Be wise in the way you act toward 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 everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)
Many of us western Christians, perhaps for the first time, are learning what it is like to be in a minority – much like it was for the church in Colossae to whom Paul is writing. As Christians, they (and we) adhere to certain beliefs that often run contrary to neighbors and co-workers who are non-believers (he calls them “outsiders” here). How are we to relate to them? The Apostle gives us some great advice.
Use wisdom – that’s step one. Being wise is different from being smart. Wisdom involves application of knowledge. In the Bible, wisdom is related to the term “skill”. Living skillfully with outsider comes first. That means we start by thinking about the ramifications of what we do and say. “How will this person feel/respond if I tell them what I think?” “Is it MY job to correct this person?” “Did God show me this so I could better pray for this person or to tell them?” “What are the possible consequences if I post this article to Facebook, or if I ‘like’ this person’s rant?” (at this point my wife is reading this shouting at the computer screen: “Physician heal thyself!”).
Here’s the deal with wisdom – wisdom helps us stay out of trouble in the first place – which is why it’s first on Paul’ list. In a world with everyone wearing their feelings on their shirtsleeves and becoming offended so easily, wisdom is vital. And don’t forget this promise from God: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5, NIV)
Look for opportunities – and when you see them, take advantage. What’s he talking about? Opportunities to win an argument? To make a point? To share your opinion? To show the sinfulness of this or that activity? No – the implication is that you and I are on a mission to bring “outsiders” to the inside. The opportunities we are looking for are those chances to minister to our co-worker, pray for our neighbor, or show God’s love to the store clerk.
We believe that God is guiding us in our lives – and that He is the one who gives us these opportunities for ministry. But unless we’re looking for them, they’re easy to dismiss as chance or coincidence. Start looking for Divine appointments God has planned for you. If not, they’ll pass us by quickly: “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” ~ Mark Twain
Grace-filled Conversations – once we seize the opportunity put before us by the Lord, what might describe our conversations? Paul takes a common figure of speech from the ancient world: “Sprinkle your conversation with salt” and changes it a bit. The phrase was often used to encourage speakers to add wit and clever remarks when they spoke to others – to add seasoning to their conversations. But Paul tells us our conversations should be known because they are full of God’s grace. Nothing recommends itself to the human pallet more than being accepted and loved!
That last phrase, then (“so that you may know how to answer everyone”), has nothing to do with having the right answer or the correct argument (though these aren’t UNimportant) and has everything to do with the manner in which we answer: with grace.
They will know we are Christians by our love…We love, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).