Lesson Nine: The People Around Us

 

By Whitney Woollard

Intro: The letter to the Colossians comes to completion with some final exhortations, a commendation of the ministry of Paul and his fellow laborers in the gospel, final greetings, and grace. We come full circle as he recaps many of the earlier themes of the letter including thanksgiving, gospel proclamation, the mystery of Christ, and the ministry of Epaphras. Because this text is lengthy and we’ve already covered many of the points in great detail earlier this semester, I’m choosing to focus on three specific points that Paul deals with from Colossians 4:2-18—prayer, proclamation, and people. We’ll follow that simple outline this morning.

  1. Prayer (v. 2-4).
  2. Proclamation (v. 5-6).
  3. People (v. 7-18).

  1. Prayer (v. 2-4).

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Prayer is to be persistent (v. 2). The phrase “continue steadfastly in prayer” (ESV) or “devote yourselves to prayer” (NIV) is an imperative command. This means that prayer is something Paul tells (or “commands”) the Colossian believers and believers today to do. The language implies unrelenting persistence. It’s ongoing dedication to the discipline of prayer; utter devotion to prayer. They (and we!) are to persistently continue on in prayer. The verb used is in the plural so it’s a corporate command to the entire Colossian community. The whole community is to be devoted to prayer.

Prayer is to be fervent (v. 2). The command to steadfast prayer is modified by a participle “being watchful” and a prepositional phrase “in” or “with” thanksgiving. So what should this persistent prayer be characterized by? Watchfulness and thankfulness. Jesus admonished his disciples to “watch and pray” so they wouldn’t fall into temptation in Mark 14:38. This is the same term. There should be a sense of spiritual energy and alertness that characterizes our prayers.

We know God’s mission is going forth, we know we have a real enemy who seeks to thwart those plans, we know our time is short and the final Day is drawing nearer and nearer, thus we must pray with watchfulness and a sense of expectancy! Not only that, we must pray with thanksgiving. Our prayers should be offered to our Father with a great sense of thankfulness in our hearts and gratitude on our tongues. Think of all God has given us in Christ! Think of the rich spiritual and physical blessings we’ve been given in the kingdom of God—how could we not be a grateful people?!

Application: This language is so strong that I’ve had to wrestle with the following questions in my prep time this week: Am I an individual who is devoted to watchful, thankful prayer? Am I part of a whole community that is devoted to watchful, thankful prayer?

I find that there are SO many “good” reasons to lack devotion and spiritual energy in prayer: Busyness, weariness, demands of the day, people that have needs, work that needs to be done, diapers to change, houses that need cleaned, papers that need submitted, mono that’s wiping you out J, etc. The list could go on! I’m constantly tempted to do pertinent tasks at the expense of the most important one. On top of that, I can grow weary or tired in prayer. It’s easy to pray with Neal in the morning and evening with a total lack of zeal for God’s mission and anticipation of the Lord’s return. Isn’t this true? How often have you prayed with your friends or spouse or children or church family and simply gone through the motions? It might be theologically “accurate” and biblical, but what about spiritual zeal in your petitions and praises to God? Paul is clear that there’s no room for a lackadaisical attitude in prayer.

Are your prayers characterized by passion for Jesus’ mission to go forth? Are they characterized by tears for others? Do you believe that your prayers truly make a difference in the world? Obviously, every time you pray you aren’t going to be emotional or energized, but are you ever that way in your prayers? Jesus prayed with agony in the Garden before the cross. Epaphras was a man who was always struggling or literally “agonizing” in his prayers for the Colossians. I think there is precedent for a spiritual alertness and vibrancy in the Scriptures when it comes to prayer. This is regardless of your personality or natural disposition. Of course, your fervent prayers will look and sound different than my fervent prayers but the point remains that we are all to prayer with faithfulness, watchfulness, and thankfulness. Our community should be a community of fervent prayers!

Prayer is to be missional (v. 3-4). The apostle Paul then requests specific prayer from the Colossian believers for him, his co-laborers, and opportunities for gospel proclamation. He is asking them to prayer for divine assistance, direction, and empowerment, and clarity in spreading the gospel. Not only should believers persistently pray with watchfulness and thankfulness, but they should also pray for the gospel to go out!! I want to point out two things about Paul’s request:

Paul was dependent on prayer for sharing the gospel. He needed prayers for open doors, clarity in his speech, boldness, etc. Have you ever struggled to know how to share the gospel or struggled with the right words to share the gospel? If so, you’re in good company! It’s not bad to struggle with these things, even the Apostle Paul did. It simply means you need to learn to be more dependent upon prayer for divine assistance. This is a GOOD thing! Don’t be ashamed to ask for prayer in sharing the gospel…this is what we SHOULD be doing! Give example of Jenna before Easter service. This request was spot on!

