If your parents ever went on a date night when you were young, they would often leave you with a list of commands before they left. “Be good. Don’t fight with your sister. Be in bed by 8 pm. No candy. Listen to your babysitter.” Almost always, the commands were thrown off and chaos ensued.
Paul entrusted the Colossian church to faithful leaders and before he signed his letter and sent it, he wanted to give them final commands on how they should conduct themselves. Paul, encouraged by the proclamation of Jesus at this church, gives final commands to the church more broadly. These final commands, though they seem random, govern their inner spiritual life and their testimony to the confused world around them.
Be devoted to prayer, being alert in it with thanksgiving, praying at the same time also for us, so that God may open to us a door for the Word to proclaim the mystery of Christ, for who also I am bound, so that I might reveal it just as it is necessary for me to speak. Walk in wisdom to the outsiders making the most of time. Let your word always be graceful, seasoned as salt, knowing how it is necessary for each of you to answer as one.
— Colossians 4:2-6, my translation
The final command Paul gives to the church for their life together specifically is to persevere in prayer. He calls them to persevere for two reasons.
First, they have a high calling. The final commands Paul placed on the family—and now the church more broadly—are difficult commands.
- Work hard
- Treat well (just to name a few)
These commands cannot be fulfilled on their own power.
God’s people need to pray for the strength to obey God’s law so that they can be faithful witnesses to the world around them and know they have been saved. They also need to pray for grace when they fail to keep these commands. They need to be reminded that they are still fallen, but are continually striving to live as genuine Christians.
Second, they’re not only praying for themselves specifically, but for God’s people more broadly and the Gospel’s spread.
Paul calls for their prayers so that God may provide more opportunities for Jesus’ work to be made known to the world. He reminds them of his imprisonment. Interestingly, Paul does not exclaim that he wants freedom. Rather, recognizing that he is bound, he makes the most of his situation by writing to this church (and others) and presenting the work of Jesus clearly. Typically, when we think of Gospel proclamation, we think of others moving about freely, proclaiming the truth they know. However, it would take a great strength on Paul’s part—the first missionary who traveled all around the Mediterranean—to sit bound and still proclaim the Word.
Either way—bound or unbound—he desires to make Jesus known clearly. As anyone who teaches or writes knows, this is no easy task and one that takes hours of work and years of investment—and that’s in a safe and stable condition, let alone Paul is secluded and bound prison cell.
Walking in Wisdom
Paul also wants them steward their time well as this will evidence a thorough understanding of God.
Using time well looks like obeying God’s will. Most evidently, this proper obedience looks like serving God. If one is stewarding their time, they will do what God commands and complete their work or volunteer in a way that reflects God’s standards. Not only that, but it also looks like ethical living. If someone is concerned with how their time is used, they will be concerned with their actions and their consequences. If they’re continually making wrong decisions, they will reap the consequences and have to deal with them rather than living according to God’s will.
Someone who is foolish with their time will be self-serving and immoral. In short, they are not walking in wisdom.
Finally, Paul wants them to use their words carefully.
He uses the metaphor that their speech is to be salt. That is, they need to consider the presentation of their speech. The proper presentation of speech is important because it is the Christian’s witness of a transformed life. They will be able to serve as a counter example to those that may be hostile to Christianity. When they object to the faith, they will receive a gracious, understanding, and thorough response.
Living as Exiles
This passage calls Christians today to live with the same witness to the world around us. Our lives should be saturated in prayer—not in that we are always in prayer, but that our Father is the first person we go to when we need help. We should be able to engage with the ideas and issues that our culture cares about so that we can bring God’s truth to bear on the situation. We should speak graciously as an antithesis of the current rhetoric. Whereas some answer in anger, Christians should answer in grace.
However, we cannot fulfill these commands on our own. We need the church community around us to support us and encourage us. We need the Spirit to enable us to perform these commands. Not only that, but we need the Spirit to remind us of Jesus’ grace when we fail.