Before we jump into our passage, let’s review what prayer is, since that’s the first instruction Paul will give on how to speak.
Prayer is very simple, in that at its core it’s communication with God. But Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that there’s a right way and a wrong way to communicate with God.
Jesus tells Israel in Matthew 5: don’t pray like the pagans. This is an insult to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time because they had put paganism aside during the intertestamental period. But still, they, and the church today can struggle to see the difference between biblical and worldly prayer.
Biblical prayer is understanding the character of God and going to Him in light of who He is. It requires some things of us, though. First, it requires time to learn about God. Then it requires a soft heart that allows Scripture to correct one’s thinking. And then it requires thought and consideration to allow one’s prayer to be affected by this knowledge and understanding. It’s simpler to pray route prayers or ritual prayers, but Biblical prayer requires our proper theology drives our practical theology.
We’re almost to the end of Colossians, and these verses are really the end of a section that began in 3:17 with, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (ESV). From 3:18 – 4:1, Paul went over the deeds, or actions, the Colossians needed instruction on and now he’ll talk about the words.
An important side note before we get started: Salvation is a free gift from God. Doing and saying things the way He instructs us to aren’t what saves us. Rather, God gives salvation freely, the Holy Spirit transforms us through the Word of God (see Col 3:16 and Ephesians 3:18-21), and so we live according to God’s very character because of this gift, not to earn it.
Also, the phrase “In the name of the Lord Jesus” is commonly misunderstood and misused. It’s used as though the words yield some magical power or are the end all, be all to make your words carry weight. But as we’ve discussed many times as a church, at this time a name meant the nature, or character, of the person. So to say or do something in the name of Jesus means that the words or actions align with the very nature or character of God. We don’t use those words to make Him agree with us, instead, we carefully and intentionally match our lives to His.
Let’s get into the passage.
1. How to Speak to God
Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” So the first words we are to say according to the character of God are our prayers. “Continue steadfastly” (ESV) or “devote yourselves” (NASB) indicates effort and work. Work hard at it! Being watchful is the same wording used for watching for the return of Christ. The next verses indicate what to be watchful for: Ways for believers to participate in God’s unfolding, redemptive plan in history. And keep an attitude of thanksgiving, a fundamental part of prayer, that you get the privilege of participating.
Verse 3 shows what specifically Paul wants the Colossians to pray for: “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word…” Paul desires that the Colossians look for ways to participate in God’s work themselves, and for God to make ways for Paul and those with him to do the same.
It’s so important to see that though Paul is in prison (verse 3), he doesn’t ask them to pray for new circumstances for him. Instead, he wants God to use him within his circumstances.
He also doesn’t ask them to pray for converts, but for the only part of conversion in which he has a role – clarity in his sharing of the Gospel. He prays for a door for the Word of God, not for himself. It’s not enough for the Word to go; a human agent goes with His Word to explain it. God sends people with His Word.
” …to declare the mystery of Christ…” This is something that was once hidden and is now received and revealed. The Truth was in the Old Testament, but now they can see it.
“…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak…” Why would Paul need clarity of speech? Paul was a better writer than speaker, but he wants to communicate clearly. There’s a God-ordained method for proclaiming the Gospel and Paul desires to do it that way.
2. How to Speak to Others
Colossians 4:5 starts, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (ESV) or “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders” (NASB). Wisdom isn’t intelligence but knowing God and living out those Truths. How the world sees believers is important.
“Making the most of the opportunity” (NASB) or “making the best use of the time,” (ESV) is literally in Greek, “redeem the time!” We teach others with our lives.
And finally, verse 6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Have clarity toward others no matter where you are, or where your “mission field” may be. Your words should preserve, or be impactful when you talk about the Gospel and they should be rich and enjoyable. Don’t be offensive – the Gospel may offend but you should not.