(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, 6-21-15)
Many of us have responded with shock and horror at the ISIS takeover of the good portions of two countries in the Middle East, with the beheadings and other atrocities they have perpetrated. But millions of us have also been praying for God to work in that region of the world like never before. And there is evidence that He is! Not long ago the Baptist Press reported that one of our missionaries ministering to the displaced peoples in the Middle East said that the refugees have come to them by the thousands, and that our workers have had the opportunity to care for them, ministering with food and other help items some of us have donate towards, and as they have cared for these people, they are having unprecedented opportunities to share the gospel with these people. In fact, the missionary said that the gospel is now moving forward among Iraqis and other groups in ways they could only have imagined before.
We see in this report from what God is doing in the Middle East, three keys to people coming to the Lord: first of all, prayer; secondly, a lifestyle or ministry that prepares hearts for a witness; and third, a verbal sharing of the gospel that people might be saved — the same three keys we find in our passage for today, Colossians 4:2-6.
As we continue our “Disciplines of Disciples” study, we remember that Jesus commanded those who would follow Him to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him. We have seen over the past weeks that part of “taking up the cross daily” means adopting some “vertical” daily disciplines that we exercise towards God, like daily blocks of time in prayer, spontaneous praying, Bible study and memorization, and also some “horizontal” disciplines that we exercise towards other people, like the disciplines of fellowship and service in the church. Today we are going to look at a third “horizontal” discipline, “The Discipline of Evangelism”, from Colossians 4:2-6:
(2) “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; (3) praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; (4) that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (5) Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. (6) Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to respond to each person.”
I. The Preparation for Evangelism
:3 “… praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word …”
Here Paul shares some important truths about evangelism and some of the preparation that is vital for it:
First, he says it is GOD who opens the door for evangelism:
— He prepares hearts of lost people with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, without which it is impossible for anyone to come to Him. Jesus said in John 16:8 that the Spirit, when He came, would convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. Without that conviction from the Holy Spirit, no one is going to even understand the word: I Corinthians 2:14 says, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and they cannot understand them …”. Jesus said in John 6:44, “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” And He does that through His Holy Spirit. So God must prepare the hearts of people in order for them to be saved.
— He fills His people with His Holy Spirit to share the word, like He did Peter in Acts 2. Over and over in the Book of Acts, we see that not speaking in tongues, but bold witnessing is the fruit of the person who is filled with the Spirit of God.
— Then He arranges circumstances to bring people together, like He did Philip & the Ethiopian official in Acts 8. The Ethiopian had stopped his chariot, and just “happened” to be reading a scroll of Isaiah, when Philip “just happened” to have been told by the angel to go down that desert road, where he would encounter the official. God does this kind of thing all the time; He creates “divine appointments”, bringing a person who needs Jesus together with someone who can share about Him.
So in all these ways, God has to “open the door”: “open the door” of the circumstances; “open the door” in the heart of the lost person; “open the door” by filling His witness with His Holy Spirit. And how does He bring it about? He does it through prayer. It says here: “Pray, that God may open up a door …”. The word “THAT” here (hina, “in order that”) is used to introduce the purpose clause: you are praying for the purpose “that God will open up to us a door …”.
Now, I am not going to attempt to plumb the depths of Divine Providence here, and try to explain the way that God interacts with mankind in the balance of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But the Bible text makes it clear here that we are to pray, THAT God will open the door for the word. That should be enough for us. He can fill us in on divine mysteries in heaven if He wishes. For now, let us be content to obey in faith, and prepare the foundation for evangelism in prayer.
This is exactly where many of our American churches are falling short. We are not preparing the ground for evangelism in prayer. I saw a survey a few years ago that said that the ministers it surveyed admitted to spending only about 2 minutes a day in prayer! If the pastors who are leading our churches are praying that little, how about the people they are “leading”? I saw another survey which said the average church only spent about two minutes of the service in prayer. Many churches spend more time on the announcements than they do in prayer. And even when we do pray, we generally spend much more time praying for the physical illness of various folks than we do the eternal salvation of people who are lost. And we wonder why there is no revival, and why people are not being saved?! Much of the blame for our deficiencies in evangelism must be laid at the feet of our anemic prayers. We must recommit ourselves to laying the groundwork in prayer for evangelism.
At the Southern Baptist Convention this week, one of the men noted that in the days of the Book of Acts, they prayed for 10 days, then Peter preached for 10 minutes, and thousands were saved. But today, we pray for 10 minutes, preach for what seems like 10 days — and have maybe 3 saved! We need to reclaim the priority of prayer — and not “just” prayer, but prayer for evangelism.
Our spiritual preparation for evangelism involves several different types of prayer:
— it includes our morning prayer time, so that we are “in the Spirit” that day and ready to share
— it involves praying for lost people, for their hearts to be prepared by the Holy Spirit. (I once heard someone in full-time Christian work offer the challenge: “Tell me ONE place in scripture where it says that we are to pray for lost people!” The Lord immediately Romans 10:1 to mind, and I quoted it: “Brethren, my heart’s desire, and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Enough said. We are to pray for the salvation of lost people!) Let me ask you: do you have lost people on your prayer list, for whom you are praying for their salvation? Many of us have people who are sick, or who have other problems, on our prayer lists — and we SHOULD pray for these — but we must also make sure that we are praying specifically for lost people. If we are not praying for lost people, then it should be no wonder that our churches are not seeing people saved.
