the mission of Christ /// 4:2-6
“The greatest sin of the church today is not any sin of commission or sin of omission but the sin of no mission. Browning, Dave.” Deliberate Simplicity.
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
(John 4:31-38 ESV)
Tonight we’re going to end this series on the book of Colossians and this message is going to have two elements. First, we must talk about prayer and second we must talk about evangelism – everyone’s 2 most favorite topics. Everyone loves talking about prayer and evangelism. Everyone loves sitting in church and hearing the preacher tell them they need to pray more and that they are doing a horrible job at evangelism. So I am so glad we are going to end this series on everyone’s favorite subjects.
Now, just in case you aint pickin’ up what I’m throwin down, I might need to tell you that I’m being sarcastic. It’s actually the opposite. These are NOT everyone’s 2 most favorite subjects. I’ve worked in the church for about 20 years and I can tell you that if we had a prayer conference or invited the church to come to a prayer meeting that meeting would always be very low attended. And we might even move that meeting to all sorts of different times and locations in hopes to prove that the reason why people weren’t coming was because it was bad timing – or something like that. Unfortunately, we learned – and it is actually common knowledge – that people just don’t enjoy going to prayer meetings. And then these churches that I’ve worked in, well sometime they’d have a evangelistic conference or some missions conferences and again, those weekends were always the least attended throughout the entire year. I mean you could literally chart it. So, I’ll say it again, “I am so glad we are going to end this series on everyones favorite subjects.”
Let me tell you what I want to accomplish tonight. It is not my goal to make you feel guilty about your need to pray more or your need to share the gospel more. That is not the goal of this message. It is not my goal to make you feel like you need to try harder and do better and be gooder when it comes to prayer and evangelism. It is, however, my goal to change our paradigm. I want to change the way we think about prayer and evangelism. You might say I want to free our minds to enjoy prayer and to be passionate about evangelism. Because right now I think that our minds are some how bound into a legalistic way of looking at prayer and evangelism. These two subjects become the litmus test to the super spiritual – navy seal, black-ops Christians. The prayer warrior who’s on his knees every day at 4:30 AM praying for the President the United States and the children of Botswana or the evangelist who hands out tracts at the mall – scarring teenage girls who just wanted to hang out Abercrombie. And I want to free our minds from that kind of bondage. These are not the activities of super – elite – Christian – soldiers, they are not a set of legalistic rules that I going to stand here and tell you you need to try harder and do better at. Prayer and evangelism – prayer and the presentation of the gospel is something all together different.
So let’s look at these two things in their order and then let’s see if we can change our paradigm about these two subjects. First let’s look at prayer. Paul’s going to tell us what to pray for and how to pray for it. Second, let’s look at the evangelism – and again Paul is going to tell us how to do it.
PRAY FOR THE GOSPEL
What should we pray for? “Pray for us”, Paul says, “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ & that I may make it clear.” First, pray for an open door for the Gospel. Second, pray that it will be clear. Pray that God will open doors in our lives for the Gospel. Pray that when doors are opened and we will be able to shoot a clear Gospel through those doors.
Let’s talk about the open door. What does Paul mean by an open door for the word? Paul uses this phrase several times in the New Testament and I want to show you some of the other instances.
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
(Acts 14:27 ESV)
But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Corinthians 16:8-9 ESV)
When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest… (2 Corinthians 2:12 ESV)
You’ll notice that in each circumstance God is the one opening doors. In the Acts passage God opens the door and it results in faith amongst Gentiles. In the Corinthians passages it is clear that God opens doors and that means there is a climate that is open to hearing the Gospel message. At one time Paul said, “A wide door for effective work was opened.” John piper concerning these verses:
“I take it to mean that when Christians pray, God changes circumstances and attitudes and receptivity for the Word so that instead of hitting a brick wall, the Word finds an open door and becomes unusually effective.
~ Piper, O Lord, Open a Door for the Word!
When Christian pray God changes circumstances. Do you believe that? When we pray for soft hearts, when we pray for doors to open, God changes the climate and hearts will melt and doors will open. If we do not believe this, then we have no business planting churches.
But, even though God opens doors, and even though God changes hearts, Paul still pleads with the Colossians to pray for him that he will have clarity in speech as he presents the Gospel. I am blown away by the fact that Paul is asking an entire church to pray that when he speaks the Gospel will be clearly presented. If there’s anyone who can clearly present the Gospel it is the apostle Paul. So, pray for a clear Gospel.
