Heavenly Conversation (Colossians Sermon 20 of 21)
February 17, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Glory of God, Prayer, Evangelism
The Gift of Conversation
Picture in your mind two businessmen sitting in an airport coffee shop, briefcases open, papers out spilling all over the table, earnestly in conversation about something important. Or two women sitting in a charming English tea room over a pot of Earl Grey. Or a young couple walking hand-in-hand down a beach as the sun is setting. So romantic. Or two older men sitting in a boat with fishing poles in their hands. Or two little children playing in a sandbox, making sounds like engines and front end loaders and bulldozers and doing some other things too. Or two older women sitting in rocking chairs on a front porch looking out over a mountain valley, reminiscing. Or two fans sitting together at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park conversing over a Triple-A baseball game. Or two teens with cell phones that just can't seem to stop talking, just something to discuss at every moment.
All kinds of exciting things going on. All of these things, reflections of the great gift of conversation that God has given us, and I can't imagine going through a day without it. And it is a deep and theological principle that our desire to converse, to communicate, to have relationships, comes because we are created in the image of God. And as hard as it is for us to imagine, there was a time that there was only God and nothing else. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eternally existing in three persons and able to have conversations among themselves. Inter-trinitarian conversation predates the creation of the world. And that gift of conversation, of relationship, of communication, one person to the next, was conferred on us at creation and it was discussed first before it was given. In Genesis 1:26 God says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule." And so there's an inter-trinitarian conversation about how we, male and female, are going to be created in the image of God, and part of that would be the ability to carry on conversations, the ability to have relationships with other persons. And I believe the gift of conversation in all of its richness unifies the verses we're looking at today.
We're going to talk about heavenly conversation. We're going to talk about conversation between us and God in prayer. Praying about all things. We're going to talk about a different use of the word "conversation," just having to do with daily lifestyle, the way we carry ourselves in the physical world and the fact that we have an audience watching that all the time. And how important it is that we carry ourselves then with integrity. And then we're going to talk about the incredibly vital conversation of the Gospel. Sharing the words of life with those who need to hear it the most, that's what unifies our passage. Now, let's begin with the issue of prayer, conversation with God. Daily devotion and prayer. Look at verses 2-4. It says, "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." We come immediately to the strategic importance of prayer.
Conversation with God: A Daily Devotion to Prayer (vs. 2-4)
The Strategic Importance of Prayer
Now, for many years as we have received prayer cards from the church and people fill them out, one mystery brother or sister in Christ has written a single word on the card again and again, and that word is "revival." That brother or sister knows very well, we'll know what to do when we get that card, and we do. And we yearn to pray for revival. Now, you may ask, "What is Revival?" Revival is a moving of the sovereign Spirit on an individual, on people, on a church, usually with two great fruits, personal holiness, and evangelistic fruit, conversions. Lost people brought to faith in Christ, personal holiness and conversions, and that in obvious, open, magnificent ways that only God can get the credit for. Now, those that have studied revival again and again have seen a unifying theme, and that is concerted, extraordinary prayer. Dr. AT Pierson, who was the biographer of George Müller, one of the great prayer warriors in history, once said, "There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer."
Edwin Orr, a historian who made his focus the history of revivals, he agrees with this and he documents the prayer movements that are connected with great periods of revival again and again. The First Great Awakening, certainly, the Second Great Awakening. In 1857 there was the Businessmen's Prayer Meeting Revival that happened in Manhattan, New York, if you can imagine that. But there they were, it was 1857 and this Christian businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier sent out some advertisements throughout the city that there was going to be a businessmen's prayer meeting at noon, at a certain time, at the Dutch Reformed Church building in downtown Manhattan. This was advertised widely throughout the city, but the first time only six people showed up. Well, they prayed, they prayed fervently. And the next week 14 people showed up. And the next week after that 23 people showed up and then they decided they were going to meet every day for prayer. Not once a week, but every day at noon. By February of 1858, every church and public hall in Manhattan was filled up at noon with people praying. Imagine that, picture that in your mind. Incredible. Horace Greeley, the great editor of the New York newspaper that urged people, "Go west, young man," that one, published, he wanted to find out what was going on, so he sent a reporter around with horse and buggy, not having telephones or anything like that, they had to physically be there. And so this poor reporter flogged his poor horse and got to as many meetings as he could during the noon hour of prayer. He managed to get to 12. That's really quite remarkable, maybe a record of reporting, at least in New York City. And he found over 6,000 people meeting in those 12 meetings, actually, 6,100. It was a landslide of prayer, a revival, and it moved up the Mohawk River and groups all over in upstate New York, and then it spread throughout New England, and eventually, all over the country. Baptists, in upstate New York along the Mohawk River that winter had to cut holes in the ice to baptize people. Praise God for this baptistery here. I can just say that as one who's had to stand in it, but praise God. But they were so on fire for the Lord, they didn't care what the temperature of the water was, they just wanted to give public testimony to their faith in Christ. And DL Moody, the great evangelist, was converted during that prayer revival. That's what led him eventually to faith in Christ, and to his ministry. Again and again, prayer has been the undergirding and the beginning of revival.
