Waiting for the Return of the King
August 27, 2017 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Colossians: "Look Nowhere Else! Christ Is Everything"
Scripture: Colossians 4:2–4:6
While we wait for the return of our King, what are we supposed to do? Live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel and live wisely for the spread of the gospel.
Doors can have lots of meaning. The door opening can create excitement that daddy's home! Kids and cats and dogs watch for the door to open so they can greet their loved one who comes through. Doors can be a picture of opportunity. We get an open door to apply for a new job or to move to a new neighborhood or to go on a fun trip. But they can also be a picture of lost opportunity. The door got closed on something. Doors can be a picture of welcome. We open our hearts or our homes to others. A business opens its doors for the first time to welcome visitors. Or doors can be a picture of rejection and isolation and protection from others. Someone slams a door in your face or locks the door on you. The door opening to a prison cell can represent freedom. The door closing can mean captivity.
Today we are continuing our series in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Paul was an early follower of Jesus and he is writing a letter to other followers of Jesus in Colossae. Throughout this letter, Paul has been showing them that Jesus is everything. If they want a relationship with God, if they want hope for the future, if they want to have a rich, full spiritual life, they need to look nowhere else because Jesus Christ is everything - he provides all of it.
In the last part of this letter, Paul has been showing how receiving Jesus as our Lord - as our King - affects every part of our lives. We are told that a man named Tychicus delivered this letter. When he arrived, the church would have been gathered together and he would have read it aloud to them. So the first instructions Paul gives in chapter three concern how they should live as a church family. But after gathering as a church, they would head back home. So last week we heard about how Jesus affects our relationships at home and in the workplace. At some point, they are also going to interact with those who are outside their church and their homes. Our section today focuses on how we ought to live with those who don’t share our faith.
You can think of our passage this morning using doors. One door is like kids excitedly waiting for their dad to come home. They love their dad and want to see him. They don’t know when he is going to come home but they know he could come home at any minute and when he does, they will excitedly greet him. Throughout this letter, Paul has been reminding us how exciting it will be when Jesus comes back. We will see him face to face, we will be given an inheritance, when he comes in glory we will appear with him in glory. Like children excitedly waiting for their dad to come home, we are excitedly waiting for Jesus to return. We don’t know when he will, but we are ready and excited for that day.
The other door is the door that opens into other people’s lives to tell them about Jesus. And that leads us to the Big Question this passage answers: While we wait for our King to return, what are we supposed to do? While we wait for our King to return, what are we supposed to do?
We are going to get an answer to this question in two parts.
Let’s take a look at the first part in verses 2 through 4 of Colossians chapter 4. Let’s reread those verses.
Live Prayerfully for the Spread of the Gospel (4:2-4)
2 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. (Colossians 4:2-4)
If you were to tune into a sports game on the radio, you would start listening for certain clues to know what game they are playing. The announcers aren’t going to constantly say, “You are listening to a football game.” They are just going to be announcing the game, assuming people know what they are talking about. So you listen for clues. “They mentioned a field, so now I know it isn’t basketball. They mentioned a quarterback, running back, and gaining yards so now I know it’s a football game.” Similarly, when we tune into certain passages in Scripture, they don’t always announce what topic they are talking about. But we have to listen for certain clues to tell us. And when we tune into these verses, we discover that Paul is thinking about Jesus’ return. He talks about “being watchful,” which is something Jesus often told his disciples to do when he talked about his return. And Paul mentions “the mystery of Christ,” which refers to God’s unfolding plan of salvation taking place in Christ. The place we are in that plan is the fourth quarter. We are nearing the end of the game. Jesus has come the first time to inaugurate - to begin - his kingdom, and he will come again to fully implement it. We are in between his first and second coming, when his kingdom is already here in part but is not yet here in full.
The big question this passage answers is: While we wait for our King to return, what are we supposed to do? The headline answer Paul gives here is: live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel. Live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel.
