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The Christian Accent | Colossians 4:2-18

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

As we set our minds on the hope of Christ, he changes...

1) How we speak to God in prayer (2-4).

2) How we speak to the lost in evangelism (5-6).

3) How we speak to Christians in fellowship (7-18).

The Christian Accent

Colossians 4:2-18

May 5, 2024

I don’t think that I am alone in enjoying a novel accent. I remember the first time I met an actual Englishman in the flesh, and I marveled that his accent was real. There is something about a British accent that catches your attention and makes listening easier. I’m not jarred by English accents; I am soothed by them.

I am jarred, however, when someone tells me that I have an accent. I know that I do, but I simply do not usually think about the fact that I do. What is even more jarring is that several times in my life people have pinpointed by accent exactly. I’ve been in conversations all over the United States where, in the conversation, the person will stop and say, “You’re from Missouri, aren’t you?” And then they inform me that they could tell by my accent. I don’t consider Missouri to have a distinct accent from other states in middle America, but the evidence that it does is now stacked against me. 

And this isn’t just true of me. You have an accent even if you don’t really think that you do. Like Play-Doh compressed into a shape, your speech has been compressed into a certain, identifiable pattern. You’ve been formed to pronounce or drop the t in “mountain.” You will instinctively say “milk,” or “melk,” or even “malk.” Your accent is not something that you think about (or else it isn’t your accent). It is the way that you’ve been formed to speak over time. 

You speak as you’ve been formed to speak, which is similar to what Colossians 4:2-18 shows us. So far in Colossians 1:1-4:1, Paul has argued that truth molds us to think and act in certain ways. 

Let’s take a moment to remember the context of the whole book because the whole context of the book is riding with us into Colossians 4:2-18. The apostle Paul wrote to this church to instruct them, even though he had not been with this church in person. He felt obligated to address the threat of false teaching that was among this church, so he wrote them and focused on who Christ is, why the reality of Christ destroys the false teachers in Colossae, and then turned to what living under the Lordship of Christ looks like. 

In covering what living under the Lordship of Christ looks like, Paul started with our mindset and hope, saying that our minds must be set on the glory that Christ has guaranteed for us by his person and work (3:1-4); then, he turned to how this heavenly mindset and hope changes the actions we dress ourselves in (3: 5-17), and then, how that mindset and hope changes how we live in our closest relationships (3:18-4:1). 

In closing the letter, he turns to how this mindset molds the way Christians speak. Or, in other words, how Christ forms the particular accent of Christians. The way you speak will start to change and be conformed to the reality of Christ and his gospel. 

Your prayers will change, your speech to outsiders will change, and your speech to other Christians will change. Let’s walk through each of these marks of the Christian’s accent. 

As we set our minds on the hope of Christ, he changes…

How we speak to God in prayer (2-4)

Colossians 4:2 is a command about our speech to God in prayer that only makes sense in light of Christ and the gospel. 

The command is for us to be steadfast in prayer. Hang on to the word “steadfast” because it is important. A mark of the Christian accent is steadfast prayer, but steadfast does not speak to the intensity of prayer, but the consistency of prayer. If you were to say that a husband was steadfast, you would not mean that he wrote poetry to his wife daily and gave passionate speeches of affection to her. You would more likely mean that he was faithful to her in his love during good times and hard times; his love was consistent, not merely intense. 

Paul goes on to write to us why our prayers should be consistent by giving two other marks to Christian prayer: we are to be watchful in it with thanksgiving. That is to say, be watchful in prayer and thankful in prayer. 

Watchful has two ideas that go together very well. Jesus calls us to be watchful for his return because we do not know when he will come back (See Matthew 24:42). One way to be watchful in prayer, then, is to pray in light of Jesus’s return. The King has conquered the grave, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead—such information should animate our prayers.

Likewise, even though Jesus is King, we still live in a broken world that has yet to be fully redeemed. This is why Peter warns us in 1 Peter 5:8 that we should “be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” In prayer, we go to the King of Kings and plead for his help in this present, evil, age. 

