Teaching series from Colossians

Speaking About Jesus

Colossians 4:2-6

Teaching t21074


We’re going to begin the New Year by continuing our study of Colossians. This short letter was written by Paul (one of the leaders of the early Christian movement) to a small group of Christians who lived in Colossae (a small town in western Turkey).  Paul wrote this letter to re-focus them on what he calls “the gospel.”

In our culture, “gospel” refers to something “Christian”—a style of music, a certain kind of sermon, a religious place (“gospel tabernacle”), etc.  But in the 1st century, it had a very different meaning.  A “gospel” (euangelion – “good news”) was the announcement of an objective event that had changed the course of human history, and a summons to align one’s life to this event.  It usually referred to the message of a military victory brought by a herald from the front lines.  The herald announced the news of this victory and summoned the hearers to embrace Rome’s rule.  Paul co-opted this familiar term, and used it to announce a far greater victory (Jesus’ victory over human sin and death through his death and resurrection)—and summon us to receive Jesus’ gift and embrace his loving rule over our lives.  Paul spent the first half of this letter expounding this good news.

So at its very heart, Christianity is good news that is to be shared with others.  This is why Paul devotes the next third of this letter to instructing us to be good representatives of Jesus (read 3:17 NLT)—to live and speak in such a way that others will be favorably impressed by him and desire to become members of his kingdom.

3:18-4:1 is about representing Jesus well “in deed.”  My marriage, my relationship with my kids, and my conduct at work are not disconnected from my relationship with Jesus; they are arenas in which I am to live as a loving servant (motivated by Jesus’ love)—so that those who observe me are attracted to the One whom I follow.

4:2-6 is also about representing Jesus well “in word.”  Paul gives us key instructions on speaking about Jesus with others, in the hope that they too decide to receive him as their Savior and Lord.  I know that Tom taught this passage three weeks ago, but I want to go over it again because it is so rich that it deserves two teachings!

But before we look at Paul’s instructions, I need to respond to the objection that so pervades our post-modern culture that you may be thinking it right now: “It is wrong to try to convert people to Jesus!”  This is a vast subject, but consider two things:

Do you realize that this statement is an attempt to convert people to not believe in Jesus?  When you say: “It’s OK for you to believe in Jesus—just don’t try to convert anyone,” don’t you see that you are really saying: “Abandon your belief that Jesus is humanity’s Savior and Lord, and agree with me that he isn’t?”  Don’t you see that when you tell me “Stop trying to convert,” you’re trying to convert me?  When you say, “Stop it,” you’re doing it!  Wouldn’t be better to admit that we’re trying to convert one another, rather than being hypocritical about it?  

I find that often, the real objection is the objection beneath this objection—the way people try to convert others to their religion.  Most of us have been on the receiving end of conversion attempts that are self-righteous, disrespectful, intrusive, manipulative, etc.  We’re all aware of historical and current examples of hatred and violence justified by zeal to convert (EXAMPLES).  The problem is not that people try to convert others to their religion, but the wrong ways that they do this.  But this is this passage is so important—it refutes this way of proselytizing, and instead instructs Christians to be prayerful, be wise, and be gracious.

Be prayerful

Read 4:2-4.  Sharing our faith begins not with talking to people, but with talking to God.  This is because God is the initiator in reaching out to people, and we collaborate with what he is doing.  Paul’s main instruction is to pray for God to “open doors.”  An “open door” in this context is a God-designed opportunity to speak about Jesus.  If we ask him for “open doors,” he will create opportunities and enable us to recognize them. 

Over-aggressive Christians need to heed Paul’s instruction.  You may be well-intentioned, but you damage Jesus’ reputation by trying to force closed doors open (EXAMPLE).  I suspect that Paul was this was as a new Christian.  But he learned to ask God to create these opportunities instead of trying “force the ball.”

Most of us, however (including myself), are not usually over-aggressive.  Most of us allow our fear of people’s disapproval to prevent us from sharing our faith.  But God will help your fearfulness if you pray for open doors.  He will create a natural opportunities to share about Jesus, and enable you to see these opportunities.  And this demonstration that he is with you will give you more courage to speak when he opens doors.

The most intimidating person for me to talk to about Jesus has always been my father.  Partly, this was because of the roles in our family.  Partly, it was because for many years he shut down whenever I brought the subject up.  Three years ago, he went to the hospital seriously ill.  On the way over to visit him the next day, I prayed with fear and trembling for God to provide an opportunity to talk with him about where he stood with the Lord.  When I got to his room, we were constantly interrupted by staff.  One intake staff-person asked him several dozen questions.  I sat there both irritated that she was preventing me from talking, and afraid that when she left I would be speechless.  Then she asked her last question: “What is your religious belief?”  Amazingly, God worked through this unsuspecting staff-person to raise the question I wanted to ask!  Dad’s answer was such that when she left, I simply asked him to elaborate on it.  And that led to a discussion about Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, and to him praying with me to receive this gift.  What comfort this gave my Dad (and me!) as his health deteriorated until his death five months later!

So pray regularly for “open doors” for yourself, and for one another.  God will answer your prayers, your faith will grow, and you will be ready for the rest of Paul’s instruction...

