Sermon: Friends, Let Us Labor Together In Prayer: Colossians 4

New Testament Reading: Colossians 4

“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 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— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’ I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4, ESV)


There was a time when I would read a chapter like Colossians 4 and think, well, there isn’t much here in terms of useful material. Paul and Timothy are simply wrapping things up with the Colossians, giving shoutouts to a few people before saying their final goodbyes. How mistaken I was to think in this way.

Indeed this is the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Colossians (the letter is actually from Paul and Timothy (see 1:1)). In it he extends greetings on his behalf and on behalf of others who are with him to those living in Colossae (Paul wrote this letter in around 62 A.D. while imprisoned in Rome). But notice that there is a good deal for us to glean from the conclusion to his letter.

Notice three general things by way of introduction:

First of all, see how this chapter gives us a glimpse into the life of the early church. It demonstrates  what I have been laboring to say over the past couple of weeks, namely, that the work of Christ continued in this world in and through Christ’s church, which is his body. Paul was an apostle of Christ. He was an eyewitness to Christ in his resurrection. He was commissioned by Christ to advance the kingdom. In this conclusion he refers to himself and those laboring with him as “workers for the kingdom of God”. And what were these workers doing to build God’s kingdom? They were proclaiming the gospel of the Jesus Christ. They were planting churches. And they were laboring for the health of the church. So, where is Christ at work in the world today? Where is the kingdom of Christ advancing? It is advancing in and through Christ’s church. The gospel is preached by the church. Sinners are brought to repentance and into the church. Disciples are made by the church. And it is the church who sends men to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to those who have not heard, leading to the planting of new churches. The kingdom of God advances in this way. This is, in part, what we have in mind when we pray, “Thy kingdom come”- that Christ’s church would be built strong and true.

Secondly, notice the emphasis upon the local church in this passage. It is true, we may speak of the church in universal terms, thinking of all of the true believers who live around the globe. We might also speak of the invisible church, thinking of all believers who have ever lived in all times and places. But here Paul was writing to a particular local church. He wrote to the saints in Colossae. Paul was not writing to saints in general, but to particular saints living in a particular place who gathered together for the worship of God. These saints were devoted to one another – they belonged to one another. In verse 9 Paul mentions a certain man named “Onesimus”. He referred to him as a “faithful and beloved brother”, and wrote to the Colossians, saying, “[he] is one of you.” Though Onesimus was traveling with Paul, he belonged to – was “one of” – the Colossians. The same can be said of a fellow named Epaphras. These men were with Paul in Rome, but they were  “one of” the Colossians. It ought to be said of everyone who professes faith in Christ that they be “one of” a particular local church. Biblical Christianity knows nothing of a disciple of Christ who does not belong to a local church, even if they be traveling with the apostle Paul himself.

Thirdly, notice the investment that these local churches made into the proclamation of the gospel and the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom. Paul and Barnabas, we know, were sent out from the local church in Antioch. That local church made an investment into the expansion of Christ’s kingdom when they sent these men. Evidently Colossae sent Onesimus and Epaphras. They made an investment when they sent these men to do kingdom work with Paul. In fact, the whole of the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Colossians screams investment into kingdom work. Notice all of the names mentioned. Notice the references, not only to the church in Colossae, but also to the brothers in Laodicea, and to the church the met in Nympha’s home. You get the sense that, though there were many local churches scattered in many places, having been planted by Paul and others, these local congregations were all connected to and invested in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom through the church planting efforts of Paul and others.

So, yes, this is Paul’s conclusion to the letter he wrote to the Colossians. Yes, it is filled with names that are hard to pronounce which represent people we know little about. But it gives us a glimpse into the life of the early church, especially as it pertains to the missionary efforts of those early Christians who lived in the days of the apostles.

But here is what I would really like for you to see: Notice the role that prayer played in the life of the early church. Notice the multiple references to prayer in this passage. You get the impression that prayer permeated all that the early church did. It’s as if prayer was the engine that propelled all of the advancements made by those first Christians. To pray was to do work. To pray was to get something accomplished. Prayer was not some tangential thing – it was a central thing. It was not a last resort, but the first impulse of the Christian community. You get the impression that the apostles of Christ and the first Christians who were with them really prayed – and they prayed knowing that something was accomplished through their prayers.

It’s no wonder, then, that our brothers and sisters in Christ who lived long ago continued steadfastly in prayer, were watchful in prayer, laboring in it, for the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom, and to the glory of God.

Let Us Continue Steadfastly In Prayer

Friends, we also should continue steadfastly in prayer.

Notice the command of 4:2. Paul wrote to the Christians of Colossae commanding them to “continue steadfastly in prayer”.

The words “continue steadfastly”, come from one greek word which means “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.’”

Many will offer up prayers from time to time. Many will offer up prayers when it is easy – that is, when they feel like it. Perhaps they find themselves overjoyed about something and so they feel compelled to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving up to God. Or perhaps they find themselves in some difficult situation that finally drives them to prayer. These are occasional prayers offered up according to feelings.

