Conversing With the World
Study #28 Colossians 4:5-6
by Bob Burridge ©2023
I once read an article by a pastor who had to counsel a discouraged member of his congregation. The man came to him about something that was troubling him. He’d been working for years in an office with a few other men, none of whom were Christians. One of his colleagues was going through some hard struggles in his life. He was dealing with a sense of guilt and how God must look at his life. Seeing a great opportunity the Christian started explaining the gospel very simply and clearly.
Another man in the office was listening in. He was an outspoken cynic and disliked anything having to do with God. He walked over and said something like this, “How can you talk about how Jesus changes lives? You laugh at our dirty jokes and use words when you get upset that you wouldn’t use in church. You’re just like the rest of us but you hide behind your religion.”
The Christian man admitted that it was all too true. He felt deeply convicted and he couldn’t get the incident off his mind. The pastor prayed with him and encouraged him to learn from his bad experience. He had to ask God to help him make some changes in his life and develop better habits.
The world is watching us who claim to be changed by Christ. How we live our lives is part of our witness for the Lord.
People sometimes take offense at Christianity not for what Christ has said, but for his people. A Hindu once wandered into a church in Pretoria, South Africa. He was interested in hearing about the teachings of Jesus Christ. But what he saw among the people conflicted with what he was looking for. This is what he wrote about that incident, “The congregation did not strike me as being particularly religious; they were not an assembly of devout souls, but appeared rather to be worldly-minded people going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.” He left without having been shown the redeeming and life-changing power of the Gospel. That confused Hindu later became a famous activist for his own religion .. his name was Gandhi.
Those professing Christians in Pretoria had failed to be lights to the world and the salt of the earth.
Near the end of Colossians 4
in verses 5-6, Paul wrote:
5. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.
6. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
The “outsiders” Paul wrote about were those not part of the covenant community of Bible believing churches. When Paul wrote this those outsiders often slandered the early Christians. Christians were called atheists since they refused to have visible idols or pictures of their God. They figured that an invisible god was no god at all. Since Christians wouldn’t burn incense to worship the Emperor they were called unpatriotic. Since Christians sometimes meet behind closed doors to avoid persecutions, rumors were spread that they did immoral things there, or were cannibals actually eating the body of the dead Jesus and drinking his blood.
Those outside the covenant community today also have strange misconceptions about us. Since we believe all the Bible says, they assume we’re not very well educated about science and philosophy. Since we don’t approve of sex outside of marriage, they think of us as up-tight out of touch prudes. Since we accept God’s law against the LGBTQ+ teachings, they see us as hateful and judgmental bigots. Since we’re against abortion, they assume we hate women and are against personal freedom. We could put many more things on that list. While we need to promote what God’s word teaches, we need to do it in a right way.
Our conduct toward the outsiders must be with godly wisdom. It’s to be expected that they will judge us by what we say, and by our lives. Our conduct should demonstrate the power of the gospel to change lives. We need to display evidences of the life implanted by Christ. Our words and attitude should promote God’s honor, showing the change produced in us.
Being tactful toward others as we explain God’s truth and love is an important virtue. It puts the fruit of the Holy Spirit to work practically in our lives.
Dr. Hendriksen explained Christian tactfulness this way, “The tactful person never shirks his duty even when he is convinced that he must admonish or rebuke. But he has learned the art of doing this without being rude. He is humble, patient, and kind.”
We shouldn’t let good opportunities slip by. Here in verse 5 the ESV says, “making the best use of the time”. The King James Version says “Redeeming the time.” NASB says “making the most of the opportunity.”
The verb in this verse is “ex-agorazo” (ἐξαγοραζω). The simple and common meaning fits well here, “purchasing out, buying, shopping.”
The thing we’re to buy is called “kairo” (καιρω) in the original Greek text. It’s the word for “time”. It’s used in the broad sense here of a “season”, a timely opportunity. Literally it means we are to buy up the opportunity. We ought to buy up or seize every opportunity God brings our way. Use the moment to represent God’s truth in a good way to those outside the covenant community.
Paul uses the same expression in Ephesians 5:16. “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” There it’s used more generally of our Christian duties. Here it specially has to do with our conduct before the outside world.
