"The World Is Watching"
(Delivered Sunday, August 12, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
I read a story recently about a clergyman who was serving the Lord in London. He wanted to reach the men who worked the docks along the Thames River, loading and unloading freighters. And so, he rose up early in the morning, dressed in the working clothes of the other men, and stood in line with them as they waited to be hired on for work. He kept from them the fact that he was a clergyman, so that he could walk and work among them. He didn't allow himself to wear a warm overcoat, because none of them had one; and since none of the men standing in line would have had the comfort of a warm cup of tea in the morning, he even denied that pleasure to himself. He wanted to identify with these men as much as he could.
And so he did. For twelve days, he felt what it was like to stand in line in the cold, waiting to get hired; only to be refused, and know what it like to go home without money to face a family of hungry children - just as so many of the men under his care did.
Finally, however - after twelve long, cold mornings of standing in line - he was hired on. The work involved hauling loads in a wheelbarrow, balancing on planks of wood that stretched from the dock to the freighter. One day, as the clergyman was hauling a load, the plank began to wiggle violently; and he fell into the chilly Thames River. One of the workers was laughing and pointing at the clergyman struggling in the water; saying, "Man overboard!!" The laughing man was, as it turned out, the one who had wiggled the plank and caused him to fall. But he didn't react in anger; and as the plank-wiggler watched the minister struggle on to the muddy riverbank with a good-natured smile on his face, the culprit felt an impulse within to drop some empty boxes onto the mud, jump down, and help him onto dry ground.
"You took that all right," the man said; and the clergyman couldn't help but notice that the man spoke without the strong cockney accent of the others workers. Instead, he sounded like an educated man.
"You haven't been long at this game," the minister said probingly. "Neither have you," came the reply. And the clergyman graciously invited the man to accompany him to his rooming house. As they talked, the clergyman discovered that his assailant-turned rescuer had been, at one time, a prominent London physician; but one who had lost everything - his practice, his home, his beautiful wife and family - because of drinking. As he opened up more and more, the clergyman was able to lead him to the Lord, and see him become joyfully reunited to his family. (From a story told in Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit [Nashville, Word Publishing, 1988], pp. 236-8.)
Perhaps this clergyman didn't realize how much he was being watched by the prankster; but his carefulness to respond in a Christ-like manner opened doors that lead to the prankster's salvation.
As I read that story, another one came to mind. Another minister, at another time, had gone to a hospital to visit a man who was dying. This pastor tried to share the Lord with the man; but he found the dying man to be cold and cynical toward the pastor's approach. Finally, the dying man said, "You don't remember me; do you, Pastor ...?" Cautiously - and somewhat bewildered - the minister asked the man to refresh his memory.
The man explained that, many years ago, they informally chatted as they walked together to a worship service where the minister was going to preach. During the service, the man was deeply moved by the message of the gospel that he heard from the pastor; but he chose to walk home with the minister and watch his behavior, to see if what he really meant what he preached. And on the way home, he was deeply disappointed by the minister's behavior. He heard this pastor making so many jokes about so many of the holy things he had preached on, and talking about serious spiritual matters in such a careless and inappropriate manner, that the unsaved man came to the painful concluded that none of it was really true. He felt betrayed by the pastor's behavior and words.
"Now I'm dying; and you've come to my hospital bed to preach the gospel to me again," the dying man said. "But you can keep your gospel. I don't want anything to do with it."
Perhaps this second minister didn't realize how much he was being watched either. But in his case, his behavior and speech slammed a door for the gospel tightly shut.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let's never forget that - as the Bible teaches - the salvation of souls is not, ultimately, up to us; but is always dependent up to the sovereign grace of God. All whom He has chosen and has appointed for salvation will surely and infallibly come to Him and be saved (John 6:37); and neither you nor I will ever ultimately frustrate His plan of salvation in someone's life through our own failures. Praise God for that!