Prayers become steadfast when we are convinced of this reality: Jesus is King AND we are still in a spiritual war with the forces of evil, needing his help on a regular basis. 

But verse 2 doesn’t end there. We are also to practice thanksgiving in our prayers. This, too, is marked by the gospel of Jesus Christ being deeply impressed on our hearts. Thanksgiving makes sense when you have grasped the reality that you deserve hell, but Christ has rescued you from hell; you were once dead, but now you have life eternal in Jesus Christ by faith; you were once destined for wrath, but now you are destined for eternal glory that Jesus has earned for you and keeps safe for you by his power. 

Steadfast, watchful, and thankful prayers are produced when the reality of the gospel presses on us and leads us to speak to God. 

And those who are so shaped by the gospel also want to see it go forth, which is what Paul addresses in verses 3-4, asking the church to pray for not just him, but for “us,” referring to those on his team out to make the gospel known while planting churches. In praying for the gospel to go forth, Paul asks the church to pray for two specific things: that a door would open for them and that he would speak clearly as he ought to speak. 

Paul, like all other preachers after him, recognizes that he is obligated to preach the gospel, but unless God works, then no one will hear it and believe it. God must open the door and God must make the words clear. A race car driver has the obligation to perform in the race—it is his mission to win—but if the car does not operate, then it doesn’t matter how hard he tries, it will not come about. "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." 

Prayer is a Key Mark of the Christian Accent

Brothers and sisters, you can say all day long to other people that you trust God. You can cry out to strangers that you trust God. You can say to yourself that you trust God. Anybody can fake the accent. But until you get down on your knees to pray, you have not said to God, “I trust you.” 

Our lack of prayer is an indictment against us if we say that we trust God. 

Prayers Accented by the Gospel

And when we pray, our prayers should carry the accents that Paul lays out in these verses. Let’s just probe our hearts a bit to see where we stand:

Are you steadfast in prayer? Consistent? Do you go days or even weeks without prayer? If so, what does that tell you about what you trust? 

Are your prayers marked by the reality that Jesus is King and that you are engaged in a spiritual battle? Or are your prayers marked by the desire for luxury, emotional comforts, and financial prosperity? Prayer connects you to the King so that you have what you need for the battle until he comes. 

Are your prayers marked by thanksgiving or by bitterness? Does your attitude say that God owes you? Or does your attitude in prayer gush with thankfulness for the fact that you have eternal life, even in the midst of hardship?

Do your prayers bank on the fact that the results of gospel ministry are in his hands or yours? 

How we speak to the lost in evangelism (5-6)

After asking for the Colossians to pray for his gospel ministry, he turns to address how they are to conduct themselves in their own gospel ministry. In speaking of “outsiders" in verse 5, he means those who are outside of Christ and outside of the church. In interacting with unbelievers, Scripture here directs us to “walk in wisdom.” The word “walk” has this meaning of acting, living, or conducting yourself. Wisdom, which Colossians 2:3 says is found in Christ, is simply knowing how to apply truth in a given situation. In order to walk in wisdom, then, you need to go to Christ to see how you can live in light of gospel truth in a given situation with an unbeliever. Verses 5-6 give us two ways we are to walk in wisdom

First, we are to make the best use of the time. That is to say, one of the primary ways you live in wisdom with outsiders is by making good use of your time with them. How do you do that? Let me give you two helpful clues:

  • Don’t avoid them. God has given you time to be around those who are lost and dead in sin. Don’t avoid people who are lost. I know that this may sound ridiculous, but this is easy to do. It’s easy to wave to your neighbor and not talk to him. It is easy to avoid meeting new people. Sometimes you might even think that people want you to do this (and maybe they do!), but you live next to the people that you live next to for a reason. You work with the people you work with for a reason. God didn’t randomly and haphazardly place you around the people that you are around. So don’t waste the time you’ve been given with them by avoiding them.