That is the main command Paul gives us here. He starts by saying, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” Devote yourselves to it, persist in it, keep on doing it. But still, what does that mean? Paul gives us three ways to live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel:
First, we watch for our King. We watch for our King. Like a child who watches the front door for daddy to come home, we watch for the return of our King. That will be a day when our hope is fulfilled. Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin, he is saving us from the power of sin, but when he returns, he will save us from the presence of sin. The sin that still lingers in us and the sin that creates so much damage in our world will be done away with. Jesus will return and set all things right. All of creation will be made new. We will receive our inheritance of seeing God face to face and being in his presence - the hope of glory. When Christ appears, we will also appear with him in glory. No more sin, no more death, no more evil. We will be the closest to God we’ve ever been.
We watch expectantly and excitedly for the moment Jesus comes again. We do this by devoting ourselves to prayer, being watchful in it. “Being watchful” means we are alert, vigilant, and awake. We don’t fall asleep to the fact that Jesus will come again. We don’t let our King return and find us asleep on the job. We know he is coming and we watch for our King.
Living prayerfully for the spread of the gospel means we watch for our King. Second, it means we give thanks for our King. We give thanks for our King. Paul says we are to be watchful in prayer with thanksgiving. Our eager expectation for Jesus’ coming isn’t doom and gloom. It is filled with thanksgiving. We thank our King for what he has already done in our lives - how we were alienated from God, hostile toward him, and living in darkness, dead in our sins. But we heard the good news about Jesus and when we trusted in him, we were rescued from the darkness, reconciled to God, and we were given new hearts that beat with love for him. We thank him for this and for the future he has promised us, what Paul called the hope laid up for us in heaven back in chapter 1.
Living prayerfully for the spread of the gospel means we watch for our King and give thanks for our King. Third, we ask God to open doors for others to meet our King. We ask God to open doors for others to meet our King. Paul gives us two specific prayer requests. Verse 3 is the first one: "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—" (Colossians 4:3)
Paul wants the Colossians to pray for his team’s ministry - that God may open to them a door for the word - a door for the gospel, the mystery of Christ. Paul told us earlier in the letter that Jesus gave him a responsibility: to make the word of God fully known, to declare the riches of Christ to the non-Jewish world. Here Paul shows us that the success of his mission is totally dependent on God. God is the one who opens doors for the good news about Jesus to be told to people. Here Paul mentions for the first time that he is in prison. Isn’t it remarkable that even though Paul is imprisoned, his prayer request isn’t: Please, ask God to free me from prison. His prayer request is: Ask God to open doors for me to tell people about Jesus. How can our focus be less on God freeing us from our circumstances and more on opening doors to tell others about Jesus?
Paul’s second prayer request is in verse 4: "4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak." (Colossians 4:2-4)
Paul knows he has a responsibility to fulfill and he needs God’s help. He has been charged with making the gospel clear to the non-Jewish world. This is what he needs to do.
Notice again how dependent Paul is on God. It is God who is going to open doors for the gospel and God who is going to enable Paul to make it clear. So Paul calls on the Colossians to pray for him. They are a vital part of Paul’s ministry. For us too, we are a vital part of others people’s ministries. Perhaps you have missionaries for whom you have committed to pray. Your prayers can open up doors for them to tell others about Jesus and enable them to speak about him clearly. Your prayers can open up doors for others in this church. They can open up doors for you. We should feel the weight of privilege we have to affect the spread of the gospel through our prayers - that God hears us and answers us.
The big question this passage answers is: While we wait for the return of our King, what are we supposed to do? The first answer is: Live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel. What does that mean? It means we watch for our King, give thanks for our King, and ask God to open doors for others to meet our King.
Like kids waiting for their beloved father to come home, we watch for our beloved King’s return to save us from the presence of sin, set everything right, vanquish evil forever, and bring us into the loving embrace of our heavenly Father. We live with thanks and joy knowing we have such a King and have such a blessed future with him. And as we watch the door for our King’s return, we pray for open doors to tell others about our King. We ask God to give us opportunities in the lives of others.
