Our Call to Wisdom and Grace

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. (Colossians 4:5-6)

In the previous paragraph, which we looked at last week, Paul asks for prayer, prayer for himself that he would be able to share the gospel of truth with people who didn’t know it or had not yet embraced it. He knew, just like we know, that it is the gospel message that leads to salvation. Paul knew there were people near him who were bound for hell. And Paul knew what the solution for that tragic dilemma would be for them. I mean, can you imagine? It’s hard, I know, but can you try to imagine the consequences for refusing to embrace Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior? There are many around us, many that were around him, who were in that state. The future for the lost, it is unimaginably dark. In Revelation 21:8 we read: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” This means those whose lives are marked by sinful habits, with no desire for repentance, meaning they are living in these ways in an unrepentant state, not changing nor wanting to change, for them their future is one of pain and agony, the second death which is eternity in hell.

The solution is not to live sinless, but to, by faith, embrace Christ as Savior, repent of sin, which is a change in thinking leading to a change in behavior. Salvation is what those around Paul needed, and Paul wanted them to have it more than he wanted to be released from jail. He prayed that the door would be opened so that he could share about the mysteries of Christ. It was not, “God get me out of prison,” it was, “God save these people from their sins.” There’s a real indication here about Paul’s desires, his passions, his priorities. He wanted them to be saved. He wanted them to humble themselves before God, as we read about in Matthew 5…

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:3-5)

He wanted them to become aware of the extreme goodness and wisdom of God, like what we read in Romans 11…

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul wanted them to come to Christ with a desire to turn from sin and live for Him.

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

He wanted those around him to realize their need and find joy in depending on Christ, not on themselves; to depend fully on Jesus, as we read about in 1 Thessalonians 1…

9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

A true desire and determination to depend on Christ’s righteousness and to live for Him, this is what Paul wanted for those who were lost. Paul had been there, he had lived most of his life as a lost man, and God rescued him out of his lostness and pride in himself. Paul wanted this then for other people. And so he prayed and asked others to pray that God would open doors for him for gospel ministry so that many would be saved. But he does not stop there. His thoughts transition from his own gospel ministry to his fellow Christians and the ministry that they too had in this realm of evangelism. 

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. (Colossians 4:5-6)

I believe this is an evangelistic message. He was just writing about his personal evangelism, and now he is instructing us on how we should conduct ourselves with outsiders. Who are the outsiders? The lost, those outside the church. When I say outside the church I mean outside of the true church. He is speaking of those who are outside of the family of God.

When Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time,” he is not giving them advice on general time management, or just how to get along with people who are different than they were. No, Paul is instructing them about something much more important. He wants them to conduct themselves in a way that will further the gospel of salvation right where they live. And if they are to do that, then they must make good use of their time with those they live around who are outside of the faith.

We should govern our behavior with unbelievers according to biblical wisdom. As believers immerse themselves in the person of Christ, the teachings of Christ, as we better understand who Christ is, what He has done for us, and how He desires that we should live, then our minds are renewed. In this kind of living, with minds renewed, consumed with Christ, the Spirit of Christ will help us to know how to live in any given situation with those who are not in Christ. This is not a mystical kind of living, it is a living out the Word of God under the influence of God.

Remember at the beginning of Colossians, Paul prayed this…

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)

We are to walk in wisdom. We are to walk in wisdom with outsiders, making the best use of time.

In this book Paul has been warning about false teachers, but here he is not encouraging avoiding non-believers, but being wise around them. And further, with his just-stated emphasis on evangelism in his own life, here we can take his comments to also include evangelism. Walk in wisdom among outsiders, making the best use of time, regarding making Jesus known for the salvation of the lost.

The phrase “best use of time” means to make the most of every opportunity. It is like what Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16 where he states: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” When we put together the truths of the brevity of time we have on this earth along with the reality of so many around us who do not know Christ, many who don’t even know the gospel message, these can change how we begin to relate to the so-called “outsiders” around us.

What does it look like to walk in wisdom with outsiders who are currently bound for hell and when time is short? Does it matter, do we consider these things as we meet our neighbors, do our jobs?

This is convicting to me personally. I can’t say that I always have in my mind the condition of a person’s soul as I visit with them through the normal course of my life, even though I know time is short and many are lost.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14)

So when we do meet with lost people, whether in person, on the phone, through Facebook, or any other way, when we put our words out there for people to hear, do our words have a sweet aroma that reflects our Savior who wooed us to salvation, or are our words intended more to communicate something else with no indication of a message of Christ’s love? Are our points of communication laced with the person of Christ, the love of Christ, truths of Christ, or are we just arguing a point, sending a message, conveying information that is totally void of such things?

