This morning, we continue to bring into focus the first part of God’s vision for New Hope, to gather in the lost, and the third part of this year’s vision to be connected with the world around us.
Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly speaking a message to those around us. We do it by the way that we treat others, the way that we speak, the way that we spend money, the way that we keep our home, the way that we raise our kids, the way that we work, the way that we drive, our lives are constantly communicating to those around us. When people know that we profess to be Christians, it seems to amplify their focus on that message that we’re communicating.
The apostle Paul gave the early church some awesome advice on how to be sure that we’re communicating in a way that represents Jesus well. After all, our lives may be the only gospel message that those around us ever hear. We don’t want to take this lightly, but want to live our lives to their fullest. We want to live in a salty way that makes people thirsty for the living water that flows from within us through the Holy Spirit. We want to live in a way that leads people to Jesus.
It may sound like a huge and daunting responsibility, but it actually is easier than we think. Paul wrote and gave some simple, but powerful advice on how to, well, in his own words, “let the message of Christ dwell among you richly.” (Colossians 4:16)
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And 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. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
The first step in having our lives clearly communicate the gospel to those around us is to be in prayer. The word here “devote” in the Greek literally means to be continually, steadfast, and courageously perseverant in prayer. Prayer was never intended to be a once-a-day event where we bring our requests to God. Prayer was intended to be a continual conversation between us and God through the Holy Spirit within us.
Paul encouraged us to be both watchful and thankful in prayer. A quick look around us clearly reveals that our culture is often unaware of what is happening around them. Wherever you go, you will find people walking around with their heads down and eyes glued to a smartphone. They are often completely unaware of what is happening right around them. All of us, however, are guilty of often being ignorant to what is happening within the lives of those right around us. How can we courageously pray for those around us when we don’t even know what they are in need of prayer for?
To effectively live out the gospel, we need to be more like Jesus who took time to connect with the people around Him. He asked questions and learned about people and took the time to simply sit down to a meal with them. He embodied the old cliché that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Jesus was empowered by a rich prayer life of constant communication with His Heavenly Father, but He was motivated by a deep and genuine compassion toward people. We should also take note of those around us and hear their heart’s cries. This enables us to more effectively pray for them and will give us more reason to give thanks for them.
We need to be a people who sees people as they are, but also a prophetic people who see their potential and the unique gifts and talents that God created within them. We need to see the diamonds through the coal and the gold through the muck and mire. We receive this sight through prayer. Also, through prayer, we can give thanks for those things about that person and call it out within them to encourage them and break them free.
Paul not only called us to be devoted to prayer and to be watchful and thankful in it, but to pray for those like himself who lay down their lives for the sake of leading others to Jesus. Keep the five-fold ministry leaders, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and especially our missionaries in prayer. The first step in having our lives clearly communicate the gospel to those around us is to be in prayer.
The second step in having our lives clearly communicate the gospel to those around us is to act wisely. Paul wrote here to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Earlier in chapter one, Paul wrote, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people.”
Live a life worthy of the Lord. People may hear our words, but they undoubtedly hear every word of the message that we preach with our actions. God intentionally permits Christians to endure the same life circumstances as those who haven’t put their faith in Him. Why does He do this? He does this so that we have the divine opportunity to preach the gospel with our actions. Though it rains on the just and the unjust, the just have an umbrella in their arsenal that the unjust does not. The way that we respond to difficulties in life preach louder than our words ever could.
When enduring the same circumstances that embitter and enrage and break those around us, but we instead produce joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control in those same circumstances, people take note! Why? Because these things can only be produced through a work of the Holy Spirit within us and not anything that we can produce on our own. They can only be produced through trust and faith in Jesus who will ultimately work those things together for good.
Our actions prove that we’ve become a new creation in Jesus Christ. The way that we treat others proves that we are disciples of Jesus. It is having the same love for those who can do nothing for us like Jesus had that proves that we are no longer the person that we used to be. Our actions should preach the gospel so loudly that our words are simply icing on the cake. This is a painful reality, but please listen to this point carefully and allow it to pierce your heart as deeply as it did my own.
If we have to consistently defend our faith using words, then maybe it is not others that we are trying to win over, but rather, that we are trying to convince our own selves of our faith. Our lives should speak loudly enough without a word. Our lives are the evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, if indeed, we remain filled with Him.
In fact, Paul goes on to detail out some of the actions that we must allow the Holy Spirit to change if we are to truly live as a Christian:
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The second step in having our lives clearly communicate the gospel to those around us is to act wisely.
The third step in having our lives clearly communicate the gospel to those around us is to speak. Paul wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
We never know who may be listening to our conversations. Most of us have had experiences where our perspective toward somebody was radically transformed by a simple, idle comment that they made in passing. Some of us can still hear those words in your mind right now as if though it happened yesterday. Words are unbelievable powerful and we use them far too carelessly. Think about it, God created everything seen and unseen around us by simply speaking. He then created us in His image and gave us the same ability to speak.
Paul spoke of this often, as did Jesus. When we speak, we should speak as if though everyone can hear our words. We must put off gossip, idle talk, and emotionally-charged reactions. These types of words tear apart marriages, friendships, families, churches, workplaces, and even our own selves. Not only do they tear apart, but they also grieve the Holy Spirit.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Why is this so important? There are times when Heaven and Hell hanging on the balance of our tongues. Listen to this real-life account of Paul.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
We never truly know who all is listening to our conversations. In this case, Paul’s speech was caught by the ear of a businesswoman whose life was transformed right then and there. Not only herself, but her entire household put their faith in Jesus and were baptized. Think about how much God wanted to reach Lydia. Paul and his ministry team travelled a great distance and was opposed at every turn. This opposition was the hand of God leading Paul and his team to be at the right place and at the right time to speak the right words that lead Lydia to Jesus.
God loves you that much as well. I’m a firm believer that He also loves someone in your life enough to open their heart to your message. The question is, “What are we speaking?” Let us be ones who speak words that build others up according to their needs because we never know who is listening. Our words might be just the right ones to unlock someone’s heart to receive Jesus and to go on to lead others to Him as well.
As we continue on throughout life, let us be ones who continue in prayer, who act wisely, and who speak words of life. Such a life is sure to be connected with the world around us and cause us to gather them into God’s Kingdom!