Living as Missionaries

Written by admin on Jun 26, 2013 in - No Comments

Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles this morning to Colossians 4:2–6. And as you are turning, I would like to give you a question to consider.

When I say the word “missionary,” what comes into your mind? My guess would be that you think of people like Lottie Moon and William Carey who is known as the “father of modern mission” for his pioneering work in India. I am sure you think of someone you know today who has a son or daughter or cousin who is a missionary in a foreign country somewhere on the other side of the world.

And I suspect that you have great respect for these people. You know the sacrifices they make, you know what they have given up to be obedient to God’s call on their life, and you are thankful they are spreading the gospel in a place where it needs to be spoken.

But I wonder if you have ever considered the fact that you are a missionary as well. Maybe not a foreign missionary living overseas in some exotic place, speaking a strange language to a group of people much different than what you are used to here. But as followers of Jesus Christ we are all called to be involved in God’s mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And…

Because our mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth is not complete, Christians must live as God’s missionaries right where they are.

And what we see in our passage for today from Colossians 4:2–6 is that the way we are to live as missionaries is by: 1) Praying like a missionary, 2) Acting like a missionary, and 3) Speaking like a missionary.

Follow along with me as I read our passage for this morning.

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 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— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:2–6 ESV)

So the way we live as missionaries is by: 1) Praying like a missionary, 2) Acting like a missionary, and 3) Speaking like a missionary.

Praying Like a Missionary (vv. 2–4)

Let’s start with Praying like a missionary. Prayer is the foundation for all mission activity. There can be no effective mission work apart from prayer. So then, how does a missionary pray?

Persistent Prayer (v. 2)

The first characteristic of missional prayer is persistence. Paul tells the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer.” Another way this could be translated is “Persevere in prayer.” And we know what perseverance means. It means continuing on in the face of struggles and obstacles. It is being determined in our prayers in the face of adversity. That is how missionaries pray.

William Carey, the man I mentioned earlier who is known as the “father of modern missions,” lived and preached and prayed in India for 7 years before seeing his first convert. And I am sure that he was persistent in his prayer during this time. Can you imagine seven years without a single convert? I wonder if our missionary agencies today would fire him? I am sure that one of the things that got him through this time was prayer. And his confidence in prayer to bring about change in people’s hearts.

And as God’s missionaries in this community, this place he has sent us to, we must never give up praying for our neighbors. I know some of you have been here for 50+ years and some of you have probably been praying for certain neighbors for nearly that long, praying that God would open their hearts to the beauty of the gospel. And my exhortation to you this morning would be to press on. Continue on in your prayers. Never give up. Pray that the Holy Spirit would remove their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh that is receptive to Jesus Christ.

Watchful Prayer (v. 2)

And Paul tells the Colossians, that while they are persevering in their prayer, they are also to be watchful in it. What does he mean by that? Well, Jesus said something similar. You may recall it. He told his inner circle of disciples on the night before his crucifixion to “Watch and Pray.” He said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38 ESV).

There is real sense in which our spirit wants to be alert in prayer and diligent in prayer and faithful in prayer, but because of temptation, because of tiredness, because of busyness, because of all sorts of other reasons, we fail, just like the disciples, to “watch and pray.” So we must be on high alert. We must remain awake and ready to pray. Don’t be lulled into a spiritual sleep that distracts you from your important calling to pray for God’s mission on this earth. Prayer is the foundation of all mission work so be diligent in it.

Thankful Prayer (v. 2)

And all of our prayers should be covered with gratitude. Paul says in verse 2 that we are to continue steadfastly in prayer with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to God who has raised us out of the domain of darkness and death. He has set us in a new way of life. And he has appointed us as his missionaries in this world. We should be thankful for the opportunity we have to participate in his kingdom work. God is establishing a kingdom on this earth. He has called us to be a part of that mission. He has sent us out into the world to make disciples. And we should be grateful for it.

Are you thankful for the opportunity to serve as one of God’s missionaries on this earth? If so, let him know in prayer. As I said earlier, there can be no missions work without prayer. And, there can be no genuine prayer without thanksgiving for what God has done for us.

So the attitude of missional prayer is one of persistence, one of being alert and watchful, and one of being thankful. That is the attitude of missional prayer. But what does Paul have to say about the content of missional prayer? What exactly do we pray for? Well, glad you asked. Paul tells us in verses 3 and 4.

Opportunity-Creating Prayer (v. 3)

First our prayers are to be opportunity-creating prayers. Paul, a man who is in prison (something he reminds us of in this verse), asks the Colossians to pray, not that the prison doors would be opened for him, but that God would would open a door for the word. He wants God to make way for the gospel, which he calls here, the mystery of Christ. The very gospel that has placed him in this prison in the first place. The very gospel that the Colossians heard from their friend Epaphras.

