“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
There’s a pleasant delicacy about these two verses that makes some of our approaches to evangelism seem a little, uh, forced, strident… outré. Someone once quipped that “Mass evangelism is like trying to catch rabbits with a brass band.”
The opposite to that provocative quip is the understated approach of Colossians 4:5-6. The passage answers the question how all of us believers are supposed to relate to the unbelievers in our lives. It recalls to me John Wesley’s line, “Lord, let me not live to be useless.” Paul wants to do as much he possibly can do even within the parameters of the normal day-to-day stuff. Literally, the phrase “Make the most of every opportunity” means “Buy up the time.” In other words, life is a series of never to be repeated opportunities for buying up spiritual blessings. This makes life something of an adventure in surprise. Every hour of your life brings a situation that can be bought up for eternity or missed.
So the question Paul answers in these two verses is “How do I do it? How do I make the most of every opportunity that comes my way? How do I buy up the moment?
He offers three practical tips. You do it through wise behaviour, gracious conversation and individual attention.
First, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders.” John Piper said “Wisdom is knowing how to become all things to all men without compromising holiness and truth.” That is to say, be creative, tactful, thoughtful… develop a feel for the moment and an eye for what’s needed right now, without losing your footing on a basic Biblical integrity.
I’ve been reading the extraordinary biography of Charles Bianconi who developed a national coach network across Ireland long before the coming of the railways in the 1850s. On asked how he did it with hardly any capital and without even knowing the language, he explained that he “stood between the fights of the great and the little and obliged [himself] to both.” He saw a moment, a need, and quietly took the chance.
How do I develop that “entrepreneurial” wisdom? There are only two sources: a love of God drawn from time spent in the Bible, in worship, prayer and in fellowship; and a love of people and compassion for their needs. This was exactly how Jesus operated, and this is how he was always ready to say a word in season –just the right word for the occasion- whenever he was put on the spot.
Second, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” I recall being given a huge bag of somewhat greasy chips wrapped in newspaper, only to find there was no salt available. I ploughed my way through the bulk of them, but afterwards wished I hadn’t. The lack of seasoning gave it a bland, stodgy taste.
What I mean to say is that what we say about Jesus and about life in Christ should be made as appetizing as possible. When food is not salted, its taste is bland. People don’t want to eat it. It’s unappetizing. Our speech is not supposed to be like that.
So can I learn to talk about Christ in a way that makes people’s mouth water?
I think that I have to keep my own experience fresh. I can’t ever take grace for granted or –perish the thought!- get “professional” about the way I live and talk about Christ. In Joyce Meyer’s phrase, I need to “enjoy everyday life” myself in order to convey that pleasure to others. It’s hard to salt your speech with the deliciousness of Jesus when you haven’t been enjoying the taste yourself.
And the final answer to the question how to buy up every opportunity for God is that a person should get individual attention. Verse 6 concludes ” . . . so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.”
Each person is different and each situation is different. The gospel is the same, and Christ is the same, but there are countless ways to serve the meal. We need wisdom how to serve and wisdom how to season it.
So Lord today I come to you and ask you to help me to get my tongue and my brain ready for action.
I want to speak, and think, and notice what’s going on in the lives of the people around me.
Let my words make their mouths water.