David Jeremiah - Christian Communication
When Karen Muller, filmmaker and author, was in the Peace Corps from 1987 to 1989, she dug wells and built schools in a village in the Philippines. And one night, 17 members of the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, came to her hut to interrogate her. Earlier that day, villagers had warned her that this was gonna happen, so she collected two precious commodities, sugar and coffee, and when the NP arrived, she exclaimed, "Thank God you're here, I've been waiting all day. Please have some coffee. Leave your guns at the door".
Her reaction baffled the leader of this group. He took off his gun and sat down for a cup of coffee. She avoided an interrogation or something worse because, according to Muller, "You can't interrogate someone you're having coffee with". Muller transformed the situation from intimidation to conversation to communication. She delighted the leader of the group with her unexpected hospitality, changed his heart, his mind, and his intentions. In short, she enchanted him. Enchantment can occur in villages, in stores, in dealerships, offices, boardroom, and in churches. And it transforms the situation and the relationship, and it converts hostility into civility, and it changes skeptics and cynics into believers.
Kawasaki, who is a famous brand evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, says, "It's close to what the Bible calls evangelism, winning people over with the good news of Jesus Christ". For many of us, evangelism, an overwhelming word, but it doesn't have to be. The pattern of the New Testament seems to be this, that someone meets Jesus and experiences reconciliation with God. There's an outpouring of joy which is often expressed through a meal with Jesus, and it's not usually a small one. If you read the Bible, it's usually a big meal. They go and invite all their friends, and they come together for a big announcement about their new relationship with Jesus, and the joy that comes from knowing Jesus is infectious. The gladness that comes from reconciliation with God has a snowballing effect.
Christ's love for us is infectious. Can I get a witness? He loves us. He died for us. He gave us the gift of eternal life. And once we've tasted the joy of that in our lives, we want everybody else to know about it as well, and especially early on after we become Christians. We don't care about criticism. We carry our Bibles with us. Who cares if we get criticized, because what Jesus has done for us is so exciting to us, we want him to do that for others. And that's what Paul wanted too. He experienced the joy of salvation, and he wanted to show the world how wonderful, how attractive, and how captivating Jesus Christ is.
That's the reason he wrote the book of Colossians. He wanted to enchant the Colossian believers. He wanted them to be so excited about Jesus, they didn't have any time for all those crazy people who were bothering them. In the first three chapters of his book, Paul has focused his message on believers, on members of the church. But in chapter 4 he takes a few moments at the end of his letter to focus his attention from inside the church to outside. And in verses 2 through 6 of chapter 4, Paul answers this question. What can an ordinary group of Christians do to make sure that outsiders hear about Jesus? How can we enchant them? How can we excite them? How can we make them want to know the Jesus who's been so good to us?
In the simplest of terms, the first half of our passage tells us how to talk to God about our unsaved friends. And the second part tells us a little bit how to talk to our unsaved friends about God. So how to pray for outsiders, verses 2 through 4. Listen to these words, "Continue earnestly in prayer, be vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak". Paul begins by describing how we can pray personally for people that we care about. Pray personally for them, "Continual earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving". That's a really interesting sentence.
When Paul tells the Colossians to "Continue earnestly in prayer," he's not talking about praying with intensity. Have you ever been in a church service where somebody prays and then you discover they have a prayer voice? When they pray they talk in a regular voice, but when they pray, it goes up a couple of octaves, it's a little bit louder, it's a different voice. It's not them, it's their prayer voice. Now I'm not criticizing anybody and in their praying, but praying's very personal, so if you talk to your wife and you go into a new voice every time you talk to her, it would be different, wouldn't it? Maybe some of you do that, that's why you're not laughing, but let me just tell you something.
What Paul is talking about here is not more intensity in your prayer, but more intensity in your devotion. In other words, continually and habitually, constantly praying for your friends who don't know Jesus yet. Maybe they're in your family, maybe your children or your parents or your brothers and sisters. And if you read the New Testament you'll discover that this devoted prayer is a theme. In fact, when I first started to prepare this message, I think I had eight different scriptures. Now, I can't quote all of them, so I chose two. Here's what the New Testament is filled with.
Ephesians 6:18, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints". And then in Luke 18:1 it says, "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart," or not get discouraged. Paul wanted the Colossians to pray continually. He also wanted them to pray vigilantly. What does that mean? Well, pray looking around. That doesn't mean you don't close your eyes, but you keep your eyes open to what's going on, first of all, in the life of the person you're praying for.
