Speaking to Outsiders
We are headed to the end of this letter. But as usual Paul refuses to close without some parting exhortations to holy living. The exhortation which follows concerns dealing with “outsiders,” that is, the unsaved, unbelievers, or those who are not part of God’s Church. It is my opinion that we should return to the word, “pagan,” as that was the ancient word the Church used to describe unbelievers (other than Jews), and because it also captures the ignorance, immorality, and idolatry among most unbelievers in Europe and America today. Yes, it’s an ugly word, but perhaps its very ugliness will encourage us to see unbelievers as people desperately in need of Christian witness.
And Christian witness is what this passage is about. First Paul asks prayer for himself. Far from being arrogant, as some people charge, Paul was a humble man who was not above begging prayer from the churches for his mission endeavors. And he prays for two things: first, that a door may be opened for preaching and testifying to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ; and second, that he “may make [the mystery of Christ] clear, which is how I ought to speak.” The gospel must be spoken. Good deeds are important, but without a word about Jesus, the person receiving our good deed will more likely praise us instead of God. And that word must be understandable to the hearer. He also wants us to tell others regardless of our setting—Paul was in prison when he asked the Colossians to pray for an open door!
And then Paul turns to the Colossians, themselves. Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Be discerning. Some are ready to hear the gospel and some aren’t. Be alert to opportunities to say a word for the Lord. It need not always be a full-throated evangelistic presentation; sometimes just a passing word about Christ will plant a seed for another opportunity. On the other hand, if the person is interested, don’t shy away from presenting as much as he will hear. Be patient; don’t act like a salesman. And then the Apostle says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” We must practice being gracious people so that such a manner will be second nature for us. People are disarmed by gentle people. And we must be in the word that salt may accompany our speech; that is, speech that is full of the wisdom of Scripture and godliness, speech that will leave one thinking and perhaps even convict him. Yes, “A word in season, how good it is” (Proverbs 15:23).