Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 15, 2010

Sermon on Colossians 4:2-6

WORDS MATTER!

  1. Words of prayer for others
  2. Words of witness to others

 Text: Colossians 4:2-6

Introduction

Someone called with the news.  Their neighbor’s teenage son had just gotten into an automobile accident and was being taken by ambulance to the hospital.  They had become good friends with their next door neighbor since moving to their new home five years ago; their children were the same ages and had become friends too.  They hurried off to the hospital to see if they could offer any help for their neighbors during what was certainly going to be a difficult and trying time.  They walked into the emergency room and saw them sitting anxiously in the waiting area.  They ran over to them and embraced them and asked if there was anything they could do to help.  As they saw the tears in the parents’ faces, they fumbled and mumbled and stumbled over their words, hoping to offer some help and hope.

Weeks after the accident happened, they were visiting with their neighbors whose son was fortunately well on his way to recovery.  As the conversation went on, they apologized for not being as helpful or comforting as they wished they could have been when the accident first happened.  The mother of the injured boy quickly assured them that there was no need to apologize.  “Don’t worry about whether or not you said the right words.  Just the fact that you came to the hospital to comfort and support us means a lot.  Even if your words weren’t perfect, your words mattered to us, and we really appreciated them.”

Words matter.  Whether they are words of encouragement during a difficult trial, or words of comfort during a difficult time, or words of admonition during a difficult struggle, words matter.  And in the Bible reading that will direct this morning’s sermon, we will find further evidence that words matter.  Today is the third Sunday in our stewardship sermon series.  We have been examining our stewardship or management of time during this series.  Today the Word of God leads us to examine our use of time with our neighbors—not our literal next-door neighbors, but anyone in our lives, and particularly those who do not know or believe in Jesus as their Savior.  The words we pray for them and the words we say to them matter.  That’s what Saint Paul teaches us in Colossians chapter four.  Words matter!  Our words of prayer for others matter, and our words of witness to others matter.  Listen to these words written by Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. 

I.

One of the shortest verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually.”  Those two words not only encourage us to pray, but they encourage us to make prayer a constant and regular part of our lives.  Our reading begins with the same kind of encouragement for constant prayer, but with some more specific directions.  First of all, Paul encourages his readers to be alert while they pray.  He tells them to think about the spiritual dangers that threaten them, the opportunities to confess Christ that are available to them, and anything else they should be on the watch for.  Along with an alert mind, Paul encourages them to have a thankful heart as they turn to God in prayer.

Then Paul turns his attention from words of prayer for themselves to words of prayer for others—in this case, for Paul and his coworker Timothy.  “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”  Paul wanted his readers to pray that God would provide him and Timothy with opportunities to reveal the gospel message to souls who had not yet heard and learned about Jesus Christ.  Paul asked them to pray that he would proclaim the gospel clearly and without compromise, even though preaching the gospel had landed him under house arrest.

One of my college professors once said that prayer is a good barometer of one’s faith.  So what does the prayer-barometer measure in your life?  Does Paul’s encouragement, “Pray continually,” describe your prayer life, or would the highlights of your time be focused on the sports page or political discussions?  Does Paul’s encouragement to offer words of prayer for others who spread the gospel message find its way into your personal prayers, or are your personal prayers entirely personal—my life, my health, my family, my circumstances?

How easily we can assume that our schedule is best filled with “more important” activities.  And when we do spend time in prayer, how easily we can assume that our words are best spent on our own concerns, while the church at large remains largely forgotten.  These things only reveal a larger problem.  Our real problem is not poor time management or poor prayer content.  These things are only symptoms of sin’s self-centered disease residing in our souls.  And sin’s self-centered disease not only shows up with symptoms here on earth; it leads to eternal punishment forever in hell.

Paul’s readers were not freed of sin’s disease.  So if that’s the case, why would he encourage them to pray to the Almighty, all-knowing God?  The prophet Isaiah says quite clearly, “Your sins have hidden [God’s] face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).  Why would Paul encourage their words of prayer for others if sin kept them from having access to God in the first place?