But here Paul is urging the Christian to persist in prayer. It is to be regular, even continuous.

Here is how Paul put it to the Thessalonians. He commanded them, saying, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV) Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Well here is one aspect of it – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances”. To pray without ceasing does not mean that we do noting but pray. What it means is that, one, prayer is to be regular, and not sporadic; and two, we are to pray even while doing other things – prayers can be offered up to God from a quite place in your home or in church, but also while driving in the car or while pulling weeds. Our prayers to God should be regular and continuous.

Brothers and sisters, it requires effort to pray in this disciplined way.

It is common for Christians today to assume that prayer, or even other aspects of the Christian walk, should be effortless if they are to be genuine and pleasing before God. The thought is, “I should want to pray to God. And I will not pray until I feel the desire to pray, for to pray without the desire would be disingenuous.” Or to put it another way, “I will not pray until I can pray ‘from the heart’. God forbid that I pray out of mere religious duty.”

Friends, there are certain things that God calls us to do even if we don’t feel like doing them.

I wonder how often you would be at church on the Lord’s Day if you came only when you felt like it? Or I wonder how frequently you would open your Bibles to read if you waited for a positive feeling to drive you there? Or how often would you abstain from sin of any kind if you applied that way of thinking to your battle against it.

The truth of the matter is that our flesh wars against the Spirit. We often desire things that we should not desire. And we often lack desire for that which we should desire. What should we do? We ought to obey God despite the fact that our affections are often crooked and distorted, bent away from God and towards evil.

There is something to be said for good old fashioned religious devotion, effort, and discipline.

Of course even in this we are to rely upon God for strength. We ought to pray to God, requesting that he would make us to be diligent. We should pray that he would renew our hearts and minds – that he would transform us – that he would reorder our appetites, and bend our affections towards him. We should pray that God would make us able and willing to obey his will, not merely out of sense of duty and obligation, but in joy, and out of a heart of love for him.

The point I am making is that we should not look down upon discipline. We should not despise the thought of religious devotion. Discipline and devotion are good things. They are pleasing to God. And they are often used by God to work within the heart of the Christian a true and lively love for God, so that in due time we go to him running, instead of dragging our feet.

Discipline and devotion are often used by God to transform our appetites.

Have you ever gone on a diet before? You decide that you should eat healthy. You decide to avoid certain foods and to consume others. Tell me, does your appetite change in the moment you declare “I’m going on a diet?” Far from it! If anything, the opposite is true! Your appetite for the wrong things increases, and you have little to no desire for those things you have deemed to be good. If you are driven by appetite, you will not make it far. But if you are devoted – if you are disciplined to do what you know you should do – you will succeed. The first few days are the hardest. The cravings are strong. But what starts to happen after a few days, and especially after a few weeks? Amazingly, your appetite begins to change! The bad foods don’t seem so appealing. The good foods grow more desirable.

This is how the human soul works. It is possible, with God’s help, to put to death the flesh and walk according to the Spirit. The way to do it is, with the help God, to starve the one and feed the other.

Friends, we are called by God to continue steadfastly in prayer. We will never do it if we assume that we must first desire to pray before we begin to pray. No, we must discipline ourselves to pray. We must cultivate the desire for prayer.  We are to continue in it with intense effort, despite difficulty.

It’s interesting that this same word, which is here translated as, “continue steadfastly” is used throughout the New Testament, in either it’s verb or noun form, with reference to prayer.

In Acts 1:14 we read that the apostles of Christ were, “with one accord… devoting themselves to [or continuing steadfastly in] prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:14, ESV)

In Acts 2:42 we read that “they devoted themselves to [or continued steadfastly in] the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)

In Acts 6:4 we read of the decision of the apostles to delegate service responsibilities to those first deacons so that they could “devote [themselves] to [or continue steadfastly in] prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4, ESV)

Paul commanded the Roman church in much the same way that he commanded the Colossians, saying, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant [or steadfast] in prayer.” (Romans 12:12, ESV)

And to the Ephesians he gave this command: “[Pray] at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance [which is the noun form of the same word], making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” (Ephesians 6:18–19, ESV)

Friends, my hope is that we would display this kind of diligence in our prayers.

Let Us Be Watchful In Prayer With Thanksgiving

Notice, secondly, that we are to be watchful in prayer with thanksgiving.

What does Paul mean when he commands us to be watchful in prayer? The word itself means to stay awake or alert. The image is that of a wide-eyed watchmen in a watchtower.

Jesus rebuked his disciples who were sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane with this word, saying, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40–41, ESV)

Here in Colossians Paul in not only warning against falling asleep in prayer, but is urging alertness. He is urging us to pray with our spiritual eyes wide open. He’s urging us pray being fully aware of the battle that rages around us, the schemes of the evil one, the threats to the church and to those we love. We are to be aware of our needs, and the needs of those around us when we pray.

