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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Persist in prayer!
Text:Colossians 4:2-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Mission Work

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 93

Psalm 19:5,6

Psalm 34:1,2,7

Hymn 81

Hymn 10

Scripture reading:  Luke 18:1-8

Text: Colossians 4:2-4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

As believers, when we hear that someone else is going through a tough time we often encourage them by telling them that we’ll pray for them.  Hopefully we’re people of our word and we actually do that – we bring the other person’s situation before God in prayer and plead for them, intercede for them in a meaningful way.  We mention them by name and use our own words to pray for them.  It’s good to do this – it pleases God and it blesses people. 

Our text this morning is about prayer.  It’s about being persistent in prayer.  It speaks of prayer not only as a way of giving thanks, but also as a way of interceding for others.  It’s assumed that, as a Christian, you’re not only free but encouraged to pray whenever you want and with your own words.  Of course, your words have to be guided by God’s Word, but Christians have freedom in prayer to say things in a natural way.  We’re free to speak with our God as a child would with a Father, for God is our Father through Jesus Christ.  Because of the gospel we have a close personal relationship with God and he wants to hear his children speaking with him.

So, I preach to you God’s Word this morning with the theme:  Persist in prayer!

We’ll see that believers are urged to go on steadfastly:

  1. Giving thanks for the message of what we have in Christ
  2. Offering intercessions for the spread of the message

We’re getting close to the end of Colossians.  With the verses of our text, Paul is starting to round things out and close it off.  These are the final words of instruction he has for the Colossian church as a whole.  In the verses right before this, we saw last time how he was addressing specific groups within the church:  wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters.  He was teaching them about what difference it makes to have Christ as Lord.  That was all about sanctification, about the process of becoming holy, becoming increasingly conformed to Christ our head. 

Prayer is also about sanctification.  When we talk about living a Christian life, prayer has to be included.  Our Catechism includes prayer as part of the section on thankfulness.  You remember what the Catechism says, “Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.”  Thankfulness is part of being a Christian and what better way to express gratitude than through saying thanks explicitly in prayer?  So there’s a connection between chapter 3 and its extensive teaching on sanctification and what we have here at the beginning of chapter 4 and prayer.  One encompasses and leads into the other. 

Therefore, the apostle Paul gives a command here to pray and to do so persistently.  The command is to be devoted to prayer, constantly engaged in it.  In other words, believers are not just people who pray on Sundays.  Nor are they people who just pray before and after meals, or before bedtime.  No, our whole life is to be prayerful – full of prayer.  As I mentioned a moment ago, our heavenly Father wants us to be constantly communicating with him.  That’s the nature of a healthy relationship – the lines of communication are always open and always being used.  We could think of Christ himself and the way he prayed constantly – and still does.  We could also think here of what we read from Luke 18.  Christ told that parable to teach his disciples to be persistent in prayer.  If the unrighteous judge on earth would relent at the persistence of this widow, wouldn’t the righteous Judge in heaven also hear and answer the persistent cries of his people on earth?  This is even more the case when you remember that the righteous Judge is our Father.  Persistent and unrelenting prayer is what he calls for.       

What exactly are we to be praying about?  Of course, Scripture says a lot about that and we can think not only of the Lord’s Prayer, but also the Psalms and many other places.   But here Paul focusses on two specific elements of prayer.

The first is in the second part of verse 2.  Through the Spirit, Paul writes, “being watchful in it [in prayer] with thanksgiving.”  Thanksgiving is clear enough.  As we heard just a moment ago, an important part of prayer is giving thanks.  Believers can and should give thanks to God in prayer for all the blessings they receive from him.  The Colossians were to do that back in their day and we’re still called to do that today.

Thanksgiving is clear, but what might be less clear is “being watchful in prayer with thanksgiving.”  What are believers to be watchful for and how does that connect to giving thanks?  That’s not immediately obvious.  The answer lies in both the context and the word used for “being watchful.”  Let’s start with that word for watchful.  You know the English name “Gregory.”  It’s actually a traditional Christian name and it comes from the Greek word in our text for “being watchful” – gregoreo.  The name Gregory means “watchful” or “alert.”  Why would it be important for Christians to be watchful or alert?  What are Christians watching for?  The same word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to being watchful and alert for the return of Christ.  If we look at the context here in Colossians, we also find several mentions of Christ’s return.  For example, Colossians 3:4, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  And right before our text, Paul speaks about receiving the inheritance and the judgment that Christ will issue about those who unrepentantly live in sin.  So, the watchfulness here has to do with Christ’s return.  In our prayers, we should be praying about the return of Christ with eager anticipation.