Know that God is powerful and in control. That’s what this passage tells us. Paul looks out at this world full of people who either don’t care about Jesus or who would be offended if they heard about him. He sees a bunch of closed doors. So what does he do? He asks the Colossians to pray that God would open those doors. He wants them to pray this for him, “God, would you open to Paul a door for the word so he can declare the good news of Jesus to people? And would you help him to make it clear?” Paul believes in a God who can open doors that people have closed. He believes in a God that is powerful and in control. This morning, we need to know that God is powerful and in control.
Here’s the question though: Why is prayer difficult for us? Why do we have such a hard time going to God? It’s because we so often believe that he isn’t powerful and in control. We believe it’s all up to us. We need to be the powerful ones. We need to be in control. That is exhausting, stressful, and anxiety inducing. When we think the spread of the gospel is all up to us we are putting a burden on our backs that we were not meant to carry. God is the one who opens doors for us to tell others about Jesus. And if it is all up to us, why would anyone ever believe in Jesus if we told them about him?
Start praying for open doors - for others and for yourself and for our church. You know what’s going to happen? You’re going to start seeing open doors to tell people about Jesus.
You know how when you buy a car, you start seeing that same car everywhere? You never noticed them before because it wasn’t on your mind.
When you start praying for open doors, you are going to start seeing open doors. God is going to open them for you and show them to you.
As we think about people in our lives, wouldn’t it be good news for them to hear that God is powerful and in control? Maybe. This is only good news if God is good. We want someone good in control. We don’t want evil in control. The good news is that God is good. He is perfect. And he is also in control. That means we can trust him to do what is best. And it means he didn’t just create everything and then go away to let things run on their own. It means that even though he is transcendent and all powerful, he is also intimately involved with his world and with our lives. That means he can make a difference in our lives. Isn’t that good news for people to hear when they see the world as chaotic and things happening without rhyme or reason? Wouldn’t it be good news to hear that there is a good God who is in control so we can trust him?
Our big question is: while we wait for the return of our King, what are we supposed to do? The first answer is we live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel. We do that by watching for our King, giving thanks for our King, and asking God to open doors for others to meet our King. We get our second answer in verses 5 and 6. Let’s reread those.
Live Wisely for the Spread of the Gospel (4:5-6)
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 4:5-6)
Remember, when we tuned into this passage we discovered that Paul has in mind the return of Christ our King. We are in the fourth quarter and he could return any minute. It’s like we are playing the fourth quarter of a football game but the time clock is hidden from us. We know it is about to end, but we don’t know when. Every throw, every tackle, every run counts because the game could end at any minute. So you need to take every shot and execute every play like it is the last one and the game depends on it.
The big question this passage answers is: while we wait for the return of our King, what are we supposed to do? The headline answer Paul gives here is: Live wisely for the spread of the gospel. Live wisely for the spread of the gospel.
In the previous verses, Paul had the Colossians focused on his ministry and praying for him. Now he has them focused on their ministry. They can participate in the spread of the gospel in Paul’s ministry through prayer, and they can participate in the spread of the gospel in their own ministry through living wisely. They are to walk in wisdom toward outsiders - toward people outside their community of faith - people who don’t share their belief in Jesus. But what does that mean? What does it mean to live wisely for the spread of the gospel? Paul gives two defining characteristics.
First, it means we use every open door to tell others about our King. Use every open door to tell others about our King. Paul says that walking in wisdom toward outsiders means making the best use of the time. It means we take advantage of every opportunity. Every opportunity for what? In verse 6 we learn it is every opportunity to tell others about Jesus.
Now, thinking about telling others about Jesus is something that can make us uncomfortable. But Jesus has given those who follow him this responsibility. Perhaps you never knew that was your responsibility or perhaps you have known but aren’t sure how to do it.
Our vision as a church is to show and tell the gospel to every man, woman, and child in Woodstock. The way we do that is through our mission: we surrender all of life to Jesus and invite others to do the same. My job as your pastor is to equip you to be able to do that. This mission belongs to all of us. So how do we use every open door to tell others about our King? What does an open door even look like?