Paul asked for prayer for gospel opportunities, not relief of his physical imprisonment. Notice that Paul’s primary concern while he is in prison is that he would have opportunities and clarity to share the gospel. He doesn’t ask them to pray for his release or for easier circumstances, he request prayers for gospel opportunities. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for physical healing or relief from difficult circumstances, nor does it mean that Paul didn’t want to be released if that meant more opportunities for the gospel. The point is, Paul’s prayers reflect a desire for the gospel to spread more than anything else, including his personal comfort.

Application: Are your prayers missional? Are you praying that your pastors/elders would have open doors to share the gospel with clarity and boldness? Are you praying for the missionaries we send out? Are you praying that Hinson Baptist Church would have opportunities to share the gospel even at the expense of persecution or discomfort? These missional prayers lead directly into our second point.

Proclamation (v. 5-6).

“Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Proclamation Through Behavior (v. 5). Paul not only requests that the Colossians partner with him in spreading the gospel through prayer, he also makes it clear that spreading the gospel is their responsibility as well. “Walk” here refers to our conduct in daily life. It’s our behavior day in and day out. So believers are to live out their lives in wisdom towards outsiders or unbelievers. Living “in wisdom” and “making the best use of the time” both refer to our witness to unbelievers. We should live wisely in such a way that we do not compromise our gospel message with the things we do or say. We have the great responsibility of being wise in the way we live; not doing anything that would make it difficult to share the gospel with an unbeliever. Think about how you behave around your unbelieving neighbors or co-workers. Are you doing anything that would compromise or simply make it difficult to share the gospel with him or her? (For example, if you are a very difficult person to be around then the gospel will be very difficult to share!) It also means that we make the most of our time for sharing the gospel. We need to be alert and aware of the opportunities God’s Spirit is giving us and be wise in capitalizing on those opportunities! We need to be faithful stewards of the message we carry and seize an opportunity when we see it!

 Proclamation Through Speech (v. 6). But the proclamation is more than behavior; it’s also carried out through our speech. We must live out our lives in such a way that we create opportunities to answer people when they ask why we live the way we do. We must use our words to proclaim the gospel as much as our behavior. Note that our speech in witnessing to others must be gracious, seasoned with salt. It should be salty, flavorful! This doesn’t mean we compromise the truth, it means we present the truth in a way that is gracious, loving, and merciful. Rude, crude, crass, harsh, prideful language has no place in the life of the Christian. Our speech is to be a maidservant to the Great Commission.

Michael Bird says that Paul envisions “the Colossians exhibiting an attractive presence towards outsiders with a view to inviting them to share in the faith and community of the Lord. These instructions are for a church expected to hold their own in the market places, baths, forums, and meal tables of the city and to win attention by the attractiveness of their way of life and their manner of speech.”

Illustration: I’ve witnessed this displayed in Neal’s life. Neal works in corporate America. He works for and with unbelievers doing a job he is not passionate about. Yet, his testimony in behavior and speech has been profound and opened many opportunities for the gospel. He continually shares the gospel with customers, co-workers, liberals, conservatives, straight people, gay people, transgender people, and more! The odd thing is how well received it is for being liberal, corporate America. I truly believe that his life and speech has paved the way for these gospel opportunities.

Application: This text demands that we pause and think about our lives, about our behavior and our speech. Are we walking in wisdom towards others? Are we making the most of our time so that we can share the gospel with unbelievers? Is our speech salty, flavorful, and tasty?? Do we live with a sense of urgency?? And we must note that we don’t live and talk this way simply so we can make a good impression upon people. Even unbelievers want that…in and of itself that’s a worldly desire. Living in this way is not win the good opinion of outsiders for the sake of impressing them but to help win them to Jesus!

 

People (v. 7-18).

Finally we come to the section that I’m entitling “people”. It’s so easy to pass over the greetings and final greetings quickly but I find that there is such sweet, inspired Scripture for us in these sections. I love that these sections bring the humanity of the Bible to the forefront. When we study the Scriptures I never want to lose sight of the fact that these were real people just like you and me who struggle and pray and love and fight and carry out Jesus’ mission. I think that’s very important for a full understanding of the Scriptures.