But how does that connect to giving thanks?  One might ask, how can you give thanks for Christ’s return when it hasn’t happened yet?  Here we could think of something similar that Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15.  That chapter is about the resurrection, not just Christ’s resurrection in the past, but our resurrection as believers in the future.  The gospel promises that when Christ returns, we will be raised and we will be glorified with him.  Let me read with you from 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 [read].  Now notice verse 57.  Paul gives thanks for something still to come.  He’s giving thanks for the victory that will be ours when Christ returns.  Normally we think of thanksgiving in terms of something that’s already happened or perhaps is happening.  But in Scripture, thanksgiving can also be for something coming, for something you’re watching and waiting for. 

So here in Colossians 4:2, believers are prayerfully watching for Christ’s return and giving thanks specifically for that and what it means for us.  As we watch eagerly for the return of Jesus our Saviour and pray for it, we also give thanks for what this will mean for us.  His return will mean the end of struggling with sin.  His return will mean the end of dealing with the death of loved ones.  His return will mean the end of tears.  His return will mean the end of dealing with all different types of sicknesses.  His return will mean the end of conflicts with other people.  Everything wrong will be made right.  Every injustice will be addressed.  So loved ones, when Christ returns, it will be a time of great joy.  It’ll be the beginning of eternal life spent body and soul in the new heavens and new earth.  There’ll be eternal fellowship and communion with God.  All of that is promised us in the gospel and all of this, when we hear about it and believe it, it’s all reason for giving thanks, isn’t it? 

So, brothers and sisters, the takeaway here is this:  pray regularly and eagerly for the return of Christ.  Watch for it.  Tell your heavenly Father again and again how much you long for Jesus to come back.  But then also keep on thanking him for everything that’s promised in connection with the return of your Saviour.

Now the second way that our text speaks about prayer is found in verses 3 and 4.  This is about offering intercessions for the spread of the gospel message.

Paul first asks for the Colossian believers to pray for him.  Actually if you look carefully at verse 3, it says, “us,”  “pray also for us.”  Who are the “us” here?  It’s at least Paul and Timothy.  Back in Colossians 1:1, the epistle is said to be not only from Paul, but also from Timothy.  Perhaps Epaphras (the Colossian pastor) is with Paul and Timothy too as this was being written.  Whatever the case may have been, it’s a reference to servants of the gospel working together with Paul. 

Paul’s request for prayer here is quite specific.  There are two things he’s asking the Colossians to pray for.  The first is that God would open a door for the gospel.  Here Paul is asking the church to pray that God would give an opportunity for the gospel to be preached.  That’s what “open a door” means.  It means to give an opportunity.  We still speak like that today.   The apostle was asking that God would make a way for the good news of Christ to be preached in the current circumstances.  He calls the message that needs to be preached here “the mystery of Christ.”  That idea has appeared before in Colossians.  It’s in Colossians 2:2.  The mystery of Christ is simply that Christ is the source of salvation, not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, for non-Jewish people too.  It was specifically to the Gentiles that Paul had been sent.

It was because of his ministry to the Gentiles that Paul was in prison as he wrote this letter.  You have to remember that Paul was in prison as he wrote this letter and it was likely in Rome.  How had he ended up there?  He’d been in Jerusalem.  Paul had been spending some time in Jerusalem with a Gentile man from Ephesus named Trophimus.  Some of the Jews assumed that Paul had taken Trophimus into the temple and it was this assumption that caused an uproar and caused Paul to be arrested.  This is in Acts 21.  Paul eventually appealed his case to Caesar and that brought him to Rome at the end of the book of Acts.  Many scholars believe Paul was in Rome when he wrote this letter to the Colossians.  His ministry to men like Trophimus brought him to this prison cell.  If he’d just kept away from the Gentiles, he might have stayed out of trouble.  But that wasn’t an option.  He’d been commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel to the world.  Not only did he have to do it, he wanted to declare the mystery of Christ, he wanted to bring the gospel to the nations. 

Now that he’s in prison, he’s asking the Colossians to pray for him that God would give him an open door to preach.  He wasn’t asking them to pray for his release exactly.  Maybe an open door would be literally an open jail door, release from prison and more opportunities to preach freely wherever he was led.  But there could just as well have been an open door right in prison.  Think of what Paul writes in Philippians 1.  That too was written from prison, and probably also in Rome.  Paul says the whole imperial guard was hearing about Christ.  Even within prison, there was an open door for the gospel.  God can give those opportunities for the gospel anywhere there are people.

When those opportunities come, Paul and others with him will take them.  They’ll preach the good news about Jesus Christ.  But it’s not enough simply to preach.  The preacher has to preach well, which here is to preach clearly.  That’s what we read in verse 4 and that’s the second part of what Paul is asking the Colossians to pray about for him.  He’s asking them to pray so that he’ll preach with clarity.  After all, if you preach and nobody can understand what you’re saying, what good is it?  Theologically speaking, the message might be biblical and orthodox.  It might be true straight down the line.  But if it’s all muddled and confused and not presented in a good way, that can be an obstacle to effective communication.  Moreover, a poor presentation doesn’t speak well of the one who commissioned the message.  If it was Christ who gave the message, and sent the messenger out, Christ the exalted and most excellent King, shouldn’t the messenger strive to represent him as best he can?  Wouldn’t the messenger want to deliver the message with the utmost excellence?  Indeed, this is how Paul ought to speak, as he says at the end of verse 4.  This is how all preachers of the gospel ought to speak.  Because we represent Christ, we aim for the highest excellence in preaching the gospel.  Nothing else will do.