But let's also never forget that we may be the appointed means of His infallible end in saving someone else. Let's never forget that you and I are ambassadors for Christ; and that the world is watching how we represent Him. The Bible tells us that, as His ambassadors in the world, it's as though God were pleading to lost and dying people through us to be reconciled to Himself (2 Cor. 5:20-21). The Bible tells us that we are epistles - 'living letters' from God to the world, "known and read by all men" (2 Cor. 3:2). Paul once wrote, "Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world ..." (Phil. 2:14-15). Jesus told us that we are "the light of the world" and "a city that is set on a hill". "A city that is set on a hill," Jesus said, "cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).
The world is watching us. And the world has every right to be watching us; because God has placed us on this earth to be watched, and to be living 'gospel tracts' to lost and dying people - tracts that testify of Christ's saving power through what the people of the world see in our lives. Your life, as someone once said, may be the only Bible some people will ever read. What you feel and believe in your heart about the gospel is hidden from their observation; it's only your behavior and your speech that they can see. Do they find Christ manifest in what they behold in you?
The lost and dying people of this world desperately need to see the evidence that Jesus truly is the Savior of sinners, that He truly is alive to transform the life of anyone who trusts in Him, and that He truly loves them too. They very much need to see this hope confirmed in our own lives. They are looking at us, and are longing to see the real thing.
This morning's text reminds us then that, as ambassadors for Christ, we must carefully watch our 'walk' and our 'words' before this watching world. Paul writes;
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Col. 4:5-6).
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Paul's letter to the Colossians is about the sufficiency of Christ. The main burden of the letter is to convince the believers in Colossae that, if they have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and have been redeemed by His blood through faith, then they needed nothing else. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was perfectly sufficient to make them fully acceptable and complete in the eyes of God.
But why, then, does Paul write these words of exhortation at the end of his letter? I think that there's two separate ideas he expresses in the latter half of his letter, the combination of which makes this final exhortation essential.
First, he asserted that the saved man or woman was now a "new creature". Such a person had been raised up with Christ into newness of life; and was now walking upon this earth as a man and woman who had once been dead in sins, but who now lives as a resurrected being with Christ (3:1-4). And because this is true, such a person was to now live like what he or she truly is. Paul encouraged the Colossian believers, then, to "put off" from themselves their old, sinful manner of life; and to "put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (3:9-10). Paul goes into great detail, in this section of his letter, in order to describe the kind of life they should now be living (3:12-4:1).
And second, having asserted that God had commissioned him with the task of communicating the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ (1:24-29); Paul asked these Colossian believers to pray for the success of his gospel ministry. "... Praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak" (4:3-4).
So; how do these two ideas come together in this last exhortation? I believe that Paul wants the message of the gospel that he preached to be validated in the eyes of the world by the lives of those who profess to have believed it. The doors that he prayed to be opened for the gospel could easily become closed by careless living on the part of the professed followers of Jesus. He wanted to hold up genuinely transformed lives as the irrefutable evidence that authenticated the God-given message he proclaimed.
This is in keeping with the general thrust of Paul's ministry. He would tell us that the message of the gospel is greatly advanced by us when we live authentic Christian lives. He wrote to the Thessalonian believers and said,
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God., and to wait for His Son from heaven, who He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:2-10).
The lives of the Thessalonian believers were so dynamically transformed by Jesus Christ that Paul said, "I don't have to work very hard to convince people of the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus. Everyplace I go, all I have to do is say, 'The Thessalonians'; and that's proof enough! People are talking everywhere about what how Jesus Christ has transformed you!"
And he wanted to see the same thing happen through the Colossian believers. He wrote to them, at the beginning of his letter, of how thankful he was to God for what has happened to them in Christ; saying,
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us our love in the Spirit (Col. 1:3-8).
But that wasn't enough for Paul. He was very concerned that their life properly adorn the gospel that came to be believed by them. And so he goes on to say,
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (vv. 9-14).