One of the skills we talk about as a church is called “gospel fluency.” Many of us probably know a little bit of Spanish. You can maybe say “hi” and “thank you” and “goodbye” and if you are really knowledgeable you know how to ask “where’s the bathroom.” But this doesn’t make us even close to fluent in Spanish. If you are fluent in Spanish, you can speak Spanish in every situation - not just when you need to go to the bathroom. You can also understand others speaking Spanish.
Gospel fluency means you can speak the gospel - the good news about Jesus - into every situation and when you are listening to others you can understand how the gospel applies to their life. Too often, the gospel is just good news for when we die. You believe in Jesus and that means you won’t go to hell. While that is true, salvation in Jesus affects all of life. We surrender all of life to him. Where do we find our security? Where do we find safety? Where do we find comfort? Where do we seek satisfaction and fullness of life? Where do we seek love, approval, and affirmation? We find all of those first and foremost in Jesus.
Gospel fluency is about being able to recognize those deep spiritual longings in ourselves - longings for security, safety, comfort, satisfaction, peace, love, approval, affirmation. When we recognize those, we find them in Jesus. That’s gospel fluency. But we also recognize those deep spiritual longings in others. As we hear them talk, we can recognize their deep spiritual longings and how they are trying to fulfill them outside of Christ and we can point them to Christ to find them. If you are fluent in the gospel, you will be able to make the most of every opportunity to tell others about our King. That’s how we live wisely for the spread of the gospel.
Paul gives a second defining characteristic of living wisely for the spread of the gospel in verse 6. We speak with saltiness to win others to our King. Speak with saltiness to win others to our King. Paul says our speech should always be gracious, meaning our conversations with people about Jesus should be warm and winsome. The way we speak should attract others to Jesus and not repel them. We shouldn’t be combative. Paul says our words should be seasoned with salt. In those days, salt was used to preserve food and to add flavor to food. Salty food also makes us thirsty. We should talk about Jesus in a way that preserves the relationship, adds interest with the flavor of Jesus, and creates a thirst for his kingdom.
Why? Paul says so that we may know how we ought to answer each person. Paul ought to make the gospel clear and we ought to know how to respond to people when they ask questions about our faith. Paul assumes that followers of Jesus will have regular interactions with those who don’t follow Jesus. Perhaps people notice that we live differently from them. Perhaps we have been open about our beliefs so they know we believe in God. Some people will be curious, some confused, and some hostile. But we are to have words seasoned with salt so that we answer each person properly.
What are some ways we can speak with saltiness to win others to our King? How can we talk with others in a way that preserves the relationships, adds interest with the flavor of Jesus, and creates a thirst for his kingdom?
Maybe you have grown in gospel fluency - you are able to hear people’s spiritual longings and you know how the gospel applies. But still, you feel nervous about bringing Jesus up because you are afraid the person will get upset and it will seem out of place. Maybe someone has told you they are afraid they are going to lose their job. It feels insensitive and off topic to say, “Don’t worry. God is great so he is in control and you can trust him.” Maybe you’ve listened to a mom who is stressed out about getting her kids in all the right activities. It doesn’t seem right to say, “God is good, so you don’t need to look for satisfaction in those things. Only God will make you whole.” Perhaps you are accurately perceiving their spiritual longings. The man is afraid of the future so knowing God is in control could be comforting. The mom is putting a lot of hope in her kids being involved in the right stuff so knowing she can put her hope in God would be relieving. But still, sharing about Jesus might catch them off guard and feel like it is coming out of left field, especially if they don’t share our beliefs. Here are two ways you can speak with saltiness in your everyday conversations.
First, listen well. Show you understand what they are going through and their concerns. Show empathy. Say, “That sounds really hard” or “that sounds really scary.” Or “It makes sense why you want to give your kids all those opportunities.” Once you have listened well, you can do step two.