If you have experienced any of this series in Colossians then you’ll remember that in every week Paul presents the Gospel very clearly. The Gospel is good-news. First it is news. News is about something that has already happened in the past. The news of the Gospel is that Jesus died for sinners. It is not a message about what you need to do, that’s not news, it’s a message about what he has already done. That’s news. And it’s good because Jesus did that so that you could be saved. Because Jesus paid for your sin, you have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Another way to say it is this:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)
The message itself is pretty simple and yet Paul pleads with this church to pray for him so that when he presents the Gospel he will do it with clarity as it ought to be proclaimed.
This week we were praying in our community group about discipleship and reaching out to people who are far from God and one guy in our group prayed for open doors for the gospel so that when they are opened we can put our foot in them. And I love that he said that. When that door opens we have a small crack to slip in a clear presentation of the gospel. Paul is asking the church to pray that his message be clear – as it ought to be.
So we are to pray for opened doors and for a clear presentation of the Gospel. That is what we should pray for, now lets deal with How we should pray. We should pray steadfastly, watchful, and with thanksgiving. Now, I want you to hear this because I think this could shift some paradigms about prayer. We all know what steadfastly means. It means reoccurring. Keep on praying. Pray often. But then he adds this word watchful. What does that mean. “Watchful” can literally be translated “be awake”. So Paul is saying, keep awake and watch over the sleeping world, which BTW, is the object of God’s love (remember: “for God so loved the world….).
Christians are to keep awake, looking out on the sleeping world which, as the object of God’s love, is also to be the object of his people’s regular and steady prayer. Wright.
And be thankful. Thankful for what? Paul opens this letter with a prayer of thanksgiving. What was he thankful for? He was thankful for their salvation. Thankful that the Gospel was increasing in their nick of the woods. We have been given a 3-fold rhythm where we watch over the world, pray for the world, and then thank God when (not if) the gospel increases in the world.
Can I just say that for the first time, this seems to me like a powerful motivator for prayer. I mean, I can’t tell you how many sermons I have heard telling me that I should pray more better. More frequently and more passionately and more — we’ll just more and better. And every time I sat under that message I agreed that I needed to do better and sometimes times I actually did do better – for a while. But in this passage I sense something different. Here we are called to watch over an entire globe of people who are in need of salvation and so we must pray that they will hear and receive the gospel and then be thankful when they are saved. This prayer that Paul is asking for is Gospel focused and Gospel centered. Pray for the Gospel. Pray for a receptive climate. Pray for clarity. And then, be thankful as you see life transformed by the power of the Gospel. I want to see lives transformed by the power of the Gospel so this is motivating me to pray.
This week a mentor of mine asked me what has been a major highlight from the world of church planting and I quickly said this, “That God is the Lord of the harvest. He is teaching me that when I pray for the harvest he brings a harvest.” We have passed out like 20,000 door hangers, we have given away free hotdogs, free Popsicles, free breakfast bars, and I thought that at least like 10-20 folks would respond to that kind of outreach. They didn’t. But, when I simply got on my knees in desperate prayer for God to bring people he answered those prayers. So much that it was completely obvious that God brought the harvest, not our Popsicles. Not that we are going to stop passing out hotdogs and Popsicles – we’re going to aggressively continue to reach out into our community – but I believe that God is teaching me, “Never forget, I’m the one who causes the growth. You can plant the seed, you can water the seed, but in the end I’m the one that causes the growth.
And I love that when I told him that he just laughed. He went on and said, “Mike I have learned that too, hundreds of time, I was a missionary in Russia and other parts of the world, and isn’t it amazing how God must constantly remind us of this truth.” His honesty comforted me – but think about that, let that settle into your hearts, we don’t pray so we can pray more, we pray because God has made it so that when we do, he can answer and then he gets the thanks. When we pray for God to open doors and bring a harvest he gladly answers those prayers. And then he gets the thanks and praise.
Jesus taught us to pray, “On earth as it is in Heaven”. Jesus wants us to pray for the increase of the Gospel. God challenges us, “Ask and I will give the nations to you.” He wants us to pray for the increase of the Gospel. A.W. Tozer said, “God is always previous, God is always there first.” He is the one who opens doors for the Gospel. So we must pray and ask God to go before us and open doors.
Pray for opened doors for the Gospel
& clear presentations of the Gospel.
PRESENT THE GOSPEL
C. S. Lewis in his book The Weight of Glory says,
“The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and all the tragedies in the world. The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying Him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is important. It is really really really good news and it is really really really important that we do everything we can to share that good news. All of heaven and earth and hell hang on it. So how are we to share the Gospel?