1904, there was a great revival in Wales, the Welsh Revival. It started with a Welsh miner named Evan Roberts, who felt the call to preach, to get out of the coal mines and to preach. And he began training in seminary. And another man came and started preaching along the theme, "O God, bend me." And he began to pray this prayer, "O God, bend me." In other words, bend me to your will, transform me, make my will your own. Let me live only for your glory. "O God, bend me." So Evan Roberts started going around and preaching. And he preached in one Wednesday evening prayer meeting, it was the only slot he could get in that local church, not a well-known preacher at all. But he preached a simple message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then some simple steps to personal revival, four of them. Step number one, you must confess any known sin to God, and you must put any wrong done to others right, make it right. Anything you know that you've done wrong, make it right. Secondly, you must put away any questionable habit. Anything about what your conscience is smiting you, put it away. Thirdly, you must obey the Spirit promptly. Whatever the Spirit prompts you to do, you must obey Him promptly. And finally, you must confess your faith in Christ publicly. These four things.
Well, it wasn't long before God was pouring out His blessing on these prayer meetings. And just like happened in Manhattan, New York, now it was in Wales. And it was a tidal wave of revival. Within five months, there were 100,000 people converted throughout the country of Wales. It was interesting, a number of years later, five years later, a skeptic named Dr. JV Morgan wrote a book to debunk the revival, on the grounds that of the 100,000 people that had claimed a faith in Christ, only 75,000 were continuing to attend church regularly. Now, you tell me, is that not a revival, when the skeptic is saying 75,000 five years later are still walking with the Lord, God has worked in a mighty way. Now, it started there in Wales, but it spread all over Great Britain, Scandinavia, Continental Europe, North America, Australia, Asia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and in every location it was the same pattern, again and again. It always began with people praying, seeking the face of God.
Now, what do we mean by extraordinary prayer? Well, we pray here, worship service every week. I pray, others pray, we had an opportunity to pray. You pray before meals, I would hope, and give thanks to God for the food. You have your daily prayer times, but that's not extraordinary prayer, that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about when people get together at 6:00 in the morning, in large numbers and pray for hours. When people meet together at lunch every day, for months on end, and give themselves to praying for the things of God, or when they spend half a night pouring out their hearts in prayer. Now, that's extraordinary revival. Now, I would contend, that when that kind of prayer is going on, the revival is already happening. It is the revival to move people out of their selfish holes and up into a great concern for the the things of God and the things of other people, the revival's already occurred, but we know it's not going to stay put there.
Prayer is strategic. God has ordained prayer as a primary means for advancing His glory and His name to the ends of the earth. Why is it strategic? Well, first of all, it's strategic because it humbles us. It humbles us, and it also empowers us. Isn't that amazing how we can be both humbled and empowered? But so it is. It humbles us in the asking, and it also glorifies God in the giving. And prayer is strategic because through prayer, without moving, we can touch the distant parts of the Earth, to the ends of the Earth, we can reach out with prayer. Now, Paul here in Colossians is calling Christians to a commitment of prayer. Constant devotion in prayer. He says, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." Now, the word "devote" has a simple meaning of, "Just continue. To keep doing something, to have a commitment to it."
