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DEVOTIONALS ON COLOSSIANS

The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Holiness in Our Alien World - Walk and Witness (18)

Paul's Last Impassioned Words of Counsel

Colossians 4:2-6

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Paul approaches the end of his epistle to the Colossians. As a dying man chooses carefully his last words, so Paul shares his personal passion for the Colossians believers. [In one sense they may have been his spiritual "grandchildren" because in his extended stay in Ephesus the gospel sounded out to the surrounding towns through his own students whom he may have taught in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9,10)].

While Paul had never met his readers in person, one can feel the very pulse of his personal affection for them and more deeply appreciate his gracious exposition of their union in Christ (Colossians 2:1). He is a Christ-like living example of what he is about to share. His counsels are brief, concise and direct, as from "Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Philemon 9). His timely commands merit our closest attention.

The Dynamic of Ministry   Continuing Earnest Prayer   Colossians 4:2(a)

Paul begins where all ministry begins and prospers in fervent prayer, in a deepening daily relationship with God. "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4: 2). This appears to be a paraphrase of Philippians 4: 6, 7. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Paul takes for granted that they are already praying, so continue on, [a stronger prefix to the verb, imperative mood, present progressive tense].[1] Paul looks back to the remarkable days of Pentecost when the Jerusalem church lived in the warmth of the outpouring of the Spirit. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers . . . So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking of bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart" (Acts 2:42.46).

Vigilance  Prayer's Constant Companion   Colossians 4:2(b)

But now Paul adds two virtues often missed: vigilance and thanksgiving. In the Garden of Gethsemane our Lord in His last encounter with His inner circle of disciples cautioned them in the same vein: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak'' (Matthew 26:41). In the midst of trials how easily we are overwhelmed with fear and doubts that assail! Guard your heart against spiritual laziness.

Vigilance implies the real possibility of the enemy's attacks and distractions. If he can divert our attention away from our source of spiritual power, he has accomplished his goal. Added to his attack, we constantly face our own slothfulness and inertia. In the Garden of Gethsemane our Lord prefaced His disappointment and counsel by saying: "Then he came and found them sleeping and said to Peter: 'Could you not watch one hour?'"  

On the third occasion our Lord returned and said to them: "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come: behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinner. Rise up, let us go. See, My betrayer is at hand." (Mark 14:41, 42). On the one hand He faced the full force of the enemy's assault and, on the other hand, the severe disappointment of His own brethren-a double blow but He triumphed.

In the busyness of life be on guard that prayer in its totality of expression be not neglected. Bishop H.C.G. Moule quotes Richard Cecil, a Puritan, who said: "The minister of Christ is often in highest honour with men for his performance of one half of his work, while God is regarding him with displeasure for the neglect of the other half."[2] Who among us does not need to pray with more fervency and persistency? Prayer is God at work while we believe and obey.

Over the 61 years that we have served at the Rio Grande Bible Institute, a small but faithful women's Tuesday morning prayer meetings have held us up faithfully before the throne of grace for 60 years. God has worked because they have continued earnestly in prayer. It is not our activism, but His doing that results in "fruit that remains". Let us never forget where divine energy resides! 

Thanksgiving, the Aroma that Pleases the God of all Grace   Colossian 4:2(c)

But there is another counsel just as important: "being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (v.2).  In the midst of negative conditions that, even in a greater way, call for earnest prayer, there is a subtle tendency to become negative in our outlook toward God Himself, We then too easily question His motives and His love. Just as the spoiled child considers true love only what pleases him in every detail, so we too are drawn to silent self-pity.

When we return to the message of the Cross, we are reminded that His true love always takes to heart our best interest; in what may appear to us as His "tough love", we can always turn to Him and in faith give thanks for His faithfulness. When all else may appear to fail, we can brighten any occasion by offering a sacrifice of praise. "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). Earnest prayer mixed with praise will change the chemistry of any circumstance.

Paul's Request for His Witness, the Spirit's Endowment   Colossians 4:3

Paul now asks that the Colossians may remember him so that the prison in Rome might be his pulpit, his door of witness of the Word. In a hostile world – in which we all live – Paul wants that divine power to be unveiled to a lost world "the hidden secret," the mystery -"Christ in us the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Then he adds poignantly "for which I am in chains" (4: 3). Prayer will sustain and equip him in his adversity.

There may be, however, a deeper meaning at hand. The true witness in the Spirit, whether Paul's in prison or yours or mine in a hostile world, demands more than persuasive words and arguments to move the heart of the unbeliever toward God.  There is an unction needed, a witness of the Holy Spirit to life and word, to render successful our sharing God's truth with believers or unbelievers.

That Spirit endowment is clearly seen in what Paul later says. He asks for a door of opening to share the "mystery of Christ". Here mystery is not what is mysterious or strange, but is rather the indwelling of Christ, the very heart and soul of the Christian life, "the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossian 1:27). The indwelling Christ is the spiritual reality made real only by the Spirit's unction.

Head knowledge with not convey that glorious truth to others, but rather only a brokenness of heart and "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17). This was Paul's very request for the believer after his majestic doxology of our being chosen in Christ before the world began (Ephesians 1:4, 5).

When Paul approached Corinth, the city infamous for its licentiousness, he had this specific truth in mind: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech was not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God"

(1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Paul's humble dependence on God and the prayer of his readers is a constant hallmark of the apostle (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). After years of witnessing the triumph of the Message of the Cross, he remains convinced of his on-going need of their prayers in the midst of his prison limitations.

