A Study of Colossians 4:2–4
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)
In the first chapter, Paul tells the assembly of his thankfulness for them, and of his prayer for them. Now, he makes a request of these saints that they would pray for him, and for those with him. Since this is a letter from Paul with Timothy, the “us” must refer to them.
The first thing that Paul mentions here is to continue praying. This again is related to all that came before, where we have the life that is reckoned to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We now have also what is really meant in this charge in 1 Thessalonians:
Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
The point is to never stop praying. To not give up on praying, and “watch in the same”, or to be diligent and vigilant in praying. It involves conscientious involvement in this continuous prayer. It involves conscientious thanksgiving in prayer. As Paul said to the Romans, we should pray as an instant reaction to any situation:
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer… (Romans 12:12)
After giving encouragement to continue praying generally, we now continue with the apostle’s specific request for Timothy and himself. He is asking for a “door of utterance”, or for opportunities to speak the word. This should not be confused with the “utterance” in Acts 2:4 and 14 which has to do with the Holy Spirit giving the Apostles the ability to speak in new, never learned languages and giving them, specifically Peter, the very words of God to speak as a prophetic proclamation. The important point here is not the differences in Greek words, although they are different, but that what Paul is asking for has nothing to do with the “powers of the world to come” (Hebrews 6:5), and the gifts that were manifest in Acts 2, but with speaking the mystery of Christ. Now properly, the mysteries, or secrets can be enumerated into specific things, but here, it speaks more plainly of the entirety of the message that Paul preached as Apostle of Jesus Christ and by Jesus Christ. This message was given to him by revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), and he speaks broadly of his message at the end of Romans:
Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. (Romans 16:25–27)
I have made this statement in many previous studies, but it is important, so I will make it again. The Christian is established according to what Paul calls “my gospel”. Paul takes ownership of this message because he was given it by revelation of Jesus Christ, and the Lord sent him as a chosen vessel to proclaim it. There is a revelation of Jesus Christ according to that which was “spoken by the mouth of all [God’s] holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21, cf. Luke 1:70), and a message of Jesus Christ “according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest”. This should be understood without saying it, but just in case it is not, or is not clear, the messages are from the same God and a revelation of the same Lord Jesus Christ. They are not opposed to each other, but are built on the same foundation.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
There are many elements of Paul’s gospel which are very consistent with all that the prophets spoke “since the world began”, and this should be expected. But there is much additionally that Paul reveals that is unheard of in all of prophecy.
It is that which the Apostle Paul reveals, which was given to him by revelation of Jesus Christ, which is the mystery of Christ. Notice though, this mystery, or secret, is not to remain a secret, but Paul asks the saints to pray for him that he may speak it, and make it manifest as he “ought to speak”. This brings up another important point. In discussing “the mystery”, we do not, as I have been accused of doing by those opposing my stand for the distinctiveness of the revelation of Jesus Christ given to Paul, speak of things which “only the initiated can understand”. This type of accusation tries to put us on the level of “the Illuminati”, or some other such secret society. But no one who stands for the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery is teaching a “secret society” message. We are doing the exact opposite of that. We are revealing the secret.
Whereof I [Paul] am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus… (Colossians 1:25–28)
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 3:8–9)
Notice also that Paul says here that it is the mystery of Christ for which he is in bonds. This statement has two possible senses, and I am persuaded that both of these senses have validity. The first is that he is in bonds because he spoke of the mystery of Christ, and that is why he is imprisoned and persecuted. The other is that he is imprisoned for the purpose of speaking the mystery of Christ, or so that he would speak the mystery of Christ.
In the first case, remember what caused Paul to be taken prisoner by the Roman government. In Acts 21 and 22, he was in the temple in Jerusalem and was drawn out my the riotous multitude stirred up by the Jews from Asia against him. This started because the Jewish believers in Jerusalem under the leadership of James urged Paul to go to the temple to show that he was not teaching the Jews among the Gentiles to “forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21), and that he himself “walkest orderly, and keepest the law” (Acts 21:25). It seems in this episode that the Jews in Jerusalem who believed in Jesus as the promised Christ were at peace with those that did not. They were in the temple and it seems without issue. The big problem was whether or not Paul still identified himself with the Jews and still kept up the wall of separation. At this point, to the Jews, Paul became a Jew and went in with them and there would have been an offering made for them.
The problem that the Jews in the temple had was that they had seen Paul with an Ephesian (Gentile), and supposed he had brought him into the temple. They said that he brought Greeks into the temple and polluted the “holy place”. The truth is that Paul did everything that he could to be at peace with the Jews in Jerusalem. He spoke to them in the Hebrew language to keep them in silence. Speaking in Greek would never have been accepted. He recounted how he had met the Lord on the road to Damascus, and that the Lord said “I am Jesus of Nazareth, Whom thou persecutest”, and they still kept silent.
Paul stated his case, even recalling that he argued with the Lord about how much he could sway the Jews in Jerusalem because he had been one of them that persecuted the Lord and His people. First the Lord told him plainly, “Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning Me” (Acts 22:18).
After more arguing, the Lord gave him another plain command: “Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21). That was going too far. Just mentioning going to the Gentiles caused the calm to stop, and another cry:
“Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live” (Acts 21:22).
This is how Paul ended up in Roman custody and found himself in bonds for the mystery of Christ. The Jews in the temple would have none of that. The nation in general would not accept the word of God for themselves, and would not allow the word of God to go to the Gentiles either. God, however, would not allow their unbelief to stand in the way of His plans to reconcile the world to Himself. Even though to Abraham God gave the promise that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, the Gentiles would be blessed in spite of their rejection.
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. (Romans 11:32)
The mystery of Christ declares an obliteration of the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles.
For He is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us… (Ephesians 2:14)
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power. (Ephesians 3:1–7)
The passage above though states plainly that while Paul may have been in Roman custody, he was not the prisoner of Rome. He was the prisoner of Jesus Christ. He was held captive as an “ambassador in bonds” (Ephesians 6:20) by the Lord Himself. He could have been dramatically rescued as in the past, but he was not. The Lord saw fit to keep Paul bound for the mystery of Christ, and at what is usually considered another imprisonment, Paul reminds Timothy that although he is bound, the Word of God is not (2 Timothy 2:9).
In this sense, he was bound so that he would speak the mystery of Christ, and not continue to go back to Jerusalem where they would not hear the word concerning Jesus the Messiah. Paul’s job was to go to the Gentiles, and this inconvenient imprisonment would send him to the capital of the world, Rome. So now that he got there, he requests prayer to speak as he ought, for that “door of utterance” to be opened, and that he would speak boldly as he should. The Word of God was not bound!
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places… (Philippians 1:12–13)
All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:22)
So as we have spoke of Paul speaking the mystery of Christ, it is important that we make it clear that the mystery of Christ is made known. Paul spoke of that which was of first importance, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and rose again according to the scriptures. He says plainly that this is the gospel by which we are saved if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). This applies to you as well as to all. The offer is available to all, and it is available to you. Will YOU accept the free gift of God of salvation in Jesus Christ by the cross? It is in the Lord Jesus Christ that God will accept you!