In the Ephesians text, Paul explained why it’s such an urgent matter. It’s because the days we live in are evil. Paul didn’t mean that in just the era when he wrote to the Ephesians things were evil. This whole era since Eden, all the way to the Final Judgment, is an evil time. This is the era of fallen humanity. The season where sin ravages through the universe. Since this age we live in is filled with evil attacks, the good opportunities for serving our Lord may be rare and fleeting. It’s the duty of the Christian to live carefully and responsibly in the midst of an antagonistic world. We need to make the best of every chance to show God’s work in our lives, and give him all the credit for it.
An important part of our behavior
is what we say.
Colossians 4:6. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Our words represent our thoughts and attitude to other people. Careless or harsh words show a self-centered heart. Our speech should always be with grace.
In Colossians 3 Paul spoke of the importance of honoring Christ with what we say. Now at the end of the epistle he applies this theme to our conduct before the world around us. He uses the word “always” to underscore that this is not limited to the time we directly explain the gospel. God-honoring speech should be part of everything we say in every situation to every person.
He says that what we say should be seasoned with salt. Great restaurants don’t server bland tasteless food. If they did, they wouldn’t be great for long. A good chef knows how to bring out the natural flavors in foods and to blend them together. He uses spices like salt not to overwhelm, but to enhance and accent his dishes.
Throughout the ancient records of history, salt has been included in recipes. When used sparingly — to avoid ruining the food and driving up our blood pressure — it’s a valuable spice.
In earlier times sailors were know to use shocking words and crude remarks. It was often referred to as “salty language”. They didn’t only sail the salty seas. They spoke crudely.
That’s the kind of offensive talk that spices up a lot of the lyrics in today’s music and rap. Some try to impress and get attention by using profanity. It grieves my heart when in stores, or when kids walk by our house after school, to hear every sentence filled with the most disgusting profanity so meaninglessly added. We sometimes call it “colorful language”. It’s certainly not bland, and it gets attention. People who talk like that think they need to use offensive words to get people to listen.
In Paul’s day this same term “gracious speech” was used by the heathen Greek culture. But to them it was speech filled with witty remarks and clever comments. Good literature crafts sentences and paragraphs out of skillfully chosen words as works of literary art. The Bible uses amazingly skillful grammar and vocabulary to tell about God’s glory. But the color isn’t only in the words. It’s also in the message the words convey and the God honoring attitude in which it’s said.
The daily speech of God’s children is to be spiced up in a different way. We might not all be skilled in the masterful use of the English language. We shouldn’t always try to fill our conversations with witty remarks to impress people. And we certainly shouldn’t use offensive language, crude words, or vainly toss around God’s names. There is another way to get attention and “spice things up”.
There is nothing bland in words carefully spoken in God pleasing kindness and love. They stand out against the shock talk of the world so caught up in getting self-attention. What’s more they have worthy things to say when those who speak them feed on God’s word.
The Christian’s conversation should show evidence of the Spirit’s work on their hearts by grace. It should show a true concern and respect for all those spoken to.
In Psalm 19:14 King David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. ”
This is how you can know how to respond to each person. If you’re practiced in godly speech at home and with your friends it’ll come naturally to you everywhere. We shouldn’t talk with others to impress them about ourselves, rather than speaking to please God.
When we have a more self-centered focus, we should come to God in humble repentance and beg him to change us. We need to make a habit of gracious language with sincere concern for those listening and for God who hears it all. Rather, we should learn to speak out of love for God and for those around us. We should speak in ways that show we truly care and that we submit humbly to the truth of God.
If we cultivate that speech habit, if it comes from a heart growing in love for Christ, we won’t easily slip out of it when good opportunities arise. We never know when a situation might come along where the gospel can be explained.
Always be ready to tell about the wonderful gospel of Christ whenever we can. That impulsive fisherman named Simon Peter learned this through many struggles. He later wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Pay attention to what the people around us really need. Pray and keep God’s word in mind so we can know how to rightly respond in each situation. We should direct our conversation and behavior to display God’s honor and character in humility and kindness.
Our goal isn’t to win arguments or impress others with what we say and know. it’s to explain the nature of God, and to show the effects regeneration has worked in our own hearts. Who knows when our witness will be used by God to bring someone into His Kingdom. What an effective and biblical means of evangelism! Each believer is sent out to shine as a light to the world and to be salt wherever God puts him.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.