Prayer: Preparing the Way for the Gospel

Colossians 4:2-6

November 12, 2023

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

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Imagine with me that you have someone in your life who is not a follower of Christ and God just keeps bringing them to mind. To the point that you would say that God has given you a “burden” for them and their salvation. It could be a neighbor. . . a coworker. . . or a family member. With all your heart you want them to come to know the precious love and forgiveness of Jesus. If that was your situation, where would you start? What would you do first to usher them towards Him. 

Some may say be brave and just go talk with them about Jesus. Others might say invite them to church. Some might give them a gospel tract to read, meet a need that they have or take them to lunch to build a better relationship with them. There are many good next steps that might be done to prepare them to believe in Jesus, but there is only one first step. We must pray.

When we look back through the life of Jesus Christ, the early church and even church history the pattern is that God puts a burden in people’s hearts to pray. They obey in prayer. Then God works.

F. B. Meyer was a Baptist pastor in England in the late 1800s. He was right when he said, “One of the greatest tragedies of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.”

Prayer is necessary because our own strategies, knowledge, and persuasion are not enough. Without Christ we can do nothing. God alone can draw one to Himself. The Holy Spirit then convicts of sin, reveals the truth of Jesus Christ, open one’s heart to the gospel, and grants faith. It is the work of God that brings one to repentance and faith. Because of this prayer is our first and main work when seeking to usher others towards faith in Jesus Christ. 

Prayer prepares the way for the gospel, like a farmer prepares the soil for the seed. If a heavenly harvest is ever to come, the way must have been prepared by prayer.  

In today’s verses we must remember that the Apostle Paul was writing from a prison cell in Rome where his greatest contribution to the kingdom of God was happening through prayer.

In Colossians 4:2-4 we find Paul’s words that help us know how to pray as we seek to usher others towards Christ. 

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 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— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

They were to continue steadfast in prayer. Amidst their difficulties, without and within, prayer was to be their steadfast rock by which they clung to Christ. As they prayed, they were to continue in thankfulness as they remembered the answered prayers of the past.

Paul then asked for their help in prayer. It is interesting that Paul did not ask to be released from prison or any other personal requests. Instead, he prayed for God´s work in the ministry there in Rome. They were separated from the Colossians by thousands of kilometers but could stand side-by-side in ministry as they prayed for one another. 

Paul asked that they pray “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Paul was well aware of the way the God could open doors. In Philippi God had used an earthquake that opened prison doors and prisoner´s chains. Resulting in the prison guards request, “What must I do to be saved.”

God had already opened doors for Paul to speak to kings and queens in Caesarea, to the residents of the island of Malta because of miracles, and to the greatest minds in Athens at Mars Hill. Paul understood how essential it was for God to go first and “open a door.”

In Philippians 4:21-23, we see another example of God opening doors for Paul, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” 

While Paul was in prison the Gospel had infiltrated Nero´s household which would have included Caesar´s family, servants, slaves, soldiers, craftsman and officials. One likely way was through  Paul´s imprisonment. 

Because Paul had appealed to Caesar, he was being held in Rome by the Praetorian or Imperial Guard which were Caesar´s most elite soldiers and Caesar´s personal guards. The Praetorian Guard were housed in buildings on Palatine Hill, connected to the emperor´s palace. Paul’s imprisonment was not a strict confinement but a kind of house arrest that allowed for visitors that came often as we see in Acts 28:17, 23.

In Philippians 1:12-13 Paul tells us more, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” The whole Imperial Guard now knew about Paul and Christ. How was that possible? God had opened a door. 

In both Acts 28:20 and Ephesians 6:20, Paul was described as being “bound in chains.” This Greek word, “halusis,” was a short chain with which the wrist of the prisoner would be chained to the wrist of a soldier. Acts 28:30 tells us that Paul remained in prison for two years in Rome. This would have allowed the rotating guards the opportunity to listen to countless sermons, prayers, lessons and songs that Paul was allowed to share with his many visitors. The guards would have noted his character, his Spirit and the gospel. 

Paul´s story was an encouragement to those in Colossae. If God was powerful enough to open a way for the gospel into the household of the emperor of Rome, surely He could open doors for them to share as well. As Paul had declared of the gospel in Colossians 1:6, “in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.”

As summarized by William Barclay, “The Church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth had swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel had reached the center of the world and was being freely proclaimed." (William Barclay, The Acts Of The Apostles, p. 193).

Where in your life are you needing God to open the door for you to share the gospel? Are there people who you have a burden for that have been closed up to this point? Let’s pray, to the same God who opened doors for Paul.

Sharing our faith is a joint venture with God. God opens the doors for evangelism, not us. The way that we pray for them and care for them may “lubricate the hinges” of the door, but it is God who opens the door for us to preach the Word and for the unbeliever to receive it. It is for this reason that Paul is asking for their prayers.

It is our responsibility to be watching for and willing to walk through the door and preach the gospel in both word and deed. God alone, convicts of sin, reveals the truth of Christ and grants the faith to believe. May we be ready to make the most of every opportunity.

In verse 4, Paul then shared another important characteristic of evangelism for which he requested prayer.

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 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— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Once God opened the door for the Word, Paul asked them to pray that he would make the gospel clear. At times there is confusion here. Some share the gospel thinking that the entire burden is on them, and if the listener does not receive Christ then the Christian feels that he or she has failed. Others give very little effort to being prepared thinking that God will do all the work. 

