Political correctness notwithstanding, Christianity is an evangelistic religion. Its aim is to proclaim the good news that there is eternal life in only one: Jesus Christ. Its aim, by the grace of God, is to bring about the deliverance of men and women out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. There are some things, no doubt, for which we as Christians ought to apologize, but declaring that faith in Jesus Christ alone is essential for eternal life isn’t one of them. We should never hesitate to proclaim the “mystery of Christ” or shrink back from seeking the conversion of every soul.
Here in Colossians 4:3-4 Paul solicits the prayers of these believers, not for his own health or freedom or prosperity but for the opportunity and clarity to proclaim Jesus as Lord to lost and dying people: “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 – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col. 4:3-4).
There are two elements in Paul’s request that call for our attention.
First, he asks them to ask God to open “a door for the word” that he might proclaim “the mystery of Christ” (v. 3). This isn’t the first time he’s used this imagery for evangelistic opportunities (see also Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; 2 Corinthians 2:12).
The “door”, evidently, is closed. This may suggest political opposition, social, cultural, and educational barriers to sharing the faith, adverse weather that hinders travel, or any number of factors that make evangelism difficult from a human perspective. It may be that Paul is asking God to grant him favor with those who have the authority to give him access to certain arenas of activity or platforms from which he might declare his message. In any case, Paul believed that God was sovereign over all such circumstances and that he could remove obstacles and overcome resistance and restrain the enemies of the faith when asked to do so by his people.
That an Apostle, no less, would ask ordinary Christians like these Colossians to pray for his evangelistic success is stunning. Paul refused to trust in his skill or eloquence or theological knowledge alone. He needed the intercessory support of other believers. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I’m helpless if you don’t ask God to help me.” Amazing!
And what might Paul do should the door be opened? He has one goal, one solitary purpose: to proclaim the mystery of Christ. The word “mystery” doesn’t mean what it does in a P. D. James novel or in a Sudoku puzzle. Paul typically uses this word when he has in mind a truth formerly hidden but now made known in Jesus Christ.
The “mystery” of Christ is the revelation of what God has done in and through his Son to make possible atonement for sin and its forgiveness. That the Word should become flesh (John 1:14) is a mystery now made known for our salvation. That God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) is a mystery now revealed for our justification. That faith alone in a crucified Messiah is the power of God unto salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18) is a mystery now made known for our eternal welfare.
Where Christ is not proclaimed the gospel is not known. No matter how psychologically soothing a sermon may be, if the mystery of Christ is not center stage, the gospel has not been preached. The focus of our message is not self-esteem, social justice, the plight of the poor, or world peace (as important as those issues are in their own right), but Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the salvation of lost souls.
Paul’s second request is that they ask God to enable him to proclaim this mystery with clarity (v. 4). “Pray that God will work in me,” says Paul, “that I might have the words to speak in the most persuasive manner and at the most appropriate time. Ask God to operate in my heart and mind and soul so that my message will ring true and will reverberate with passion and conviction and courage.”
Stunning, isn’t it, that a man of Paul’s spiritual caliber and gifting felt so desperately dependent on the prayers of others for his effectiveness in ministry! He made a similar plea to the Roman church, appealing to them “to strive together” with him in their “prayers to God” on his behalf, that he might be “delivered from the unbelievers in Judea” and that his “service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Romans 15:30-31).
His request of the Colossians raises an interesting question: What precisely might serve to inhibit or hinder his clarity of speech or prevent him from proclaiming the gospel in the way he desired? It may be that he anticipated trick questions from a hostile crowd and needs the assistance of the Spirit to see through their deception and speak truth into the fog of error. It may be that he sensed the importance of using just the right illustration or parable or analogy to make a point that would penetrate a closed and calloused heart with the truth that brings light and life. Paul, no doubt, felt confused at times and needed the quickening ministry of the Spirit in his mind. “Pray that God would clear my head of intellectual cobwebs and overcome any sluggishness of speech that would be unworthy of the gospel I proclaim. Pray that the Father would fill me with the Spirit of boldness and confidence and drive from me all fear of man and concern for my own reputation or physical safety.”
If he felt this burden, how much more you and I! Have you committed to praying consistently for your pastor each time he preaches? Have you interceded for that Sunday School teacher who tells the story of Jesus to indifferent and mocking junior high students? Have you petitioned God for yourself as you prepare to share your testimony with an unsaved neighbor? We are all desperately in need of such anointing and spiritual support from on high every time we open our mouths to speak of Christ.
“O, grant us open doors, Father, that we may speak boldly and clearly and joyfully of your Son and all that you have done for sinners in and through him! Work in us by your Spirit that we might have just the right story, the most telling illustration, the most persuasive phrasing as we declare the mystery of Christ Jesus! Amen.”
Needing your prayers,