Getting the Word Heard

The Voice of Hope
The Voice of Hope
Getting the Word Heard
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Colossians 4:2-6

How important are words in our human experience? Is that a foolish question? Think about it. God spoke words to create the world and He used words to communicate with the beings He created in His image. Because we are made in God’s image we too can communicate with words. And God referred to His Son, Jesus, as the Word, the logos. This Word, Jesus, was sent to us to show us the person of God the Father. John says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” I conclude that words are important to God.

I like words! I enjoy games with words, like Scrabble and Boggle, crossword puzzles, and word scrambles. As a reader, a writer, and a pastor/teacher, I interact with words and use words all the time. Words allow me to express my thoughts in a way that others can understand. If I see they’re not understanding, I can rephrase the sentence using different words, or give more explanation of the words I’m using.

We all use words to convey thoughts, ideas, desires, intentions, and more. Think about how much is lost if you can’t communicate with words. You can act out simple desires like wanting to eat or needing to sleep, you can even communicate your emotions through facial expression, tears, posture, etc. Sign language is very helpful for people who can’t hear, but it still isn’t the same because you can’t hear tone, inflection, and the other variables in speech.

  Most likely you’ve heard the saying, “communication is an art.” I think that’s a good description. Words are just one part of communication, but they’re an important part. Simple words can be like a child drawing stick figures. By a few simple lines we can determine whether the figure is a man or woman, a child, or a pet, but there’s very little detail. As one develops a larger vocabulary and begins to understand the importance of context, it’s like an artist adding details to the canvas on her easel. The painting presents a fuller, richer, more detailed picture than the stick figure drawing.

As we continue our journey through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we’ve come to chapter four and verses 2 through 6. While this is just a short text, it is a rich one that opens to us another facet of how the preeminence of Christ affects the way we as Christ-followers should live.

If we believe, as Paul so clearly teaches in this letter to the Colossians, that Jesus is preeminent, that He is first in power, rank, position, and that He is supreme over everyone and everything, then, we will understand the necessity of telling others this important truth. To tell others this message we need words. And we need words that others can understand. So, I’ve titled our study “Getting the Word Heard.”  

As we begin our study listen to Paul’s words from Colossians 4:2 to 6.

This text contains several ELEMENTS we must consider if we want to be effective in “Getting the Word Heard.”

The First Element is,

Communion

Immediately, you may think I’m talking about the Lord’s Table and the commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice. You may think of unleavened bread and grape juice representing the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. But that’s not how I’m using this word in this context.

Instead, by using the word communion, I’m referring to having fellowship with God in prayer. We know God desires communion with us. He desired it so much that He went looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they had sinned. He came looking for them “in the cool of the day.” That suggests this was a time when they previously enjoyed fellowship together.

Paul instructs the Colossian Believers to continue in prayer, communing with God. Some Bible translations add the word steadfastly or earnestly because that idea is contained in the original wording. So, this isn’t just a brief prayer before a meal or a child’s memorized bedtime prayer. Those certainly have their place, but this is different. In I Thessalonians 5:17 Paul counsels Believers to “pray continually.” But too many of us, myself included, only pray occasionally – when we feel like it, or when there’s a crisis, we need help with.  

What role does prayer, communion with God, have in making sure the Word gets heard? I can think of several ways that our personal communion with God affects getting the word heard. First, as Paul has taught throughout this epistle, it reminds us of our complete dependence on God. James tells his readers in his epistle that one reason they don’t have what they need is because they don’t ask! Too often, we don’t ask God because we depend on our own capabilities.

The second reason our communion with God affects getting the Word heard is, it helps keep us focused on why we’re here. It keeps us alert to what is happening around us and to opportunities for witness. I read the testimony of a surgical assistant who prayed for a job with spiritual significance. He was shocked when God led him to a position in the field of plastic surgery. He wondered why God would want him in such a hotbed of vanity? But during his times of communion with God, the Lord assured him that he was in the right place, and that he should wait upon his direction. So, he obeyed, continuing to pray that the Lord would use him in this job.

He felt led by the Lord to begin a prayer meeting among his coworkers. So, he announced that each Monday, 15-minutes before starting time, he would be in surgical ward #2 and anyone who wanted could join in prayer for their workplace and employees. At first, the gathering was small, but it grew, and by the end of the first year of praying together 10 of his friends had placed their faith in Jesus for salvation. Additional prayer groups were also started throughout the hospital. Why? Because one man listened to what God told him in his time of prayer.

Think of Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. They were in communion with God, they were praying and singing. And when the prison doors flew open, they didn’t say “now what do we do?” They didn’t see an opportunity to escape, instead they saw an opportunity to share Christ with the whole prison population including the jailer and his family! That led to a local fellowship being established in Philippi.