The Commitment of Prayer: Constant Devotion
Many hear sermons on prayer, they get moved, they get motivated, something changes for a day or so, and then it fades away like the morning mist, like the dew on the grass in the morning. That's not what Paul is calling us to here. He's calling us to a movement of prayer, of commitment to prayer. The Greek word here means, to stand fast in prayer, to be fully devoted to the prayer, to hold firmly onto prayer despite all obstacles. To be immersed in it, to cling to it. David Brainerd, a missionary in the 18th century, a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards, was a missionary to the American Indians, an incredibly godly man, and his diaries have had a revolutionary effect on the worldwide missionary movement. Tremendous devotion poured out in those diaries. And you'd read these entries, April 12th, "Spent the entire day in prayer." January 27th, "Though the day was cold, my body was covered with sweat, simply because of my excursions in prayer." Again and again you get these readings. "Spent two thirds of the day in prayer. Wrestled much in prayer for the Indians." This kind of thing. It's a devotion and a commitment to prayer, and that's I think what Paul's calling us to. Now, it's not easy to do, because faith-filled prayer has tremendous obstacles. Let's take the same old three we always wrestle with, the world, the flesh and the devil. First the devil, he opposes prayer, in individual Christians, and in churches, because he knows that it moves the hand of God, for His own glory. And so therefore, he's going to try to squelch prayer movements as best he can.
The world opposes prayer because of its fast-paced achievement orientation, the fact that it's so distracting, so alluring, so enticing, and therefore there are things we'd rather do than spend a bunch of time praying. The world has already captured our affections, and we don't want to give time to prayer. And then there's our own nature. Our own nature. We are very prideful. We want things done in our own way and in our own time. And we tried prayer back then, and God didn't do what I wanted. I was reading, as I was preparing for this sermon, reading about a pastor who came across his school-aged son, a young boy. He heard him praying, he kept praying. "Tokyo. Oh, God, make it Tokyo. Make it Tokyo, oh, God." And he thought, "My son's being called to mission work in Japan." Well, it wasn't the case. He had taken a geography exam, and he had put that Tokyo is the capital of China, and he was saying, "Make it Tokyo, God. Make it Tokyo."
Have you ever prayed like that? Not your will, but mine be done, oh Lord. Move that will, that you established before the foundation of the world, that pillar, that unshakable... Move it to suit my needs. That's the way we tend to pray. "Make it Tokyo, oh, God." We're prideful, and so therefore, when we don't get our way we give up in prayer. We are self-centered, we don't really care very much about the needs of others. We are weak, we're easily swayed, we make commitments, and then we give up on them. And we are unbelieving as well and prayer is such faith-filled work. Think about, for example, the battle between Joshua and the Amalekites, when Moses is up on the hill, and he's lifting up his hands in prayer. Joshua's down there on the battlefield and he is fighting with a sword in his hand. Do you think that Joshua took a break in the middle of the battle? His arm is getting tired. He's like, "Amalekites, if we could just have a break for a few minutes?" Absolutely not. He kept fighting, and he knew that he needed to keep fighting, because it was physical, obvious, sensory work. But Moses, many times his hands go down that day. Godly man. But many times his hands go down.
Finally he starts to get the cause and effect. Okay. My hands go down, we start to lose. And so, they prop his hands up with stones, and they hold him up so that he can keep his hands extended in prayer. But that's the way it is with us. We don't see the cause and effect, and therefore we don't know why we should keep praying. God's going to do what He's going to do anyway, so we think. These are all obstacles to prayer. But Paul is calling on us to overcome those obstacles and to devote ourselves to prayer. He's calling on us to make it a lifestyle, to weave prayer throughout our day. He says in another place, in 1 Thessalonians 5, that we should “pray without ceasing.” Now, this means, obviously, daily time spent in prayer, your morning devotions. You wake up in the morning, you have your time of prayer. Or concerted times when you get together, you can schedule a time and be with Christians. But, I think it also means weaving prayer throughout the day.
Charles Spurgeon was somebody who did this. He just seemed to live and move and have his being in an atmosphere of prayer. He just moved through the day in prayer. I was reading a biography recently of Spurgeon, and Steve Miller was talking about C.H. Spurgeon on spiritual leadership. And he mentioned an occasion in which one of his friends, Spurgeon's friends, came from Brooklyn, a Dr. Theodore Cuyler, to visit him. And Spurgeon went with Dr. Cuyler for a walk through the woods, something they loved to do, just to be refreshed out in nature. And Spurgeon had a tremendous sense of humor, and something struck him as funny, and he shared that with his friend, Dr. Cuyler, and they both just began to laugh. And their hearts were just knit together as they were laughing. And then suddenly Spurgeon stopped him, and he said, "Come, Theodore. Let's thank God for laughter."
And Theodore Cuyler reflected on this years later, said, "This is the way it was with Spurgeon. He moved from a jest to a prayer and back again at the breadth of a hair." And so it should be, I think, with us. We are just constantly living, and moving, and having our being in the presence of God. Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. We can walk with God, and we immerse our days in prayer. And so, he says "Devote yourself to prayer." But I think we also need to step back and be strategic in our prayers as well. What are the big themes of life? What is the purpose of history? What is God doing in the world? We need to be devoted to that in prayer. Jesus said in Matthew 9, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out laborers into His harvest fields." So we need to devote ourselves to the big strategic picture as well. Not just thanking God for laughter. We should do that. But also praying that God would thrust out laborers into His harvest fields. So devote yourself.