Be wise. Why would Paul say that? Be wise. No, not just be wise but, “Be wise to outsiders.” Why does Paul need to say that? Can I ask a question? Do you think that the church has been wise to outsiders? I guess there is two ways to answer that question. How would insiders answer that question and then how would outsiders answer that question. I once saw a film entitled, “Lord, Save Me From Your People.” The title sort of suggests how the producers of that film would answer the question. Why does Paul tell us to be wise toward outsiders?
Here is what I have heard, “So that we can set a good example and then they will want to follow Jesus?” Well, how is that working? How many people have gotten saved because they noticed you didn’t drink a beer? There’s two problems with that kind of thinking. First – it assumes that they actually care and second – it assumes that we actually could be a good example. When we try to be that perfect example we only ended up looking “holier-than-thou” rather than genuinely loving people. That kind of thinking puts the focus on us not on others.
I think Paul tells us to be wise towards outsiders because he agrees with C. S. Lewis’ quote that the salvation of human souls is the single most important business of our lives. The Gospel was the singular passion and motivation of Paul’s life. Paul said,
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV)
That is why, I believe we are commanded to be wise toward outsiders. I wonder what a modern translation of this passage would sound like. “To the Democrat I will become a Democrat, to the hipster I will be hip, to the sports fan I will engage with them about sports.” How would you translate that one for yourself?
Make the most of your time. Wow – that sounds kinda ominous. Literally the greek means “buying up” or “buying out”. It give the sense of an opportunity that needs to be snatched up before it is too late. It’s like a black Friday sale. Last week I ran out of anti-acid medication. You know that heartburn medicine that Larry the Cable guy (A.K.A. Tow-Mater) advertises on television. I have to take this medication because of my affinity for hot wings. Anyway, I hate buying this stuff because it is so expensive. So I went to the drug store and they’ve got a bottle of it for like $9.00, and then just above that they have the 3 bootle super pack on sale for like $9.00. “Dag-gum?”, as Tow-Mater would say. So you can guess what I did, I snatched it up.
We have got to start seeing the Gospel like that. There is an opportunity, snatch it up. There is a new neighbor, just moved in down the street. Snatch it up. There is a family member just asked you spiritual question. Snatch it up.
Let your speech be gracious. The Gospel message is all about grace, so let your speech be full if it. Too often the message the church has spoken has been a message of judgment and condemnation. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t stand for truth, but I am saying be full of grace. Do not lead people to the shadows of external morality, instead lead them to the substance of Christ. Christ died while we were sinners. That is the message. Don’t tell them that God hates gays, tell them that Jesus loves sinners. Don’t tell them that God hates divorce, tell them that God is in the business of reconciling broken relationships. You get the picture.
What else could “let your speech be full of Grace” possible mean. Unfortunately, I am certain that a lot of people have been turned off from the Gospel solely because of the arrogance and harshness of the messenger. So, let your speech be full of grace. You may not need to hear this. But I have got to say it, because it is important. That is why Paul says, be wise and let your speech be full of grace. You and I often find grace hard to believe – how much more will outsiders. So give them grace.
Give them grace and give them salt. Let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt. What does that mean? You know what it means. It means make it interesting. Make it taste good. Season it up. Sometimes when the Bible talks about salt, it is talking about the preservation of truth. But sometimes it is talking about seasoning. Paul says, “Let your speech be seasoned.”
“The metaphor of salty speech was a common one in the ancient world. Paul knows that a tedious monologue is worse than useless in evangelism. Christians are to work at making their witness interesting, lively and colorful.” N. T. Wright
Finally, let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt so that you may know how you ought to answer. Paul doesn’t say, “Hey, this is how you ought to answer.” It’s not that easy. We have to figure that one out. He says get in there talk to people be gracious, spice it up a bit so that you can get to know them and their needs and then you’ll know how you ought to answer.
So be wise toward outsiders, let your speech be full of Grace, season with salt so you will know how you ought to answer. Wow! Wow that’s a lot of pressure. No wonder no-one likes this subject. Anybody feel slightly inadequate.
When I think of evangelism I typically get 2 pictures in my mind. The first is of this guy who is passing out tracts on a college campus and he wants to talk to you. He wants to ask you some very important questions. Questions like, “If you died today – how do you know that you would go to heaven?” or “If Peter stands at the gate of heaven and he asks you ‘why should I let you in’ what would you say?”
