Continue earnestly in prayer, being 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. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Praying For Open Doors
Chains were not unfamiliar to the apostle Paul as a man who often was imprisoned for preaching the gospel of Christ. The Jews persecuted their once staunch leader against the Way as he had turned away from the Law of Moses to preach the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. While in a Roman prison awaiting his appeal to Caesar, Paul wrote three letters to the churches of Philippi, Ephesus and Colosse including a personal letter of appeal to his friend and brother in Christ, Philemon. Each of these letters was filled with positive and encouraging messages of hope, praise, rejoicing and clear doctrinal lessons needed to fortify the hearts of the saints to keep the faith with all diligence. He reminded all the brethren to pray for him as he bore the chains of persecution faithfully and would find the answer to his prayers in being released sometime later to resume his work in far off places. What is remarkable about Paul is the continual focus of positive hope that God would grant him one more opportunity to preach the gospel. His desire to the church at Colosse was for their prayers to be attentive to the work of the Lord with a thankful heart and that God would give Paul an opportunity to speak about the gospel with others. He was under guard by the Roman Empire which often meant a life sentence or death yet he is filled with the joy of serving Christ and sharing the gospel with as many people as possible with every opportunity made available to him – even in prison. In his letter to Philippi Paul mentions saints in the household of Caesar and how the gospel was known among the whole palace guard. Chains could bind the hands and feet of Paul but not his voice. A man under guard, unable to freely travel to other places and hindered by the legal machine of the Romans is sharing the gospel with all who will hear him and making disciples.
America is the land of the free where the gospel has a free course to be spread to every home that opens the door. Saints are not confined to prisons or jails because they teach and preach a resurrected Christ. Churches of Christ are not under the bondage of legal entanglements for standing for truth in a community. The Bible is printed in as many forms and languages as is humanly possible including the transmission of the holy text in electronic form with computers, smartphones and electronic devices without number. There is greater opportunity to share the gospel with greater numbers than has been seen or heard in generations and yet a man imprisoned in a brutal government two thousand years ago with no electricity, automobile or airplane, and freedom of travel is praying for an opportunity to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. The story of evangelism is filled with the reality that more souls are brought to Christ when the church is being persecuted than when the church cradles itself in the bosom of prosperity. When Saul of Tarsus brought severe hardship to the church, the saints went everywhere preaching and teaching the gospel. By modern standards, everything in the first century was an impossible task to perform in travel, availability of text, opportunities to share the message and yet the church abounded with incredible numbers. Through the centuries under the iron rule of apostasy, the church of Christ continued to thrive in communities around the world. By the grace of God, the world came to a period of peace allowing the gospel to increase and spread to many nations and the United States became a fertile ground for a large scale restoration of truth according to New Testament teaching. Prosperity gave the church in America the ability to send out the message of Christ in incredible ways. There are no laws forbidding the assembly of the saints, no regulations dictating the word of God and no hindrances to the sharing of the gospel. Few saints in America, if any, are imprisoned with chains today for preaching the gospel like the apostle Paul. He prayed for opportunities and found them. The church today has more opportunities and fails to pray for them and languishes as congregations slowly begin to die in many places.
The church of Christ has entered a time of placid and fruitful peace that has made the church an ineffective tool for evangelism. Fewer souls are being added to the church. Remarkably, many want to blame how bad the world has turned in the past years as the cause of the decline. Many will point to the decline of morality and virtue as the reason people do not want to hear the gospel. Denominationalism has been used as a crutch for not teaching the good news of Christ as so many folks believe so many different things it makes it hard to teach the truth. What is more evident than anything is the reality the world Paul lived in was morally bankrupt far worse than any world the child of God has seen today. There was more hostility against the gospel and men like Paul than ever imagined by the modern American Christian. The body of Christ lived in cities so decadent and immoral (Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, and Athens) it would cause the heart of the Christian today to shudder in fear but the gospel had free course and disciples were added daily. Satan has convinced the modern church the gospel will not change lives and opportunities are limited so why bother. Years pass and churches seldom see growth in the number of souls added in the waters of baptism. No one prays for the increase and few will work to teach the good news and the church continues to decline. The problem is not the world – the problem is we are not locked up in a Roman prison with chains on our hands and feet. Maybe then we would pray for an opportunity to speak about the mysterious plan concerning Christ.