Second, ask permission to share your perspective. You can ask, “Do you mind if I share my perspective on this?” Or, “Do you mind if I share my experience with this?” By asking permission, you are letting them open the door instead of you trying to toss in your Jesus grenade through a partially cracked open door only to have it slammed afterwards. Then you can say, “As a Christian, I…"
If you know you how Jesus fulfills your deep spiritual longings and how he is the hero of your story, you can speak into their life. Perhaps you sa, “Once I was afraid of losing my job and that was a really scary thing for me. My dad lost his job when we were kids and it was a really hard time for our family. There was a total loss of security. I put a lot of weight in my job for me to feel safe and secure. I think that if I don’t have a job, then I am inadequate as a husband and father. I tend to place a lot of my self-worth and value in whether I have a job or not. But I’ve learned that I am not defined by what I do but by who God says I am. And I’ve learned to trust that he is in control. God is good, so I can trust him with my future. I can find my security in God instead of myself. That has brought a lot of freedom and peace to my life.” Then you can perhaps put the ball back in their court with a question: does God play any part in your life right now?
As you do this, know that God has placed people in your life so you can introduce them to Jesus. And know that if he has given you this responsibility, he will give you opportunities to fulfill it. Watch for those.
Why don't we make the most of every opportunity? Why do we not seek to tell others about our King? Simply put, we love ourselves more than others. We love our comfort, our reputation, our security, our safety. And we don't believe that others knowing Jesus is more important than those things. We don't believe God has provided us with all those things in abundance. Believe that your life is hidden with Christ in God. Secure. Jesus is everything. You don’t have to fight to fulfill the deep longings of your heart. Jesus has given them to you.
Maybe you also don't believe that your life counts. That's why you don't make the most of every opportunity. Believe that you are God's plan A for others meeting Jesus. There is no plan b. God opens doors for the gospel and the gospel walks through those doors in the mouths’ of his people. Believe that your life counts and God has a purpose for you.
Maybe you don't believe you will do it right. You are going to mess it up and you have squandered your opportunity. Believe that God is in control. Believe God is powerful enough to do it right. He's at work. You aren't alone. It's not all up to you. If God can give you one opportunity, he can give you another.
If you want to grow in gospel fluency - in applying the gospel to yourself and others, here are three questions you can answer:
- What do I want most?
- Where have I tried to get that in the past?
- How does Jesus give me that in full?
If you answer those three questions, you will be able to share how Jesus is the hero of your story with people in a warm, relatable, and personal way.
Lots of people have a low view of God because of their experiences with Christians. They haven’t felt compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, or patience from the church. We can show God’s character to people as we listen well and empathize with their disappointments, hurts, and fears. We can show humility, meekness, and patience by asking permission. The message of Christ always comes through the medium of people. God creates open doors for the gospel but the gospel goes through that door in us. Wouldn’t it be a display of the good news of Jesus to people if we treated them like Jesus treats us? The best gift God gives us is access to him and with that comes his listening ear. We can give that same gift to others by listening to them.
The big question this passage answers is: While we wait for our King to return, what are we supposed to do? The first answer is: Live prayerfully for the spread of the gospel. That means we watch for our King, give thanks for our King, and ask God to open doors for others to meet our King. The second answer is: Live wisely for the spread of the gospel. That means we use every open door to tell others about our King and we speak with saltiness to win others to our King.
If you think about the doors in your own life, you will realize that there was a time when you had your door closed to Jesus. You didn’t trust in him as your King. Perhaps you didn’t want anything to do with him or perhaps you liked the thought of Jesus, but your life wasn’t surrendered to him. He was like a nice monument you looked at from your window, but you hadn’t opened the door to let him into your life. Perhaps you are in that place now. You have heard about him and know about him, but you haven’t let him in the door yet.
If you have trusted in him, there was a day when God opened a door for the word into your life. Someone told you about Jesus and you received him as your Lord. You surrendered your life to him! And now you watch the door for him to return. Even though you have not seen him face to face, his love is in your heart and you are waiting for him to come through that door.
And as we watch, we pray for an open door to tell others about how wonderful he is and why we are waiting for him. We want others to have their hearts warmed with the same love we have received. And we take every opportunity to tell others about him.