Now that we Christians have had a few days to cool our jets a bit, we can reposition and recalibrate ourselves. Events like those transpiring last Friday provide opportune times of reminder for God’s people of our mission. When some of the more powerful human courts in the world express their fallenness, and the grandstands of culture erupt in praise, Christians are handed an occasion to be reminded of what we’re doing here on earth.
Humanity is still fallen. Jesus is still risen. Christians are still commissioned.
Being bestowed with every spiritual blessing from heaven means we have a responsibility to be a blessing on earth. One helpful place to go for biblical instruction on the matter is the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church. These believers lived in a culture which clashed with the biblical worldview. Things like homosexuality and unfriendly political stances were the norm. So, how did God, through the pen of the Apostle, shepherd his people to respond?
“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” (Col. 4:5-6).
Overall, the idea is that when lost people do what lost people do, God keeps his church in their midst, as fellow-sinners (who have been saved by Christ), in order to wisely and humbly interact for his glory and their salvation.
Here are a few reminders to help us respond wisely as we live among the lost:
- The gospel transforms us for new life.
Though we have opposed and rejected God, he made a plan to make his enemies his children. That is what he did in coming out of heaven to earth; living sinlessly, dying sacrificially, and rising victoriously. He approached us, not with a whip to punish and drive us away for being sinners, but with a crown of thorns, a cross, and nails to hold him on that cross for us; to bring us near.
God will eventually judge all people who do not receive his loving forgiveness, but it’s on hold for a bit. He spares the execution of sinners by executing his Son in their place. That is what God did in sending his Son to die on the cross.
The God who loathes our sin is the God who provides for the forgiveness of our sin by holding himself accountable for our sin through his substitutionary atoning death.
And when we receive Christ by faith, we enter into God’s family; we are changed. We are to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth (Col. 3:2).
The finished work of Christ applied to us by God’s grace changes everything, especially our stance towards sinners doing what sinners do.
- Evangelism becomes the privilege and duty of every Christian, not elite Christians.
Though many of the Colossian believers were likely newer Christians and without much Bible upbringing, Paul called them to be evangelistic in an opposing culture. The way we know that we are called and qualified to speak the good news of Christ crucified for sinners is if we have believed the message ourselves.
Charles Spurgeon wrote: “You were not saved that you might go to heaven alone; you were saved that you might take others there with you.”
National ambassadors consider themselves privileged to represent their nations in foreign territories. Have we grasped the colossal privilege we have to be God’s ambassadors and spokes-people in a lost world?
- It’s assumed that Christians are with the lost, not hiding from them.
That commands exist in the NT pertaining to conduct among the lost tells us that God’s people are not to be bunker-hideout Christians. Salvation from sin is not a call to evacuation from sinners. Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Salt is not meant to stay in the salt-container/shaker, but to be dispersed onto stuff that is different than it, for the purpose of helping. We are to disperse each week—in our jobs, hobbies, families, friends, neighborhoods—to bring the good, seasoning value of godly character and God’s word.
- God assumes we are concerned for the conversion of the lost, not indifferent.
By giving the command regarding the lost, the Apostle rightly assumes that the true believers in the Colossian church cared greatly for the lost Greeks, Jews, and Romans around them. Being saved creates a knee-jerk reaction in God’s people: they desperately want others to be saved. Charles Spurgeon, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that.”
- God does the saving, though we are his instruments.
That a command exists to believers regarding their lives around unbelievers tells us something amazing: the perfect God of the universe actually uses imperfect people to carry out his perfect plan of saving the lost. But we are merely instruments. Knowing this keeps us from unhelpful conduct in evangelism (anger, frustration, despair) and unhelpful methods in evangelism (pragmatism, man-centered techniques, manipulation).
And we can trust that the Chief Shepherd, who cares greatly for his sheep, will have nothing short of a 100% success rate in the finding and keeping of his chosen.
- God’s strategy to reach the lost is godly Christians in the world, not ever-changing external techniques.
