Colossians 4: The Outsiders
In closing his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul‘s instruction are for all Christians in verses 2-6. When man was created, he was given the gift of speech. In the book of James, James spends 12 verses discussing the power of the tongue, speech. He provides three sets of descriptions of the power of the spoken word.
He compares the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship.
He describes the tongue as a fire or the bite of a poisonous animal.
He likens the tongue and speech as a fountain and/or a fruitful tree.
What is James trying to convey to us about the power of this small part of the body, the tongue? Warren Wiersbe says he is describing three powers the tongue has within itself:
- Power to direct. A bit in a horse’s mouth is a small part which can direct the whole animal. The small rudder can turn the large ship wherever the pilot directs it.
- Power to destroy. Words can build another up or tear them down.
- Power to delight us. Like a drink of cold water on a hot day for a thirsty person. Or fruit which delights the taste buds and provides nutrition.
Now let us consider Paul’s instruction to all of us Christians in verse 2- 6 for they all involve the power of speech and how to use it effectively.
USE OUR TONGUES/SPEECH FOR PRAYER
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (NIV) “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (KJV)
Devoting oneself, continuing earnestly in prayer speaks of faithfulness. We are to pray without ceasing. Charles Stanley says we win all our battles on our knees in prayer. A visitor to Spurgeon’s church in London was being shown around the building by Spurgeon. Spurgeon asked the visitor: “Would you like to see the powerhouse of this ministry?” He showed the man the lower auditorium and told him, “It is here that we get our power, for while I am preaching upstairs, hundreds of my people are in this room praying.” We must be FAITHFUL TO PRAY.
WATCHFUL OR VIGILANT. Jesus told his disciples in the garden, ‘watch and pray lest you fall into temptation.’ Nehemiah set watchman on the wall during the day and night to be on alert for the enemy’s attack. Vigilant meant a watch was set 24/7. It is interesting to note Spurgeon has a newsletter for his church called: “The Sword and the Trowel.” It was a reference to how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall- the workers were armed with a trowel to lay the stones and a sword to ward off the attackers. This is a picture of vigilance.
Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6, 7 a prescription for worry and anxiety. The Rx was prayer. Note each element of this prayer. We experience anxiety when we have a crisis which we have no ability to handle or manage… What is the solution? “…but in everything by prayer and supplication (petition) with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;” We usually do not have any trouble bringing our requests for help before God, but it must be accompanied by thanksgiving. Anxiety and prayer are two opposing forces. The fear of uncertainty can create doubt in the heart of the believer. If this is a prescription, then thanksgiving is a very important component or element of the Rx, which works to block the pain, while the medicine accomplishes its purpose of healing. I believe it is the thanksgiving which allows the peace of God which passes understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The peace of God blocks the anxiety and worry. Like anesthesia blocks the pain and allows the surgeon to perform the necessary surgery to begin the healing process. You will not experience this peace unless you add thanksgiving to your petitions and requests.
In these situations I have found God often does not always change my circumstances immediately, but changes my attitude toward the circumstances.
Paul then request prayer for himself and those with him that God may open a door for the message of the Gospel. I have often said, prayer is a will alignment. Where we through specific and purposeful prayer align our will with God’s, not vice versa. Prayer is not an attempt to overcome God’s reluctance but to lay hold of His willingness. God delights to answer our prayer to order our steps. Here our prayer is for our tongues to be used in WITNESSING.
CLARITY IN WITNESSING.
Paul prays that he may proclaim the gospel clearly, with clarity. Our job is to cast the seed. It is God who will water it and bring forth fruit. We are not the Holy Spirit. Our job as Paul describes here is to proclaim the Gospel clearly. He wanted to be as effective as he possibly could and we also should want to be able to proclaim the Gospel as clearly as possible. Here is what I have discovered, people who do not want to know anymore will tell you. I opened a conversation with a fellow co-worker who I was going to be working with by asking him where did he go to church? He put up a hand and told me he was a pagan and we would get along better if I did not try and witness to him. As we built a relationship, I asked him again why he was a pagan. His mother was oriental and his father was career military, neither were believers. They sent him to a Jesuit school where he said the priests treated him harshly. In other words, my friend saw no connection between what the Bible taught and these teachers/priests who claimed to believe it. Their behavior did not match their beliefs.
We must be able to articulate answers to their questions which will make them think. We are to speak the truth in love and with gentleness and respect. For people listen with their eyes. They watch us to see if our behavior matches our beliefs.
Can you give your testimony and provide a listener with a description of the way you were before you believed, what happened, and the way you are now? Paul did this with his testimony regarding what happened on the road to Damascus.
The events taking place in our society and the world now are actually great opportunities for witnessing. We live in a time of great uncertainty, confusion and fear. Our confidence in our leaders is at an all-time low. There is a hunger like never before for peace, truth, love and a sense of belonging. There is no one person or thing which can meet all these needs- except Jesus.
Can we change the world? In the early days of the church, the enemies of Christians said of this of them: ‘they are turning the world upside down.’ Actually to be accurate, they were turning the world right side up- but you get the point.
How were they doing this? By one convert at a time. This is the way it is done. Not changing the outside, but the inside of the person. Only Christ can transform the heart. The shepherd went after the one sheep. The woman searched for the one coin. It was the one son the father ran to embrace and welcome home.