The Manner of Prayer: Watchful, Thankful
Now, he gives us here the manner of prayer. He speaks of being watchful and thankful. Later in this, he talks about wrestling, we'll get to that, God willing, next week. Wrestling in prayer, it's labor. But here he talks about being watchful. Paul commands us to pray in a state of watchfulness. Now, what does that mean? Well, I think it means at least, can we just agree that it means at least you should be awake at that time? You should be awake while praying? Now, I will confess to you, I've had some very quiet, quiet times. They're like time warps, you know what I'm saying? You know what happened, you know I'm a little too comfortable. You know, it's a little too early. And so I had an incredible time of 75 minutes of prayer with the Lord, don't remember any of it. Just whoosh, right through. And there are times that I literally just need to pace back and forth, just pace, and walk, and talk out loud, because I'm going to fall asleep. So we need to be watchful in prayer and not fall asleep.
Imagine setting up a time with the president or some other dignitary, and falling asleep in their presence. This is not a good thing. And so, therefore, we ought to be watchful in our prayers. But I think it involves more than that. I think it means giving diligent attention to our prayer lives. Preparation, I think, is part of it. How do you prepare yourself to pray? Do you have a prayer sheet? Do you have a prayer notebook where you keep records of specific requests, and when they were answered by God? Do you have some sheets to help you in worship, or in confession of sin? Do you have some things to help you? There's nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, I would urge it, because our minds can become blank, and then we'll see a brother or sister, and we had told them we were going to pray for something, and we didn't do it. So I think you take the church's prayer list, you take your own, make your own prayer list. Get the directory of the church and just go through names and things will pop into your mind as you see their names, that's what I do. And so you're watchful in prayer, you're alert and you're preparing for it.
Another way to look at it, not just that you're awake, and not just that you have been diligent in preparing the prayer time, but that you're expecting God to answer. You're expecting Him to do something. Prayer is going to move the mighty hand of God, the Sovereign King of the universe. And just one movement from His hand is worth more than any of the other efforts we could put toward something.
Recently I was watching a movie, it was done by an outreach, as an outreach by a church in Georgia, the movie's called Facing the Giants, maybe some of you have seen it. It's about an embattled football coach struggling in his life with various issues, very discouraged, and thinks that he's going to lose his job. A lot of things going on for him at home, struggling. And at a key moment in the film, a godly janitor who's spent much of the time just going from locker to locker putting his hands on the lockers and praying for these students. God bless those kind of people, the heroes that you never see, and the prayer warriors that do all these kind of things behind the scenes. But he felt God was leading him not to be behind the scenes anymore in this one area. And he came to the coach and he read some Scripture to the coach that was appropriate for the situation. That God had set before him an open door that no one could close, and that he needed to make the most of his opportunity as coach there. To bloom where it is planted. Well, he said, "God led me say that to you," and then he went off. Well, the coach is just sitting there a little bit stunned. Then he got up and he followed this man, and he said, "Did God tell you to come say that to me?" He said, "Yeah, I think He did, I believe He did." And he said, "Well, I want you to know I have been struggling with depression. I've been discouraged. But I've also been praying." Then the janitor said, "You know, I heard a story once about two farmers, both desperate for rain, it was a drought. Both of them prayed for rain, but only one one went out and prepared his fields. Now, which of those two are you?" That's very convicting. I guess God wasn't done using the janitor that day.
Now, which of the two are you? Are you acting like God actually will answer your prayers? Take a step back, are you praying any such prayers that'd be worth answering? Anything specific for His kingdom and His glory. And second step, are you expecting Him to do it? Jesus said in Mark 11:24, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours." You're like, "Oh, Jesus, you need to be more careful, you know I was going to leave this to name it and claim it." Jesus just says it. We know in the analogy of Scripture, we are going to be bound in by the will of God, and frankly, we don't want anything but the will of God, that's what believe means. Faith is stepping into God's world as it really is, not creating an alternate universe. But He says, "If you believe you have it, you have it."