— But it is not JUST praying for the lost. The text here specifically says, “Pray for US … that God may open to US a door for the word.” Some of us are praying for lost people, which is good — but we also need to be praying for OURSELVES, that would have eyes to see the opportunities that God gives us, and have the courage to share the gospel when He does give them. We need to get up every day and pray that God would give us opportunities to share. When we pray, just as this passage says, God will open the door for us to witness.
I’ve just seen this so many times in my own personal life too: when I am not praying for specific opportunities to witness, I rarely share. But when I do pray, and ask God to give me open doors to witness, I invariably do get them. The missing ingredient in evangelism for many Christians is prayer. We will never be bold witnesses until we pray fervently for the lost, for our services, for ourselves, and for personal opportunities to share. It is just as this verse teaches us: we must prepare ourselves for the discipline of evangelism through prayer.
II. The Backdrop for Evangelism
:5 “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders …”
In the original New Testament Greek, this is literally, “In wisdom, walk towards those outside.”
“Walk” is the Greek “peripateo.” “Pateo” means “to walk”, and “peri” means, “around” (we get our words “periscope” and “perimeter’ from it). So “peripateo” means “to walk around.” God commands us here to “walk around” with wisdom towards outsiders. Now, when it refers to “outsiders” here, it doesn’t mean “people who aren’t from here”, but those who are “outside” the faith. So what he is saying here is, make sure your life — the way you “walk around” — is wise, because people who are outside of faith in Christ are watching you. Thus the Bible teaches us here that the way we live our lives is an important element in evangelism.
Why is that? Because people see the way we live, and it has a great impact on whether they believe our message or not. You can “tell” people the facts about the gospel, but if your life contradicts it, they are not going to listen to you.
A few years ago I was sitting on an airplane coming back from an India mission trip, and I was able to witness to the guy sitting next to me. He began telling me about a man who worked with him on an oil platform out on the Gulf of Mexico. He said this guy is always preaching to the other workers about the Lord, but he says no one listens to him because they all know he looks at pornography on the computers when he is out there! That man can “witness” to the guys on that platform all he wants, but he has no credibility because his life is canceling out his words. It’s like someone said some time ago: “Your life is speaking so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying”!
This is why the Bible commands us in places like Ephesians 4:1, to “walk in manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called”, because the way we “walk”, or live, is seen by other people, and it either validates or invalidates the message we share.
Acts 16 tells the story of how Paul & Silas were thrown into prison in Philippi for their faith. But rather than bemoaning their fate, the Bible says at midnight Paul & Silas were praying and singing praises to God. And it adds: “And the prisoners were listening to them”! What they said and did was observed by the people around them. And later, when Paul & Silas had an opportunity to share the gospel, they were very effective, because people had seen the way they lived. “The prisoners were listening.” They always are. People around us are always watching and listening to what we say, and how we live, and it has a huge impact on whether they will believe the gospel that we share.
This is true regardless of where you live, but do you realize it is especially true in a small town? How many “secrets” are there in a small town? NONE! Cheryl & I realized that when we moved to Beggs, Oklahoma years ago for our second pastorate, and early on during our stay there, she hung our clothes out to dry on the line in the back yard. A few days later, someone came up to her at church and asked, “Why do you hang your clothes out that way …?” We thought, “Oh my, we live in a fishbowl!”
But do you realize that we ALL do — and especially when you live in a small town. Everybody knows what is going on — in your life, and in this church. When you do not live personally in a way which adorns the gospel, people here know it. When this church has disagreements or ugliness going on, people know it. And it hinders the gospel. Who in this town wants to listen to the witness of someone when everybody in town knows they cheat in business? Who in this town wants to go to a church where the people are known for fighting each other? Would you? You know what the answer is!
That’s why a vital part of our commitment to evangelism must be the way we live, both as individuals and as a church body, because “the prisoners are listening.” People around us are watching and listening, and it has a dramatic impact on their receptivity to hearing the gospel.
— Part of your “evangelism” is the way you “walk” every day at school, work, and in your neighborhood.
— You need to realize that part of your “evangelism” is the way you do business with other people here in town.
— Part of your evangelism is to discipline your tongue and not gossip about others or about problems in the church, around town.
We can put up signs, and pass out flyers, and have all kinds of emphases and services at this church, but if our individual lives, and the overall reputation of this church in this town contradicts the gospel of Christ, you do not need to ask why people are not being saved. A vital commitment to our “evangelistic” work here is to live a LIFE in front of the people here that does not contradict the message of the gospel that you hope to share.
