Instructions on Engaging the Outside World
Colossians 4:2–6 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
13th Sunday after Pentecost – August 19, 2018 (am)
Steve Rodgers was a short, scrawny guy with a hero’s heart – always standing up for what was right, but seemingly ill equipped in his physique to actually do anything about the evil in the world, that is, before he became Captain America! Then he became a big guy with a hero’s heart!
As research for this message, I re-watched the scene where Steve Rodgers undergoes the scientific process that turns him into Captain America. In a very tense scene Rodgers is seen strapped to a table and hooked up to all sorts of machines. He is then encased in a futuristic tube in which the transformation is to take place. As the process gets under way you can hear Rodgers yelling and screaming from inside the machine. They nearly stop out of fear for his life, but he yells for them to continue saying, “I can do this!” Once the process is complete – he stumbles out of the machine, transformed into a muscular hulk of a man – not to be confused with that other super hero.
The question at this point in the movie that is on every movie goers mind is – now what? That is to say, no one is completely satisfied knowing simply that the transformation has taken place, as amazing as it is. If the movie were to end here, it would be a massive disappointment. We want to see what he can do with this transformed body! He’s a changed man, once too scrawny to put up a decent fight, now we want to see how it impacts the way he engages the outside world.
We have a similar experience as we read Paul’s letter to the Colossians. At the beginning of the letter Paul points out that there is a transformative power spreading throughout the world – bearing fruit and growing. It is a power that the Colossian church has received (1:6). This power they have received what Paul calls the “Mystery of Christ” and the essence of this mystery is a power Paul calls “Christ in you” (1:27).
As glorious as this is, wouldn’t it be disappointing if Paul ended his letter there? Because we want to know now what? We want to see what this thing can do!
That is precisely what Paul gives us in the remainder of his letter. He uses the rest of his letter to explain what this new power within us can do and should do! We have already seen in chapters two and three how this new power should determine the way we face opposition from alternative worldviews, how we engage our former ways of life, and how we interact within the church and within our homes. And now, in our passage, he focuses his attention on what Christ in you means for your engagement with those outside the church.
Let’s read our passage now:
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.
Walk in wisdom toward 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. (Colossians 4:2 – 6)
Our key question this morning is this: How are Christians to engage those outside the church? What instructions does Paul give to those who now have Christ in them (to us!) as we interact with the non-Christian world around us?
We’ll answer these questions through a brief exposition of the passage followed by four instructions on how we should engage the outside world.
Explanation of Colossians 4:2-6
Our passage contains two commands, two arenas that Paul says must receive primary attention when we consider how Christ in us dictates how we are to engage the world around us.
The first command is “continue steadfastly.” In what? – in the arena of Prayer. With what mindset? - “being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” And praying specifically for an opening for Paul and those with him to be able to clearly declare and make manifest this mystery of Christ, the mystery that Christ has come to reconcile all people to God and put his Spirit in them. So a summary of this first paragraph might read: “As you engage those outside the church, devote yourselves to praying that God would open doors for the mystery of Christ, this thing that has taken place in you, the mystery of Christ in you, to take place in others.”
The second arena Paul focuses on is the way the Colossians should interact with outsiders. The command comes in the phrase “walk (that is go about your life, conduct yourself) in wisdom towards outsiders.” How is this going to happen? “Making the best use of the time,” that is, making the most of every opportunity, especially in your conversations with those outside the church. “Letting your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” Why? So that you may know how you ought to answer each person. To summarize, Paul is saying, “Having prayed, engage the outside world with wisdom such that your regular conversations communicates the mystery of Christ that is in you in winsome ways so that you might win some to Christ.”
That is a general overview of the passage – let’s now turn out attention to four instructions that flow from this passage. As we engage the outside world, Christ in you ought to powerfully impact your eyes, your feet, your mouth, and your guts.
Your Eyes – As we engage the outside world, Christ in us ought to powerfully impact how we see the world
I wonder if anyone here got hung up on the word “outsiders” in verse five. Paul uses the word to differentiate between those who have received the gospel and those who have not. But it a loaded word, and one we need to be careful in how we use it. For example, does Paul speak of outsiders in order to affirm that those in the faith are insiders – privy to a secret knowledge or access to God? Does he speak of outsiders here to point out who Christians should watch out for or to make them aware of people they should avoid? Does Paul want to clearly draw a line in the sand between us and them so that we can know who not to engage with?
Here are some observations on this point. Paul never uses the term insiders nor does he speak of the church as an exclusive insider group – available only to those with special knowledge or experience. When he does speak of the Colossians, here is how he describes them:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith . . ” (Col 1:21 – 23)
He describes them as former outsiders – brought in by Christ through faith. When he speaks of engaging outsiders, he says they ought to do so in wisdom, not meaning we should engage them the way we’d engage a big dog with no leash in the park. In that situation, wisdom would dictate that we should be stand offish, ready to run at any sign of aggression, and very cautious about establishing any type of friendship before we know it is completely safe.
