September 19, 2010

Sharing the Secret - Sep 19, 2010

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We’re nearly to the end of our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Last Sunday, we heard Paul give directions about how the Colossian Christians were to act in certain relationships. Paul talked about how Christian husbands and wives should treat each other. How Christian children and parents should treat each other. How Christian slaves and masters should treat each other.

In our short reading for today, Paul gives some more general directions for Christians. Today’s directions don’t hinge on being involved in a certain relationship. What Paul says today is for ALL Christians.

Basically, Paul says, “Christians, you know your sins are forgiven by God because the mystery of Christ has been revealed to you. Now, share that secret.

That’s simple right? Yours sins are forgiven through Christ, now share that message. Simple to say, not always simple to share.

Some people don’t get it. They’ve been brainwashed into thinking that religion is all about how we can EARN God’s love. When they hear the true message of the Bible; that we have FREE forgiveness through Christ’s cross, they just don’t believe it. It’s too good to be true! Nothing’s really free, is it? Sharing Jesus with that person could be difficult. It might take more than reciting John 3:16 and giving them a Bible. You might have to take a couple runs at it before they really understand.

Sharing the secret, isn’t always easy.

The great apostle Paul would have told you the same. Paul was perhaps the greatest missionary in the history of the world, but he wrote this:
“1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV).
For Paul, sharing the secret was sometimes nerve wracking.

But Paul got better at it right? Well, after three missionary journeys he ended up in prison at Rome. From Rome, he wrote a letter asking his friends in Ephesus to pray for him. What did he ask them to pray for?
“19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20 NIV).
Paul still needed God given courage to share the Gospel in a way that was worthy of that message.

In our reading for today, Paul gives the Colossians a little help. He shares the secret, of sharing THE secret.

Colossians 4:2-4 (NIV)

2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Paul says, First of all, start with prayer. GOD will lead the way and open doors.

In fact, Paul says a little more than “start with prayer”. Paul tells the Colossian Christians to “devote” themselves to prayer, and to “be alert”, or “watchful” in prayer.

We might think of a military lookout watching for the enemy. With walkie-talkie in hand he scans the horizon. At the first sign of the enemy, he calls in to his superior officer.

Having an open line to our Creator is a powerful tool. Through Christ this line has been opened up to us. It’s not open to all people. With our sins covered by Christ’s sacrifice, we can talk openly with God the Father. Jesus even teaches us to call God “Our Father” in the Lord’s prayer.

Without Christ, we wouldn’t have the right to speak to God. Our sins would render us unworthy. But since stand completely forgiven through faith in Christ’s cross, our prayers ascend freely to God.

Paul knows the Colossians will pray for themselves, and he asks them to include him and his fellow workers in their prayers. Paul says,
“3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains” (Colossians 4:3 NIV).
Doors need to be open in order to share.

When I sit down with my family to eat dinner and someone knocks on the door wanting to talk about re-siding the house, or putting in new windows – that’s just not a “doors open” time for me. I’m not going to listen. I’m not going to even have a conversation.

People don’t like pushy and rude sharers. They like friends who they trust. People they know ACTUALLY, REALLY, TRULY care about them. One open door for sharing Christ is the open door of true friendship.

I’m pretty sure that if we pray for God to bring people into our lives that we can share Christ with, He will. Or, He’ll open our eyes to people we’ve overlooked, or hesitated to share with before.

Why not give it a try?

Prayer: Father in Heaven, I’ve been hesitant to share you will others. Mostly out of fear of the unknown. Not knowing what they’ll say. Not knowing if I’ll be seen as a pushy religious freak. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to share. Give me the courage to speak up and share Christ. Bring people into my life, and give me opportunities to do just that. Build my faith stronger through these experiences, and keep me in Christ. Amen.

Paul asked the Ephesian congregation to pray for his courage. He also asked the Colossian congregation to pray – for him to be able to proclaim the message of Jesus clearly.
“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:4 NIV).

In Paul’s day, the Holy Spirit frequently enabled Christians to perform miracles. One such miracle was speaking in a language which that person had never studied. Sometimes you hear it called speaking in “tongues”. Well, that word “tongues” in the Greek just means “languages”.

Anyway, the Holy Spirit gave this gift to some, but he also gave them the power to control it.

Most people don’t know it, but the Holy Spirit also gave some rules for tongue speaking through the apostle Paul. Basically, He said, If nobody in the congregation can translate what the miraculous language speaker is saying, then that person should be quiet during worship.

Someone speaking in a foreign language wasn’t going to help the rest of the congregation grow in their relationship with Christ. And the same is true when we speak to non-Christians. They’re not going to come to faith if they don’t understand what in the world we’re talking about.

Paul asked the Colossians to pray that he’d preach the Good News of Jesus CLEARLY. So that people can UNDERSTAND it.

I think this is something we need to think and pray about too. How are we communicating to the people around us? When we do speak the message of Christ, are we doing it in language our children can understand? In language our friends understand? In language our neighbors understand?

Before we move on I want to share something encouraging. Paul’s requests were prayed about, and answered.