Paul knows that it is only God who can create real opportunities for the gospel to take root in the hearts of those who need to hear and believe. Paul knows that it is only God who can open the door for him and his missionary friends to enter into new mission fields that are ready to be harvested. Paul knows that it is only God who can open the eyes of unbelievers. Paul knows that it is only the Holy Spirit who can truly open the Scriptures for those who need to understand them. And so he asks for the Colossians to pray for these doors to be opened. He asks them to pray that God will create opportunities for the gospel to be shared and take root among those who are perishing without it.

Strengthening Prayer (v. 4)

And in verse 4, he also asks them to pray that God would strengthen him personally, to speak in the way he ought to speak, and in the way that it was necessary for him to speak, when God does open those doors. He asks them to pray strengthening prayers for him. He needs God’s strength to carry out the work that he has been called to do. The work of faithfully proclaiming the gospel among the Gentile people and doing it in the manner that he ought to do it—which means clearly, accurately, and boldly.

Brothers and sisters there are missionaries all over the world who need us to pray for them in similar ways. And we often do. But are we steadfast in it? Are we watchful in it, avoiding the temptation to be distracted from it? Satan knows that our prayers are effective and certainly desires to distract us from the hard work of praying for God’s missionaries around the world. I urge you this morning to pray unrelentingly for the spread of the gospel and the kingdom of God as it spreads across this earth. Effective mission work begins with prayer.

But I want you to think, not just globally when it comes to missions, but also locally. I want you to think about this city and about this very neighborhood and the street you live on. And I want you to see yourself as a missionary sent by God to this place. Remember Epaphras heard the gospel from Paul and he didn’t set out on a missionary journey to some foreign land. Instead he went back to his hometown of Colossae to be a missionary there. And that is what most of us in this room are called to do. To be missionaries right here where we are. And as missionaries on this little mission field called Monte Sano, we are to act in certain ways. And that is what we are going to look at next. Paul tells the Colossians in verse 5 that they are to live like missionaries, not only by praying like a missionary, but also by acting like a missionary.

Acting Like a Missionary (v. 5)

Well then, how do missionaries act? Well Paul tells us in verse 5 that they act wisely and urgently. And if we want to be faithful in our calling as missionaries in this community, we must also act wisely and urgently.

Wise Actions

By wisely I mean that we are to think in the way a missionary thinks. Specifically Paul says we are to act wisely “toward outsiders.” And by “outsiders” Paul is referring to people who are outside of the people of God.

So let’s talk for a minute about what that means. And the best way to do that is to consider how a foreign missionary goes about his or her work in a foreign mission field with a culture that is very different from their own. The reality is that our country has changed a great deal over the past several decades. And those changes require that our strategies for evangelism often look much more like those of foreign missionaries than those of the door to door evangelist.

So first of all, missionaries learn about the culture they are in. And every church’s neighborhood and community is going to be a little bit different. So it is important that we learn our culture. That is the first way we walk in wisdom toward outsiders. It doesn’t mean we adopt every aspect of the culture around us, but it is important that we understand our community so that we can reach it for the gospel. And we have to start seeing our neighborhood and this city, not so much as a place that has been reached for the gospel, but as a mission field in need of workers and a harvest.

I believe that we have to stop drawing a line between evangelism and missions. If there is a line at all between these two in our country today, it is a blurry one. People are not raised in the church the way they used to be. Some of the people in this city are as unfamiliar with the church of Jesus Christ as the Indians William Carey encountered in his missionary endeavors were. And so we would be wise to apply the same principles to our missionary and evangelistic activities here in this community as William Carey and other foreign missionaries have applied in their own mission fields. We have to learn to think of this community as a mission field. And we have to conduct ourselves wisely because of that understanding.

Every foreign mission field has its own unique set of obstacles to the gospel message. And one of the tasks of a missionary is to learn and understand those obstacles and develop ideas for overcoming those obstacles. And that is no different for us here in Huntsville, Alabama on Monte Sano Mountain. We have to analyze our community and determine what are the obstacles to the gospel that we are going to have to reckon with. Again we have to think like missionaries in our rapidly changing world where the gospel message is less and less known and understood.

And while we are to be a contrast community living within a broader community that makes up our mission field, we are to do that wisely. We are to live distinctly different lives than those who are not Christians, but that does not mean we become part of a “holy huddle” that has nothing to do with the outside world. When Paul tells the Colossians to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders,” the understood assumption is that they would be living in and around outsiders. And we are to conduct ourselves in a way that is becoming of who we are. We are people who have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in a new way of life. And that way of life is walking in a manner that is worthy of the Lord and fully pleasing to him.

