Watch and pray. 4:2-6
Before concluding his letter with personal greetings 4:7-17, Paul gives some last minute advice to the Colossian Christians. He touches on prayer, behavior in the world, and "seasoned" conversation.
v2. When the word "prayer" is used, it usually conveys the idea of a "request". Prayer involves making intercession (requests for others), or supplication (requests for ourselves). Yet, there are times when the word means something like "worship" - approaching God, addressing God, cf. 1:3. We should busy ourselves in our approach to God, ever "watchful", alert, aware of the trials of faith as the end draws near.
v3-4. Paul asks his readers to pray for him. His special task is to make known the gospel to the Gentiles, so he asks for evangelistic opportunities (open doors). Although he is in prison, he is looking for opportunities to communicate the "mystery of Christ", the hidden secret of God's mercy now revealed in Christ. Preaching the mystery means the same as preaching Christ, or preaching the gospel. The phrase "open door" is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe access for the gospel, cf. 1Cor.16:9, 2Cor.2:12. As well as access, Paul asks for clarity. He desires that his proclamation be understandable, that it be "clear".
v5. The Christian church initially functioned under the legal approval of the Jewish religion, although it was rarely loved by the authorities of the time. Increasingly Christianity came under suspicion, and as the bad press increased so did persecution and lost opportunities for the gospel. Paul therefore encourages his readers to act discreetly in their dealings with the wider secular community. They are to give no opportunity for bad press. Meanwhile, while peace prevails, they are to "redeem the time" - "make the most of every opportunity." While there is access for the gospel, use it!
v6. This verse may be a general exhortation calling for thoughtful, sensitive, caring speech, but it more likely parallels Peter's words, "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence", 1Pet.3:15. Paul encourages his readers to use words that are inspired, not insipid, "salted", sharp, true and to the point. "Let your speech always be gracious and so well reasoned out that you will know how to reply to each individual", Berkeley.
Open and closed doors
In his final exhortation to the Colossians, Paul focuses on the business of evangelism. He encourages his readers to devote themselves to prayer, and particularly, to pray for his gospel ministry. For their part, the Colossian believers must take care how they relate to those outside the Christian fellowship, not acting in a way that brings the gospel into disrepute, but rather using every opportunity to make Christ known. They must therefore act and speak wisely when sharing their faith.
Paul's specific prayer-point is for an open door for the gospel; he asks "that God may open a door for our message." The phrase "open door" is used elsewhere in the New Testament and is found in common use today. Believers often pray for an open door in the sense of God preparing a future pathway for ministry. We will often say something like, "I am unsure what the Lord wants me to do, but I have prayed that he will open a door for me." "I thought I should do X, but the Lord closed this door and opened another for me." Paul actually uses this idea of an "open door" in relation to his vision at Troas. His move from Asia to Europe was, for him, an "open door" for ministry provided by the Lord himself.
The problem with open and closed doors is that the Lord did not promise to map-out our life's journey. In fact, he promised troubles, Satanic opposition through the circumstances of life. Since Satan "has been given" "authority" over the "kingdom's of the world" (Lk.4:5-7), it is very unwise to seek direction in life though the vagaries of circumstance. In fact, we may be better off pressing forward at closed doors, given that Satan probably closed them. He is more likely to frustrate the course of the gospel than encourage it. Still, it really is not possible to second-guess Satan, so it is best just to make our life-decisions on the basis of Biblical principles rather than the vagaries of circumstance.
The idea of "open doors" in the Bible reflects God's sovereign intention to gather a people to himself and to do this through the instrument of grace. God's grace in Christ is not just for Israel, but for all people. His grace is evident for all humanity to see. Those who seek after the living God in Christ, will find him. God will reveal himself to them and, on the basis of Christ's righteous work, will gather them to himself. The display of God's grace is realized in the message of the gospel, witnessed by Christ's faithful disciples. So, let us pray for open doors, but in these terms: "Lord, use even me to reach your lost children. Open the way before me and give me the words to say to those who seek you."
Discuss the common use of the phrase "open door." Observe the dangers of such thinking and, based on our passage for study, consider a proper application of its use.
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