use every moment and venture we are involved in to grow the kingdom. Raising a family is to be done like you are raising disciples of Jesus. Doing business at work is to be done as though working for the Lord. Involvement at church is to be like you are involved in completing the mission. We can never know when Christ is to return, but our time right now is not simply about waiting – we are to be completing the mission.