So we are to act like missionaries first and foremost by the way we live. In a way that is distinctly different from the culture around us. Not in a condescending way, but in a way that is attractive for those who are still needing a savior. That is what Paul means by acting wisely toward outsiders. But in addition to acting wisely toward outsiders, as Christians missionaries we also need to act urgently toward them.

Urgent Actions

Missionaries believe that the end is near and they act like it. Now I do not mean that we need to make up a bunch of signs which say, “The End is Near! Repent or Go to Hell!” and stand on the street corner with megaphones shouting at everyone who goes by. That would not be acting wisely toward outsiders at all. That would be acting like crazy people. No one wants to be a part of anything with a bunch of crazy people in it.

But we are to feel the urgency of the situation. And we are to do what Paul instructed the Colossians to do. We see at the end of verse 5 that we are to make “the best use of the time.”

Lots of times you will hear people in church talk about being good stewards of the money God has given us as individuals and as a church through tithes and gifts. And that is certainly something we should do. It would not be wise for us to take this week’s tithe and waste it on some activity or event that contributes in no way to the spread of the gospel or the growth of God’s kingdom. That would be bad stewardship of the money God has entrusted us with as his servants.

But we rarely think about being good stewards of our time. We all have a certain number of days and hours and minutes left in this lifetime. And there is a sense in which it is good for us to be aware of that clock ticking and feel urgently about using the time we have left in a way that brings the most glory to God and does the most for his kingdom. Those who do will hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Hearing those words should be the focus of our lives as God’s missionaries.

There are a lot of different ways we can spend our time. And let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with leisure time and vacations and relaxing with the family. Being busy does not mean you are godly, and it often means the opposite. But we live in a country where many people are entertaining themselves to death. And Christians who do this are not using their time wisely. They are not being good stewards of it.

Friends we are in a war with a spiritual enemy. And many of you in this room remember times of war in this country. And you can remember those times where every activity, every bit of labor performed, everything that was done was focused on helping our country win that war. This is because times of war are times when it is important to make the best use of the hours and minutes we have. And the same is true for us as God’s missionaries on the spiritual battlefield he has sent us to. We have to feel the urgency of the situation just like a country in war feels the urgency of every moment that passes. We have to make the best use of the time we have. We have to think apocalyptically and understand that the end is really near. When we do so we are acting like a missionary.

We are to act wisely and urgently with regard to those who do not know Jesus Christ. We have to learn to think like missionaries. Because when we begin to understand we have been sent to this place by God, we will begin to pray like missionaries, act like missionaries, and then speak like missionaries. Which brings me to my third point.

Speaking Like a Missionary (v. 6)

Paul tells the Colossians in verse 6 that that are to live like missionaries by speaking like a missionary. Paul knew that when the Colossians prayed like missionaries for opportunities and acted like missionaries by being wise and urgent, they would have opportunities to speak to those outside the Christian faith. And so when those opportunities availed themselves, Paul wanted the Colossians to know how to speak. And first of all Paul says they are to speak gracious words.

Gracious Speaking

“Let your speech always be gracious” is what Paul says at the beginning of verse 6. What does he mean by that? How are the Colossians to speak graciously? Well he means that the Colossians should be people who are pleasant and enjoyable to talk with. They are not to be combative and argumentative in their speech. That is certainly not acting wisely toward outsiders.

You have probably known people who were always ready to fight for their faith. And they were ready to turn any conversation into an apologetic argument about Christianity. Now I am sure that many people who do that are well meaning, but the truth is they are not often enjoyable to be around. And what Paul is conveying here is the importance of speaking in a way that is charming and enjoyable.

It is okay to have a non-religious conversation with your neighbor. Actually it is good to do that. As missionaries we need to be good friends and neighbors. And notice that Paul assumes we will be doing this because he says let your speech ALWAYS be gracious. And “always” includes those times where we are talking with our neighbors about lawn mowers and shrubbery and cars and football and kids and grandkids and groceries and whatever else. Paul assumes that we will be involved in and engaged in the community around us. Again Christians who are effective missionaries are not those who flee from the community into a “holy huddle,” but are those who engage the community and live within the community.

So have normal conversations with those around you, and in time the opportunity will avail itself for you to share the gospel message with that person. While there are people who have a special gift of evangelism, for the majority of us, we need to start by being good neighbors, good coworkers, good customers at the grocery store and hair salon, good helpers at our kids’ school, and willing participants in community activities. And in time we will earn the opportunity to share the gospel with those who need to hear it.