 

NOTE: We spent ample time looking at everyone in the homework so we should have a good handle on the biblical characters. Throughout the week I was moved by some of the “back story” to these people. These were very real, very human, biblical characters and there is much devotional content to be gleaned from these people. I’m going to read through the final section and stop briefly on a couple of the characters and share some devotional thoughts. This is not comprehensive nor are these characters more “important” than the others.

Report from Paul’s representatives (v. 7-9)

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

 

Greetings to the Colossians (v. 10-18)

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you,

 

Aristarchus=Paul simply calls Aristarchus his fellow prisoner. But this small statement is pretty loaded. He willingly risked his life to become one of Paul’s traveling companions. He was dragged away in the Ephesian riot and sailed with Paul to Rome which means he also experienced the storm and shipwreck described in Acts 27. This man remained loyal to Paul no matter what the circumstances—riots, voyages, shipwrecks. Now he was a fellow prisoner with Paul. Scholars agree that this is a willing imprisonment, meaning he chose to be imprisoned alongside Paul that he might be a help and encouragement to the Apostle. This man refused to leave the apostle’s side! His commitment to Paul, thus showing his commitment to the gospel, is profound.

 

I think we all need “Aristarchus’s” in our corner as we seek to spread the gospel. We need co-laborers who are committed to sharing the gospel regardless of how hard it gets. Do you have someone like this in your life and ministry? Are you this type of person? We should actively look for partners in ministry like this and also seek to be this kind of person as we partner with others!

 

and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

 

Mark=The cousin of Barnabas. Mark or John Mark is the writer of the Gospel of Mark. Interestingly enough, he is also the one who caused a sharp dispute or disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Mark had gone on the first missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas and for some reason that we don’t know exactly he abandoned them and returned home in Acts 13:13. Whatever the cause, we know it was illegitimate because Paul was unwilling to take “a flake” on his second missionary journey in Acts 15:36-41. Acts never speaks to reconciliation between Paul and Mark. Yet, here, tucked ever so subtly into a final greeting is the sign of reconciliation between these two. Paul calls Mark a fellow worker for the kingdom of God and a comfort to him. Wow! Not only was there reconciliation between the brothers, they once again became co-laborers in the gospel together!

 

John Mark serves as a great example to us today. He overcame his failure and became a valuable servant of Jesus Christ. So much so that in 2 Tim. 4:11 Paul says that he needs him because he is “very useful to me in ministry.” He is a great encouragement to everyone who has failed in his or her  first attempts to serve God. He didn’t give up. He stumbled, even greatly and publicly(!), but got back into the ministry and proved himself to be a faithful minister of the gospel.

 

I will say this to any sister here who feels she has failed in serving Jesus or serving others. You’re in good company. Biblical characters failed in serving Jesus. Good guys failed in serving Jesus. Everyone EXCEPT Jesus has failed at some point in ministry. However, this doesn’t mean you’re useless or you have to give up. John Mark serves as an example of someone who didn’t let his failures dictate his future ministry.

 

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

 

Final instructions to the Colossians (v. 15-18)

15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” 18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

 

Nympha= This was most likely a widow or a single woman of decent means as she was able to live on her own livelihood which wasn’t usually the case in those times. It is clear that she hosted a church in her home but I believe that the householder in the early churches did more than simply provide a space to the church. The naming of her and the church in her home surely gives her some leadership capacity in that particular church. I’m a conservative complementarian so I don’t think she was serving as an elder, the highest office in a church. However, it is clear she displayed great leadership in this church and it is commended by Paul through his use of his public greeting.

 

This is encouraging to us as women! We are to play a key piece in the mission of Jesus. We should be actively involved in the local church, serving in all different sorts of capacities in the appropriate roles. Although I do not believe women should be elders, I do think they should have a significant role in leadership. Women are a gift to the local church and I hope we encourage one another to serve in our churches! As women who have been captivated by the sufficiency of Christ, we should be quick to pour out our lives to the church for the sake of the gospel.

 

Conclusion: Paul then concludes with his own signature authenticating this as a true Pauline letter. After writing a letter full of the gospel of grace, he once again sends them grace. And with that we finish one of the most Christocentric books in the whole Bible. Let’s thank Jesus for this book as we close in prayer.

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