  • Don’t avoid the gospel with them. God has entrusted you with the message of the gospel and people cannot believe if they do not hear. Don’t avoid sharing the gospel that is the only hope of salvation. Again, I know saying this sounds ridiculous, but avoiding the gospel is an easy thing to do. When you share the gospel, you will be the aroma of life or the stench of death to a person. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says that God has made us ambassadors of Christ, but to our shame, we sometimes act like secret agents. We wait for the perfect time to talk of Christ, but that perfect time can just never come. God has entrusted you with the gospel for a reason. You must speak it. You don’t have to have all the answers in order to speak of Christ. You can say, “I don’t know,” when you are asked questions. You can invite people to read the Bible with you. You can invite them to come to church and talk with other Christians. You aren’t alone. 

Second, let your speech always be gracious, as we see in verse 6. This leads to the end of knowing how to give an answer to each person. The speaking that we do with unbelievers, whether casual conversation or outright gospel proclamation, should be gracious speech. This means, I think, that it is to be speech that is marked by the grace of God—his mercy that saves us and claims us. Just as food is changed as it is seasoned with salt, our speech is changed as it is seasoned with God’s graciousness to us in Jesus Christ. 

As the end of verse 6 makes clear, God’s grace doesn’t just change the way we speak. It also changes the way we hear. When you are seasoned by God’s grace, you are then more equipped to give answers to people as they ask you questions. 

To be clear, graciousness in speech is not mere niceness in speech. It is not blanket approval of others. It is consideration of others and their true needs. 

Jesus displays this kind of graciousness in all of his conversations. He was full of grace and it showed when he talked with others. 

  • When he spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, he called out her sin, answered her theological questions, and revealed himself as the Messiah because he saw that she wanted to trust the Savior. Such a revelation of himself to her was gracious.

  • But in Luke 18, when a rich ruler comes to Jesus and calls him good and asks him how he can have eternal life, Jesus immediately responds by saying, “Why do you call me good? None is good but God alone. You know the commandments, keep them.” Why is Jesus so harsh? Why, after the man says that he kept the law from his youth, does Jesus tell the man to go sell everything he owns? Because Jesus saw that one the man valued most of all was being comfortable and well-liked. Selling all he had would be surrendering his idol that was leading him to eternal death. Such a confrontation was gracious. 

  • Jesus rebukes and cries out woes over the Pharisees and Scribes. Why? Because they were spiritually dead in their hypocrisy. The flatter of the people had lulled them into a false sense of security. Jesus’s harsh declaration of woes and judgment over them was a gracious act of calling them to wake up. 

Graciousness is not niceness. It is more like hospitality. We have to invite people into our lives, discern what they need, and seek to give it to them for their good

The Accent of Grace

Can those outside of Christ discern grace in your voice? Or have you taken on the “don’t rock the boat” accent of the world? 

If you want to speak graciously, then come to Christ and receive his grace. The grace of God in Christ is the answer to your need, so drink deeply of him. Then take others to the well that is Christ so they too may have an answer for their need. 

How we speak to Christians in fellowship (7-18)

The bulk of this passage addresses this reality. These verses aren’t clear-cut instructions about speech, but they are the Christian accent in action. What is written here is gospel-influenced speech for us to observe. 

What characterizes this speech between Christians? Let me give you four marks.

First, this speech is accented by a mutual interest in the gospel ministry. In verses 7-9, Paul introduces Tychicus, his fellow worker who is delivering this letter and stands ready to explain any portion of it that they do not understand. But not only is he delivering the letter—we see in verse 7 that he is to share about Paul’s activities, and in verse 8 that he will let them know how Paul and his team are doing, with the aim of encouraging them. Then, in verse 9, we see mention of Onesimus and how he will share what has taken place with him. We learn in the book of Philemon that Onesimus left Colossae and then came to faith through Paul’s ministry. Now, he is returning to share this good news. 

In short, Paul is sharing all of this and they care about it because they all care about the spread of the gospel and the honor of Jesus Christ. Christian speech is accented by this concern: how can we honor Christ and make much of him?

