“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 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, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” – Colossians 4:2-6
Colossae was a small town near Laodicea and about 100 miles from Ephesus, the center of Christianity in that region. Colossae was a city Paul himself had never visited. He did not organize the congregation there. Instead, a convert named Epaphras was the apparent leader of the church. Epaphras traveled to Rome to visit Paul while he was imprisoned, bringing him news of about the congregation (Philemon 1:23). Paul wrote this letter about a.d. 60-61. It is believed Paul was martyred in 65.
Colossians 4 contains the final instructions and greetings from Paul to the congregation. They are especially important words, because Paul would have no chance to visit them, or maybe even to write to them again, while he was imprisoned in Rome.
First, Paul admonishes, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” It is so easy to give up on our prayers, to become discouraged, and to begin to doubt whether God is listening. We need that admonition, ”Continue steadfastly in prayer.” Yes, even in very difficult circumstances, we are to be steadfast in prayer. Paul was a prisoner in Rome, unable to travel and do his missionary work, yet that did not deter him from his regular prayer.
To be steadfast in prayer you must first develop an attitude and a pattern of prayer. Throughout the day we can offer brief little prayers connected to things happening at the moment. You thank God you survived the freeway to arrive at work. You whispered a prayer while passing an accident on the side of the road. You thanked God that you still have a job when you walk through the door. You pray for God’s protection while out in a dangerous world.
But you should also develop a schedule for thoughtful, longer prayers pertaining to your own and other’s needs. Luther’s morning and evening prayers are an example. The orders of Matins (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer) were arranged with home use especially in mind.
Paul writes that in your prayers you ought to be “watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Be watchful. Let no senseless, weak habits creep into your prayers. Don’t let the dramatic styles and wordings and phrases of the sectarian churches ruin your prayers. They are like the Pharisees of old, praying that they may be heard and seen by others. Do not let set prayers become matters of convenient thoughtlessness. In short, watch yourself in your prayers.
“With thanksgiving.” Never close your prayers without ample thanksgiving to God. Again, Paul writes those words while he is imprisoned. Even in prison, Paul could find good reason to thank God.
“At the same time, pray for us, that God may open to us a door for the Word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Even imprisoned, Paul remained an evangelical optimist. He had a mind to use his imprisonment, if possible, for the preaching of the Gospel. He needed God to open a door for the Word, that is, an opportunity to share the Gospel with those he met while imprisoned.
That prayer should be ours always. “God, open a door for me today.” God doesn’t expect you to go out and grab people by the arm and start pounding them with the “gospel.” Rather, God will open the perfect opportunity for you to share with someone. But you need to pray for, and watch for, those open doors. Be careful what you pray for! God may open so many doors that you will be surprised.
Paul also wanted prayers for God’s help “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Paul’s epistles are models of great literary form. They can also be lofty and hard to understand. (“…as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand.” -2 Peter 3:16.) We also want to learn to speak about Christ in terms that are clear and easily understood. John 3:16 comes to mind.
Paul caps it all off by writing, “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.” How careful we want to be with those outside the church. Foolish and fleshly nominal Christians give the world plenty of reasons to dislike the church. Paul calls for wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. Paul calls for gracious speech with outsiders. How easy it is in our fallen nature to speak of outsiders in derogative terms. Let your words be “seasoned with salt.” That is, words that have been well thought out, rehearsed, delivered as if Christ were standing with his arm around the person you are speaking to. “So that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” I often hear from people that in the realm of witnessing they don’t know what to say. I have probably answered with things like “study your Bible” or “study your catechism more.” But better than that, pray. Pray that God will give you gracious and well-seasoned words. Pray that God will open the doors, that he will give you the clear opportunities to speak with someone about Christ.
God, grant us grace to be steadfast in prayer, according to the Apostle’s careful instruction. Help us to remember prayers of thanksgiving and help us to pray for gracious and wise words for every open door you give us. Amen.