When I was a child, my parents taught me to close my eyes when I prayed. I know why they did that; to eliminate distractions. But Paul seems to suggest that we pray with our eyes open! That can mean our physical eyes, like praying while you’re driving the car. But more importantly, I think he’s referring to our spiritual perception. He says that in our praying we are to watch, stay awake, be vigilant as we pray. This command is stated numerous times in Scripture.

Another reason to be watchful in prayer is because we are easily distracted. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane warned the disciples to watch and pray so they wouldn’t fall into temptation. What was the temptation Jesus was warning them about? First, the temptation to fall asleep when they should be awake. In addition, the temptation to respond incorrectly to the unfolding events of that night, like Peter, using man’s reasoning, and lashing out with his sword. Later, a relative of Peter’s victim confronted him in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house. “Didn’t I see you with Jesus in the Garden?”

And why does Paul request their prayers? That God would open a door of opportunity for him to preach the Gospel. Paul’s request leads me to another important aspect of how our communion with God helps in getting the Word heard. Let me introduce this idea with the following verse. “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them,” Second Corinthians 4:3 and 4.

In our praying, we can ask God to push back “the god of this age.” The god of this age may it express himself in a variety of ways, but ultimately, it’s Satan, isn’t it? He is the one who fills people’s lives with distractions, he is the one who blinds people’s minds to the truth. He is the one who tries to keep them in the darkness of superstition and fear. He is the one who stirs up family or friends or government to oppose them in their search for truth.

But through prayer we can petition God to remove that blindness and open the hearts and minds of those who are hearing the Gospel. That way, when the Gospel seed falls, it falls on heart-soil that has been broken up and prepared to receive it. I don’t think we realize enough how critical our praying is in the salvation of the lost.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians while he was sitting in a Roman prison. We learn more about that in the closing verses of this chapter. But he isn’t moaning and groaning about his imprisonment. Instead, he’s asking his brothers and sisters to use their time of communion with the Lord to pray for him to have opportunities to share the Gospel, for getting the Word heard and for personal boldness when the opportunities arise.  

I’m convicted by the testimony of that surgical assistant. So often I fail to see the opportunities that are right under my nose for getting the Word heard – because I fail to commune with God as I should! What he did wasn’t huge. Just a 15-minute prayer meeting every Monday. Yet God used that to bring people to faith in Jesus and to impact the entire hospital.

And notice too, again, Paul’s emphasis on thanksgiving. Our prayer and our watching should be bathed in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what? Thanksgiving for access to the throne of Almighty God. Thanksgiving for answers to prayers we’ve prayed in the past. Thankfulness for God’s ability to give us what we need instead of what we want. You can add to the list.

What is God saying to you in your times of communion with Him? Or have you neglected those times? Remember, James said that “we don’t have because we don’t ask.” I truly believe that our communion with God, or the lack of it, has a tremendous impact on getting the Word heard.

The Next ELEMENT (in getting the Word Heard) is,

Clarity

If people can hear the words spoken, but don’t understand them, the Word isn’t getting truly heard. Genuine hearing involves the intellect and the heart. I remember well, my mentor, Dr. J. Otis Yoder speaking to me about the need for clarity in teaching and preaching. He said, “if you’re going to feed the sheep, you have to put the food where they can reach it.” And to do that you need to know your audience. Paul asked the Colossian Believers to pray that he would be able to proclaim the Word clearly, to put the food where the sheep could reach it.

Sometimes, and I’m guilty of this too, we Christ-followers use language that is familiar to us but foreign to non-believers. Several decades ago, people understood what it meant to be “born-again.” Today, many people are like Nicodemus in his night conversation with Jesus. When Jesus talked with him about being born again, he was thinking of physical birth, he couldn’t see how that was possible. Many people today have little or no exposure to God’s Word and biblical truth. So, the Word must be made clear to them in language they can understand and relate to.

Paul highlights the importance of clarity in I Corinthians chapter 14. The context is his teaching about speaking in tongues, but his conclusion applies just as well to this essential of making our teaching clear. In verse 8, he says, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So, it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.”

Using understandable words is important, but there’s more to it than that. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2:14 that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Until the mind and heart are opened by the Holy Spirit understanding will not come.

Here again, prayer is part of the process because we can ask God by His Holy Spirit to help us share His truth in ways that people can understand, and to enable them, by His Spirit to understand what we’re saying. That’s what Paul was asking the Colossian Believers to pray for him. He knew his effectiveness in getting the Word heard depended, at least in part, on his clarity. The same is true for you and me today.