Now, his ultimate strategy, of course, is his own sovereign plan to reach down and grant new life to undeserving, unworthy sinners. But, his sovereign plan includes a means. The Apostle lays it out for the Colossian church and us: godly conduct among the lost (Col. 4:5) and godly speech with the lost (Col. 4:6). That’s it.
So, we need not panic and assume Scripture is lacking when it comes to reaching the lost; even if their lostness takes on new and twisted degrees.
God’s strategy for effective life among the lost is not a certain external technique. Things like periodic outreach events are good and needed, but they should be a the exception amidst the norm of everyday-salt-and-light living. Paul does not urge the church to get three different age-specific and demographic-specific church services going for effective outreach. He doesn’t command the Colossians to reach the lost by blasting bullhorns at their local town council meetings. Neither is boycotting non-Christian establishments considered biblical evangelism. The Apostle did not command them, saying, “OK, the way to lead them to Christ is to avoid and shun the Greek yogurt shop because the cashier practices homosexuality.”
If we are not in heaven yet, every Christian’s responsibility is personal godliness in our conduct around the lost and personal godliness in our speech with the lost. And, it’s not enough to hide in my house and be godly. In fact, that’s ungodly.
More specifically, my conduct around the lost is to be wise and redeeming. I am to walk in “wisdom toward outsiders,” thinking through what trait of godliness it needed for the moment, in the fear of God, not man. I am to make the “best use of the time.” That Greek phrase in Col. 4:5 has the idea of buying up every moment. I am to view my minutes, hours, and days among the lost as an investment opportunity for Christ’s glory and their salvation.
Further, my speech with the lost is to be “always” gracious, seasoned, and discerning (Col. 4:6). At no time need we deviate from these commands as if they are insufficient for the mission. Truth must be spoken—even and especially truths on depravity, repentance, God’s wrath, hell—and yet always with some seasoning. Biblical seasoning includes things like a gentle answer (Prov. 15:1) and good timing (Prov. 15:2), combined with sincere care for the hearer (1 Cor. 13:4, Eph. 4:15). And the good news of Christ crucified in the place of sinners ought to be much of what we are speaking.
And, the Apostle assumes that we would be intentional about dialoguing with the lost: “…so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). It’s assumed we would speak, listen, and think through a response. Though even adamantly opposed to the biblical worldview, many have questions and are willing to dialogue. They have misunderstandings that need clarifying and anger that needs enduring. Conversion is often something that takes time as truths are discuss and processed. A Christian’s willingness to dialogue in a seasoned way is often that slow chisel in the hand of God which eventually renders a condemned sinner a justified saint.
Our godly conduct and speech among the lost will be fueled as we keep in mind theological truths like the sovereignty of God (we know he is in control), the depravity of man (the lost will do what the lost do), the cross of Christ (the power of God to save the worst, like us), confidence in the cross (“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” Rom. 1:16), and the eternality of heaven and hell (much is at stake here).
Our godly conduct and speech is also fueled by recalling practical things, like the humility of a servants-mindset (how can I serve the lost around me?), sin actually brings pain (the happy faces are only spiritual novocaine), understanding (are my assumptions about this person correct?), learning (ignorant Christians are often a poor witness), loving discussion (disagree without unnecessary disdain), avoid being unnecessarily weird (you’re not called to be an Ezekiel-impersonator), receiving correction (if we’re wrong about an issue, admit it), awareness (Christians should be tacticians), follow-up (keep the relationship going and give reading material), silence (knowing when we’re giving pearls to pigs), and prayer (we’re going to need wisdom and strength far beyond our own resources).
Laboring for personal godliness is not just for ourselves. It is for the benefit of the many, many lost people around us. So, when we see culture careening in the way that culture is already careened; when we wonder, “How in the world am I going to be effective for God?”, we can see God’s simple plan and take courage. Since we have a short time to bring seasoned truth to the lost, we ought to make good use of it.
Taken from a recent sermon on Colossians 4:5-6.