Witty Speaking

But in addition to speaking graciously with others. Paul says that our words should be seasoned with salt. But what does he mean by that? We have all heard the phrase “salty language” which in our culture refers to profane language, so surely that is not what he is talking about. What then does he mean? Well just like food that is not seasoned with salt can be dull and unappealing, words that are not properly seasoned can be dull and unappealing.

A few weeks ago Lara bought some really big chicken breasts from the grocery store that we were going to cook on the grill. Well we got rushed, as always, and we didn’t have enough time to marinate the chicken as long as we needed to. So even though the chicken was cooked perfectly (kudos to the guy operating the grill), the taste was bland and dull and I would not want to eat chicken like that again. Well, that is what Paul means when he says our words need to be seasoned with salt. They need to be flavorful and enjoyable. People need to look forward to having conversations with us.

Most commentators believe that what Paul is saying here is that our words should be “witty” and “winsome.” Paul wanted the Colossians to speak in interesting and stimulating ways with their friends and neighbors outside the Christian faith. And in the same way, our words are to be seasoned in a way that makes our conversations enjoyable and engaging. In other words, don’t contribute to the stereotype that Christians are bores.

Ready Speaking

And then, when our conversations are gracious and interesting, we need to be ready because God will soon give us an opportunity to talk about our faith. The Apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” That is what Paul is talking about at the end of verse 6. We speak like a missionary with gracious speaking, witty speaking, and ready speaking. And we must be prepared to speak in different ways to different people. Peter says we need to be prepared to make a defense to ANYONE,“ and Paul says we need to know how to answer EACH PERSON.” And that is important.

I wouldn’t look at a person who is completely unexposed to the gospel and the teachings of the Bible and say, “Do you know what you need? You need the to believe in the vicarious, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ who served as your propitiation and atoned for your sins.” That would be foolish.

So we need to not only be ready with regard to being on the look out for the opportune time to speak, but we also need to be ready to speak words that are fitting for the person we are speaking with. Sometimes that means throwing the church lingo out the window and speaking to people in words they can understand. Again if you start talking about atonement and justification and regeneration to someone who has never been to church, your words are going to sound like gibberish to them. They are going to be uncomfortable because they don’t know what you are talking about and try to get out of the conversation as quickly as they can. So we must be ready to speak words that are appropriate for the time and the individual we are speaking with. And if we have been developing a relationship with that person, we will know the right words to say.

I think one of the reasons personal evangelism is so uncomfortable to many people is that we have been taught that the way to do it is go up to someone you don’t know and ask them “Do you know Jesus?” or more abruptly, “If you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?” Well guess what, that makes everyone uncomfortable, both you and the person you are speaking with. But if I have spent time cultivating a relationship with someone, and they have come to see that my words are always gracious and that I am really their friend, when I turn to them and they see the concern in my eyes when I ask them, “Do you know Jesus?” it is not uncomfortable. In those situations, the time is right and my words are right.

Conclusion

Being a missionary is a high calling and we should support those men and women who make great sacrifices to leave the comforts of this country to invest their lives in the people and communities in other parts of the world. But I think we often times believe that because a portion of our tithe to this church goes to support missionaries and because we give each year to the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings that our work with regard to missions is done.

But brothers and sisters, the reality is that you too have been called to be missionaries right where you are. Jesus said to us, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV). As followers of Jesus Christ we have all been sent to a certain place as his messengers and ambassadors. We cannot be comfortable by just simply sending our money and prayers to “professional” missionaries who we deem as the ones responsible for fulfilling the Great Commission on our behalf. We too have a role to play in God’s mission.

God has sent each of us here to this place. And we are to live like missionaries right here where we are. We are to pray like missionaries, act like missionaries, and speak like missionaries. This country is changing. No longer do we have to travel into vast parts of the world to be missionaries, friends the world is coming to us. And we can be missionaries right here where we are. And we are called to be missionaries right here where we are. Right here in our own little culture, right here in this city and in this neighborhood.

God did not save us to sit back and be spectators to the Great Commission work that he is doing all around us. He didn’t save us to outsource all those responsibilities to professionals. He saved us to be participants in it. Jesus has saved us and he has sent us out into the fields as workers in the great harvest. That is the perspective we need to have every time we meet a new neighbor, every time we go to the grocery store, every time we sit next to someone we don’t know at our kid’s school. That is the perspective we need to have when we are praying each day. That is the perspective we need to have when we are going about our daily routines.

If we are going to reach our mission field, this community, for Jesus Christ, we must pray like missionaries, act like missionaries, and speak like missionaries. That is our calling. The question is: Will we be obedient to that calling? Like so many Christian men and women who have surrendered themselves to God’s call on their lives to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, will we be obedient to take the gospel to our little end of the earth right here in Huntsville, Alabama?