This may be wise with a dog but is not what Paul means with Christians and non-Christians. Let’s look at how Paul uses the word “wisdom” in Colossians. In 2:2-3 Christ is the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In 2:6-7 Paul says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Now here, Paul says walk in wisdom, which mirrors his statement “walk in Christ” and calls to mind the fact that Christ is the one in whom all reassures of wisdom are hidden. So when Paul says “walk in wisdom” what he is saying is simply be Jesus to those around you. Live so that the Christ in you, comes out.
Stephen Miller, fleshes out what being Jesus towards outsiders looks like when he writes:
Jesus loved self-righteously rich rulers, helpless beggars, legalistic lawyers, crooked tax collectors, adulterous prostitutes, loud-mouthed insurgents, and traitorous thieves. He looked on them with compassion, as helpless sheep without a shepherd. Shepherdless sheep don't need armies of Christians bombing them over censorship (the catalyst for the article) in a fallen world. They need our love to be bigger. Our light to be brighter. Our words to be gentler. Our ways to be kinder. You may have grown up singing, “I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery . . . but I'm in the Lord's army!” And certainly there is a war to be fought. But it's not against people who are helplessly dead in sin. This is not a holy war against those Jesus died to save. They are not the enemy.
So the point here is that Christ in us ought to change how we see outsiders. While we are to see that something drastic separates us from them, it is not to cause us to be stand offish or afraid of them, but instead, it should cause us to engage them, with wisdom, with Christ.
The reality is, we’re hard wired to see the world as insiders and outsiders. Whether its sports teams, your family, your neighborhood, your economic status, or your political party the world is defined by us and them. And rarely do we make it easy for outsiders to become insiders and even more rarely do we make it our goal to pursue outsiders so that they can become insiders
But in Christ that all changes. We see all outsiders, whether the agnostic neighbor who lives behind us or the Hindu guru in India or the bully in your 7th period class, as potential insiders. Why? Because we were outsiders, and while we were outsiders, Jesus died for us to bring us inside and then, mystery of mysteries, God gave us Jesus Spirit, Christ in us, and the way we once saw the world is turned upside down. We long for outsiders to be brought in, and so we live in such a way that invites all we interact with to see and desire and long to join us in Christ.
So Christ in us changes how we see the world – as former outsiders saved by grace looking at present outsiders, who could one day be brought in by the same grace. This view of the outside world then dictates where we take the message of Christ in us.
Your Feet – As we engage the outside world, Christ in us ought to powerfully impact where we take the gospel
Originally, I titled this point – “Multiply the mystery.” If the gospel, the mystery of Christ, were a train, it would be a train on an endless route throughout the world constantly picking up passengers. At no point would this train be meant to park in one station and collect dust though. At no point is the train to become so much about those inside it that it fails stop at every station along the way. Thus the mystery of Christ – the good news of Christ in you – is meant to multiply, meant to be taken to those around you
That is why Paul asks the Colossians to partner with him through prayer saying, “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Isn’t it interesting that those who have been brought into the church by God from the outside world are told to go back to God in prayer before going out to engage the world?
Notice also, it is only after the command to pray that Paul then says, “Walk in wisdom towards outsiders.” The principle here is that before we get to our feet to take the gospel to a lost and dying world, we must spend time on our knees asking God to prepare our way.
What do we pray for? Open doors – God must prepare hearts both for the speaking and hearing of the gospel. Pray for those who will regularly speak the gospel – pastors, missionaries, evangelists – to do so with clarity and grace. Pray for those who will hear the gospel to have ready and receptive hearts.
By praying for people to receive the mystery of Christ we’re praying for them to become involved members of the church. The mystery of Jesus Christ is not Christ in you and you and you and you but Christ in YOU (plural) as his body, reconciling people from all backgrounds and uniting them on one common mission.
And then, having prayed, we walk in wisdom. We live lives that show Christ and invite others to join us in this community and family. If we’re to do this well, we need to be careful how we talk.
Your Mouth - As we engage the outside world, Christ in us ought to powerfully impact how we communicate about and to the world
When we engage in the task of bringing the mystery of Christ to the world, our communication needs to be persistently upward and thoughtfully outward.
Upward Communication comes in the command to continue steadfastly in prayer. What is interesting about Paul’s remarks on prayer is that earlier in Colossians we’ve seen Paul model the very prayer he is asking of the Colossians here. In 1:3 he says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. In 1:9-10 he writes, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Here Paul sets an example in the pattern and the posture of prayer. He is not encouraging us to constantly be in conversation with God, that would negate our ability to have conversations with others, which is what Paul gets to in the second paragraph. Instead, he is describing a pattern that we see in Jesus Christ himself who before major engagements with the world would devote himself to prayer, often times praying all night
Some commentators believe that Paul even has Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in mind when he says this to the Colossians because he follows it by saying “being watchful in it” which sounds like Jesus’ words to his disciples there “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mtt 26:41) So as Jesus prayed throughout his ministry and as Paul has prayed throughout his ministry, so also Christians are encouraged to be people who continue steadfastly in prayer and devote themselves to prayer as they look to engage the outside world.