The Next ELEMENT (in getting the Word heard) is,

Clarity

If people can hear the words spoken, but don’t understand them, the Word isn’t getting truly heard. Genuine hearing involves the intellect and the heart. I remember well, my mentor, Dr. J. Otis Yoder speaking to me about the need for clarity in teaching and preaching. He said, “if you’re going to feed the sheep, you have to put the food where they can reach it.” And to do that you need to know your audience. Paul asked the Colossian Believers to pray that he would be able to proclaim the Word clearly, to put the food where the sheep could reach it.

Sometimes, and I’m guilty of this too, we Christ-followers use language that is familiar to us but foreign to non-believers. Several decades ago, people understood what it meant to be “born-again.” Today, many people are like Nicodemus in his night conversation with Jesus. When Jesus talked with him about being born again, he was thinking of physical birth, he couldn’t see how that was possible. Many people today have little or no exposure to God’s Word and biblical truth. So, the Word must be made clear to them in language they can understand and relate to.

Paul highlights the importance of clarity in I Corinthians chapter 14. The context is his teaching about speaking in tongues, but his conclusion applies just as well to this essential of making our teaching clear. In verse 8, he says, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So, it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.”

Using understandable words is important, but there’s more to it than that. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2:14 that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Until the mind and heart are opened by the Holy Spirit understanding will not come.

Here again, prayer is part of the process because we can ask God by His Holy Spirit to help us share His truth in ways that people can understand, and to enable them, by His Spirit to understand what we’re saying. That’s what Paul was asking the Colossian Believers to pray for him. He knew his effectiveness in getting the Word heard depended, at least in part, on his clarity. The same is true for you and me today.

The Next ELEMENT (in getting the Word heard) is,

Conduct

In the English language we have a saying; “What you DO speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” A person’s conduct and character have much to do with whether people will listen to what he or she says.

When I was a younger man, there was a popular bumper sticker that said “Honk, if you love Jesus.” So, a lady is driving on a busy street, and she pulls up behind a car at the traffic light. She read the bumper sticker and tapped the horn. An angry man jumped out of the car and yelled, “Lady, what’s the matter with you, can’t you see the light is red?” I cringe sometimes when I see how people drive and then have a Christian message of some kind on their vehicle.

To my shame, my wife has already asked me after my wrong response to a driver on the highway, “if we meet that person at the next rest area will they be interested in your Jesus?” Ouch! Or what about the neighbor who is always asking to borrow your tools? Or the guy who consistently tries to tune-up his Harley when it’s time for your Sunday afternoon nap? How are you going to respond? Will your conduct make him more receptive to the Gospel, or less?

Paul says we are to walk wisely before those who are outside of the family of God. So, he makes a distinction between us and unbelievers. Jesus did the same thing in Mark 4:11. He made a distinction between His disciples and those who weren’t disciples. We who are born again are “spiritual insiders” because we belong to God’s family, we share His life.

But we must never become proud of our position in Christ. We must never give those outside God’s family the impression that we are somehow superior to them. Some of them already have that feeling. We were just like them before God rescued us from the slave-market of sin at the cost of Jesus’ blood. We are sinners saved by grace. The whole point of this text is that we are to be sharing with others how they can experience the same transformation we have through Jesus.

What does it mean to walk wisely before unbelievers? Walking refers to our conduct. Many unbelievers seem to know instinctively how a Christ-follower should live. So, when a high-profile Christian leader is caught in major moral failure, the unbelievers mock. Here was someone who claimed to speak for God, and he’s discovered to be doing the same thing the unbelievers are doing, or worse! That jeopardizes the testimony of all Believers.

The story is told about Dr. Will H. Houghton (Ho-tun), who pastored the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City and later served as president of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute till his death in 1946. When Dr. Houghton became pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle in Atlanta, a man in that city hired a private detective to follow Dr. Houghton and report on his conduct. After a few weeks, the detective reported to his client that Dr. Houghton’s life matched his preaching. As a result, that man became a Christ-follower.  

Walking in wisdom means being careful in what we say and do. It means consciously trying to avoid actions that will hinder others from hearing the message we proclaim. In Acts 24:16, Paul was defending himself before the Roman governor, Felix. from the charges of the Jewish leaders. In response to their accusations he said, “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”

Paul didn’t want anything he did or said to give others a reason to disregard the message he was preaching. We know he was falsely accused by his detractors, and we may experience that too. But we should strive to live a life that is above reproach.

Another area of conduct we as Christ-followers need to work on is being more loving in our presentation of the truth. Several years ago, the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas became infamous for their anti-homosexual protests at the funerals of fallen US service members. In their protests they carried signs with inflammatory statements; like “God hates homosexuals,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers”. They also vilified Jews, Mormons, and Catholics. This group has been denounced by many churches and organizations because of their hateful rhetoric.