Check this out. We believe that Paul wrote at least four of his letters while in captivity at Rome. We call them the “Captivity Letters”. They’re Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. It appears that Philippians was the last one to be written because in Colossians and Ephesians Paul asked the congregations to pray for 1) A door to be opened for the message of Christ, 2) For clarity in his own preaching, 3) for boldness in his preaching.

But, listen to what Paul wrote to the Philippians…
“12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV).
And at the END of Philippians, Paul writes...
“22All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22 NIV).
They asked for a door. A door was opened. Even people in Caesar’s own house came to Christ.

Start with prayer. God will lead the way and open doors.

Paul goes on. In verse 5 of our text, Paul says…
“5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 5:5-6 NIV).
First of all, when Paul says “outsiders” he doesn’t mean that in a bad way. He uses this term for people who don’t yet know Christ because we want o bring them IN to a relationship with the God who created them, with the Savior who took their sins away.

In other words, Paul says that we don’t want to CLOSE any doors that God has opened to us to do this. So be careful in every interaction!

Another way of looking at this is that we’re having an “open house” for God. That means that we are representing Him to the people around us.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me recently. I was on the way home from a class. It was late. It had been a long day. I was driving the church van, and I came to a section of the road that had traffic cones and markers out on it. It was obvious that they were working on the road.

But it wasn’t obvious what you as the driver were supposed to do. It was just a two lane road with cones arranged to move you over into the left lane and a few blinking lights to get your attention.

Since I wasn’t quite sure what to do, I slowed down and then started to creep over into the left lane. Then I realized that there was actually someone standing there in the shadows, holding a stop sign.

I came to a complete stop and rolled down my window. The guy came around to my window, and to my surprise he started to bawl me out.

He said something like, “What do you think you’re doing! You never just drive into oncoming traffic like that! What do you think you’re doing!”

Like I said, it had been a long day, it was late and I wanted to get home. Also, I was irritated that I was getting reprimanded for not seeing him on this dark road, and so I cut him off mid rant. I said, “I don’t need this. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

Well, he motioned me through. But, I couldn’t help but notice as I moved away that he kinda glanced at the side of the van.

As I was driving home I thought, That wasn’t good. That wasn’t the way God wanted me to respond to that guy.

Being wise in the way we act toward outsiders means NOT reacting instinctively. Often our instincts are sinful. Being wise in the way we act toward outsiders means reacting to people with CALCULATED GRACE, regardless of how they’re treating us.

We all know people who have mastered this art. People who never follow their “knee jerk” reaction. People who respond graciously to ANYTHING we say to them. These are the people that we want to emulate and imitate, FOR GOD. For the “open house” that we’re holding in His Name.

Paul says, Let your conversation always be full of grace, as if it were salt. Sprinkle grace around on your conversation.

But how many times haven’t we done the opposite. How many times haven’t we shut doors by our own rude or careless remarks. How do you follow that with Christ? That’d be like me shouting back to that road worker, Hey! Jesus loves you and has forgiven your sin, Bible class at 10, Worship at 11!

Letting our conversation be full of grace means being forgiving others. Speaking kind words. Loving words. Caring words. Un-judgmental words. Putting the best construction on things. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Put the best construction on things? How many times don’t we jumped to conclusions instead? Thinking we’ve got people pegged, when we really don’t know their heart.

Paul says that we should let conversation be “sprinkled with grace” so that we know how to respond to everyone. The way to respond in any conversation is with the attitude of Christ. With an attitude that puts up with other people’s garbage because Christ has put up with OURS! And He still does! Christ forgives our rudeness to Him. He has forgiven us before we even sin and He repays our evils with KINDNESS and LOVE.

If we can learn how to do the same in our daily interaction, then doors for Christ will remain OPEN. Opportunities to speak SPECIFICALLY of Christ’s sin-forgiving grace, those opportunities will appear.

Paul says he wants to proclaim the MYSTERY OF CHRIST. That’s like another way of saying, that he wants to proclaim the GOOD NEWS of sins forgiven through Christ. But Paul uses the phrase, “Mystery of Christ” because this message is something that needs to be revealed to people. They’re not going to wake one morning as go HEY! I think I’ll put my trust in Jesus today! God brings people to faith through His Word and through His Holy Spirit.

We know the mystery of Christ because people in our lives have brought it to us and explained it to us. Whether was our parents, or our friends or our extended family. We know His forgiveness and love because Christ has touched us with that forgiveness and love.

So, lets take that mystery of Christ and lets carry it in our lives. Lets watch out for every opportunity to pray to God for help. Lets showing that mystery to others: FIRST by our gracious conduct, and then with the specific Gospel of Christ: the fact that He died for them too. To take their guilt and sin away. The fact that He lives, so that we will live forever with Him.

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for the open line to your throne. We can talk directly to you, because your Son has come to us and made us part of your family. Lord Jesus, thank you for removing our failures and sins, and replacing them with your grace and love. Help us to reach out and give this gift of peace to those we meet. You have sprinkled us with your blood, cleansing us forever. Help us now to sprinkle our speech and our conduct with that same grace.


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