In other words, he says; "Not only am I thankful for the fact that the gospel has reached even you; but I also pray that your lives will manifest the kind of change that will adorn that gospel that you've come to believe."
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Have you believed the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you placed your trust in Him; and do you profess Him to be your Savior? And if so, does your manner of life and the manner of your speech convince others that the gospel you believed is true? A skeptic once said. "If you Christians believed one-tenth of what you say you believe, then you'd live ten-times better than you do." Paul's final exhortation in this letter is given that we might take special care that our 'walk' and our 'words' do, indeed, testify to the reality of the gospel before a watching world.
Notice first ...
I. HOW WE ARE TO WATCH OUR 'WALK' (v. 5).
Paul says, "Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time."
When Paul speaks of our "walk", he is simply using a figure of speech for our daily life-style behavior. When I think of our "walk" in this sense, I tend to think of the old Arthur Murray Dance Studio floor patterns - the printed patterns that had the numbered footsteps and arrows on them, to show you where you put your feet when you danced. Your "walk", in a moral sense, is where you choose to "put your feet" in the course of a day. It's the "floor chart" of where you're steps lead you in daily life.
Our daily conduct and behavior is very important to God. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and said, "I, therefore the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called" (Eph. 4:1). He said, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light ..." (5:8). "See then that you walk circumspectly [that is, carefully] ..." (5:15-16).
And one reason God is concerned about our walk is because it's being observed by people who are "outside" - that is, people who do not yet know Jesus Christ and have not yet believed the gospel. Paul urged the believers in Thessalonlica "... that you may walk properly toward those who are outside ..." (1 Thess. 4:12). He urged Timothy to appoint elders in the church who are well qualified; "Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside ..." (1 Tim. 3:7). We should 'walk' in such a way as to attract those who are "outside" into becoming "insiders".
What was to characterize the walk of the believer before the eyes of the world? One thing that Paul mentioned was that it should be a "walk in wisdom". Such a walk isn't meant to be understood as characterized by intellectualism and scholarly pursuits. It's meant instead to be a matter of practical holiness. It's a matter of living our practical lives in such a way as to use the very best means to bring about the highest ends.
The apostle James gives us an excellent description of what true wisdom is - as well as what it isn't. He said,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let Him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:13-17).
Would you like a good description of what it means to "walk in wisdom toward those who are outside"? James words suggest that to walk in wisdom means to be characterized by (1) moral purity in conduct, (2) peaceableness in relations, (3) gentleness toward others, (4) a reasonableness in matters of conflict and a willingness to yield when prudent to do so, (5) a prevailing mercifulness toward those in need, (6) an abundance of good works, (7) an impartial and equitable spirit, and (8) the absence of hypocrisy - being the real thing in all of the above matters. Such a life is "wise" in the biblical sense - and is one that makes the world stand up and take notice whenever they see it!
Paul also says that, in our behavior, we are to be "redeeming the time". Here, he uses two interesting words. The first one was a market-place word that meant to eagerly "buy-up" or "seize-up" an item. Have you ever been in a store or shop where you saw something that you'd been looking for for many years? When you finally see it; don't you grab it immediately and enthusiastically, and run right over to the counter to buy it? That's the idea behind this word.
But what is it that we're to buy-up with such eagerness? The next word is one that's translated "time". I've heard Christians who were advocates of "time management" principles point to this verse; saying, "See? We're commanded in the Bible to use good principles of time management, and 'redeem the time'!" But this particular Greek word isn't referring to "clock-time". Instead, this word refers to specific "occasions" or "events" or "opportunities". Paul is saying that our behavior is to be characterized by an alertness to recognize and seize ahold of the opportunities in our daily manner of life to bear a positive witness for the life-changing power of Christ. The New American Standard Bible translates it very well; "making the most of the opportunity".
What would this look like in practice? Think back to the story of the English clergyman that I told you about earlier. He was made to fall into the water; and it would have been the very natural, very human thing to become angry toward the man who made him fall. But the clergyman recognized this as a tremendous opportunity to walk in wisdom before the eyes of the watching world; and so, he eagerly seized it and "bought it up" for the Lord. He responded in such a way as to open a door for the gospel. As a result, Christ was honored and a soul was saved.