To put it another way, it is possible to be physically awake while we pray, and yet for our prayers to be spiritually sleepy – spiritually lethargic. I’m thinking of prayers that are mentally disengaged, uninformed, and careless. There are sleepy prayers; and there are watchful prayers. Sleepy prayers are routine, robotic, unspecific. Sleepy prayers fail to engage with the reality of things. They fail to engage with the real needs of people. Sleepy prayers fail to engage engage in battle. Prayers that are watchful are thoughtful and specific. The one offering the prayer is engaged with the reality of things – the needs of those around him, the significance of the moment in which he lives, and the seriousness of the spiritual battles that rage around us as the kingdom of Christ advances and the kingdom of Satan is pushed back.

Why are we sometimes sleepy in our prayers? Is it not because we remain unconvinced concerning the seriousness of the battle? A watchmen who is convinced that there is no threat – no battle – no enemy – will inevitably allow his eyes to droop in the night watch. But a watchmen who is convinced that the threat is real, that the battle is seriousness, and the enemy near – he will remain bright-eyed and alert.

We are slack and sleepy in our prayers, in part, because we have grown complacent concerning the severity of the battle that rages around us. But friends, the battle is real. And prayer is truly a weapon of war. Ephesians 6:10-20 says,

“… be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:10–20, ESV)

Friends, we are to be watchful in prayer. And we are also to be thankful. How important it is for us to give thanks in prayer. Yes, we have been invited by God bring the desires of our heart before him. But we should first give thanks. Otherwise we might grow into ungrateful, discontented, whinny children. Let us give thanks in our prayers. But let us also be watchful in them, making real requests to the Father – requests pertaining to battle at hand.

Let Us Labor In Prayer

Lastly, let learn to labor in prayer.

Here I wish only to emphasizes this point: Prayer is work.

I am not saying that prayer must feel like work – it does not have to feel like drudgery. But it is work. It is through prayer that we get stuff done.

I wonder how many Christians really believe this? I wonder if this isn’t another reason for our sleepy prayers? First of all, we are often blind to the battle that rages around us. But secondly, I wonder if we really believe that prayer gets stuff done? We busy ourselves with so many other things – things we believe to be worthwhile and productive – but we pass over prayer. The truth is that we pass it over because we do not believe that it accomplishes much.

That is not the Bible’s perspective on prayer. That was not Paul’s opinion. Look how he speaks of prayer in this passage. Notice how he commends Epaphras, one of his fellow workers in the kingdom of God. In verse 12 he calls Epaphras “a servant of Christ Jesus” and it is said of him that he is “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12, ESV)

Epaphras was commended by Paul because he struggled in prayer. The word translated “struggling” is ἀγωνίζομαι, meaning “to strive to do something with great intensity and effort—‘to make every effort to, to do everything possible to, to strain oneself to.’” You can hear the english word agonize in it. Oh, that we would, like Epaphras, learn to strive in prayer. Oh, that we would make every effort, do everything possible, and strain ourselves in prayer.

A bit later Paul commends Epaphras again saying,  “For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” (Colossians 4:13, ESV) This is Paul’s perspective on prayer. Prayer is work. It is through prayer that we get stuff done. When Paul thought of all of the time and energy that Epaphras invested into prayer, he did not think, “Oh, what a fool. Oh, what a waste! I wish he get busy with the actual work of ministry.” No, he saw the man as a faithful worker in the kingdom – one who had worked very hard, who was worthy of commendation.

And notice the content of Epaphras’ prayers. He prayed for his brothers and sisters in Christ that they would (verse 12), “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12, ESV) Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “Pray then like this”, Jesus said: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9–10, ESV) And what are we praying for when we cry out to the Father saying, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”? We are praying for ourselves, and for one another, “that God by His grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to His will in all things, as the angels do in heaven” (Baptist Catechism, 110). That was the prayer of Epaphras for his friends in Colossae – that they would know and be willing and able to keep God’s revealed will.

There are many kinds of prayers. There are prayers of adoration in which we worship God. There are prayers in which we make vows to God. There are prayers in which we confess our sins to God. And there are prayers in which we give thanks to God. This kind of prayer is called a supplication. A supplication is a pray in which we ask God for something. More specifically, this is an intercession. And intercession is a supplication on behalf of someone else. That is what Epaphras worked hard in. He labored in intercession. He prayed hard for others, that God would bless them and work mightily in their lives, making them able to know and willing to keep the will of God – that they would be mature in Christ, and have assurance through the keeping of God’s word.


Friends, let us learn to labor in prayer. Let us learn to be watchful in it – alert, and aware. And let us know what it is to work hard in prayer. If we do not believe that God works through our prayers, may he change our minds and strengthen our faith. Oh, that we would be people of prayer, that God might move amongst us, and get every last drop of the glory. Amen.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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