When Paul instructs the Colossians about evangelism — and asks for them to pray for him in his gospel efforts as well — he encourages them to be wise and gracious in the way they both conduct themselves and speak. It takes discernment to know when to speak the gospel and it takes prayerful preparation to speak graciously.
So he says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).
Our tone of words should be gracious — spoken kindly, and the content of our words should be gracious — spoken hopefully and accurately about the power of the gospel to transform lives. Our words should be “salty,” making the hearers interested in hearing more of the gospel.
It is tempting to think that Paul means that our words should be “apologetic,” and maybe even trepidatious, erring on the side of not speaking if we don’t know what to do (which undoubtedly would result in the gospel rarely being spoken). That is not his intent. In fact, he says that the believer should know how to respond in each situation to each individual person. Some times there will be careful caution and sometimes there will be bold proclamation.
We want to be sure to speak the most appropriate, hope-giving, gospel-inviting, soul-thirsting words we can to minister to our friends and family.
Sometimes we know what to say; we know what the circumstance warrants, and we fail to speak, as Tim Challies relates about a long-time, unbelieving friend who was dying. Challies went to see him in the hospital:
I said my good-byes, promised to visit again soon, and walked out of the room, feeling the weight of that Bible in my coat pocket. I hadn’t ever taken it out. I hadn’t steered the conversation to the state of Mike’s soul. The opportunity had been lost. I resolved to go back very soon and to do better this time.
Just a few weeks later I stood at the back of a crowded church, a church where the gospel had not been preached for many, many years, and heard Mike’s family say their farewells. They remembered him as a loving husband, a proud father, a loyal son, a mischievous brother. They laughed and cried, they celebrated his life and mourned his death. His little girls sat there, knowing that daddy was gone, but not yet understanding the finality of death. It was the first funeral I had ever been to for a peer—not an elderly man or woman who died old and full of years, but a friend in the prime of life.
I stood back there silent and ashamed and knowing that death is final and yet not final. I knew what everyone else there denied—that Mike was dead but alive. His body had died and was already returning to the dust. But his soul was alive and well. Or not well. Probably not well. As far as I know, Mike never turned to the Lord. He never saw the depth of his sin and his need for a Savior. And in the fear of my sin, the fear of what one man would think of me, I missed the opportunity to tell him about the One who offered him life even in death.
All these years later I am still ashamed. I know I’ve been forgiven even for this sin, but still I wish that I had done what was right, that in that one great opportunity I had offered hope and offered life. I wish… [Tim Challies]
Might our words be gracious, inviting Christ-centered conversation. And might our words be gracious, spoken with appropriate boldness, offering life-altering hope.
“Firland Tuberculosis Hospital beds, 1927” by Seattle Municipal Archives is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0