You know, if you have someone who's not a believer, they're living life too, and they're experiencing things like you are, but they're experiencing it without Christ. Keep your eyes on that. Be vigilant to what's happening. It will give you the opportunity to interact with them when the opportunity comes. And it refers to an attitude of being spiritually alert. Means to notice what's going on around us. We live in a strange and difficult world. Doesn't mean we should close our eyes and retreat, pull the motor up behind us and not care. No, the Bible says we're to keep our eyes open, figure out what's going on. Figure out how your faith intersects with what's happening in the world. And frankly, men and women, if you don't believe it does, you need a course in how to share your faith in a crazy, mixed-up world.
Let me tell you something that often escapes believers today. The world in which the Bible was written, the time in which it was written, to the people to whom it was written was way more messed up than our world is. It was way more hostile to the gospel. The Romans ruled. It was a cruel world. It cost something to be a Christian. So when you read the scripture, you think, "Well, that's not relevant". No, it's way more relevant than you think. It's helping us understand how to live our lives in a world that no longer respects us or even wants anything to do with us. And then Paul instructs the Christians to pray with thanksgiving. Oh, I love that, because in the Bible just about every place you see prayer, you see thanksgiving.
If there ever was a group of people that should be filled with thanksgiving, it's us. We have more to be thankful for than any group of people in the whole world, because we already know how it ends, we know where we're going, we know our sins are forgiven. We know that even though we have some bumps in the road, we have someone to help us and guide us and stay with us, and we've all had experiences where Christ has been there and helped us, and he's our counselor, and you know, Christ is not just our Savior and Lord, he's our friend, he's our guide. he's our counselor.
I think Paul was the most thankful person you'll ever read about in the Bible. I think first of all, he was so thankful that he got rescued from a life he had lived before, he had a pretty sad life before Christ came. His whole life was built around persecuting Christians. He put 'em in jail. We don't know this for sure, but probably had some of them killed. And he got rescued from that one day on the road to Damascus when God intersected his life, and he was so filled with gratitude for his salvation.
Do you know, if you read the New Testament, one of the interesting things is Paul writes a lot about a lot of things, but he can't write very much before he bursts out into gratitude for the fact that he's a Christian. It's over and over. His testimony is in the scripture, I think, five times. So he's a thankful person, and he models for us that when we pray for others, we should also be thankful for the privilege we have of knowing Jesus Christ and of bearing witness for him to the people we intercede for. So he said, "Pray personally". And then he says, "Pray on purpose," and now he talks about these people praying for him.
And this is a very interesting passage, especially for people who do what I do. Here's what he said, "Meanwhile," verse 3, "praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak". As the Colossians were praying for their unbelieving friends, Paul asked them to whom he was writing this letter, people he had never seen, "Would you all pray for me? And here's what I... I don't want you to pray for my health".
Isn't it interesting, Paul had a lot of health issues. He hardly ever mentioned them. His prayers were never requested for his health, for his wellbeing, for his success. He prayed for the gospel. He said, "Pray for me. And here's what I want you to pray for. I want you to pray for connections". An open door is the word that he uses. And that's a phrase in the New Testament that could be translated opportunity. An open door is an opportunity. Paul was saying, "Pray for me that I will have an opportunity to share the gospel". And if you look at the Bible, you will see that little phrase over and over.
Like, once again, there's many passages from which I could choose, but here's a couple of examples. Acts 14:27, "Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done for them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles". In other words, he'd given the Gentiles an opportunity to believe. It was an opportunity. Or 1 Corinthians 16:9, "A great and effective door has been opened to me, and there are many adversaries". 2 Corinthians 2:12 says, "When I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, a door was opened".
Now, let's just take for a moment and grasp hold of this. What Paul is praying is this. "Pray for me that I will have many opportunities to preach the gospel, so that I can reach many people. Pray for open doors". And he asks them to do that. You know, here's one thing. You've gotta realize, if God opens a door, he means for you to walk through it. There's a lot of people get open doors, and they stand, "Isn't that a nice open door"? No, it's not for you to admire. It's for you to walk through.
One day we were talking about how "Turning Point" had now found almost all of the Christian television stations that would broadcast our television program, and we sort of said, "You know, maybe we ought to quit just preaching to the choir. Just finding Christian people who wanna hear the gospel, who wanna hear the Word of God". That's wonderful, I'm glad we do that. But we asked God to open some doors for us so that we could take the gospel to people who would never go to church, who would never hear the Word of God, who would never seek out faith. And all of a sudden, we started getting opportunities, and, lo and behold, one day we found out God's opened all these doors for us to take the gospel into the world that doesn't embrace the gospel, and not only are they listening, they're responding, and we're hearing stories like you would not believe of how the gospel is changing lives.