So the Bible teaches us here that your life is an important backdrop for evangelism: “Conduct yourself with wisdom towards outsiders.” But it also makes it clear that there must be more than that:
III. The Requirement for Evangelism
:6 “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Here Paul shares with us an absolute requirement for evangelism. We must pray; we must have lives that back up the gospel; but we must also put the gospel into speech and share it with people:
He tells them to pray in :3 that God will open a door “so that we may SPEAK forth the mystery of the gospel …”
He says in :4 “that I might make it clear in the way I ought to SPEAK.”
He says in :6 that we too are to “let your SPEECH always be with grace” in the opportunities God gives us to speak with people.
THREE times here in this short passage he emphasizes that we must share the gospel with words. Yes, we need to pray, to lay the foundation; yes, we need to live a life that serves as the backdrop; but we must also put the gospel into words and share it in order that people may hear, understand, believe, and be saved. Putting the gospel into speech is an absolute requirement for evangelism.
St. Francis of Assisi has been popularly quoted as saying: “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” That has been used to assert that you really don’t need words to preach the gospel, that you can just demonstrate it to people by your life. The problem is, #1, scholars tell us there is no evidence that St. Francis ever wrote those words, and #2, the concept that quote teaches is just not true. You must use words in order to truly share the gospel.
The gospel is that God made us to know Him, and spend eternity in fellowship with Him, but we have all sinned, and fallen short of His glory. But God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins, to save all who would repent of their sins and trust Him as their Lord & Savior. That is the gospel message, but there is no “lifestyle” that can possibly share all the details that a person needs to understand and believe in order to be saved!
You may have heard of the theological terms “general” revelation vs. “special” revelation. “General Revelation” refers to what we can know about God through creation: you can look around in this world and see through what has been made that there is a Creator. As Psalm 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” But there are specific truths about God you can’t understand just by looking at creation. For example, you cannot know that He is a triune God, one God who exists eternally in 3 Persons as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You must have what we call “Special Revelation” for that, which comes to us through words, in the Bible. There are things that must be communicated by words, which you are not going to understand in any other way.
It is that way with evangelism as well. You can do a certain amount of good by living an exemplary life; people might know “there is something different about us” through our lifestyle, but they will not know what that difference IS until we SAY something with WORDS.
When I was at Southwestern seminary years ago, one of the great evangelists and evangelism professors, Dr. Roy Fish, told us a story about 2 fictitious, but representative men, one named Bill, and one named Jim. They both lived in the same town, and worked at the same office, but Bill was a Christian, and Jim was not. As they lived and worked together, Jim always noticed “there was something about Bill.” On the job, Bill did not tell the stories that other men told, and he didn’t cheat on his expense reports. Jim thought to himself: “There’s something different about Bill.” He noticed that in their neighborhood, Bill didn’t talk about people the way that others did. “There was something different about Bill.” One day, Jim got sick, and Bill came to see him in the hospital, and as he left, Jim said again, “There is really something different about Bill.” Then Jim died of that illness, and in hell, he kept saying to himself: “There sure was something different about Bill …”.
This story serves to remind us that although our prayers and lifestyle are vital background for evangelism, that there is no replacement for speaking the words of the gospel when we evangelize.
— The gospels tell us that Jesus went about healing, but He also proclaimed the gospel and taught. He did MORE than merely do good works; He also shared the word that people could hear and believe. And we must do the same.
— Those refugees in Syria, when they were fed and helped by our Baptist missionaries, must have seen that “there was something different” about these people. But they would not know what that “something different” WAS until they shared the gospel with them.
In Romans 10:13 Paul writes those famous words, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But then he adds: “How then will they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Now, when he says “preacher” here, he does not mean a “preacher” like many of us think of it (a professional clergyman dressed up in a suit on Sunday morning) but “one who proclaims the message”. He was saying, for someone to be saved, someone has to open their mouth and share the gospel with them. He goes on in this passage to write: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” For faith to be born in a person’s heart, the word must be shared with them so they can hear and believe. Faith doesn’t arise in a person when they see someone’s life, though that may influence them; faith doesn’t come by someone praying for them, though that is vital; the Bible says faith comes from hearing the word. Therefore there is no substitute for sharing that word — for telling people about Jesus.
At the Southern Baptist Convention this week, one of our leaders said that he had been invited to speak at one of our seminaries, but before he got up to share, the president stopped him and asked him to share with the audience the last time he had been a witness to someone about Jesus. He said he not been asked that question, but that thankfully it had not been very long. Would you ask yourself that question this morning? How long has it been since you verbally shared the good news of Jesus with someone? Many of us need to be on our knees before God today, asking God to help us to pray, to live godly lives, and most importantly, to open our mouths and share the gospel of Jesus with others with our words, as we exercise “The Discipline of Evangelism.”
There are several ways in which we need to discipline ourselves in regard to evangelism, and we have seen several of them today:
— we need to discipline ourselves to pray, to lay the foundation for evangelism
— we need to discipline our lives, so that they serve as an appropriate backdrop for evangelism
— and there are times when we need to discipline ourselves to open our mouths and share the words which must be said for a person to hear and believe.
Or perhaps it is you yourself who needs to trust Jesus as your Savior today …