We must remember that people do not put their faith in Christ because we convince them, but because God reveals the truth to their hearts. It will never be because we argue them into the faith, but there is a role that we are to play in speaking the gospel clearly. 

As we read in Romans 10:13-14, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Salvation is the work of God but yet He calls us to be the bearer of His good news. Our responsibility is to prayerfully present the truth of scripture in as clear a way as we can. Taking into account language, vocabulary, worldview, maturity, culture, presentation method and application. At this point we then trust God who convicts of sin and reveals the truth of the gospel to the hearts and minds of man. We must give time and energy to our presentation and the holiness of our hearts as the conduit of the power of God´s Word, never forgetting that ultimately only the Holy Spirit can convict man of sin and guide us and them into all truth. 

We pray for God to open the door and then make the gospel clear. Paul then continues now focusing on the lives that we live. 

5Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of time.

In the scriptures we see the word “walk” used many times. Ephesians 5:2 says to “Walk in love.” 1 John 1:6  tells us that “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” As we read these verses, we see that “walk” refers to the manner in which we live. It is our way of life. 

In this verse Paul is instructing the Colossians to live in wisdom “towards” outsiders. This is a referral to those outside of the faith of Christ. Paul is not just saying treat people well. He is speaking of living alongside others, even moving towards them in a way that would move them towards the beautiful love of Christ. 

It is spoken with an urgency, knowing that time is limited, and the future is unknown. With that in mind we should be diligent and intentional about living lives that provoke others to question. That they would sense the way that we care for them and would be drawn to know more about why we live like we do. We have received the love of Christ and we now have the privilege of sharing Him with others. We first must live out the gospel with our lives to prepare the way to speak the gospel with our words.

This gives our relationships more purpose. Whether it be our daily dealings with coworkers, neighbors, friends or family, we must live in such a way that prepares the way for the Lord and does not disqualify us from being ambassadors for Him.

If we are praying and authentically caring for those around us, it will eventually move us towards the place where we must be prepared to share the gospel. That is where Paul next turns his attention. Colossians 4:6 says, 

6Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. So, that you may know how you ought to answer each person. 

Their speech was to be gracious, pleasant and kind. More than what people deserve. An expression of the grace that God had given them. There should be something about what they say and how they say it that is modeled after the way that Christ spoke. 

Jesus spoke truth in love. Jesus spoke what He heard the Father saying. Jesus spoke in ways that the people had never heard before. This did not mean that the Colossians could speak with the same authority with which Christ spoke, but there was to be a greater depth, authenticity, wisdom, purpose, joy and peace when they spoke. 

Jesus spoke grace to the woman caught in adultery, blessing to the children, new birth to the religious leader seeking answers, forgiveness to those who crucified him, hope to the thief on the cross. He spoke from the grace that He was giving. We must now speak from the grace that we have received. We are a forgiven, blessed people. We must not forget that we, too, were once outsiders, fallen and separated from God. May we speak with grace. May we be humble, and hopeful, bearing the sweetness of the gospel to all who would receive it. And may this graciousness permeate our conversation, regardless of what we are talking about. 

Paul then said that their speech should be “seasoned with salt.” For the Greeks this would have been synonymous with wit, intelligence, logic, astuteness. That was likely part of Paul’s meaning, but there was also a secondary meaning. Salt had several different affects that fall in line with the role that we as Christians are to play in this world. 

Salt was connected to the idea of purity.  It was also used as a healing substance. It was a preservative and was most known for bringing a joy to life by bringing flavor to food. All of these could be descriptions of the words that should come from our mouths. It is interesting that one other affect of salt was to bring thirst. We, by the words that we speak, are to be used of God to create a thirst for Christ in the lives of those around us. 

Paul then gave the reason for the graciousness of speech, seasoned with salt. It was, “So, that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

It was not so the Colossians would be smart enough to always think of the right response in the moment. The goal was that they would be abiding in Christ enough that when faced with conversations the words of their mouths would naturally be gracious because the overflow of their heart was gracious. As scripture tells us, the words of our mouths are the overflow of our hearts. 

When we are focused on Christ, walking with the Father and submitted to the Spirit, our words will be gracious and seasoned with salt. Even if we find ourselves in a discussion about the gospel with a difficult person still our words will reflect Christ and will not seek to embarrass, ridicule, humiliate or prove the other person wrong. 

Paul was calling them to be intentional and careful of how they related to outsiders. At first it might be similar to learning a new sport or musical instrument. In the beginning one has to think about every motion and every act, but eventually it becomes second nature. That was the goal. That the life of each of the Colossians would become an evangelistic tool in God’s hand that would be useful to usher many people to Christ. Through their prayer, care, and share God would draw people to Himself. 

With these verses in mind, how do you need to be praying as you seek to share Christ with others? Pray. . . 

  1. that God may open a door for the Word
  2. that you may make it clear, how you ought to speak
  3. that you may walk in wisdom toward outsiders
  4. that you may make the best use of the time
  5. that your speech may always be gracious, seasoned with salt
  6. that you may know how you ought to answer each person

Prayer is asking the Holy Spirit to prepare our hearts to share the Gospel and the heart of the unbeliever to receive it. As we pray may we see God bring people to faith in Jesus, in ways that are beyond anything we could have asked or imagined.