This is why we must be wise to outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. One of the most meaningful parables to me personally is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is a parable which tells the story of my life. As a result I have studied this parable more than any other story Jesus told.
There were two groups who were in the audience that day as described in the opening 2 verses: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him (Jesus). But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Two groups- one would be considered outsiders and the other group- insiders. The outsiders would identify with the younger son, the younger brother and his wild living. If they were raised in traditional homes, they had left them to pursue life in the ‘far country’ away from their parents and religious upbringing. And we know Jesus called a tax collector who was Jewish, named Levi to follow him. We know him as Matthew. We also know the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who Jesus called down from a tree and went home to eat dinner with him. In their culture to eat with a person was to indicate you accepted this person. The insiders would find Jesus identified them with the older son, the elder brother, much to their disliking. To the Pharisees, a Jew who would become a tax collector for the Roman government was the lowest of the lowest.
Outsiders are the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and imprisoned. Jesus said when you did it to the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25) The least brothers- the outsiders. Don’t you realize the younger brother was hungry, thirsty and had experienced what it was to be a stranger. His clothes were probably in rags. I can hear the congestion in his chest with each cough. You can smell him from 10 feet away. He had probably had his share of nights in jail.
The NIV states this group of outsiders, the tax collectors and sinners ‘ were all gathering around to hear Jesus’. We know from studying the Gospels, this was the pattern of Jesus’ ministry. The sinners, the outsiders were continually flocking to Jesus. Jesus attracted sinners. The Pharisees repelled them.
His parable impacted both groups in his audience. The outsiders who identified with the wild living and understood the emptiness in the younger son’s life rejoiced at how he was welcomed home. The insiders, the Pharisees were angered over this acceptance by the father in the story. They were on the side of the elder brother.
We must look at our churches today and be honest in our appraisal. Are we attracting sinners? Or are we mostly insiders attracting other insiders? While a world of outsiders looks at the church and religion and says who needs this?
And so they continue to search for something or someone to fill this gnawing hunger in their souls.
I was like the younger son. I was self-centered. I sought to please myself with the lifestyle of those who chose the broad way. I believe now if I knew the real Jesus of the Bible I have come to know since the day I got saved, I would have found Him more attractive. I believe most people who are outside now would be attracted to Jesus, the real Jesus, if they knew how caring and kind he was. By reading the Gospel you find something amazing. In every case where there was an intersection of a religious person (an insider) and a sexual outcast, (an outsider) it would always be the outsider attracted to Jesus. Consider the Samaritan woman at the well; the prostitute in Luke 7 at the home of the Pharisee who anointed his feet. It was the outsiders who were constantly connecting with Jesus while the self-righteous Pharisees, the insiders were incensed he would interact and eat with these people.
Are we proclaiming the same gospel message or have we picked up stones to stone the woman caught in adultery, the sexually impure? If we are not connecting and appealing to the younger brothers, to the tax collectors and sinners, the prostitutes and outsiders- then our churches by default are filled with elder brothers.
I don’t know about you- but I do not like the elder brother’s attitude. But Jesus loved the elder brother also. The father went out not only to the younger son who was returning in repentance. The father also went out to the elder son and begged for him to come into the feast. Jesus wept over these hard-hearted self-righteous insiders. The father told the elder son- everything I have is yours.
That is an actual statement of fact in this parable. The younger son had asked for his inheritance. The oldest son always got a double measure. So the younger son had received his part of the inheritance, 1/3rd of the estate. He had then wasted it all in ‘wild living.’ The remaining 2/3rds belonged rightfully and by law to the elder brother.
He did not want to share his inheritance with his brother. He did not want him back home.
When Solomon wrote God has set eternity in the hearts of men, what did he mean? I believe he meant we all have a longing in our hearts for God. God created us to live with Him forever in a garden where He has provided us with the Tree of Life. (Which by the way, we will have once again in heaven.)
But sin entered the world and man lost paradise and death entered the world along with fear, guilt and shame. The first family suffered multiple heartaches and pain for what they had lost. Their son, Cain would kill his younger brother Abel. Cain asked God – Am I my brother’s keeper? We are our brothers’ keeper. We are to love one another.
Do you know what the elder brother in this parable should have done? Gone after his younger brother at his own expense. This is what Jesus did. He gave up all the riches of heaven to come to the far country in search of his younger brother. He found me and took me home. He gave up all He had in order to take me back to my Father.
As Paul closes his letter he mentions several by name who are a part of his ministry who help him. He mentioned Epaphras, who ‘is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and full assured.’ This about sharing one another’s burdens.
This what we aspire to do in our class to share one another’s burden. Your generosity to Gina and me and Ben during this time has overwhelmed us with gratitude. Like good Samaritans you have taken care of us and continued to look in on us. This is what the world needs to see. This is how we should treat outsiders. The only place I want to be an insider is I want to be inside the will of God I want the power of His presence inside my life to be visible and real to the outside world.
I believe sometimes we have an image of Paul as a blunt, hard driving man. But Paul was a soul winner. And Paul was a friend maker.
In all of his letters Paul names by name dozens of people who he keeps up with, loves and prays for.
We are to be like our elder brother, the Lord Jesus, a friend to sinners.