Second, this speech is accented by oneness in Christ. Verses 10-15 list out numerous greetings that could be easy to skip over, but the realities behind these greetings are revolutionary. Those who greet this church made up of Gentile converts run the gamut. In verses 10-11, those of the circumcision, that is Jews, send their greetings. Then Epaphras, one of their own, sends his greetings in verses 12-13. Gentile followers of Christ, Luke, and Demas, send their greetings in verse 14. Then fellowship between two other churches is acknowledged by Paul passing a greeting on to them. 

Their connection is not ethnicity, historical background, language, music style, dress, socio-economic status, religious history, or social ranking. There is care and a desire for fellowship and encouragement because Christ is all for them. 

People who were characterized by disdain for each other now send greetings and work together. Don’t simply pass over how remarkable this is. 

Christian speech is marked by love for one another that transcends earthly limits of unity. 

Third, this speech is accented by sitting under the authority of Christ. In verses 16-17, Paul exhorts submission to Scripture and Christian service. Before Jesus went to the cross, he authorized his disciples to write Scripture by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15). This makes sense as to why Paul does not see his letter as just for the Colossians. He wants it sent to the Laodiceans for them to read and, in turn, wants the Colossians to read the letter he has sent to the Laodiceans. They are to read this together as a church because, as a church, they sit under the authority of Christ. 

In verse 17, Paul gives an exhortation to Archippus to fulfill his ministry. It is not clear what this ministry is, but what is clear is that Christ has made offices in his church in order to equip the church. Paul is exhorting obedience to this service. 

Christian speech is marked by exhorting one another to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Fourth, this speech is accented by sharing suffering. In verse 18, Paul ends the letter by asking the Colossians to remember his chains and commending them to God’s grace. This word for “remember” is often used in reference to prayer (see Rom 1:9; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Tim 1:3). He wants them to remember his chain so that they would pray for him while he is imprisoned. 

Paul was not shy about talking of his hardships and sufferings. He even shares how he doesn’t always bear the suffering well. In 2 Corinthians 1:8, he says that he was so burdened that he despaired of life. As the letter of 2 Corinthians continues, he points to his suffering, his weakness, and his constant battle with fear as testimonies to the validity of his ministry. He boasts of his weaknesses as a verification of his legitimacy. Does that seem strange? In effect, he was saying, “Do you know why my ministry is so clearly marked out as belonging to God? Because I am so unimpressive that the things I’ve accomplished could not have been done by my power. I am too weak and the task is too hard.” 

Paul’s argument is that he is so unimpressive that the power of God is undeniable. He doesn’t endure because he is strong; he endures because Christ is strong!

He is so confident in Christ’s power that he is free to be himself in all of his weaknesses. Paul says that God sent him to preach to the Gentiles. But now he is locked up, but he does not count that as embarrassing. He is free to be himself because he is safe and secure in Christ. 

When you share your weaknesses, you embrace the greatness and sufficiency of Christ. The gospel frees you to be honest and to take off any mask that the world says you should wear. 

Christian speech is marked by an openness about weakness because Christ is strong. 

Don’t Confuse Root and Fruit

This is the Christian accent: prayer formed by the reality of Christ and his work; speech to the lost formed by tasking God’s grace in Christ; and words in the church formed by the new identity that Christ gives us.

But be careful. You can imitate an accent without really having it. The point of this passage is not for you to try to talk like this. The point is that you need to go to Christ, who will form you to speak like this. Don’t focus on the fruit. Focus on the root, who is Christ himself. 

Focusing on the fruit is simply trying to imitate works. It is like nailing apples to a tree in the hope that it will turn into an apple tree. But focusing on the root of Christ is to be grafted into him by faith and changed into his likeness by his power. 

The Christian accent comes by being with Christ, and you can receive the Spirit of Christ and walk with him when you turn to Christ in faith. How do you do that? Admit that you are a sinner and that you deserve hell. Turn away from sin, which is simply to admit that sin will not bring you life, only death. Then place your hope in Christ. This means looking at him and believing all that he says about himself and all that he promises. He says that he is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died for sin, and rose again from the grave. When you turn to him in faith, you are confessing that Christ is your only hope of eternal life. Then, confess this faith with us so that you can walk with others in newness of life under the authority of Christ. 

Let’s pray. 


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