As I was going over this sermon this morning, I said, "Do I pray like this?" And at that moment, I felt the Spirit just leading me to pray that someone would come here today who needed to hear the Gospel. I mean an outsider, as is mentioned here in Colossians, who's never come to faith in Christ. And I felt that the Lord was leading me to stop right at this point in my sermon and pray for that individual to come to faith in Christ. That they would look to Christ whose blood was shed on the cross for them, that they would receive forgiveness of their sins by simple faith in Christ. Will you all pray with me for that individual?
Father, I prayed this morning that someone would come here who needed to hear the Gospel. And that today would be, for them, the day of salvation. And I trust you right now and ask that you would move in that person's heart, and that they would fear Judgement Day, and find in the Savior all of the love, and compassion, and mercy that they need to free them from a life of sin and from fear of death, and that they would come to trust in the Savior. I pray this in your name, Lord Jesus, amen.
And I've been convicted by this. Do I pray like this? Do I trust God for actual things for His kingdom? Being watchful in prayer. And what about being thankful? When God answers that prayer, should we not go back and say, "Thank you, God, for doing it"? And when He answers many prayers, should we not in the relationship go back and say, "You did it, Lord. To God be the glory, thank you"? We should. It's part of the relationship. And so we need to go back with thankfulness.
The Focus of Prayer: Gospel Success
Now, the focus of prayer, verses 3 and 4, is Gospel success. "And pray for us, too," he says, "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." This should be the center of our prayer life: What is God doing in the world? Why are we here? What are His purposes? And His purposes are to call out “from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation,” a multitude greater than anyone can count, and save them from their sins, and sanctify them by His Word, and glorify them, and make them just like Christ. And they will dwell with him forever and ever. That's what He's doing, that's big. We ought to pray big like that, then. “Our Father in Heaven, may your name be hallowed, and may your kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I want to pray big things like that.
And notice how the mighty Apostle Paul asks for prayer for help in this area. Look what he prays for, he says, "Pray for us, too. I need prayer. Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message." He's asking for prayer. He feels his weakness. "When I'm weak then I'm strong," he's not too strong to ask for prayer, he wants prayer. And look what he asked for, he asked for an open door for the message. A fair hearing of the Gospel. Specifically, it's a prayer that God would exert His sovereign power over the wills of unbelievers to get them to be open to the Gospel ministry. Does God have that kind of power? Can He actually turn the heart of a king or an emperor so that there is an opportunity for the Gospel? I tell you He can, He's done it again and again.
Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, He directs it like a watercourse whichever way He chooses." It's happened again and again. The Lord granted Joseph favor in the eyes of his jailer. Genesis 39:21. The Lord granted Daniel favor in the eyes of the Babylonian officials so he didn't have to eat the food that would defile him. The Lord granted Nehemiah favor in the eyes of King Artaxerxes so he could go back and rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:11. The Lord granted Esther favor in the eyes of her husband, though he had not invited her, and the penalty for coming in uninvited is death. Still, Esther 5:3, God granted her favor. Does God have the power to change the heart of a potentate? He does. It's happened again and again. I was reading in the church history the story of Columba, who was a sixth century Irish monk whose heart burned with missionary zeal, who established Iona as a training place for missionaries, Irish missionaries going out all over continental Europe. But one place that God had laid on his heart was Northern Scotland, where the fierce Picts were. These people were so tough, the Highlanders, Scots, that the Roman Empire didn't want to mess with them, and built Hadrian's Wall as a result. Did not want to take on the Picts. Well, Columba took them on, and he went into their country, and he went right to the main fortress at Inverness, and wants to see King Brude, and he wants to tell him the Gospel. Well, the king is stunned, and doesn't want to have anything to do with this man, and sends him away. Well, he doesn't go away. He sets up shop right outside the walls of the fortress, and just begins to fast and pray. Well, it isn't long before the king invites him back in, and listens to what he has to say. The door is opened for the Gospel, the king eventually came to faith in Christ, and many of those Picts did as well. Columba brought the Gospel to northern Scotland by fasting and prayer.
Notice that Paul also asks for clarity in presenting the Gospel. The Gospel is infinitely deep. Paul was amazingly learned. At one point, someone had said, "You're out of your mind, Paul, your great learning is driving you insane." Some people have gone insane trying to read Romans 9 through 11, and trying to figure out what that means. So there are depths of the Gospel, there are deep concepts and thoughts, there's meat. But Paul is here praying for simplicity and clarity: "Pray that I might make it clear as I should." A similar prayer he requests in Ephesians for boldness. In Ephesians 6:19 and 20 he says, "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it fearlessly as I should." Again, he's putting his weakness out on the line: “If you don't pray for me, I might wimp out. I might be a coward at a key moment. I might turn away from a great Gospel opportunity. Pray for me that I might be bold.” Well, I think we ought to just apply this to each other. Let's pray for each other that so-and-so would have an open door for the Gospel, and that they would make it clear as they should, and that they would be bold and courageous.
