Personal Evangelism – Colossians 4:2-6

the first of the Epistles to the Colossians

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Colossians 4:2-6 2  Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4  that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.  5  Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Here in Colossians we find instructions and advise on how to approach friends, family, acquaintances and anyone else we may come across living in  the “World” yet not as the “World”.  Prior to this passage we find instructions on how we are to treat those under our authority and how we respond to those in authority.  Our response to and use of authority precedes our evangelism.  Ravi Zacharias has said, “intent precedes content”.  How we treat others, our intent, will speak louder than what we say, our content.

Bring it to The Almighty

OK, now we start talking to people… Well not quite.  It is appropriate that Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 verse 1 deal with how we approach authority.  Before we approach the world we need to approach The Throne.  We must take each day, each relationship, each interaction we expect and those we don’t expect during the day before God.  Continue resolute with conviction and confidence in prayer.  If we are confident in prayer then we will expect God to respond and we will be watchful looking for the fulfillment of prayer.  We will not just watch for it to be filled in the way we want God to work or hope He will work.  We need to look for God’s response and be thankful for what God provides because He always provides what we need.

Acts 16:14 – A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

While we are praying the words “also for” tells us that we need to pray for our own opportunities and for the opportunities of other Christians.  This is a team effort.  We are asking God to open the hearts of people we talk to so that there will be an entrance point for the word of God.  As we speak that “Word” we trust in God’s word to declare or make known the mysteries of God.  Mysteries which are of greater value then freedom from prison or persecution.  Then the passage calls us to pray for a clear presentation.  Yet the passage says we are declaring a mystery.  How can something be both mysterious and clear?  There is a sense within which the words of the gospel cannot be understood rationally but must be felt. The Bible says that to the World the gospel seems foolishness and even offensive. The temptation might be to use methods of the World to convince people.  Paul would have been well aware of the Sophists of his day who trained politicians and wealthy business men how to use words to manipulate and motivate people to get what they wanted.  One example that most of us are aware of today is the prosperity gospel which tells people they will get worldly possessions, recognition, and power if they come to Jesus.  While it is true that a life lived in accordance with God’s intended order will result in benefits those are the fringe benefits of Christ, the treasure itself is Christ.  God help me to avoid the temptation to manipulate by selling benefits instead of bringing them Jesus.

Heading Out with God’s Word and Wisdom

We are then to go into the world and walk wisely particularly in the manner in which we engage with people in the world.  But how do we walk wisely in the world?  The passage doesn’t just make this statement and assume that we know specifically what it entails.  Paul follows up this statement with specific statements about what it means to walk wisely.  We are to given four instructions on how to approach people in the world.

  1. Be prudent with time and place
  2. Converse with grace
  3. Sprinkle in some salt
  4. Know how to answer

The first concern of wisdom is prudence with our time; we must be aware of where we are and the seasons and times we are in considering the time, place and limits we must deal with.  Know what you will have time for and place for.  Be aware of the situation in which you find yourself.  The word “use” here means to buy, ransom or rescue from loss.  We live in a fallen world and in our age as theirs much time is spent on leisure or  busyness but little on what is significant.  We are called to buy that time back and spend that time on that which is of real eternal value.  It’s alright to shoot the breeze but if that’s all you ever do in the end you are left grasping the wind.

Converse with Grace

Active Listening

Next, speak with grace.  We are to approach people with pleasant, winsome, empathetic words. While we say “speak” grace is not grace if it is not considerate, we do not give grace to inanimate objects, we give grace to people and though we “speak” here in this context it is part of a conversation.  We must know and acknowledge the other person.  The first thing to realize is that every person has been created by God in His image, created with the Imago Dei.  Even though we are all fallen and sinful the image of God gives us redeemable qualities, values and conscience which we must look for in others and acknowledge.  We see this when Paul was in Athens and he acknowledged that the people were religious and desired not to miss any deity in their worship to the point of having an altar to an unknown god.  Paul further acknowledged that their poets rightly saw that God truly is larger than any temple that could be built and the source of existence.  These were gracious compliments even though they had not seen clearly they knew something was beyond them because of God’s created image within them.  Secondly, you need to listen; this is a conversation after all.  Ask questions and listen to what the person has to say.  An effective method is called Active Listening.  Active listening requires time to dive into what the person is saying.  The basic steps are to

  1. listen and seek to understand what the person is saying.
  2. Then remember what they said and respond.
  3. The response should acknowledge difficulties and feelings and either restate what was said using similar words or reflect on what they said by rephrasing it possibly with some speculation on how they might be feeling.

