The lesson title asks a question. The implied subject is “You.” Thus, “Do you pray enough?” Most of us would have to answer, “No.” But God is hurt by our distance and preoccupation with other things. This closing exhortation in Colossians calls us to go forward on our knees. We cannot stumble when we are on our knees. If prayer is the umbrella for the whole lesson text, then Paul developed it in two ways.
Pray for Advancing the Gospel
The New Testament uses six different Greek words for prayer. First Timothy 2:1 has four of those words in just one verse. But the main word for prayer is used in this passage four times (vv. 2, 3, 4, and 12). It simply refers to “respectful plain speech to God.” The lead imperative sets the stage for the rest of the text. Devote yourselves to prayers. Devote means to persist or continue in. Watchfulness (a word often associated with the return of Christ and meaning “alert against spiritual drowsiness”) and thanksgiving (the word where we get “Eucharist”) help us to stay diligent in prayer.
As a capital “A” apostle, Paul was not too proud to request prayer for himself and the other missionaries. But the request was really focused on advancing the gospel—not for Paul personally. He requested prayer for open doors (missionary opportunities as seen in 1 Corinthians 16:9 and 2 Corinthians 2:12), for the content of the message (word) and making known the mystery of Christ (which had caused him to be incarcerated), and for clarity in making that message known.
Praying for open doors causes us to be others-centered. This helps us act wisely toward outsiders (a clear reference to nonbelievers; see 1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:7). Praying also helps us keep our spiritual antennae out to make the most (redeem or buy up) of every opportunity. Praying also ensures that our conversation (word) will be full of grace and seasoned with salt (pure and penetrating) so that just the right word will be spoken in times of witness (Matthew 10:19, 20; Proverbs 16:24; 25:11).
Pray for the Maturing of the Church
Paul often ended his epistles by giving closing commands, stating final warnings, and commending workers in the church. The accent in this final greeting was on the latter. Seven people are mentioned in this closing section. All are mentioned in positive ways. If we went beyond the printed text (4:14-18) we would find three additional names.
Paul commended Tychicus and Onesimus in the first paragraph. Both men had the responsibility to inform the Colossians of Paul’s ministry. Paul’s desire was that this would encourage the Colossians’ hearts. Paul affirmed three things about Tychicus. He was a dear (loved) brother, faithful minister (deacon), and fellow servant (slave). Paul affirmed two things about Philemon’s runaway slave who was actually from Colossae. He was a faithful and dear brother.
Paul commended five additional names in the second paragraph. Aristarchus had been Paul’s fellow inmate and sent his greeting to the church. John Mark (writer of the second gospel and cousin—or maybe nephew—of Barnabas) sent his greetings as well. Note that the breach between Paul and Mark that occurred in Acts 13 and 15 had already been healed to the point that Paul now considered Mark helpful (2 Timothy 4:11.) Jesus, identified as Justus to ensure that no one thought Paul was making a reference to the Lord, joined Aristarchus and Mark in sending greetings. Paul considered these Jewish coworkers valuable ministers of the kingdom of God and acknowledged they had been a comfort (similar to soothing medication) to him.
Epaphras was Paul’s coworker who tied this closing section back to the teaching on prayer earlier in the text. This man who was probably responsible for planting the church in Colossae in the first place (Colossians 1:7), wrestled (agonized) in prayer for the Colossians. He had prayed that they would stand firm (mature) in God’s will and be fully assured (persuaded) in their walk in the Lord. Paul vouched (bore witness) that Epaphras had worked hard for not only the Colossians but also for the neighboring churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis—cities within seeable distance from each other. Hierapolis has wonderful hot springs to this day. But by the time the water got to Laodicea via the aqueduct it had become lukewarm (Revelation 3:14-22). By heeding this admonition to devote ourselves to prayer our souls will be anything but lukewarm. Prayer makes believers red hot.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.