We pray this three-part prayer at our staff meetings: God, give me an opportunity to witness today, and give me the clarity to see it, and the boldness to take maximum opportunity of it. Pray that for yourself, that could change your life. God, give me a chance to witness today, and give me the eyes to see it, and the boldness and the heart, to take advantage of it. So that's what Paul prays for.
Conversation in Action: A Carefully Observed Walk
A Watching World
The second aspect of conversation is just our daily lifestyle. Conversation in action, a daily observed walk. Look at verse 5. He says, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity." We are living our lives before a watching world. We're on a stage, and the world is watching us. And it's not by accident God has ordained it so. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither does anyone light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it up on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven." God has lit a light inside you, the light of the Gospel. You are the light of the world, He's going to put you up on a stand and let your light shine all around. You are on a stage, you are being watched. And what he's talking about here is, be very careful how you live in front of the unbelievers who are watching.
Now, I believe, from this point forward in the section we're looking at today, everything that Paul says is geared toward producing, living in such a way that lost people will come to you and ask you about Jesus. That you live in such a way that they will come and say, "Please tell me what's going on in your life, I want to know." And there's a verse behind this. This is 1 Peter 3:15, it says, "Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, and always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." So in other words, be ready for business, open for business. Live in such a way that people are going to be attracted to you, and want to ask you about Jesus, or at least ask what's different about you, what is going on in your life.
Like the Philippian jailer who brings Paul and Silas out in the middle of the night, trembling, falls in front of them and asks them this question: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Wouldn't you love to have that happen to you this week? Maybe you don't want the public beating without a trial, or to be in the jail in the middle of the night or any of that, but maybe you would like somebody to fall down in some sense before you and say, "What must I do to be saved?" And how ready would you be to tell them the truth?
The Need for Wisdom
So that's what I think Paul's getting at. And first he says there's a need for wisdom. Paul says, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders," and then he says, literally, "Redeeming the time." You need to redeem the time. Now, last week I preached on slavery, and the idea is of a captive, someone in chains, and you pay redemption money, and get the captive out of chains. Well, how is time then like a kidnapped captive? Well, to some degree, because it says in Ephesians, "The days are evil," you've got to go rescue the day. If you are passive toward the day, you will lose it, it will be gone. You must aggressively go, as the Latin people put it, carpe diem. You have to go seize the day. Like David and his men had to go rescue their wives and children from the raiding party that came, the Amalekites that came, so also we have to go rescue the day. Redeem the day. Redeem the hour, redeem the day, or you will lose it, that's what he's getting at.
George Whitefield, in effect, said, "There's no better way that I could obey the Scripture than by sharing the Gospel with somebody." And he said, George Whitefield said, "Woe to me if I should spend half an hour in a carriage with someone without sharing the Gospel of Christ." That's how we redeem the time. That's how we act in wisdom toward outsiders: Share the Gospel with them.
The Need for Integrity
And there's a need for integrity, because basically, you never know who's watching. Daniel had enemies who were watching him, he didn't know it. They watched him carefully to try to find some dirt on him so they could get him fired from his job. There was nothing to see. And they said, "We'll never find anything against this man, he's always at work, or praying, or doing something. The only way we can get him is with his prayer life," and that's what they tried to do. But they could not find any dirt on him. So we have to be people of integrity, living what we proclaim.
Conversation in the Gospel: Speaking the Words of Life
Speaking the Words of Life
The third kind of conversation he talks about here is sharing the words of life, the Gospel, look what he says in verse 6: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Now, I just said a moment ago, we have to put our Christianity on display, we have to set a good example. But may I say to you, with all due respect, no one is going to get saved from their sins by watching what a good example you are of the Christian life. No one is going to get saved by watching how you live, not at all. God has ordained that it is word and not action that saves souls. Christ's actions, yes, but when it comes to us, we are to share the word of life. We are to speak the words of the Gospel.
Romans 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." It is the power. The Gospel message is the power of God for salvation. Later in that same book, Romans 10:17: "Faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Or in James 1:21, "Humbly accept the word planted in you which can save you." So we need to be ready to share the message of the Gospel.
