Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. – Colossians 4:2-6.
Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here. – Colossians 4:7-9.
Never underestimate the power of speech. Whether the communication is oral or written, there is great power in words.
Witnessing to the Lost is the third of the four most important ministries of speech that Paul wrote in this letter of which we will now discuss:
Witnessing to the Lost
“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
“Those who are outside” is referring to those who are outside the family of God. Jesus made a distinction between His disciples and those who were outside (Mark 4:11). Paul also made this same distinction (1 Corinthians 5:12–13). Those of us who are born again are the “spiritual insiders” because we belong to God’s family and share His life.
However, as Christians, we must never have a sanctified superiority complex. We must remember we have done nothing to deserve this honor, it was all done by Christ and we were chosen by God our Father. However, we do have a responsibility to witness to the lost around us and to seek to bring them into God’s family. To begin with, we have the responsibility to “walk in wisdom,” to walk wisely. The word “walk” refers, of course, to our conduct in day to day life. The unsaved outsiders watch us Christians whether we notice it or not and they can be very critical of us. There must be nothing in our lives that would jeopardize our testimony.
A great example and analogy of this very concept is one in the life of Dr. Will H. Houghton:
Dr. Will H. Houghton, who pastored the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City and later served as president of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute till his death in 1946. When Dr. Houghton became pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle in Atlanta, a man in that city hired a private detective to follow Dr. Houghton and report on his conduct. After a few weeks, the detective was able to report to the man that Dr. Houghton’s life matched his preaching. As a result, that man became a Christian.
What does it mean to “walk in wisdom”? For one thing, it means that we are careful not to say or do anything that would make it difficult for us to share the Gospel. It also means we must be alert to use the opportunities God gives us for personal witnessing. “Redeeming the time” means to buy up, as in to purchase the opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). This is a commercial term that the Apostle Paul like to use and it pictures the Christian as a faithful steward who knows an opportunity when he sees one. Just as a merchant seizes a bargain when he finds one, so a Christian seizes the opportunity to win a soul to Christ.
Walking in wisdom also includes doing our work, paying our bills, and keeping our promises. We must “walk properly toward those who are outside.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:12. Christians in general and Christian leaders in particular “must have a good testimony among those who are outside.” – 1 Timothy 3:7. When members of a church are calling a new pastor, they ought to investigate his testimony among his neighbors and the businessmen who know him. Even though unsaved people are in the dark spiritually (2 Corinthians 4:3–4), they have a great deal of discernment when it comes to the things of this life (Luke 16:8). It is unfortunate when members of a church call a pastor who has not paid his bills and has left behind a bad witness to unsaved people.
It is not enough simply to walk wisely and carefully before unbelievers. We must also TALK with them and share the Gospel message with them. But we must take care that our “speech” is controlled by “grace,” so that it points to Christ and glorifies the Lord. This means we must have grace in our hearts to begin with (Colossians 3:16), because it is from the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). With grace in our hearts and on our lips, we will be faithful witnesses and not sentencing judges or prosecuting attorneys!
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke with grace on His lips. “So all . . . marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” – Luke 4:22. Among the many statements about Jesus Christ in Psalm 45 (a messianic psalm) is this: “Grace is poured upon your lips.” – Psalm 45:2. Even when our Lord was dealing with sin, He spoke words of grace.
Our speech is supposed to “impart grace to the hearers.” – Ephesians 4:29. But it cannot do that unless we have grace in our hearts and in our words. “Speaking the truth in love.” – Ephesians 4:15. This is God’s ideal for our conversation.
Why do you suppose Paul added the term, “seasoned with salt”? In Paul’s time, it was common for salt to be used as a preservative as well as a seasoner. We should never say to anyone, “Now, take this with a grain of salt,” as if that is something to suffer through for we MUST put the salt into our speech to make sure it is pure and properly seasoned. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth.” – Ephesians 4:29. Again, our speech MUST be pure.
Salt was also added to the sacrifices under the Old Covenant (Leviticus 2:13). Perhaps Paul was suggesting that we look on our words as sacrifices offered to God, just as our words of praise are spiritual sacrifices to Him (Hebrews 13:15). It would no doubt help us to say the right things in the right manner if we remembered and truly considered that our words are looked on as sacrifices to God.
It is unfortunate when a Christian speaks in a rude or coarse manner, particularly when the unsaved are listening. “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” – 1 Peter 3:15. Meekness is the opposite of harshness, and fear is the opposite of arrogance. There is no place in a Christian’s conversation for a know-it-all attitude. While we need to have convictions and not compromise, we must also cultivate a gracious spirit of love.
The Christian’s WALK and TALK must be in harmony with each other. Nothing will silence the lips of a believer, or close the ears of an unbeliever, like a careless life. When character, conduct, and conversation are all working together, it makes for a powerful witness.