Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Christian Speech (Colossians 4:2-6)

This message was first preached on Sunday, July 16th. You can listen to it here.

A man working in the produce department was asked by a lady if she could buy half a head of lettuce. He replied, "Half a head? Are you serious? God grows these in whole heads and that's how we sell them!" 

"You mean," she persisted, "that after all the years I've shopped here, you won't sell me half-a-head of lettuce?”

"Look," he said, "If you like I'll ask the manager." 

Well, she indicated that would be appreciated, so the young man marched to the front of the store. "You won't believe this,” he said, “but there's a lame-braided space-cadet of a lady back there who wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce." 

He noticed the manager gesturing, and turned around to see the lady standing behind him, obviously having followed him to the front of the store. So the man continued smiling “…and this nice lady was wondering if she could buy the other half" he concluded. 

Later in the day the manager cornered the young man and said, "That was the finest example of thinking on your feet I've ever seen! Where did you learn that?" 

"I grew up in Grand Rapids,” the man said,  “….and if you know anything about Grand Rapids, you know that it's known for its great hockey teams and its ugly women.”

The manager's face flushed, and he interrupted, "My wife is from Grand Rapids!" “Oh is that right?” the man said. “And which hockey team did she play for?"

Well, one truth that Christians understand is that our tongues are “US” in a unique kind of way. For you see, the tongue is a tattletale that tells on the heart and discloses the real person. Not only that, but misuse of the tongue is perhaps the easiest way to sin. In fact, there are no limits to what one can say. In Scripture, the tongue is variously described as wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, slanderous, gossiping, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual, and vile. And that list is not exhaustive. No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth! 

This morning, in Colossians 4:2-6, in a message I’ve titled “Christian Speech”, Paul calls us to Christlikeness in communication with God, and to Christlikeness in communicating with the world. In his discussion of our Christian speech, Paul puts the emphasis on four areas: the speech of prayer, the speech of proclamation, the speech of performance, and the speech of perfection. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2; ESV)

Paul begins by telling us that the very heart of our Christian speech must be full devotion to prayer. And it is fitting that Paul begins with prayer, because it is the most important kind of Christian speech we can utter. As you know, prayer is the strength of our fellowship with the Lord and the source of our against Satan and his angels. 

Through prayer, we confess our sins to God, we offer praises to God, and we call on their sympathetic High Priest, Jesus Christ. We also intercede and pray for one another. It is perhaps for these reason and more that Paul say you must pray with perseverance. Paul writes, continue STEADFASTLY in prayer…” In other words, in our prayers we must be “courageously persistent.” In our prayers we must “hold fast and never let go.” Now, how is this possible? Are we always to be carrying on a constant verbal dialogue, whatever we are doing? Well no…they have places for people who do that sort of thing, and the doors are locked from the outside! 

There cannot be unbroken verbal communication with God, otherwise we would never be really “there” for anything we did. But Paul here is addressing not so much the speaking of words, as the posture of your heart. Paul is suggesting that you and I need to have a kind of God consciousness that relates every experience in life to our Father in heaven. The delightful medieval monk Brother Lawrence wrote about the practice of continual God-consciousness in his classic book The Practice of the Presence of God:
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.
Now, in addition to persistence, true prayer also involves keeping alert and pray ing with an attitude of thanksgiving. This means that you and I should be on the alert and look for those things about which we ought to be praying. But not only that, we pray with that most important of elements: gratitude. My friends, we need to be a praying people. I believe in the old proverb which says, “A day hemmed in prayer is less likely to come unraveled.”
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.” (Colossians 4:3-4; ESV)

Paul asked first for prayer to aid his own communication with the world. This is a look at Paul’s heart for the lost. We ought to have such hearts too! Paul did not seem to care whether he was in prison or not—he just wanted more opportunity to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ to those in need! 
A recent study suggests that an average person spends one-fifth of their life talking. If all of our words were put into print, the result would be this: a single day's words would fill a 50-page book, while in a year's time the average person's words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each!

If that date are true, that’s pretty impressive! The thing I wonder about though…is how many of those words we generate are being used to tell others about the Gospel?

For Paul, he clearly was using a large number of his words for proclaiming the gospel. In fact, it was for the sake of the gospel that Paul was imprisoned! Paul’s imprisonment did not spell the end of his ministry though. It was during his time in prison that he wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. He also evangelized nearly everyone he came into contact with. Paul’s activity during his imprisonment in Rome is summed up in Acts 28:30–31

He stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” (Acts 28:30-31)

For Paul, there were no devastating circumstances, only unique opportunities. Paul wanted people to pray that he would speak as he ought to speak, as God wanted him to speak. Paul acknowledged that prayer makes all the difference in communicating the gospel. 

There’s a great story that comes from the life of Hudson Taylor. There was a mission station that was particularly blessed in the China Inland Mission, far above the others. There seemed to be no accounting for this, because others were equal in devotion and in ability. Hudson Taylor was traveling and speaking in England, and after a meeting a man came up and began to ask him about that particular station. Then he began to ask many personal questions. It turned out that the man had been the college roommate of the missionary at that station many years earlier, and he had committed himself to daily praying for the work there. Hudson Taylor said, “Then I knew the answer…the gospel succeeded in that place due to prayer.”

That should be our prayer too, that we would be prepared to proclaim Christ and that our mission here at Plymouth would succeed beyond our wildest imagination.
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6; ESV)
As we come to the end of the main body of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it is interesting that his last words are about our Christian conduct towards ‘outsiders’, by which he means people outside the Christian fellowship, people outside of Christ.

The first specific piece of advice about our conduct towards unbelievers is: Walk in wisdom towards outsiders. In other words, in your dealings with outsiders, there will always be pressures to conform, to fit in, and be thought well of. You will need wisdom to live out your Christian walk. It will take wisdom to walk in a manner fully pleasing to him. The point is that the wisdom we seek is not the wisdom to please unbelievers, or to make ourselves look good, or any of the other kinds of wisdom we may easily find ourselves. We need wisdom to please the Lord in our conduct towards outsiders.

This will mean of course, making the best use of the time. Paul suggests that time is in short supply and, like a bargain hunter in a sale, you and I need to snap up what time we find. It’s like the old proverb which says: ’Only one life, it will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.’ 

Moses prayed in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us LORD to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” In other words, opportunity is fleeting. Life is short, and every day more people die without Christ. Our Lord may return at any moment. The time is now for us as believers to speak for Christ with our lives!

How best can we let Christ speak through out lives? Easy: let your speech always be gracious. Let your word always be in grace.’ Wisdom is to shape our behavior; grace is to shape our speech. Your speech, then, to outsiders must always be shaped by that grace.

Next, as though to underline that point, he says that your words should always be seasoned with salt. Speech that is flavored with your knowledge of God’s grace will be salty. You know, salt can sting when rubbed into a wound but it also prevents corruption. Our speech to outsiders should act as a purifying influence, rescuing conversation from the filth that so often engulfs it.

Finally, we must how we ought to answer each person. We must know how to say the right thing at the right time. In Peter’s words, they must be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence(1 Pet. 3:15).


Dear friends, our Christian speech is vitally important. Unlike the ungodly, who say “Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (Ps. 12:4), we as believers should echo the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”