Now, recently Andy, and Eric, and I went to a conference out at Ridgecrest, a Building Bridges conference, and Don Whitney was there. And he was talking about, how well do we know the Gospel? And he was teaching a Sunday school class, and he asked them, "Do you think you know the Gospel pretty well?" And they said, "We've been hearing the Gospel for years.” Longer than you, sonny! That kind of message. And he's like, "Alright, that's fine." So he passed out some sheets of paper and some pens. He said, "I want you to take 10 minutes, and I want you to write down the Gospel message. Just write it down. And boy, did they struggle. You see, they'd heard the Gospel so many times they could recognize it when they heard it, but they couldn't articulate it, they couldn't speak it.
Some time ago, I memorized a quick four-part outline of the Gospel on these headings: God, man, Christ, response. What do we say about God? He is a king, a creator, a law-giver, a judge. He is also savior. What do we say about man? He is sinful, and separated from God, all of us, created in the image of God, but yet sinful. What do we want to say about Christ? He is the eternal Son of God, who came into this world, who shed His blood on the cross, died, was buried, the third day He was raised to life. He is the only savior for the world. And what do we say about response? You must repent and believe this good news for the salvation of your soul. Are you able to do that in your own different style? Can you communicate the Gospel so that when someone comes, your speech is filled with grace, seasoned with salt, you're able to communicate the Gospel. If not, then study. “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed, but who rightly divides the word of truth.”
Gracious speech. Now, when I think of gracious speech, I think at least it means this: Mannerly, okay? No coarse language, no gossip, no slander, no off-color jokes, no worldliness. Your speech should reflect a heart filled with Christ. So gracious speech, but more than that, filled with the words of grace, with Scripture. Memorize lots of Scripture. Fill your heart with it, and when you open your mouth, Scripture may flow out. Because whatever you fill your heart with, that's what's going to come out of your mouth.
So there you stand at a beautiful mountain valley, or one of those scenic overlooks, there's some people, strangers near you. What comes out of your mouth at that moment? "Boy, isn't that beautiful?" Well, that's very common, anybody would say that. Why don't you try something like this: "You know that the Scripture says that ‘God's righteousness are like the majestic mountains?’ What do you think that means, that God's righteousness is like majestic mountains?" "Gee, I never thought of it." "Well, it says it in Psalm 36:6. " Well, there's a conversation starter. They might say, "Woah, what a weirdo!" They might. Or they might come back and talk to you, and be interested in what you have to say.
Or perhaps you're discussing a sensational crime, and a trial, and an issue of crime and punishment is the topic. What could you say that would be gracious at that particular moment? You could say something like, "Only the grace of God in Christ could cover a crime like that." Something like that. And a realization that I could, if it weren't for God's grace, I could commit a crime like that, a humility. Let your conversation be full of grace. Or you're standing there at Kroger, at the produce section, or Food Lion. I'm not endorsing one or the other, please. You get into all kinds of difficulties. Harris-Teeter, what are the others? Anyway, you're at a supermarket, and there's the produce. And somebody's there and you're going through. You could be silent, you could grab your cucumbers, whatever, and you could go. Or you could redeem the time. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, and say something about Christ. And you'll say, "They'll think I'm weird!" Well, they might. Is it worth it to you, though, that you might actually get in a conversation with somebody and lead them to Christ? Is it worth it to run the risk that they'll think you're weird? "I'd rather they not think about me at all than that I might actually bring them to Christ and they'd spend eternity in the presence of God." Oh, don't do that. Pay the price. Say something about Christ. Let grace flow out. I love this one pastor who, whenever he was asked by his church people, "How are you doing?" he always answered the same way: "Better than I deserve." Well, that's a gracious answer. Better than I deserve. "What do you mean, better than I deserve? Are you some kind of secret murderer?" Say, "Well, in one sense I am. The Sermon on the Mount says that if you're angry at your brother, it's like murder." Whatever, get in a conversation! Challenge Satan's status quo, go after the lost people, that's what I'm urging.
Now, what does it mean, "full of grace seasoned with salt"? Well, I spent a little time learning about salt. Actually, at Barnes & Noble, there's a whole book, a 400-page book on the history of salt. And you're thinking, why in the world would you buy a book like that? Well, you buy a book like that if you're an expository preacher coming to Colossians chapter 4:6 and you know you're going to have to say something about salt. And after a while, you read and you start learning some things about salt like, for example, it's the only rock that we eat. That's an interesting thought, isn't it? Are there any other rocks that you know that we eat? I don't know of any. It's indestructible by water and by fire. It's a fascinating substance, really.