The result will be that the person you are talking to feels appreciated and you will have a better understanding of their concerns and how they approach the world.

Sprinkle Some Salt

Thirdly, what we say needs to have some salt in it.  As I thought about that statement and what it means to be salty I realized that the statement itself stands out.  Up to this point the bible verses have used words with meanings relative to the topic being addressed.  Here, Paul switches to a metaphor.  It stands out as must salty words.  They aren’t same old, same old words.  These aren’t bland, unremembered words with little emotion or conviction behind them.  But then neither are these compliments that feel good for the moment and then slowly fade away.  In our gracious speech of course we should have some compliments as said previously but this call to season with salt isn’t a restatement of saying words with grace.  As disciples of Christ we are to stand out, apart from the world in what we value and how we approach life.  So what does salt mean.  To borrow from John Piper’s message on this same passage our saltiness is our radicalness for Jesus as seen in Luke 14:33-34.  The stuff of this world that in leisure and busyness the world spends its time on is what we renounce and hold so loosely as if it weren’t ours because we belong to Jesus.  It is also our irrational hope in the promises of the gospel and confidence in its warnings.  To be salt, to season what is said with salt as John Piper’s son put it, “your own mouth has to water for the gospel”.

Luke 14:33-34  33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.  34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?

We are a people who believe in the resurrection of the dead.  We believe that once we have passed away and our body has been decomposed back into the dust of the earth that God will pull it all back together and in our flesh we will see God.  We believe that in Christ this is already beginning as our fallen nature is regenerated into the likeness of Christ.  We are an irrational people by the world’s estimation even so we are confident and bold in our hope.  Possessions no longer possess us but we hold them so loosely that if someone is in need we release what we have.  But not like the world which calls on people to release so that a better society might be built.  We release it because nothing of this earth has a hold on us but we are held by a longing to be with Jesus in eternity, regenerated and risen from the dust in fellowship with The King and desire to see others have the same opportunity.

Further salt as a spice is challenging because we bring God’s perspective to the situations of life.  But the world desires to make its own way and have its own view of things.  At times we may need to be upfront but if that is our only approach then we may be antagonistic and quench their thirst. Another way to approach the person you are talking to is to try and understand how they approach the world; how do they think the world works, who is in control, where does purpose come from and then see where their line of thinking may lead.  Francis Schaeffer called this finding the point of tension.  Schaeffer said that a perspective on actions or circumstances has underlying presuppositions that this or that is true, valuable or ethical.  To find the point of tension look for the potentially untenable perspectives that these presuppositions justify and bring them into the light.  Throw some salt on these presuppositions.  For example if someone doesn’t believe in God then seek to find their source of purpose and ethics.  Has a naturalist ever received a flower from another soul expressing anything of transcendent value  or is each flower merely an expression of the right chemical composition and each gift the right combination of hormones?  The Word of God and the Gospel are real and the only perspectives that align with reality.  Any other perspective has points of tension which are more convenient to ignore.

Finally, know how to answer each person.  As you express your hope in Christ and resurrection from the dead and loose hold on the stuff of the world expect that people will ask you; why?  If this truly is your hope then you will know why and be able to talk about the circumstances that overwhelmed you and lead to such a faith and break with the world.  Some other questions may be more difficult but have faith and prayer for the Spirit’s guidance.  You must look at the world and know that God is and see in the Bible that God is not silent and that he has spoken.  If they ask for other proofs for God’s existence or explanations of the Cross and how Jesus could be a substitution you can research and have a bunch of answers in your back pocket but it may be more effective to say “hey why don’t we look into it together”  that shows a concern and a willingness to spend time and further talk with them and may in the end bring them to Jesus.

1 Peter 3:5 but in your hearts regard 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;

Luke 12:11-12 11″When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”