Now, those doors were open. I'll tell you what, if it's television, you better swallow hard before you walk through that door, 'cause it costs a bunch of money. But God has supplied the resources in a way that's just overwhelming to me. I just give you that little word of testimony as to the open doors that God has given, and not just here in this country. Did you know that I preach in four different languages, and they actually hear the words, can see them come... did you know that? I preach in two Indian languages. I preach in Telugu and Hindi, and if you see it and you watch really closely, you'll know those words don't match the way my mouth is working, but it looks like I'm preaching in those languages. It's the most unbelievable thing you've ever seen.
I preach in Spanish. I don't know anything but adios, that's all I know of Spanish. But I preach the Word of God in Spanish. You know what that is, friends? That's God opening the doors. I could never make that happen. God opens the doors. And I will tell you, as a church, we need to continue to pray for open doors for the gospel, that the gospel might go to the places where people need it, and, boy, do they need it now more than ever before. He said, "Pray for the connections," and then he said, "Pray for clarity".
This is another interesting thing. This great apostle, perhaps the greatest Christian who ever walked on this earth apart from Jesus Christ, of course, he said, "Pray that I will be able to present the mysteries of the gospel and that I will be able to demystify them". He wanted the people to pray not only that we have opportunity, but he wanted them to pray that when he got the opportunity, he'd be able to clearly present the gospel. He talks about the mystery of Christ, that's Christ in you, the hope of glory. He said, "Pray that I will get these opportunities, and that when I get them, I will be able to manifest the power of God and preach the gospel so people will understand and believe".
Pray for clarity. Pray that I may make it manifest, he says in verse 4. Paul is telling us that we are not responsible for how others respond to the gospel, but we are responsible for the manner in which we communicate the gospel. Pray that we might make it manifest, make it clear. You know, I've been preaching the gospel for over 50 years, and every time I give the invitation or present the gospel, I always feel like I could do it better, I wish there was some way... you know how you feel when you know Jesus? You can't imagine anybody not wanting him. And so if they don't want him, it makes you feel like maybe you're not telling the story right. "Maybe, could I try this again? You don't understand. If you knew Jesus, what he would do for your life". How can you say it clearer? How could you make it more plain? That ought to be the hope of every one of us who tell others about Jesus Christ.
Back in 1949, George Roy and Elizabeth Wood, an American missionary couple, were serving in the northwest China and Tibet. They were forced to leave the area. A local leader named Pastor Mung took over the church of 200 people. The Woods returned to America, and by 1985, both of them had passed away without ever knowing what happened to the church that they started. In 1988 the Woods's son, George, returned to China and met with Pastor Mung and his wife, who were now in their 80s.
For 28 years the Communist government had done their best to extinguish the church. Pastor Mung wasn't allowed to preach, and he spent time in prison, I think for nine years he was in prison. It was illegal to baptize, it was illegal to indoctrinate anyone under 18. When the government finally allowed Pastor Mung to reopen the church in 1983, there were only 30 people left. Assuming that the church was on its last leg, George Wood asked, "Pastor Mung, how many believers do you have now"? Pastor Mung's wife brought them a cardboard roll held together by yarn. The first page was filled with writing, five columns, name, age, gender, address, occupation. There were around 20 names on that page.
George Wood continued turning over page after page with the names of the baptized. And finally, he asked the Mungs, "How many believers do you have"? And they said, "1,500 baptized believers". In disbelief George Wood asked, "How did that happen"? Pastor Mung smiled as he shared his secret for church growth. It wasn't a technique, it wasn't a program. He simply said, "Oh, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And we pray a lot". That's a pretty good way to reach people for Jesus Christ. Be excited about who he is, and, as we learned earlier, pray a lot for the people you're trying to reach.
I remember earlier on as a pastor here, we had a little program where we handed out cards to everybody, and there were five lines on the cards, and we said, "Write down the names of five people that you know, maybe they're in your family or people that you're close to that you know don't know the Lord Jesus Christ. Write their names down and start praying for them every day". You may not feel qualified to witness to them. You might wanna invite them to church. I mean, that's sort of been lost over the years, but just begin to pray for them. You know, you can't pray for somebody without God, sooner or later, helping you, being the answer to your own prayer. And we did that, and we saw people come to Christ off our list.