I asked my mother, who's a chemist, "What is salt used for in the body?" and she started getting into all these ionic transport systems, and I said, "I'm not going to tell the people that. I don't get it, so there's no point in communicating." But it's essential to the body. And when you sweat it goes out, you gotta take salt back in to live. But what did Paul mean? Now, that's the real question. And if you look at Scripture, salt is used in a variety of ways. For example, it's used to season or flavor food. And there's some kinds of food that are just tasteless without it.
I was reading one of those Arabian Nights stories, and there's this sultan, and he's got these three daughters. And he wants the daughters to come into his court and express their love for him. Well, what kind of man would do that? But at any rate, the first two daughters come in, and they give a flowery speech, "You are the... " You know, all this. And then the third daughter comes, and she's quiet and more studious, and she says, "You are the salt in my food." And he's actually insulted, actually enraged, and he ends up banishing her. Well, some time later, he is traveling through, and he stops at a place for a meal. And the meal tastes terrible, bland. Well, guess who cooked it? It was his daughter. And she gets finally to make the point. You bring out the flavor in the food, alright? And so it is there's certain kinds of things, starches, potatoes, whatever, that without the salt, they're totally bland. So there's an issue of flavorful speech, something that's fascinating, something that's worth listening to, not bland. It could be that.
Or it could refer to salt's preservative aspects. The fact that salt preserves meat, it's a desiccant, it dries out the meat so bacteria doesn't spread all over it. And back in the days before refrigeration, it enabled people to eat meat for long periods of time after it was slaughtered. And so it was an issue of purity, freedom from corruption. So let your conversation be pure conversation, let it be holy, let it stop gossip, let it stop slander. It comes to the salt block in you, and it just doesn't go any further, because you turn it around with a gracious statement, and then make it a Gospel opportunity. You're a salty person, and you're stopping the spread of corruption, because we're the salt of the earth.
There's another aspect, too, it says that all grain offerings, in Leviticus 2:13, should be offered with salt. And so all of the grain offerings were offered with salt. Well, what does that refer to? It refers to a covenant of salt. It says, in Numbers 19, "A covenant of salt that God made with Israel." It says in Numbers 19, "I have made a covenant of salt with my people." He says in 2 Chronicles 13, that, "God gave the kingdom to David as an everlasting covenant, a covenant of salt." And so I think it goes from preservative to eternity. Something that's preserved for eternity cannot change. And so let your conversation bring people's minds up into God's eternal covenant, salvation through faith in Christ. Speak of eternal things, things worthwhile, things that are worthy of conversation. Let your conversation be rich. And so, therefore, I think you ought to ask questions of people. You ought to ask questions. Ask, "Do you ever think what happens when you die? What do you think happens when you die?" Or say, "Let's say you're on your deathbed, you're in your 80s, and you've had a successful life. And you're looking back at a successful life. What elements are in that successful life, how do you count success?" Or ask this question: "Why do you think so many lottery winners end up worse off at the end in their lives than they were before they won the lottery?" Ask a question like that. Or, "What image do you have of Heaven?" or, "What image do you have of Hell?" These kind of thoughts. Or this one: "Why do you think Jesus Christ had such an impact on human history?" Ask those kinds of questions. But let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt.
And why? So that you may know how to answer everyone, this is reasoned speech. Answer what? Well, they're going to ask you questions like this: "Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What happens to me when I die? How can I get my sins forgiven?" Will you have an answer for them then? When you've lived this kind of life, and you've enticed them into the Gospel, they will ask you to give a reason for the hope that you have. Be ready and share the Gospel then.
I want to close just with an exhortation. After worship today, we have a meeting, you heard it already announced. It's in the bulletin, Connection Partners, it is our attempt to reach out to visitors who come our church. We are privileged to have a steady stream of visitors to our church. Some of them that come are not believers yet. This is an opportunity for you, evangelistically, to get involved in the spread of the Gospel. Many people that come are already Christians, but many are not. Those that are already Christians may be looking for a church, they may be new to the area. It's a strategic ministry, but it's also a chance to share the Gospel.
The more laborers we have for that harvest field, the fewer, or less burdened it is on any one person. Just like those that take time to pray during Sunday morning worship. So I'd urge you to give consideration to come to a relatively brief meeting, I guess it can't be that brief if there's going to be food. But at any rate, it's going to be brief enough to eat the food, and to discuss Connection Partners. And I would urge you to consider sacrificing some of your time in being part of our ministry to guests and visitors. Close with me in prayer.