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
Paul has emphasized the believers’ relationship with one another. He encouraged them to “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you” (Colossians 3:13 NLT). They were to patiently and lovingly respond to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiving as they had been forgiven, and seeking to promote an atmosphere of Christlike peace and harmony.
Now, Paul calls on the Colossian believers to make prayer a priority in their lives. And Paul practiced what he preached. He opened his letter with several statements concerning the ongoing prayers that he and Timothy prayed on behalf of the Colossian church.
We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Colossians 1:3 NLT
…we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. – Colossians 1:9 NLT
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. – Colossians 1:11 NLT
Prayer was a vital part of Paul’s ministry. With responsibility for the spiritual well-being of so many congregations spread over such a large geographic area, Paul was limited in his ability to make personal appearances. So, he utilized prayer as the means by which he called on the power of God to protect and provide for his far-flung flocks. Paul understood the power and necessity of prayer. He considered it the most vital relationship a Christian could cultivate in their lives. The author of Hebrews, whom many believe to have been Paul, wrote, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 BSB). Paul wrote something similar in his letter to the church in Ephesus.
Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT
Paul was committed to cultivating the interpersonal relationships of the Colossians believers. He wanted them to live out their Spirit-transformed lives by displaying Christlike behavior toward one another. But he also desired that the Colossians maintain a healthy and ongoing dialogue with their heavenly Father. For Paul, prayer was the primary way for a believer to express their dependence upon God. He viewed it as far more than a means of getting what we want from God. Prayer was a way for the believer to align their will with that of the Father. It was to be an ongoing form of two-way communication between the Heavenly Father and His child. Through prayer, petitions could be shared and directions could be received. For Paul, prayer was an expression of faith. It displayed the believer’s dependence upon and trust in God. It was a privilege provided by a gracious God that allowed His children to call upon Him at any time. It was to be a delight, not a duty.
Paul was familiar with the proverbs that promoted the efficacy of prayer.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. – Proverbs 15:8 ESV
The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. – Proverbs 15:29 ESV
He would have known what King David had written concerning God and the prayers of His people.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them. – Psalm 145:18-19 NLT
And he would have concurred with the words of James.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail. – James 5:16 BSB
So, Paul begins to close out his letter to the Colossians with an emphasis on prayer. He urges them to devote themselves to the practice of prayer. And he warns them to be “watchful” (grēgoreō), a word that carries the idea of being alert and ready to see how God will answer their prayers. And when God does answer, they are to express their gratitude for His gracious intercession. Prayer requires faith but not blind faith. It has God as its object and, therefore, answers to prayer should come as no surprise. Prayer and thanksgiving should go hand in hand because God is a faithful God who longs to fulfill the desires of His people.
That’s why Paul asks the Colossians to pray for him. He understood the power of prayer and was not ashamed to request their prayers on his behalf. But Paul was specific in terms of his prayer request. He wanted them to pray that God would open up additional opportunities for him and Timothy to share the good news concerning Christ. At first glance, this seems like an unnecessary prayer. The spread of the gospel was God’s will. He didn’t need to be coerced or cajoled into opening up new opportunities for unbelievers to hear the news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. According to Paul’s letter to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 ESV). So, why was it important that the Colossians pray this prayer on Paul’s behalf?
It seems that Paul wanted them to pray in keeping with the will of God. It was clearly God’s will that many would be saved and the Colossians had the opportunity to align themselves with God praying for His will to be accomplished. In doing so, they would be setting their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2). They would be praying in keeping with God’s revealed will.
What makes Paul’s prayer request even more fascinating is that he shared it while under house arrest in Rome. He didn’t ask them to pray for his release. He didn’t covet their prayers for protection or provision. They would have known about his predicament. And by focusing their attention on the spread of the gospel, Paul was helping them to understand that God’s will trumped his own. If God deemed it necessary for Paul to be released in order for the gospel to be spread, He would make it happen. But Paul’s prayer request was selfless in nature. He wanted the good news to go out and for God to get the glory.
Paul also wrote a letter to the believers in Philippi while imprisoned in Rome. And rather than requesting that they pray for his release, he declared God’s sovereign will concerning his imprisonment.
I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14 NLT
And Paul went on to express the tension he felt regarding his ongoing imprisonment and possible death and the thought of release and continued ministry.
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT
Paul longed to be with Jesus but he was also committed to the work to which he had been commissioned by Jesus. So, for Paul, it boiled down to the will of God. The gospel must go out and if God wanted Paul to be an ongoing participant in that mission, God would orchestrate Paul’s release. And if God should set Paul free, he asked that the Colossians pray for him to have clarity when proclaiming the message of the gospel.
And he reminds them that they too must live out their faith, constantly mindful of its impact on “those who are not believers” (Colossians 4:5 NLT). As they prayed for God’s will to be done, they must also live their lives in accordance with God’s will for them. They must be salt and light. They must live wisely and circumspectly, always recognizing their role as Christ’s ambassadors on earth. That is why Paul encourages them, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:6 NLT). Their words were just as important as their works. Their daily interactions with the unsaved would be vital to the continued spread of the gospel. And their patient and loving treatment of one another would go a long way in demonstrating the life-changing nature of the good news.
In a sense, Paul is encouraging his flock in Colossae to practice the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10 ESV
Their petitions and their actions were to be in keeping with the will of God. They were to pray and behave in ways that aligned with God’s revealed will for the world. So, that the gospel could continue to spread and the lost be restored to a right relationship with God.
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