Colossians 4:5-6 (NKJV)
5Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
In closing his letter to the Colossians, Paul urges a number of common graces upon the believers in Colossae. He knew that they would be tempted in the cosmopolitan and corrupt city of Colossae to retreat into a holy huddle and be cranky and uptight. Hence, he imparts to them, and to us, some closing words of counsel, that guide both our actions and our speech.
Regarding our actions, Paul urges us to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside” and to “redeem the time.” In other words, Paul commands us to follow the exhortations to wisdom found in Proverbs and other books, particularly in light of our calling to be witnesses for Christ and of the brevity of time that the Lord has allotted to each of us on earth. We are to use the gifts and talents that the Lord has given us for the advance of His kingdom and the good of our neighbors.
This other oriented focus continues in Paul’s exhortation regarding our speech. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Paul wants our speech to be full of flavor – seasoned in such a way that it blesses those to whom we are speaking. Elsewhere he urges us to speak in such a way that it “gives grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). Our speech, Paul tells us, is not primarily to serve ourselves but others.
And so, what do these exhortations mean for us? First, they remind us that Paul saw no contrast between the Proverbs of Solomon and the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Proverbs guide us in the way of wisdom and teach us what it is to imitate our Lord. So let us be diligent to have these Proverbs dwell in our hearts and minds. Let us teach them to our children and grandchildren that they might learn what it means to walk in wisdom toward those who are outside and to redeem the time.
Second, Paul is validating the old-fashioned concept of good manners. Manners are simply patterns of behavior that attempt to put others at ease by considering their interests as more important than our own. Opening the doors for ladies, making eye contact, saying hello and goodbye, saying thank you and you’re welcome, putting our shopping cart away when we’re done with it, letting the other driver get into our lane, speaking to the telemarketer with respect – we should view all these things as attempts to apply Paul’s admonition to let our conduct be characterized by wisdom and our speech be seasoned with salt.
So what of you? Are you walking in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time, and speaking with grace that you may know how to answer each one? Or have you justified your sinful actions and words – they spoke unkindly to me, why shouldn’t I speak that way back? They ignored me, why shouldn’t I ignore them? They gossiped about me, why shouldn’t I gossip about them? But our Lord commands us to treat others the way we would like to be treated not the way we are treated.
Paul’s admonition reminds us that we are to be models of Christian character. Christ did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. And we are called to be like Him: to live for the good of others. We should be characterized by generosity, courtesy, kindness, faithfulness, and truth. We should shun all lies and deceit, all coarse jesting, gossip, slander, and flattery. Our lips should be characterized by thankfulness and our hearts by gratitude that we might shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
So reminded of our calling to walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, speaking with grace to each person, let us confess that we have often justified foolish actions and words.