Not a bad thing to do. It doesn't have to be a church program. You can do it yourself. Begin to pray for the people you know, that you care about, that you love, and some of you, it's coming right to the top of your mind right now. You know who these people are. Don't just mourn the fact that they're not Christians. Start praying that they'll become Christians. Pray that God would give you a door of opportunity to speak the gospel to them in a conversational way that won't be offensive, necessarily, but will be winsome.
By the way, you know, there's a lot of craziness that goes about witnessing, and if you start to talk about witnessing to others, people just shrivel up and try to get away from you because they're so intimidated by it. Somebody's told 'em they've got to go to a class and learn a method. You know what witnessing is? All it is is telling people what Jesus has done for you. That's all it is. Anybody can do that. "Hey, did you know what the Lord done for me? Do you know how he saved me"? Anybody can witness. You don't have to go to school, you don't have to take a class. You don't have to be mentored, although those things may be helpful. A witness is somebody who tells another person what Jesus Christ has done for you. Tell them, and see what happens.
Okay, how to pray for outsiders. Now, how to live with outsiders. After Paul asked the Colossians to pray for him and to pray for their unsaved friends, he turns his attention to the Colossians's own efforts in verse 5. He says, "Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time". Now, he's gonna say it's important that you witness, but it's also important that you live what you believe. That's one of the ways Paul described those who didn't know Jesus Christ, they're outside of the family of God. And though Paul and Jesus considered believers to be insiders, this was never intended to give us a superiority complex.
We should never get the idea that, "Oh, we're in the church, we know Jesus, good for us". No, it should humble us and motivate us, and cause us to walk in such a way that we wouldn't do anything by the way we live that would destroy our verbal testimony. And that's a really important thing, and it's meant to convict us a little bit, if you want to know the truth. The word walk here in the present tense, it means your daily routine. Let your daily routine be such that as you walk through your life, that you live wisely and you don't do things that will cause people who aren't Christians to see you and be discouraged from becoming Christians.
That's a hard thing, you know? Sometimes we like to be very sanctimonious the way we talk, but if we're not living the life in conjunction with what we're saying, we're actually doing more damage. We're supporting the idea that Christians are just a bunch of sanctimonious people who talk a good game but don't walk a good game. The best thing you can do to win your friends to Christ is to live for Jesus Christ every day.
You know, nobody's gonna be perfect, but you know what I'm talking about. Don't try to have one foot in the world and one foot in the church. Be Christians. Be Christians. And then your witness will have meaning. But if you witness and your life is a mess, you ought to just keep your mouth shut 'til you get it straightened out, because you're doing more damage than you're doing good. Some people will look at that and say, "Good night. I hope I don't get what she has," you know? That's kind of the way it goes. No, I'm not saying you have to be perfect or you have to be without mistake. You can forgive and all of that, but what I'm saying is, be serious about your walk.
Richard Halverson, the late chaplain of the United States Senate, once said, "You've got the right to say anything you like, but others don't have to listen". They're under no obligation to tune you in, and when they do, they can also tune you out anytime they want to. Your right to speak is guaranteed, but you must earn the right to be listened to. That depends on your integrity. Your integrity is the prerequisite to acceptance. If you expect to be paid attention to, back it up with your life. Let your walk correspond to your talk.
Sheldon Vanauken wrote something I put down in my notes many years ago and it's pretty powerful. Here's what he said. He said, "The best argument for Christianity is Christians, their joy, their certainty, their completeness, but the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians. When they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, Christianity dies a thousand deaths". I mean, if Jesus Christ changes you from the inside, you should be changed. Old things pass away, behold, all things become new. What is there in your life that's new? Because Jesus Christ is your Savior and he's your Lord.
Peter once wrote these words. He said, "I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation". Paul told the Colossians to redeem their time. That's a business word that you would go to a place and you would make an offer on something and you would buy it and you'd redeem it. He said, "Make sure that you buy up the time that you have".
That's a very serious thing, especially now. We're living in days when, you know, it seems to me like you can almost hear the trumpet out there practicing for the return of Christ, because the things on this earth are in such an upheaval. Every moment counts. Every day counts. Every opportunity counts. Paul said, "Redeem it. Don't let it pass by. Take advantage of the opportunities that God gives you, redeem the time". The Psalmist said, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom". So he teaches us how to pray for outsiders, how to live in front of outsiders, and then he gives us a little course on how to speak to them.
