Proclamation, Perseverance, and Prison
“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.
Last time we began to examine 6 priorities that emerge at the end of the letter to the Colossians. Those who are chosen, holy, and beloved, citizens of the heavenly country, should be investing their energies in certain kinds of things during their short time on this planet. Last time we looked at investing in prayer and prudence.
And as we examined the kind of pray in which we ought to be investing, we saw that we are called to steadfast, watchful, and thankful prayer. We are not to give up, but pray without ceasing. We are to be awake and alert to the times in which we live, not sleeping and distracted. This is the age of the harvest. And this steadfast, watchful prayer is to be accompanied by a heart overflowing with thanks for what God has done for us in Christ.
We saw last time that Paul’s prayer request was not for personal comfort – it was for open doors and clear words to declare the mystery of Christ. Epaphras’ prayer was not for the comfort of the church it was for the maturity and full assurance of the church. There was a mindfulness that these men had, and alertness to the times – they were not seeking their own kingdoms; they were seeking to magnify Christ and they were serving His kingdom and they were laying their lives down for it.
As we look at what walking in prudence or wisdom looks like in reference to outsiders we said it had to involve speaking the Word to Christ with gracious and winsome speech, mindful of seeing those who are outsiders become insiders. Kindness without speaking will rescue no one from their sins, but speaking the truth without love will be a clanging gong and a noisy symbol and a distraction from the beauty of the Words of Life.
Paul is demonstrating and calling the church to wake up and make the best use of the time. Paul was awake to the age in which he lived. This is the age of grace to the nations. This is the age of the Word of Salvation. This is the age when God has made known how great among the nations are the riches of Christ! Are we gripped by the glory of the grace of Christ and are we mindful of the times? Are we awake?
This week we continue to examine the priorities in which we ought to be investing our lives in this age. The next priority we will look at is Proclamation.
You may be thinking, “Didn’t we already talk about proclamation last time? Wasn’t that part of the discussion about the content of Paul’s prayer and part of the discussion about walking in wisdom toward outsiders?”
Yes, it was. But I think this point is so central and so important, that I want to linger and soak here. I have read and heard so many people who seem to talk and think about Christianity and the activities of the church apart from the message of the gospel. I want to make sure that we do not leave Colossians without seeing Paul’s priority of proclaiming the message of Christ.
It is all to easy to lose our focus and become distracted from the throbbing heartbeat of the faith. What is the throbbing heart beat of our faith? It is the answer to the great problem in the world.
The great problem in the world is not your broken car, your broken dreams, your broken plans. It is not broken buildings, broken communities, broken governments. It is not broken marriages, broken friendships, or broken bodies – these are symptoms of the problem. The great problem in the world is not a horizontal problem.
The great problem is the world is that God is not honored. The great problem in the world is that the one true and living God, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, has been universally rejected, belittled, ignored, dishonored. The God of blazing holiness and infinite power and beauty and goodness is unwavering in His opposition toward sin. If a person enters the presence of God as a sinner he will be utterly consumed. The great problem in the world is that we have invited the unquenchable wrath of the Almighty.
The great question is how then shall we be saved?
The glory of the gospel is lost on so many people because it addresses a problem they don’t think they have. The glorious news will appear glorious only when God appears to us as glorious. It is when we consider God, as He truly is, and our hopeless, sinful condition that the proclamation of Christ will strike us as glorious and vital. The message of Christ is the throbbing heart beat of the church. The greatest issue in every person’s life is whether God is for them or against them.
If God is against you, it matters not what earthly comforts you secure – they will be momentary and puny and will give way to everlasting and full condemnation. You will be cast away into outer darkness forever.
But if God is for you, it matters not what earthly troubles you face – they will be momentary and puny and will give way to everlasting and full joy in His presence, forever secure with Him.
If we think that Christianity is chiefly and first about recovering from addiction, or restoring marriages, or repairing a dysfunctional life, or providing for the poor – if we start with those problems as if they were the main problem we will miss the throbbing heartbeat of our faith.
The Throbbing Heartbeat:
The glorious news is that God, because of His great love, chose to deliver a people from their sin and condemnation and to transfer them into everlasting life and light and joy, by Jesus Christ the only Redeemer. God has dealt with the greatest problem, the true problem, the true disease, by the work Christ.
So, why did Paul pray this way in Colossians 4:3?
“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 …”
Paul’s focused mission was to make the gospel of Christ known. Every letter we have of Paul in the NT shows us that this was his great desire. Colossians is no different. Paul saw no greater need in the world than to declare the mystery of Christ again and again. Even as it meant continual suffering and persecution in his life and even as it had landed him in prison, he did not waver from this priority to proclaim Christ.
As Romans 1 tells us the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Paul was compelled to make the mystery of Christ know to everyone he possibly could. He had been entrusted with the words of life, the hope of glory, the message which is able to save men’s souls. For loves sake, how could he keep silent?
Paul’s Priority, Our Example:
We have been entrusted with these same words of life.