The answer is in the very same “mystery of Christ” that Paul mentions in our reading.  A mystery must be revealed.  And by the Holy Spirit’s work in your heart, Jesus has been revealed as your Savior and your Redeemer.  The Holy Spirit unraveled that mystery to you in the Word of God.  You know and believe the mystery that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ so that mankind would be made right again with God through the work of Jesus Christ.  You know and believe the mystery that God, who cannot die, died on the cross in the person Jesus Christ so that all mankind, who deserve eternal death, might receive God’s promise of eternal life.  And through faith in Jesus Christ, that promise is now your prized possession.

This “mystery of Christ” is revealed to you in the Word of God.  And the Word of God not only works faith in this gospel in your hearts; the Word of God also inspires a grateful response to this gospel in your lives.  One component of that response is your words of prayer for others—for missionaries and evangelists, for pastors and teachers, for fellow church members and sister congregations around our nation, for Christians at home who confess their faith and Christians living in hostile countries who put their lives on the line for their confession.  Take Paul’s encouragement to heart.  Devote yourselves to prayer—especially words of prayer for others who share the gospel.  Those words matter!

II.

 Of course, other Christians are not the only ones who share the gospel.  Jesus did not give his Great Commission only to clergy and certified church workers.  His call to proclaim the gospel is every believer’s task.  In the second part of our reading, Paul encouraged his readers to speak words of witness to others.  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

There is a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”  St. Francis did not actually make that statement.  And the statement is not correct as it stands.  The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ.  The way we live our lives does not convert anyone to faith in Christ.  But that does not mean that the way we live our lives does not affect our opportunities to confess our faith in Christ.  That’s what the quotation I shared is really trying to get at.  Paul gets at that too in this reading.  Paul wanted his readers to use wisdom when they interacted with others.  Their thoughtful behavior might provide the opportunity to use the time God had given them to speak words of witness to others.

Actions matter, but when it comes to evangelism, words especially matter!  Again, Paul said, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Paul wanted their words to have a gracious manner.  Just as salt makes some foods taste better, so a gracious way of speaking might make their conversation seem more “palatable” to others and provide them with a chance to share their words of witness.  These opportunities meant that it was necessary for them to study God’s Word and will faithfully so that they would be able to give good gospel answers to the questions others would ask them.  Paul’s words here remind me of similar words that St. Peter wrote.  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

In his wisdom, God has left us with his Word.  Modern religious thinking is always looking for some kind of spiritual experience, not an old historical book.  But God knows what he is doing!  For the Bible is not only a historical book.  It is his powerful, penetrating Word.  It is his Word that works in our hearts as we hear it in worship and preaching, read it at home, study it here with one another, and remind each other of it at home.  It is God’s Word that delivers the blood-bought forgiveness of Jesus on the cross into your heart and the hearts of all who believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

The Word that has worked in your heart also has the power to work in the hearts of others.  Look at God’s Word work throughout history!  Look at the thousands of souls who were brought to faith in Jesus on Pentecost Day some 2,000 years ago.  Look at the power of God’s Word to bring Martin Luther to the correct understanding of the gospel when the church of his day had all but abandoned the gospel.  The Word that has worked faith in the past does the same today.  Your words of witness to others brings them the Word they need to hear for faith and salvation.  As Paul wrote in Romans (and as we often sing just before the Gospel reading), “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  So speak your words of witness to your neighbor who attends church just twice a year, your associate at work whose curiosity is piqued by your faith, your long-time friend or family member who has drifted away from God, or whomever God places in your path.  Speak your words of witness to others, because those words matter!

Conclusion

Today we have continued our stewardship sermon series.  But today is also called Saints Triumphant Sunday.  The other Bible readings you heard in today’s service put us in mind of Christ’s gathered believers in heaven, enjoying the perfect peace that Jesus’ sacrifice for sin and victory over death have given us.  There is only one way to be in that group of gathered believers—and that is to believe.  And there is only one way to receive that faith.  “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”  So speak your words of prayer for others that God give them the courage to share his Word.  And speak your words of witness to others, knowing that God will use his Word which you share to get his work done.  After all, those words matter!  Amen.

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