Paul’s Instructions About “Outsiders” (Part 3)
Because Paul’s specific instructions concerning those who are “outside” the faith are few and far between, we should pay close attention when he touches on this subject.
Colossians 4:5–6 reads,
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
The way believer’s “walk,” or how they live their lives, is a huge concern for Paul. In Col 1:10 he prays that the believers in Colossae would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” In Col 2:6 he encourages, “As you have received Christ Jesus as Lord so walk in him.”
So part of walking in a way that pleases the Lord is how we behave with respect to those who are outside the body of Christ.
How are we to behave toward outsiders? There are three significant ways that Paul mentions in these two verses.
So, let’s really pay attention here. How are we to behave toward outsiders? Three major ways that we can discern here.
Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (v. 5).
The word “wisdom” does not refer to how “smart” someone is. Wisdom is a moral and ethical idea referring to the skill that a person learns still when seeking how to live God’s way in God’s world.
Jesus’s instruction to his disciples as they began their own mission is great advice. “Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt 10:16). We have to be wary when we enter into gospel situations. Not every situation is the same. Not every open door is the same. Not every culture is the same. And we have to be discerning about when to speak and what to say and how to say it.
But notice that Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.” The word toward is a little Greek preposition that indicates motion toward something. So our walk will present itself to outsiders in a certain way, meaning that we have to be wise about how they perceive us.
We commonly call this our “testimony” to the world.
But the idea of having a “testimony” today has fallen out of favor in some Christian cultures who have been influenced by the age. The growing sentiment is, “Don’t be concerned about your testimony. Just embrace who you are. It’s not their life. They need to accept you for you.” Or, in the words of the popular song that captures this prevailing attitude, “Let it go!”
This is not biblical wisdom; it’s Disney. Paul says that we must consider how outsiders perceive us. Not because of our reputation, but because of the gospel itself.
So it is incumbent upon us to think consciously about the distinction we are presenting to the world—a distinction between how the world thinks and behaves and how believers think and behave.
We need to be unique. Not weird. Not blended in. But unique. Distinct. So we must resist the spirit of this age which makes Christian uniqueness seem undesirable to us, distasteful, or lame.
Because having a Christian testimony isn’t like living down in the cave with everyone else. It is like living in the light so that you can lead others out of the darkness.
The church is not supposed to be giving the world a watered-down version of something temporal it already has, but something completely different that will give them eternal life.
As F. F. Bruce puts it in his commentary on Colossians, “The reputation of the gospel is bound up with the behavior of those who claim to have experienced its saving power.”
And that is true, whether we like it or not. Whether that message is popular among Christians today or not.
Another way believers are to conduct themselves toward outsiders is to “make the best use of time.” A more literal rendering is, Redeem the time.” Buy back the time. Take every opportunity.
In context, the phrase is not talking about using time wisely in a general sense. It means to take the opportunity to share the gospel with unbelievers, when the opportunity arises.
The calling is similar to Paul’s charge to Timothy to be “ready” to preach the word “in season and out of season … For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2–3). In other words, share the gospel while you can. You may never get another opportunity.
You may not be called to preach the gospel as a pastor or an evangelist. You may not be the kind of person who can talk to literally anyone and put them at ease. But you can form unique friendships with unbelievers and find yourself in conversations where you alone are the person with the opportunity to share Christ.
When that happens, Paul is telling us, be ready. Jump at the opportunity. Use that opportunity up. Redeem it. Buy it back by opening your mouth for Christ.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
The ancients used the metaphor of speech seasoned with salt to mean speaking in a clever or witty manner. Today, we might say “spicy” speech. It could refer to someone who used just the right response to answer an accusation or come back with a great rejoinder that settled a matter or put someone in their place. But it could also mean, in a general sense, having a tactful response or a gracious response in a conversation.
Paul’s exhortation should remind us of 1 Pet 3:15–16.
… but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Here our Christian testimony subsumes both our behavior and our speech. We are ready to give an answer—a defense. We are ready to explain the gospel. We are ready to have redemptive conversations. But people can also tell by our demeanor that we genuinely care about them.
That’s seasoning our message—which can be a confrontational message—with salt.
If unbelievers are going to be offended, let them be offended about the gospel, never our manner with them. We must know the gospel well enough to explain it, always ready to give an answer. But we must also learn to be gracious, for that exhibits for them the grace that they are being offered through Christ.