Are we walking wisely among non-Christians in a way that says, “I belong to Christ and you can too”? Are we walking in a way that shows the lost, “That person is different, they are not passionate about themselves, somehow they seem different”? This is what Paul is getting at in the next verse when he says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

I love that verse. I want to be that person. Paul is speaking of words that are gracious, words we use with others that are kind, respectful, and words that the other person may not necessarily deserve. What I mean is others may speak harshly, rudely to us, but how do we return such speech? How do we answer them? With graciousness, seasoned with salt. Salt brings out flavor in various foods, it enhances food, makes it taste better. Salt makes some foods easier to consume, even more enjoyable to eat. Experiment for yourself: popcorn unsalted or popcorn with salt. That’s all you have to do to get my point. 

Here is my point. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” A gracious response, seasoned with salt, can have an effect of penetrating a person’s heart, softening their heart to a place of a willingness to observe you more, to listen to you more, to even ask, “Why are you this way? Why are you being so kind to me?”

If we are bent toward this idea of walking wisely with the lost for the purpose of evangelistic outreach, will our speech be different than what it currently is?

In Ephesians 4:29 we also find radical words regarding speech: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

We all blow it with our words at times. We know this from experience and from what the Bible teaches us…

2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:2-5)

It is because of our tendency to speak recklessly that we have passages like Colossians 4 that urge us to think before we speak, to carefully consider our words, for if we don’t, we will most certainly emulate James 3 rather than Colossians 4.

But why do we? What are we wanting when we blow it with our words? You see, the answer is not just to season our words with salt, the answer is not just to be gracious with our words, the answer is a heart that loves and longs for Christ and loves and longs for others to be sanctified and longs for others to be saved.

I think we live in a day where, in many ways, Christians have lost sight of how to communicate, especially on hard topics, in the way that we are called to here. And at the same time, I can’t think of a more critical time in history where Christians need to learn better how to do this, how to communicate with wisdom toward outsiders. Let’s face it, we are being, as Christians, bombarded with very sensitive issues in our culture.

Let me back up a bit. I don’t want to talk about big issues and ignore all the many issues that we face just in our families and among our close friends. Sometimes it is easy to talk about all those big issues as if there aren’t myriads of issues that we deal with personally just trying to figure out life in our homes even. So this is applicable to both.

But in the broader sense, Christians can communicate almost to the whole world through social media, blogs, and such. We can make comments that reach way beyond our circle of friends. This is new, this has never been true before. We can give input and debate on topics that reach many people through online discussions. We have access to people with all kind of backgrounds, beliefs, preconceived ideas about Christians, and so on. This makes for us, I believe, a huge, massive responsibility. We no longer live in a day where only the most educated and respected are heard. Anyone can be heard. So what do we do with that? Are you, am I, ready to be heard by the masses out there? Are we so in love with Christ and so skilled in living out Colossians 3:5-6 and Ephesians 4:29 that we are ready to be heard by many, including many lost? Have we learned to be precise and careful with our words so that they are gracious, seasoned with salt, and clearly Christ-centered? What are we communicating to the lost through online interaction? Are we building up Christ and the church, or are we causing harm to His name and to His church?

Are we ready, in this way, to speak publicly regarding the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, or the Planned Parenthood videos, or the killing of the famous lion in Africa, or current-day racist activities, or homelessness, or government overreach or corruption, or the so-called war on drugs, or diet, or fitness, or raising children, or marriage, or the environment, and on and on and on? Can we speak to these things in a way that clearly, very clearly is gracious, seasoned with salt, laced with gospel truth and love for our neighbors? All of our neighbors, which would include those who agree with us and those who hate us. Can we be kind to our enemies, respectful of them as creations of our God, can we give a soft answer? Do our words, written or verbal, shout to the world that we love Christ and love our neighbors, especially those who hate us and vehemently disagree with us?

Can we distinguish between our preferential passions, beliefs, and our Christ-centered convictions? Do those who know us or hear us see the difference? Or are we so passionate about our preferences that they seem equal to our strongly held, God-spoken doctrines of truth that will stand forever?

Here is what I am saying: be careful what you put out there! We are to be careful how we speak and how we write to a world that is watching, and to a world that desperately needs to hear the message of Christ. Be careful, we need to be careful that we are not alienating those around us by our speech to such a degree that they would never hear us if we gave them God-honoring truth.

I would encourage each of you, as I am for myself, to take this week and think carefully before you use words, and ask, “Will this honor God, lift up Christ, will these words confirm my life in Christ or not? Will my words pave a way for gospel truth with my neighbor, or will they eliminate any potential opportunity?”

We are ambassadors here for Christ and strangers and aliens in this world. We get to stand for Christ!

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. (Colossians 4:5-6)