“As Christians, we know we should share our faith with others. However, we don’t do it until we feel horribly guilty — then we force ourselves upon some poor, unsuspecting soul.” So wrote John Leonard.
Sound familiar? There must be a better way!
I have always found Paul’s words, in Colossians 4:5-6, wonderfully helpful when it comes to how we are to witness.
“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.”
Paul has just asked the Christians in Colosse for prayer for himself, as a witness to the gospel (vv 3-4).
Then, he turns our attention to our witness (vv 5-6)
WALK before TALK
But before Paul instructs us in how we are to talk (v 6), he first of all wants us to take a good look at how we walk (v 5), i.e. the way we are living. Before you open your mouth to share the gospel, first make sure you are living out what you speak.
In fact, it has taken Paul almost the whole epistle before he gets to talking about witnessing. He does not (as many would do today) begin by telling the Christians in Colosse that they must be out there “witnessing”.
The first half of his epistle is taken up laying a solid doctrinal foundation (emphasising that Christ is enough!)
Then, in ch 3, he gets round to applying what he has been teaching:
– first telling us, in general terms, how all of us as Christians should live,
– then addressing the behaviour of specific individuals: wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters.
Then, in ch 4, when he gets round to addressing specifics for all Christians, he first focuses on the great work of prayer (v 2).
Then – and only then – in the very last instruction in the whole book – he tells us something about “witnessing”.
We must walk before we talk!
Walk before those “outside”
Your walk is important because it is before “those who are outside”.
The world is made up of two sorts of people: those inside of God’s kingdom and those outside God’s kingdom. That is the stark reality.
Those inside God’s kingdom want to see those outside brought in. We want those outside to understand the gospel, to know Christ, and to be brought into God’s kingdom.
But (here is another stark reality) the only book about the kingdom, that most people who are outside read is: you! You are the book of the kingdom.
Most of the time those outside have no idea what it’s all about – apart from what they read in you.
Furthermore, most people, most of the time, are looking for an excuse not to believe.
Most people, most of the time, are watching you, to try and find in you an excuse why they would not want to become a Christian.
The best way to overcome this prejudice is by the way we live.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples…”
… if you can defend Christianity? No!
… if you can explain the gospel clearly in five minutes? No!
… if you can quote six verses from the Bible? No!
Jesus didn’t say anything about what you say at all.
He said: “By this all will know that you are My disciples… if you have love for one another.”
You are the book those “outside” first read.
How then shall we “walk” ?
Walk “in wisdom”
“In wisdom” means more than simply “doing what is right.”
A Christian sometimes allows himself all sorts of activities, and will justify what he says or does by saying: “It’s not wrong. It’s a free country. Why shouldn’t I…[whatever] ?”
Eg. We, in Australia, sometimes readily rubbish other people’s (harmless) preferences:
– a young person might rubbish an institution that has been around for years as so…dated!
– an older person might rubbish the music a young person listens to as so…awful.
It may not appear to be wrong to rubbish what we disagree with.
But – is it “wise”.
That is the real question is: not “Is it lawful?”, but “Is it wise?”
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
RESPOND before SPEAK
The fact that so many are “outside”, while we are safely “inside”, sometimes leads us to panic. Dick Lucas put it:
“Rightly aware of the importance of their message, the sad ignorance of many of their neighbours, and the urgency of the times, they plunge in bravely (whatever the temperature!). But direct assault on entrenched apathy is seldom successful and can never be carried out by normally sensitive people without great cost to nerve and confidence.”
Look to respond
But, you don’t have to “plunge in bravely (whatever the temperature!)”
Stop thinking about “creating” a new situation where you can “witness”. Think, rather, in terms of “responding” to an existing situation.
This is the significant difference, in this passage, between the way Paul speaks of his witness; and the way he speaks of ours:
– What Paul looks for in his witness is how “he ought to speak”. He prays for “an open door”; but however that door may be opened, he is determined to “speak”.
– But what Paul would have us to be on the lookout for in our witness is how “we ought to answer”, i.e. respond. Vine explains this word in these terms: “always something has preceded, either a statement or an act to which the remarks refer.”