The second emphasis on communication is on outward communication. Paul says in verse 6: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Given the context, we can assume that the purpose for this command is evangelism. It is to be done with gracious, salty speech, so that others will see Christ in you and want Jesus in themselves
A parallel passage exists in 1 Peter 3:15-16 “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Where Peter calls to mind a well-reasoned apologetic defense of the faith, Paul seems to be speaking to the Colossians more of every day conversations – and looking for an open door in those conversations to share the gospel. The mystery is to be shared with grace, which seems to have a double meaning. It means that the message contains the subject matter of God’s grace (evangelism) but also that it is done graciously, in an attractive way, not domineering or preachy or condemning of others or with arrogance. It’s not a message that says, “You outsiders need to become more like us insiders!” It is a message shared with kindness and love and patience and mercy.
It is also to be a message that is seasoned with salt. This was a way of saying that the way you talk about faith ought also to be interesting and agreeable and even witty. That is what this description means. It is the ability to have a conversation across the fence with your neighbor or on the bus or train that is enjoyable for both people but also weaves gospel truths into casual conversations about how bad the mosquitos are this year, or recent news events, or how good or bad the local sports teams are doing. They don’t leave the person you’ve spoken to feeling like they’ve received a tongue lashing but they also don’t leave them bored by your wrote answers on faith and life.
Finally Paul says, “so that you may know how to answer each person.” The sharing of this message takes into account who you are talking to. As we do this, we will be asked the same questions many times – but that doesn’t mean we always give wrote answers in memorized monologues. Instead we consider who it is we’re speaking to. We show love and respect to the person we’re talking with by answering in a way that gives them the best chance to receive it
For example, if asked how could a loving God send people to hell, you should consider whether this is flowing out of someone’s recent Philosophy 101 class or the death of a family member and adjust your answer accordingly.
No one was better at this than Jesus. Consider how he spoke to the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the Syrophoenician woman, Martha, and the crowds of people who sought him out. He responds in ways that are right for the moment, often times bringing about faith. Since we’re not Jesus – we need all the more to pray before having these conversations so that God will direct what we say and open doors for the gospel
What is our attitude to be in all this, what is our motivation, what is the gut impulse behind why we do what we do?
Your Guts - As we engage the outside world, Christ in us ought to powerfully impact the way we feel about the task of spreading the mystery of Christ
It is an impulse of urgency and thankfulness.
The Urgency to get the gospel out is communicated through many key words and phrases. Regarding prayer, Paul says, “being watchful in it.” Literally this means, keep awake. Paul and Jesus both use sleepiness as an image of being unprepared for his return at the end times. Prayer ought to be done watchfully, knowing that time is short and Christ is returning soon
Addressing our conduct Paul says, “Walk in wisdom making the best use of the time.” This final phrase is in the same vein as the one above, time is short, open doors for the gospel are not a luxury, so take advantage of them! Look for them! Walk through them by graciously and winsomely speaking the gospel into all conversations
This is how we ought to live. Notice the two “ought to’s” in this passage. Behind these is the Greek word “dei” – it is called the divine imperative – used to describe how we ought to live in light of what God has done in the world. So Paul says he ought to clearly speak the mystery of Christ and the Colossian church ought to winsomely give answers that communicate the gospel.
But we’re also to act with thankfulness. This is major theme in this book that keeps popping up all over the place! Here I believe it is a balance to the urgency communicated. We’re not to be urgent in the sense that we are anxious, biting our nails, wondering if God’s plan to bring people into the kingdom is really going to work. With thankfulness means with confidence and assurance that what we have in Christ, and with Christ in us, we are more than equipped for the task of reaching a lost and dying world. We’re to be thankful for what God has done in me, in my fellow Christians, and more than able to do in to do in the world.
And so we see, the power of Christ in us ought to impact how we see, speak to, and feel about the world around us.
For those here who have Christ in them, let’s close with some questions. Do you see the world aright? Do we look at outsiders with love and longing, desiring for them to be brought into the body of Christ. Or have we become a holy huddle, turning our back on the outside world, afraid to engage it?
Do you take the gospel where it is meant to go? Does it go with you on the train, through your neighbor hoods, or into your schools? Or does it stay locked up inside you or safely on a shelf at home?
Does the Christ in you come out in your conversations? Does it come out in your prayers? Asking God to prepare open doors for you and for others and for you to walk through them when they present themselves? Do you ever walk through these open doors in conversation with others?
What is your feeling about sharing the gospel? Do you have any sense of urgency? Are you at peace and thankful for what God will do on this mission?
Certainly we all have areas we need to pray about and work on here. Thankfully, Colossians is a letter about growing into who we are in Christ. It is a letter about putting on who God made us to be. So let’s close by asking God to grow us in each of these areas.
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