The Walk of the Believer   His Point of Departure for Witness    Colossians 4: 5,6

Paul adds another basic ingredient. "Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time". We need not only that our secret be preached – Christ in us - but also that the Christ-life be lived out in a winsome, gracious yet faithful way before the eyes of the world. Again "walk" is a command, imperative mood, present tense.

What will a walk in wisdom look like? James' description is unparalleled: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17,18).

The believer is not exempt from all the difficulties of a routine life, but he has the privilege of letting Christ's light illumine his pathway. The believer does not curse the darkness that surrounds him but rather lets the light of the glorious gospel Christ shine out through him.

Our life verse for ministry shortly after our marriage in 1950 was: "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is  the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the glory of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).

Paul counsels that both our walk and witness must always be intertwined. May our witness not be a self righteous exercise in only condemning, alienating and denouncing legalistically what does not meet our standards.  Our witness must model Christ's witness in patience, love and faithfulness to the truth. He sought the sinner but he reproved the  hypocrite. Indeed they said of him: "He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29).

The background of the phrase "redeeming the time," («kairos», the strategic occasion), is not primarily a reference to time, but a sense of God's strategic occasion for our particular witness. It is as if we buy time as a precious commodity, at times, at our expense, for the cause of Christ, wisely buying back in a hostile market a choice opportunity for Christ to be revealed.

May we not miss that moment when God is at work in our lives or the lives of those whom we may meet.  Such is God's plan for our daily witnessing by word and conduct in a hostile world.

Our Talk Becomes a Gracious Echo of the Christ-life    Colossians 4:6

Paul's last counsel is timely: "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer everyone" (4: 6).What a balanced approach to every opportunity to be a witness!  In our witness, let there be meekness and strength of character with Biblical conviction.

In sharing our message, let us never shy away from the true Message of the Cross. "And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I suffer persecution? Then the offence (scandal) of the cross has ceased" (Galatians 5:11). Let us not add our own "scandal" in delivering that heart changing message.

"Let your speech always be with grace seasoned with salt" is a direct reference to the use of salt in many Levitical offerings. "And every offering of your grain offerings [the offering of Pentecost] you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt" (Leviticus 2:13). Honey, on the contrary, could not ever be used in similar offering as a sign of human sweetness or the flesh (Leviticus 2:11). But salt is a part of the covenant; salt cures, preserves and adds flavor to taste.  What a relevant counsel in regard to our daily speech!

While we are in the world, we are not of the world. They persecuted Him and they will reject us (John 17: 14-19).  May we not, however, be the occasion for their rejection of God's truth in Christ. Their reaction should not lead us to a sense of personal paranoia but rather an increased passion to walk and witness so as to win some. Peter reminds us: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15). Paul concludes the section with a gracious word of witness to God's ever present grace.

Cautions and Counsel

                                           

What are you prayer habits? Sporadic……… Disciplined……… Lacking ………….

Irregular …………. Improving……………… Christ-honoring………………………

Have you learned to pray through the biblical prayers recorded in the Word…... ……….?

Do you "talk the walk or walk the talk ………………………………………………..?

A Brief Overview of the Epistle

Colossians is a unique and local church presentation of the heart of the Message of the Cross. He states its essence in "To them [the gentiles] God willed to make known what are the riches of the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (1:27). Then

Paul adds: "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [mature] in Christ Jesus" (v.28). How clearly Paul  understood his message and calling!

In chapter 2, Paul sternly warns the Colossian believer of the counterfeits of human wisdom and philosophy (vv.4-8). These are the empty shells of man's wisdom while he counter balances their error with our union in Christ. "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him" (v: 6).

He then outlines our circumcision [death] in His death, our burial and our resurrection. In brief, our fullness in His fullness (vv. 9-14). From such a position of grace we are freed from demonic principalities and powers and man-made regulations (vv.15-22).

While our victory is grounded in His past Cross work on Calvary, Paul opens new horizons of victory and holiness in chapter 3:1-4. Our transformed live are seen in the  "putting to death" the immorality of the past now to be clothed upon with the very virtues of the Risen Christ (vv. 5-15).

Such victory resonates in the peace of God that rules in your hearts; the word of God becomes the joy of "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (vv:16,17).

The application of the indwelling Christ is now the governing factor in the daily relationships of marriage and family; these in turn overflow to all the relationships of the daily of life (vv.17- 4:1).  Finally Paul counsels our walk and our witness to be in the power of the Message of the Cross (vv.2-6).

With the beauty of music and the simplicity of poetic expression one of my favorite hymns summarizes it all up.

Jesus I come

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come, Jesus I come;

 Into thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee.

Out of my sickness into thy health, out of my want and into thy wealth,

Out of my sin and into thyself, Jesus I come to thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss, Jesus I come, Jesus I come;

Into the glorious gain of the cross, Jesus, I come to thee.

Out of earth's sorrows into thy balm, out of life's storms and into thy calm,

Out of distress to jubilant psalm, Jesus, I come to thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb, Jesus I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the joy and light of thy home, Jesus, I come to thee.

Out of the depths of ruin untold, into the peace of thy sheltering fold,

Ever thy glorious face to behold, Jesus I come to thee.

William T. Sleeper 1887



[1] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press), 1931, Vol. iv. ,p. 509.

[2] H. C. G. Moule, Colossians and Philemon Studies, Lessons In Faith And Holiness (London:Pickering & Inglis LTD). p. 271.