Personally, I don’t want to answer those questions. I think most people are thinking, “Why is Peter standing at the door! Why do I have to answer these questions. Is this really gonna happen? What is the right answer? I don’t even know if I believe in heaven.”
The second picture I get is of an airplane. I don’t know what it is about airplanes but it is like the only time people ever share their faith. And in that moment you usually have like 3 minutes before the guy plugs his ears with earbuds. And since you don’t fly that often you rarely get to practice your airplane plan so it may not go over so well. If you do fly often then you have learned how to be invisible so you don’t have to talk to anyone.
The first is a picture of the guy who may have the gift of evangelism. The second is the picture of every other Christian who only thinks of evangelism when there sitting on a complete strangers lap, and they are usually completely unprepared. Now I know that I’m stereo typing and making huge generalizations but I don’t think that I am that far from the truth. And that is why I probably shouldn’t even use the word evangelism, because these pictures are not what I mean by the term and don’t think it is what Paul means either.
The word evangelism is such a negative word both in the culture at large and in our christian sub-culture. However, I feel like I should tell you this. The word gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion. It is a combination of angelos – the word for one announcing news, and the prefix en-, which means “joyful.” Gospel means “news that brings joy .” Evangelist means “a messenger who brings news that brings joy” and evangelism means – well honestly the word evangelism is no-where in the Bible. I image it can mean the act of being a messenger of good news. But the Bible doesn’t set it out like an “ism”. I mean – nowhere are we told that we need to give 4 spiritual laws, or that we need to use the Romans Road, or that we need to draw a diagram on dinner napkin of 2 cliff separated by a great gap with cross inside of it. All of that has become the imprint in our mind that we have of evangel-ism and that is why I feel like I cant really use that word anymore.
I think a better word is missional. Missional is that act of being a missionary. It means adopting the posture of a missionary in your own zip code. When a missionary enters into a new culture, they adopt the posture of that culture. If they go to Africa they will eventually dress like an African, talk like an African, eat like an African, and even drive like an African. They will become all things to all people. And they will strive to develop genuine relationships. Not projects! Relationships. They are careful how that act, they are gracious with their speech and they season it with salt – so that they will know how they ought or when they ought – to share the good news with them. They do not go in there preaching. Evangelists do that, but missionaries typically don’t. Missionaries are there for the long haul and they want to build solid healthy lasting relationships.
You and I can do that right here, right now. We can be wise among outsiders, let your speech be full of grace, season it with some salt – talk about the game – talk about movies – talk about hot-wings. Eventually you’ll find that you have allot of friends and eventually you’ll notice that the fields are white unto the harvest. You don’t have to “do evangelism”. I invite you to stop thinking that you need to have the 4 spiritual laws in back pocket. Just be missional. Don’t look at people as projects. Just develop relationships with people who are far from God.
God is missional. He entered into a new culture and he looked just like that culture. He built solid real relationships. He dressed like the people of that culture, he spoke their language, he ate and he ate allot with the people in that culture, and he talked politics, and finance, and farming, and fishing, and sewing – he was all things to all people. And his speech was full of Grace. FULL OF IT. And boy was it seasoned with salt. He told some of the most finely crafted stories. He used everyday situations as teachable moments. He said things and he did things that complete surprised people. God is missional and he invites us to partners in his mission to the world. Prayer partners and missional partners. Dave Browning said,
“The greatest sin of the church today is not any sin of commission or sin of omission but the sin of no mission.”
Dave Browning, Deliberate Simplicity.
The name of this church is MISSIODEI and we chose that name because we want to be on mission. We want to be engaged in the mission of Christ. What I’ve learned about church planting as that a church plant is forced to be engaged in mission. If you want to grow a church, you’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to season your speech with salt and grace, and build authentic relationships.
Peter Wagner said that “the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is church planting.” I think that most people who join a church plant are either people who are frustrated about the lack of mission in their own church experiences so they want to be a part of the church that’s vibrantly on mission or people whose lives are wrecked and destroyed – or they are at the end of the rope – and they find in a new church a community of people with graceful salty speech. A community of people who have already been praying for an open door and a clear presentation and God brings a harvest to a community like that.
That is why I’m really excited about this church plant and all of you that are here because I really believe that we will all be forced to focus our hearts and prayers and our activities on being missional. It is also the reason why we will not stop at one church plant but it is our goal to plant hundreds of churches. We will even be thinking about starting a new church plant next year. So please keep praying for an open door of the Gospel keep praying for opportunities to clearly present the gospel and then look for those open doors for you yourself to be missional.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)