I love this verse. This would do so much good for all of us, if nothing else to put in practice every day. Verse 6 says, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one". So Paul goes from praying to living to speaking, and he says, "Here are some things about speaking". He said, "Let your message, your conversation, always be gracious". Do you know what I mean when I say, "She's a gracious person, you know, he talked to me about Jesus Christ, but he was so gracious about it. There was such a compassion in his voice about the situation. He didn't just come and beat me over the head with the Bible and tell me I was lost and going to hell if I didn't get saved, and you need to do it right now".
I mean, listen, folks, those days are over. You can't do that. When you talk to somebody who's lost, when you talk to somebody you love who needs Jesus Christ, here's the testimony. Do it with grace. And then he says, "Throw a little salt in it". And salt is an interesting thing. In the New Testament, it was the use of salt that helped something not decay. But it was also used to create thirst.
There's a reason why they sell all that popcorn at these games. You know that, don't you? You just watch. You eat the popcorn, you'll be back for a large drink if you didn't get one in the first time, 'cause popcorn is full of salt, and salt makes you thirsty. Here's what Paul is saying. When you talk to your friends who don't know the Lord Jesus, be gracious and make them thirsty for what you have. Fill your conversation, tell 'em the good things that God has done in your life.
William Barclay once wrote these words. I love this man, he was an historic commentator. He said, "Christians must have charm and wit in what they say so that they may know how to give the right answer in every case. Here is an interesting instruction. It is all too true that Christianity in the minds of many is connected with a kind of sanctimonious dullness and an outlook in which laughter is almost a heresy. Christians must commend their message with the charm and the wit that was in Jesus himself. There's too much of the Christianity which stodgily depresses people, and too little of the Christianity which sparkles with life".
Now, I'm gonna walk on some dangerous territory here for just a moment because I think a lot of things that happen in church today may not be encouraging to those. There's a lady, I don't know who she is, and she sent a letter to one of our staff, and they read it to me last week, and here's what she said. She said, "I'm very depressed, very discouraged". She says, "I go to my church every week, and I come away more discouraged than when I went," and then she described it. "First of all," she said, "I walk in the door, and it's so dark I can't see anybody. And then," she said, "before we get started, they start putting smoke everywhere. So," she said, "I'm sitting in the dark, and smoke is rolling off the platform. And then they start to sing their songs, and they're so sad". And she said, "Oftentimes I leave with my head down. I'm discouraged".
Now, I know that's a stereotype, and probably there aren't many churches like that. But let me tell you what I know, men and women. The gospel should never make you sad. The gospel should make you glad. And if you study the book of Acts, gladness is painted over every page in that book. They were filled with joy, and they rejoiced, and they had gladness. So Paul says, "This is how you speak. You speak with grace and you salt it a little bit with your wit and your joy and who Jesus Christ is and what he's done for you".
So here we've learned how to pray for those who we want to see come to Christ, and we learned that we're supposed to live in a certain way before them. Don't destroy your opportunity by living in a way that's not right. And for every one of you, you know what that means. And then Peter says this, and I love this. He says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," there it is again. This is so counterintuitive to what often happens in the witnessing experience. Listen to this again. He said, "Always be ready".
Doesn't say you always have to say, just be ready. Have your answers, think through what you're gonna do, what you're gonna say, and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And do it with gentleness and do it with respect. Someday, if you live for Jesus Christ, somebody is gonna walk up to you and say something like this, "Why are you the way you are? Because you're so different than everyone else. Why are you the way you are"?
And you know what the Bible says? You can't say, "Would you give me a couple of days to work on that and I'll give you an answer"? No, you're to be ready with the answer. You're to be ready to respond, "I am the way I am because Jesus Christ has changed my life". If you don't say anything other than that, that's a pretty good answer. Peter says, "Don't walk around petrified that somebody's gonna ask you about your faith. Walk around prepared with an answer that you've thought about". This is why I am the way I am, because there was a day in my life when somebody told me about Jesus Christ, and he came and forgave my sin, and he changed me from the inside out, hallelujah.
Fritz Kreisler was a world-famous violinist in the 20th century. He earned a fortune with his concerts and his compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn't able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay, it had already been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner's home and offered to buy the violin, and the collector said, "You can't buy this violin. It's my prize possession," and he would not sell it.
Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. "Could I play the instrument once more before it's consigned to silence"? Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector's emotion was totally destroyed. "I have no right to keep that to myself," he exclaimed. "It's yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world and let people hear it".
Ladies and gentlemen, what Christ has done for us is so great we have no right to keep that to ourselves. We need to take it into the world and let people hear it and let people see it and always be ready to explain that it's not about us, it's about him. And what he has done for us, he will do for anyone who will put their trust in him.