Listen to 1 Peter 2:9
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
According to 1 Peter 2:9 we are called into the family of God for the purpose of proclamation. We, who should be destroyed by his excellencies, have been made His treasure in order to be His trumpeters in this world. He has made a way that we might be a people for His own possession, holy, chosen, beloved SO THAT we may proclaim His excellencies. You were not rescued to be silent. You were rescued to be a trumpet for your God! And not just to those who have never heard.
Christ our Life and Song:
I need you to remind me again and again of God’s work. I think there is a temptation to think that the gospel is the message that the world out there needs to hear. This message of salvation is for the perishing to get into the church, but we who are in the church go on in our walk with the Lord by something else. NO!
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.
The gospel is not just for outsides!
The gospel is what Paul has been giving the church in this letter. It is as we behold the glory of Christ and His glorious work for us, and is as we embrace that work and embrace the love of God for us in Christ everyday that we will be nourished and built up and knit together.
The assembling of God’s people together should not be marked by finger pointing and condemnation, but by a pointing to Christ and reconciliation. This ought to be a place of refreshment, as we remember and rejoice in the Word of Life, the gospel. Our judgement day is past. God is on your side now and forevermore. He will lead us as His beloved children away from sin and toward holiness. He is working all things together for our good.
My great prayer for Christ’s people and for myself, is that we would become more and more people of the gospel.
Is your life invested in Proclamation?
Next. Another priority we find in this last section of Colossians is perseverance.
A People of Activity:
Paul and his fellow laborers were engaged in action in this age. They were laboring for something. They were pouring out their lives to make mature disciples of Christ. The glory of Christ in the gospel moved them. We are not to be a slumbering people. The night is far spent the day is at hand. “Wake up,” Paul says. This section is full of the action of the saints: Pray, give thanks, declare, speak, send, tell, encourage, care for, comfort, always struggle, work hard, read, share, remember, work for the Kingdom of God together.
When We’re Weary:
But isn’t it true that we all get discouraged at times? We get weary and overwhelmed. It looks like Archippus, here in verse 17, may have been tempted to throw in the towel and so Paul says, “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’”
We are not told what the ministry of Archippus’ was, but he received it in the Lord and Paul called the church in Colossi to exhort him to complete it. Paul calls him to persevere in the work God had for him in the Lord.
When we are discouraged and weary and overwhelmed in the work God has for us, we must remember where we received this work. Paul says to Archippus that he received his ministry “in the Lord.” I take this to be a pregnant phrase. This letter has been full of unpacking what it means to be “in Christ” and “in the Lord.” I believe this makes all the difference.
Your labor is not a laboring to get in the Lord. Your work is not a working from fear of failure or punishment. Our work is a work in the Lord Jesus. Your service is not a service in danger of fruitlessness. In Christ all things work together for our good.
I had an opportunity recently to sit down with a few pastors in the area and pastor Paul Buckley shared with us a paper he had put together about the dangers of burnout in ministry. He shared an illustration that I thought was very helpful. Pastor Buckley writes,
“You should live like a retired billionaire who has already accomplished all his dreams and life goals and now sits atop of endless riches. You should live like a spiritual version of Bill Gates. Jesus has done everything for you, accomplishing the most important goals and dreams the Father has, winning you eternal riches.”
When we embrace again and again the truth about the riches that are ours in Christ, we will be guarding our souls from discouragement, weariness, and burnout. And rather than producing lazy, fruitless, passionless laborers, the glorious message produces perseverance in the face of incredible odds.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“Don’t give up Archippus. Don’t go to sleep. Persevere in the ministry you have received in the Lord. Persevere until the Lord appears – your salvation is nearer than when you first believed!”
We cannot lose, for God is with us and in us and His Kingdom cannot fail… even if imprisonment and affliction and death await us.
As we finish up, we need to think very soberly about the fact that Paul was in prison on account of Christ. We need to think about the priority of prison. By this I don’t mean that this passage is calling us pursue pain and misery and prison as ends in themselves, as if there was something inherently godly in denying ourself and being miserable.
Rather, I believe the priority we see in this passage is the priority of valuing Christ able all other treasures. “What is your only hope in life and death?” Is it, “That [you] are not [your] own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to [your] Savior Jesus Christ” (New City Catechism, question 1)?
What is the hope of your life? Where is your treasure? The people of God have always been strangers and exiles on the earth, trusting God for a better country, their heavenly home. What you have in Christ is worth more than houses and family and job and comfort and anything this life can afford.
In our culture we have experienced many comforts. That may change. Comfort has not been the experience of many of the people of God throughout history, and is not the experience of many of our brothers and sisters in the world today. Paul’s example calls us to invest our lives in Christ and for Christ and live from Christ … come what may. Is Christ your treasure?
Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, just before he is imprisoned and says in Acts 20:22-25,
“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
What are your priorities in this world? Are you investing in
Prayer, Prudence, Proclamation, Perseverance, and Prison?
Are we awake to the hour?
I pray that the Word of Christ will lodge in our chests, grip our hearts, change our minds and color our vision of the world. I pray that the Word of Christ will move our feet, season our words, and bolster our courage – that God may be honored, Christ may be praised and multitudes may be made alive.