But someone might say, “It doesn’t really matter how clear the preacher is.  If God wants to bring someone to faith, he’ll do it.”  There’s some truth to that.  God can work through a poor preacher to bring people to faith.  God can work through a poor preacher to build up people in faith.  The Puritans used to say that God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick.  But does that allow any preacher to slack off and say, “Well, it doesn’t matter how badly I preach, God will do what he wants no matter what”?  No!  God will sovereignly work, but that doesn’t mean that preachers can settle for less than a full effort in their preaching.  We’re ambassadors for Christ – we can’t slack off and do a half-baked job.  For every preacher, Paul’s words at the end of verse 4 apply:  there is a way “which is how I ought to speak.”  That way here is with crystal clear communication. 

Others might say, “Even if the preaching is clear and understandable, there’ll be those who just don’t hear it with their hearts.”  That’s quite true.  Unless the Holy Spirit is opening the heart, people might have a superficial hearing of clear preaching, but it won’t be the true hearing associated with faith.  They might be able to repeat some facts they heard from a clear sermon, but they don’t believe what they heard, nor do they believe in the Christ who was proclaimed.  Even the clearest and most excellent sermons still need the work of the Holy Spirit so people will have their hearts softened and believe the message preached.  The clearest sermon can never save anyone without the heart-changing power of the Holy Spirit.   

But the focus here in our text is on the responsibility of the preacher and the resulting prayer request of the preacher.  Paul knows that he needs to be clear.  He asks the Colossians to pray for him so that he will be clear.  He makes this prayer request so that he can be God’s instrument to bring salvation to the lost.

Now how we do take this into our lives today?  I suppose you could take these words and use them as a guide to praying for your pastor.  As I’ve been saying, every preacher needs to preach the gospel clearly and well.  You could be in constant prayer for that for your pastor.  Ask God to help your pastor preach with excellence. 

However, there’s a better and more direct connection we can make between verses 3 and 4 and today.  Really when we look at Paul, we’re looking at a missionary.  He was a missionary primarily to the Gentiles.  His preaching was often missionary preaching.  To make a more direct connection to today, this is speaking about how we should be in constant prayer for our missionaries and their preaching.

If I were to ask you right now, do you know the names of the missionaries we support?  Those of you who are already praying for them regularly will know.  Others maybe not.  [At this point, mention the missionaries you support by name and where they’re serving.]

Our missionaries need our prayers, brothers and sisters.  Following what our text says, we need to pray for them that God would give them open doors for the Word.  Let’s pray persistently that God would give our missionaries many opportunities to share the gospel of Christ with those who are in darkness.  Let’s also be constantly praying that God would help our missionaries to preach with clarity, as they ought to speak.  Let’s pray that God would help them to be effective and excellent communicators of the gospel message that they’ve been entrusted with.  Let’s pray that God would use them to continue drawing in his elect from the four corners of the earth, doing it for his glory and praise.

Loved ones, prayer is what our God calls us to here in these verses.  We’re called to be devoted to prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.  Why does he call us to pray?  A couple of reasons.  First, because he wants us to depend not on ourselves but on him.  When we pray, we acknowledge that we are helpless and need the strength of our sovereign God.  Second, we’re called to pray because somehow he has ordained to accomplish his will through our prayers.  In other words, prayer actually does something.  Prayer changes things.  As it says in James 4:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  With that in mind then, let’s persist in our prayers, always calling on our Father in faith.  AMEN.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your Holy Word leading our lives, also when it comes to our prayers.  Led by your Word, we again pray eagerly for the return of our Saviour Jesus.  We pray that he would come quickly with the clouds of heaven.  Father, help us all to be ready for him, to be watchful.  We give you thanks for what his return will bring.  We thank you for assuring us again of the peace and joy that awaits us at his return.  Father, we look forward to that glorious time of no tears, no death, no sickness, no strife, no sin.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. 

O God, we also pray to you for our missionaries.  [Mention them here by name].  We pray that you would give them open doors for the Word.  Please give them many opportunities to share the gospel of Christ with those in darkness.  Please help our missionaries to preach with clarity, as they ought to speak.  And we pray that you would indeed help them to be effective and excellent communicators of the gospel message that they’ve been entrusted with.  Please give our missionaries all the grace and strength they need to honour you in their work for the gospel.                             

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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