Again, Dick Lucas:
“Yes, the Christian does have the responsibility of ‘speaking to people about God’. Just as there is an ‘ought’ about the apostle’s speaking, so there is an ‘ought’ about theirs. But a comparison between the two [verses 4 and 6] shows a difference in emphasis: They are to pray for the apostle that he might make the gospel known as he ought to speak. He in turn gives them sound advice so that they may know how they ought to answer everyone… We may describe this difference by saying that while the apostle looks for many opportunities for direct evangelism and teaching, the typical Christian in Colossae is to look for many opportunities for responsive evangelism.”
The Christian’s witness is usually a matter of “responding” to a question, or statement, or situation. Mostly, you don’t have to create some sort of unnatural situation to witness in, where no such circumstances exist to start with.
But, what if there is nothing to respond to ?
Look for opportunities
“Redeeming the time…”
The word for “time” there means an “opportune time.” Cf Galatians 6:10
Paul is saying here: “Buy up the opportunity! Grab it while you can.”
This suggests you are frequently being confronted with opportunities to speak about God to others.
Most of the time you don’t have to create an unnatural situation in which to “witness”.
Vernon McGee puts it this way:
“Don’t force yourself on people. Just pray and ask the Lord to open the door, and He will open it… Let Him open the door – before you make the mistake of putting your foot in your mouth. I knocked on many doors when I was a pastor, and I often stepped in and put my foot in my mouth the very first thing. Since then I have learned to do a lot more praying before I walk in.”
Be on the lookout for the opportunity:
– It might be a topic of conversation that cries out for a Christian perspective.
– Or, in your travels, you get talking to a person facing a crisis in his life.
– Maybe you are reading a book and the person next to you asks you what you are reading.
– Or your neighbour over the fence one Saturday afternoon asks what you will be doing tomorrow.
But there is a tension here between the importance of “wisdom” and being sensitive to people’s feelings on the one hand; and the urgency of the task implied in the need to “buy up the opportunity” on the other.
This is resolved by means of another tension:
GRACE and SALT
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt…”
It is not enough just to “walk”; at some point we all, in our witness, need to “talk” about our faith.
This means we have to use our tongues.
Suddenly we remember what James says: “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man… No man can tame the tongue.”
But we can navigate this perilous path if we remember: “grace” and “salt”.
This is not just a matter of being gracious. The fundamental meaning of the word “grace” is what we are because of the saving work of Jesus Christ.
The transforming effect that Jesus Christ has upon your life must also affect your tongue.
It will be continually shaping what you say, and how you say it.
It will shape WHAT you say.
This is so when you talk to another person explicitly about the gospel, and the work of Christ on the cross. It is only because you have experienced God’s grace in your own life that you would share the gospel.
But, even when you are talking about mundane, everyday matters – even if you don’t mention Christ, or the cross – it is still God’s grace that will shape the way you see the world; it must affect what you actually say.
It will also shape the WAY you say it.
You will speak “graciously”. You will not be rude, or crude, in your speech.
Unfortunately, some Christians today seem to think it is cool to be crude in the way they speak. They think that, by being foul-mouthed, the other person will have to sit up and take notice. They take notice – only they notice all the wrong things.
“…always be with grace”: “Always”… whatever the topic of conversation.
Even when discussing the most mundane subjects, people can see Christ in you by the way you speak. Maxie Dunnam says:
“If our words, and the way we present those words, do not reflect [the] love and concern [of Christ], then we need not be surprised when they fall on stony ground… Do not take shortcuts, presenting a formula or a plan to win another, without taking the trouble and the time to make friends.”
Salt acts in two ways: On the one hand it acts as a preservative; on the other hand, it brings out the flavour.
The Bible uses the picture of “salt” in both those ways; and I think both are implied here.
Our words should act as a preservative. Salt prevents “corruption”; it preserves.
Our words should have this effect of working against the corrupting influence of sin.
But also, our words are to be “seasoned with salt”: this suggests, not only “preserving”, but also “flavouring”.
When we speak to others, especially when we share the gospel with them, we are to choose words that bring out the flavour – just as salt is added to a meal to bring out the flavour.
Use words that are “flavoursome”.
The gospel is the most exciting message that has ever come to Mankind.
If you present it in such a way that suggests you yourself are bored by the message, then, by the way you say it, you will undo everything you say.
William Hendriksen puts it:
“Speech flavoured with salt is not empty or insipid, but thought-provoking and worthwhile… Such speech does not repel. It attracts, it has spiritual charm. Accordingly, it is distinctive: a Christian is known by his speech as well as by his conduct.”