Teaching series from Colossians

Representing Jesus in What We Say

Colossians 4:2-6

Teaching t23044

Introduction

Briefly review the setting (MAP). Much of Colossians is theological, but this is the practical part, in which Paul calls on them to be representatives of Jesus (read 3:17 NLT). The vast majority of the Colossian Christians (like us) were not highly gifted evangelists like Paul (cold evangelism; public speakers; itinerate). Like most of us, most of them were normal people living normal lives in the same location. Nevertheless, Paul sees their/our roles as super-important and super-significant. God has placed us among people with whom we have regular interaction (DIAGRAM: family; neighbors; work/school; hobbies/civic associations/volunteering). This is our unique sphere of influence. The key is for us to represent Jesus accurately among these people – in both what we do and what we say.

“What we do” refers to our behavior and attitude as we relate to our neighbors, work associates, friends and family members. Paul summarizes this in Titus3:1,2 (read and explain). Our conduct should make most people glad they are our neighbors, work with us, etc. What a challenge to live this way! We should be asking God each day for His motivation and love and power to be a blessing to those around us.

“What we say” refers to representing Jesus in what we say. Elsewhere, Paul says that we are Jesus’ ambassadors (read 2Cor.5:20,21). Jesus has paid for everyone’s sins, and He wants everyone to be reconciled to Him. So we want to tell the people in our spheres of influence about what He has done for them, and urge them to be reconciled to Him.

How can we represent Jesus well by “what we say?” Paul gives us three guidelines that are universally applicable...

Pray for open doors (4:2-4)

Read 4:2-4. Telling people in our spheres of influence about Jesus begins not by talking to them, but by talking to God. Specifically, it begins with asking God to “open doors” – to provide opportunities to verbally communicate about Jesus.

Paul asks the Colossians to pray for this for him even though he was imprisoned and cut off from normal social interaction. And we know that God answered their prayers (recount Phil.1:12-14).

“For us as well” implies that a key focus of their regular prayers (4:2) should be asking God for open doors in their spheres of influence. The same God who was able to open doors for Paul in prison is also able to open doors for you and me. Seeing God answer this prayer is a huge part of what makes following Jesus an exciting adventure! Just this past week, God gave me two open doors (at least, two that I noticed). One was so surprising that I almost fumbled the ball. If we had the time, we could hear dozens of answers to this prayer from people in this room for this past week.

Do you pray regularly for open doors for yourself? James says (Jas.4:2) that often we do not have simply because we do not ask. What might happen if each of us got in the habit of asking God for this at the start of each day, or as we move into each new situation of the day? The more you ask, the more doors God will open. The more doors God opens, the more motivated you are to ask – and to look eagerly each day for the next answer.

Do you pray regularly for open doors for one another? Paul doesn’t just pray for open doors for himself; he is asking the Colossians to pray for this for him. The best way to do this is by praying regularly with your Christian friends – and making this kind of prayer a key priority. (This is probably what Paul is calling them to do in 4:2.) We do this in our home group’s weekly prayer meeting, and it is exciting to hear on a regular basis how God has answered this prayer. What might happen if every Christian in this room did this?

When we pray for open doors, God will answer our prayers. What do we do when He answers – how do we talk about Jesus? Paul gives us two important guidelines...

Make the most of the opportunity

Read 4:5. When God gives you an open door, make the most of the opportunity! Exagorazo is a market-place word (agora means “market”). It means to capitalize on a good deal. When I see a good deal on asparagus at Lucky’s, I make the most of the opportunity by buying two bunches and making extra asparagus soup. When my wife saw a birthday gift for our grand-daughter two-thirds off on Amazon, she made the most of that opportunity by buying an extra one for our other grand-daughter’s Christmas gift. When God gives you an opportunity to say something about Jesus, you should make the most of it!

In order to make the most of the opportunity, you need to “conduct yourself with wisdom.” A script will never do. We need wisdom is needed because each opportunity is different – different people, different time available, different levels of interest, different degrees of credibility, etc. – so each opportunity requires a different verbal response.

The ideal scenario is that people are so impressed by the way we live that they ask us why we are this way (1Pet.3:15; “Why do you volunteer here?”). In this case, we should be sure to give the credit to Jesus (rather than steal it for ourselves), because He is the One who has changed us.

