There have been always been some Christians who are especially gifted at telling the good news about Jesus. We think of apostles, evangelists, and others who have been used by God to spread his word broadly. But what about the rest of us?
Sometimes, honestly, we have been happy to leave it to the “experts.” We have used their expertise as excuse not to be involved personally. In our better moments, however, we, too, want to be involved in a meaningful way. Colossians 4:2-6 is a powerful passage that tells how every Christian can help the word spread
Scripture shows us here that prayer matters. Prayer is not the “easy way out” for those who are afraid to do anything else. It truly makes a difference. We are called to pray in general (v. 2) but also specifically that God would open a door for the word (v. 3). Sometimes an open door includes the idea of people being responsive to the message (1 Corinthians 16:9), but the wording of this passage indicates the open door here is simply having an opportunity to speak. The “mystery” referred to means, in New Testament usage, something that was hidden but has now been revealed, in this case, Christ. Paul is instructing the Christians at Colossae to pray that God will give him an opportunity to declare Christ.
Paul also asks them to pray that he would be able to speak it clearly (v. 4). Paul’s conversion took place around AD 37 and he wrote to the Colossians around AD 62. Since he began to preach Christ almost immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20), he had been doing so for around 25 years when he put in a prayer request that he might be able to speak it clearly! I’m thinking this is certainly something we should pray for all spokespersons today, including ourselves.
The very fact that Paul asked the Colossians to pray for opportunities and clarity shows that he believed God would grant these things. How and how much we pray for things like this reveals something about whether we truly believe God will work in these ways. Personally, I think one of the harder parts of evangelism is finding people with whom we can share the word, so prayers for open doors are especially needed and important.
Notice, too, that Paul urged them to “continue steadfastly” (ESV) or “devote yourselves” (NIV) to prayer. For us that means these are not things merely to pray about one time after reading this article. Rather, these are things to incorporate into our regular, ongoing prayers. To build on what was said before, how, how much, and how continuously we pray for these matters indicate something about what we believe God will do. Prayer is a powerful way every person can be meaningfully involved in spreading the word.
The importance of prayer, however, does not mean we are thereby released from any further responsibility for the word spreading. Paul believed God would give regular believers like us other opportunities (v. 5). Though there are many kinds of opportunities, in this context Paul is thinking about outreach. His instruction about opportunity is nestled between an exhortation to be wise in the way we act toward outsiders and another to converse in a wholesome way, ready to answer people’s questions (vv. 5-6). Every believer can be involved in the word spreading by constantly behaving in a godly way toward non-Christians (v. 5) and making sure our way of conversing with people is gracious and wholesome (v. 6).
For the most part we are aware that the example of our deeds matters (v. 5a), but we sometimes seem unaware that our speech must also be wholesome (v. 6). Speech that is full of grace and has a tasteful quality to it will stand out as drastically different from the way most people are talking these days. Elsewhere Paul points out the dramatic distinction between how a warped and crooked generation talks and how God’s children talk (Philippians 2:14-16). As we live well and speak wisely, God will give us kairos—opportunities, and we need to make the most of them.
It is fitting, then, for us to pray that God would open doors not only for the prominent spokespersons of the word but for ourselves as well. If we believe God will do this, then we will also heed another part of the instruction here, namely, “being watchful and thankful” (v. 2). Perhaps you heard about the church that had a prayer meeting for rain but no one brought an umbrella! If we believe God gives opportunities, and we pray for them, we need to watch for them and be thankful when he answers.
Then, clearly, we should also “make the most” of any opportunity God gives (v. 5). Believing that God himself is giving us an opening to do something significant in his name will empower us to act on it. This might include answering a question (v. 6b), helping someone, or even telling them the good news about Jesus. A previous post on 1 Peter 3:15 describes more about how we can be ready to do this, as well as other ways the word spreads.
We tend to think the word spreads primarily due to gifted spokespersons, but the powerful passage in Colossians 4:2-6 indicates the kingdom also grows in quieter, less publicized ways, which is similar to a mustard seed or a seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-32). It tells us the word also spreads when regular Christians like you and me devote ourselves to praying that God would give us all opportunities—to speak his word, to speak clearly, to be wise in how we are around outsiders, and to converse with grace and goodness. Then, we watch for God’s answers and make the most of the opportunities he gives, and so the word spreads. (For more on the word opportunity, see also the article on Christian Time Management).