Rescued from the inhuman condition into which we were born — children of Adam cut off from fellowship with God — the Lord calls those of us who are His children in Christ to put on the new humanity that is found only in His Son (Col. 2:13– 15; 3:5–17). In Colossians 3:18–4:1, Paul highlights what humanity as God designed it to be looks like in the family and the covenant community. Beginning in today’s passage, the apostle highlights what it looks like in relation to the outside world.
Colossians 4:2 contains an admonition to diligent, thankful prayer, which at first glance seems to be an instruction on how we are to be as Christians in relation to God. Indeed, it is true that one of the marks of the believer is the resolve to pray at all times (Eph. 6:18), that is, in all circumstances; nevertheless, John Chrysostom notes how even the call to pray operates in relation to those who are not a part of the Lord’s people: “The devil knows, yes he knows, how great a good prayer is” (ACCNT 9, p. 54). We must be diligent in prayer because it is one of the most powerful weapons we have for tearing down the Enemy’s strongholds. How much stronger would the church be when facing its adversaries if it prayed according to the will of God, asking the Lord to show forth His power and grace on the behalf of His people (James 4:2b–3)?
Related to the importance of prayer in the church’s task to break through the gates of hell is the apostle’s request in Colossians 4:3–4 for prayer that “God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Note that Paul does not ask for the church in Colossae to ask for his release from Roman imprisonment, which he certainly could have done. No, realizing that there can be just as many opportunities for the advance of the gospel even though he is in chains, the apostle prays that the gospel — the mystery of Christ — would travel freely. If the Lord were to unleash his chains, that would be great, for he could then go on another missionary journey. If not, and he has to stay in jail, that will be okay as well, not least if God makes the hearts and minds of his captors open to the message of salvation. Perhaps we should follow his example, praying not so much for the alleviation of our own suffering or the suffering of the persecuted church around the world, but that the gospel would go forth freely and powerfully even in the midst of this trouble.
Praying for other Christians is also a way to manifest our love for them, as true love for Paul would motivate the Colossians to intercede for the apostle. John Calvin says that “it is not in vain that the Lord has appointed this exercise of love between us — that we pray for each other.” Do we take the privilege of prayer seriously, or do we simply tell people that we are praying for them and then forget all about it?