It may be simply being honest about the subject you’re talking about. If I’m asked what books I like to read, honesty dictates that my answer include the spiritual books I’m reading. When my friend asked about how I was doing when my mom was dying, honesty dictated that I talk not only about my sadness, but also about my relief that she knew Jesus so we would see each other again.

It may doing my best to answer a question or objection about Christianity – or to say “I don’t know” and do my best to find out.

It may be sharing how I became a Christian and how knowing Jesus has changed my life in some specific way.

It may be correcting a misconception about Christianity – especially the misconception that is a religion instead of a love-relationship with Jesus, or the misconception that it is earning God’s acceptance instead receiving Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness.

It may be giving someone a relevant book or recorded teaching for private use.

It may be inviting someone to attend a Bible study, or to socialize with your Christian friends.

It may be challenging someone who has enough information to make the decision to personally surrender to Jesus.

How do we get this wisdom? Wisdom here probably refers not just to skill from years of experience, but also to wisdom imparted by the Holy Spirit to say what needs to be said in the situation. We can ask for His wisdom on the spot, and He will give it to us! I call this “double-listening” – listening to the person while at the same time asking God for wisdom and listening for His guidance. Do you ever do this?

One thing I know – every single thing we say about Jesus with Spirit-led wisdom is significant. Christians often have the view that unless they get to explain the whole plan of salvation and issue a challenge to receive Christ, what they say “doesn’t count.” Well, I know that each and every thing that Christians told me over a five year period was like a link in a long chain that eventually led to me receiving Christ.

So pray for open doors, and then say what you sense the Holy Spirit is leading you to say – and then count on the fact that God will use what you said! You can do this!

Speak graciously

In 4:6a, Paul tells us that just as important as what we say about Jesus is how we say it (read). “Gracious” speech is a manner of conversing that is gentle and respectful (1Pet.3:15b). Paul says we should always speak graciously – no matter how rude or ungracious the other person may be.

What does this gracious speech look like? It is becoming a very rare commodity in our culture, which is increasingly rude, self-absorbed, etc. But for this very reason, we will stand out positively if we converse this way:

It means showing genuine warmth and courtesy in your normal, everyday interactions (vs. grouchy; cold; aloof).

It means listening with genuine other-centered curiosity – what I call “delight in discovering another person” (vs. self-absorbed; easily bored). This includes genuine interest in the other person’s important life-experiences, values, goals, and spiritual beliefs.

It means usually sharing what you have discovered about Jesus (vs. dogmatically declaring).

It means picking carefully what you express disagreement about (i.e., related directly to the gospel vs. other moral issues, non-essential doctrinal issues, political positions, etc.).

It means refusing to become argumentative, or reciprocate mocking, name-calling, etc.

It means humbly apologizing when our speech or behavior has been wrong or offensive.

Why is gracious speech so important? It is important theologically because each person is made in God’s image, and has an eternal soul, and because Jesus loves each person enough to die for him/her. Gracious speech is important practically (read 4:6b) because it usually encourages more genuine dialogue, which helps us to learn about people’s real questions and/or perceived needs – so we can share what Jesus says/provides for their questions/needs.

How I wish more Christians conversed in this way! Then we would see many more people in our spheres of influence feel safe to ask questions about Jesus. Then we would see many more people realize that Christianity does not turn people into mean-spirited, narrow-minded, domineering bigots. Then we would see many more people willing to have ongoing personal and faith-related conversations. Then we would see many more people respond to invitations to meet more Christians like this.

Why not start practicing this kind of speech with your Christian brothers and sisters? This will help you to speak more graciously with those in your life who don’t know Christ. It will also make you much more edifying to be around!

Conclusion

The great majority of Americans are now unchurched. They have never attended Christian churches or Bible studies. They do not have Christian friends or family members. They will not respond to billboards or websites that invite them to Christian churches. They are not going to hear about Jesus through these avenues. One of the few chances they have to hear about the real Jesus is through normal Christians like you and me, who live next to them, work with them, etc. (DIAGRAM) – if we demonstrate a different way of life, and if we communicate about Jesus in this way. What would full mobilization result in? We can do better here – and the Lord will help us powerfully as we do this!

NEXT WEEK: Col.4:7-18 – Working as a Team

Paul earlier prayed for them that they would be filled with spiritual wisdom so they could represent Jesus well (1:9,10a). Paul has just asked them to pray that he would given this wisdom to make it clear in the way he should speak once God opens a door (4:4).