“Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each one.” ( Col 4:5,6)
The challenge is in the last clause: How do I “know how to answer each one“?
This passage suggests five ideas. First, do it “wisely, ” thoughtfully, carefully. Jesus said “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). Being wise means being discerning as to when I speak and to whom. Sometimes I need to be straightforward and strong. Other times I need to shut up.
And I need the wisdom to know the difference!
John Piper said this on this passage: “Wisdom is knowing what to do for the glory of God when the rule book runs out. It’s knowing how to become all things to all men without compromising holiness and truth. It is creativity and tact and thoughtfulness. It’s having a feel for the moment, and having an eye for what people need and want.”
Second, I should talk about my faith with a real sense of urgency, “making the best use of the time,” or in one paraphrase, “snapping up every opportunity that comes.”
I simply can’t let fear or hesitation or lack of preparation steal that moment. There may not be another.
Bill Butterworth wrote that “The four things that matter in life: [are] 1) love 2) honesty 3) faith 4) courage. ” I like that a lot. Because it seems to me that when we talk about Jesus, all those aspects come into play both about him and about the way we share.
Third, my conversation must always be “gracious.” The word means “attractively, endearingly.” Graciousness creates that balance which elsewhere Paul described as “Speaking the truth in love.” If you don’t speak truth, it doesn’t help; if you don’t speak in love, they won’t hear.
Imbalance is deadly. I just can’t be pushy, or offensive, belligerently insisting on something because “It’s the truth!” Many such presentations do far more harm than good. And yet, if I soften the edges and dilute everything into a palatable goo, with a ladle-full of sugar to help the medicine go down, it may not be the gospel at all, just a self-help guide to feeling good.
So, be gracious when you share about grace.
Fourth, says Paul, let your conversation be “seasoned with salt,” There’s no special prize for being dull or insipid or lukewarm when you share your faith!
Do you talk of Jesus in a way that makes people’s mouths water? Do your words and manner create the opportunity for a spiritual thirst to emerge? It’s the way Jesus himself spoke, letting his stories prod and poke, claiming attention and encouraging curiosity.
The psalmist said, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)! Do people see and sense the sweetness of the Savior when we speak of him? He is altogether lovely and should not be made known in an unlovely or unappealing manner. Jesus tastes good!
Don’t spoil the flavor with a grumpy disposition.
Fifth, we must be careful to respond to “each one.” You don’t speak in the same way to everyone but appropriately to “each one” as he or she has need. Think of the way Jesus spoke to a tired old intellectual at night (in John 3), and then to a spiritually thirsty woman by day (John 4). No one hears the gospel the same way. Some encounter Christ with probing intellectual objections, while others are struggling with deeply entrenched sinful habits. I just need to find what to say to “each one.”
I know there’s no rulebook here, or tried and trusty How To manual. But if you know Jesus, you have a faith-story to tell. Paul is encouraging a group of new believers to share that story wisely, urgently, graciously, encouragingly and appropriately….
Lord, today, let me be responsive to the needs of the folks around me. Grant me opportunities to speak to one or two with wisdom, grace and love.
In Jesus’ name, Amen