Now, surely, we know God doesn’t hate sinners. God doesn’t approve of any sin, regardless of what form it takes, but He loves all people. John 3:16 to 18 leaves no doubt of this fact. In getting the Word heard, we need to learn how to use God’s love to guide our conduct.

Some of you may be familiar with the name, Rosaria Butterfield. She was a tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University and a practicing lesbian. In her book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” she tells the story of her journey to personal, saving faith in Jesus in the year, 1999. She shares how God used a humble couple’s simple invitation to dinner to draw her—a radical, committed unbeliever—to himself. That couple reached out to her as a human being loved by God, and that helped to break down her perception that Christ-followers were hate-filled bigots.

The message of the Gospel is offensive; Jesus and the apostles said it would be so. But we don’t need to make it more offensive by our un-Christlike responses to the sinful practices of those around us. We must learn to see past the sometimes-repulsive exterior of a person to see the deeper needs of the soul. We must surely keep in mind that “except for the grace of God, there go I.”

Paul further reminds us that this walking in wisdom includes redeeming the time. That means “buying up” the opportunities that come our way for personal witnessing. Here, Paul uses a commercial term. Just like a businessman seizes a bargain when he sees one, so a Christ follower seizes the opportunity to share the message of Christ’s love with the lost. He knows that both his time and the time of the person he’s witnessing to are both limited.

I’m sure there’s more we could discuss about how important this element of conduct is in getting the Word heard. But let’s move on to…

The Final ELEMENT (in getting the Word heard) is,

Conversation

While our conduct is vitally important in as we walk before unbelievers, it’s not a substitute for talking to them and sharing the Gospel message verbally.

I read about a man who got saved as a young, adult. He was so excited about Christ for the first couple of weeks, he told everybody the difference Jesus had made in his life. One Sunday night he was at his church, and they sang the song, “Rescue the Perishing.” He heard that song and he got so excited that as soon as the service was over, he rushed to the pastor, and said, “Pastor, I’m ready.” The pastor said, “Ready for what?” He said, “Man, I’m ready to go rescue the perishing–let’s do it!”

The pastor looked at him and said, “Well, that’s not something we really do, that’s just a song we sing.” Sadly, the pastor’s response is all too common today. Yet, Paul asks the question in Romans 10:14, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” And by the way, this isn’t referring exclusively to the clergy. The word translated as “preacher” is kerusso, a herald or a messenger.

Furthermore, Paul states in Second Corinthians 5:20, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” You and I have been authorized to be Christ’s ambassadors, His representatives, to tell the world the Good News of salvation through Him.

In this context, Paul addresses the importance of how we do that. He writes, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Our speech will only be gracious if we have grace in our hearts. Paul spoke about that need in chapter three and verse sixteen; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” You have here the combination of teaching, admonishing, and singing, all done with grace in your heart. As Jesus said, and I paraphrase, “what is in the heart will come out of the mouth.”

And then, Paul says metaphorically that our speech should be seasoned with salt. What does that mean? Salt has been used for thousands of years as a preservative and a flavor enhancer. It seems the second use is especially in view here. The Greek philosopher, Plutarch, said, “many call salt, charis, or grace, because when it is mixed with most things it makes them more agreeable and pleasant to the taste.” Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15 support this idea by telling us to “speak the truth in love.”

As Christ-followers, we can hold firmly to our biblical convictions without being rude or obnoxious. How willing are you to listen to someone who’s language is rude or coarse? Not so much, right? So, why should we expect others to listen to us if we talk that way? Instead, we need to learn and model the speech of Jesus as He spoke in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. Luke records this for us; “So, all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.”

So, you see, our walk and our talk are both important. Our conduct and our conversation are mutually supportive. They must agree. Add to this the two earlier elements of getting the Word heard; communion, that is, prayer, and clarity, making the message plain and understandable so all can truly hear.

My friend, I confess, this portion of Scripture has convicted me. By God’s grace and enabling, I will be more faithful in communion with my Heavenly Father in intercession for the lost. I will continue working to bring clarity to the message of the Gospel as I proclaim it.

By His grace and enabling, I will stive to conduct myself in a way that will not bring reproach on the name of Christ and will not hinder my witness for Him. And I will be more diligent in taking advantage of the opportunities to give verbal witness to the Gospel. If you’re willing to join me in those commitments, pray with me now.

Gracious God, our Heavenly Father, thank you for speaking to us so clearly from your Word. I pray for myself and for the listener who is joining me in prayer. Will you enable us by your grace and power to cultivate these elements that are so essential to getting your Word heard? Thank you for hearing and answering our prayer because we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.