Be wise

“But what do I say when God answers my prayer for an ‘open door?’  How do I ‘make the most of this opportunity’ to share about Jesus?”  Paul doesn’t answer this question specifically.  Instead, he gives two crucial guidelines (read 4:5).  The first guideline is to “be wise.”

Biblical wisdom is the ability to effectively apply God’s truth to diverse, real-life situations.  Paul’s command “be wise” implies that each person is unique, and the way we communicate the gospel must not be reduced to a script or formula.  I apologize in advance to any telemarketers who are present, but I am really put off by most phone solicitations.  It’s not just that they usually call at inopportune times.  It’s mainly that I feel like I’m being treated as an object to be processed rather than as a person.  That makes the whole experience dehumanizing.

Unfortunately, some Christians have been trained to share about Jesus in this way.  They may be well-meaning—but when they try to woodenly process people through a script, it is no wonder that people feel used.  God in his grace may work through this, but it’s not the way he wants us to tell others about his Son. 

Read through the gospels, and you will see that Jesus was wise in the way he led people to himself.  That’s why each conversation was different.  He discerned their specific spiritual condition—and then he connected who he was with their spiritual condition.

With those who felt they were morally superior, he found ways to help them see that they still fell far short of God’s moral requirements and needed his forgiveness.

With those who felt they were so bad that God had given up on them, he found ways to help them see that God still loved them and was ready to forgive them.

With those who were caught up in careerism or materialism, he found ways to help them see that God was offering them a security and significance that money and things could never fulfill.

With those who were cynical and insincere, he found ways to expose their insincerity that didn’t humiliate them—but which called them to repentance.

With those who had been victimized by others, he found ways to offer them the most important kind of freedom—the freedom that comes from following him.

“But I’m not Jesus!”  No, but Jesus’ Spirit is in you to give you this wisdom!  And you can grow in this wisdom as you grow in these two ways:

Keep growing in your understanding of the gospel.  The more you understand how God meets every need and solves every problem through Jesus is, the better you will be able to help others see connect with Jesus where they are (like Jesus did above).

Keep growing in your “double-listening” ability.  Cultivate the ability to listen carefully to what people are saying.  This is a lost art in our frantic, noisy, self-absorbed culture.  It is a foundational expression of love to take another person seriously enough to want to understand what they are saying.  Also, cultivate the ability to listen prayerfully to God as you listen to the person.  Ask God: “What can I say that can help this person see how Jesus is the answer to his deepest needs and longings?”  Sometimes it is simply interacting with a normal, healthy person who turns out to be a Christian.  Sometimes it is a specific question that needs answered.  Sometimes it is a misconception about Christianity that needs to be corrected (especially salvation by works).  Sometimes it is an invitation to learn more.  Sometimes it is a challenge to take the scary step to ask Jesus to forgive them and come into their lives.  Listen prayerfully, and God will give you wisdom!

Be gracious

The other key to making the most of opportunities to talk about Jesus is found in 4:6 (read).  Paul’s point is not that the content of our speech should always be about God’s grace; it is that the manner of our speech should always be gracious.  What does this look like?

It means that we should never be self-righteous or condescending.  It means that we should never be rude or belligerent—even if the other person is.  It means that our goal should never be to simply “win” a debate.  If we speak in this way, we should apologize.  If other Christians speak this way, we should correct them on the spot.

But speaking graciously goes beyond how we shouldn’t relate.  This is a positive command!  It is far more than merely being superficially nice.  We may disagree passionately with the other person’s beliefs, but we interact about this with genuine love, respect, and acceptance for the very person with whom we disagree. 

Why is this so important?  Paul gives us two answers in 4:6b (read). 

This is what makes our message flavorful (“seasoned with salt”).  Having a conversation about Jesus with someone who is full of grace is an appealing experience; it whets your appetite for more.  Conversely, having a spiritual conversation with someone who is ungracious is a real turn-off.  We have a lot to overcome in this area because so many American Christians are full of self-righteous anger and condemnation toward those with whom they disagree (EXAMPLES).

This is crucial for knowing how to proceed (“that you may know how to answer”).  When you relate to someone with genuine love and respect, they often feel freer to ask their real questions, express their real needs and fears, etc.  And this enables us to apply the gospel more specifically and effectively.

It’s not difficult to understand why this is important.  What’s difficult is actually having this attitude.  And people can tell whether you really respect and accept them, or whether you’re just being superficially nice.  What can motivate us to treat people with love and respect when they don’t deserve it?  Our speech will be gracious toward others to the extent that we remain amazed at God’s gracious speech toward us.  Even though I was utterly lost and worthy of condemnation, God condemned Jesus so that he could speak graciously to me: “Come, and I will forgive you and make you my beloved son.”  Even though I am daily guilty of sin and folly, God says the same thing to me that he says to his Son: “This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased!”  When I forget this, I become self-righteous and ungracious toward others.  But when this is a fresh reality to me, I want to extend it to others.

Conclusion: Be prayerful, be wise, and be gracious

GUESTS: Now you know how we should be speaking to you, so hold us accountable!  Because you are here today, it is probably because a Christian practiced these principles.  I hope this teaching helps you to take a step closer to receiving Christ!

CHRISTIANS: We can all do this!  And as we do, God will increase in our hearts the love that he has for people far from him (like we were), and the joy that he has when someone returns to him!