Every day, you and I have opportunities to bear a witness for Christ in our behavior. But so often, we fail to recognize those opportunities, or to seize ahold of them when they come by. More often than not, we're all too quick to respond in a fleshly manner; letting those golden opportunities slip through our fingers. In another passage, Paul says we should make the most of such opportunities "because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). Evil days means more opportunities; and they also mean a greater need for them to be taken advantage of. May God help us to "walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time."
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Paul has told us how we are to watch our 'walk'. But the world not only watches our daily walk, but it also makes evaluation of our daily manner of speech. Remember that the world can't see the attitude of our hearts. All it can see is what is produced by what's in our hearts - our daily conduct and our manner of speech. And so, Paul next tells us ...
II. HOW WE ARE TO WATCH OUR 'WORDS' (v. 6).
He writes, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." We can see in this verse three specific things that are to characterize our speech.
First, we see that our words are to be continually spoken in grace. "Let your speech always be with grace." The word "grace" sounds like one of those 'religious' words that we frequently use, but don't really understand. But its true meaning is very down to earth. It simply means "a free gift of favor" - that which is bestowed to someone freely and undeservedly for their good and blessedness. Grace is one of the great themes of the Bible; and the word for grace appears 156 times in the Greek New Testament. Paul began this particular letter to the Colossian believers with a wish of grace (1:2), and he ended it with a similar wish of grace (4:18). His letter is one of "grace" from beginning to end! The grace of God is what saves us. The Bible tells us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith ..." (Eph. 2:8).
What, then, does it mean to speak continually "with grace"? I believe that it means we're to always to pay careful attention that our words build someone up and add something positive to their lives - as opposed to our using words to "cut people down to size" and "put them in their place". Insults and put-downs and slams are to have no place in our speech as followers of Jesus. We are to cease using our words in that way; and begin, instead, to use our words exclusively for the building up of others - passing on to others something of the grace that God has given to us. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and said, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Eph. 4:29). The New American Standard Bible once again helps us when puts it this way: "... only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment ..." In other words, we are to be careful to speak just the right word at the right time to give someone what they truly need.
Such "grace" is to continually characterize our speech. It characterized the speech of Jesus. We're told that people "marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22). Jesus Himself was, we're told, "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). And our speech is to be characterized by grace as well. "Always".
Second, we see that our words are to be "seasoned with salt". We may have seasoned our words at times with something more like "chili pepper" ; but what exactly does it mean to season our speech with "salt".
I think that there are several possible ways of understanding this. One of the ways salt is used is as a 'preservative'. It has properties in it that prohibit purification and spoilage; and I believe this was Jesus' meaning when He told His followers, "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). He was saying that His followers, living devoted lives in the world, serve as a preserving agent in the world - keeping corruption and sin from completely spoiling the whole earth. And perhaps we're meant to understand that our words are always to have that 'preservative' quality - that we speak in such a way to reverse the effects of corruption in the world around us.
Another thing that's characteristic of salt is its healing properties. Salt, when it's poured onto a wound, burns and causes pain at first; but it has the effect of preventing infection from setting in. And so, perhaps we're meant to understand that our words are to have a healing effect on those around us. When we speak the truth to someone, it may sting and hurt at first; but if we tell them the truth from God that they need to hear, and then follow those words up with words of encouragement and comfort, then we're - in a sense - seasoning our speech with salt.
But I think the thing that Paul most likely would have meant by this is that our words are to add 'flavor' and 'zest' and 'sparkle' to life. He would have most likely used the metaphor of 'salt' in speech in just the same way that most of the classic Greek writers did. They spoke speech that had "salt" as speech that was witty and attractive to hear. Plutarch, for example, spoke of mundane activities of life being "seasoned with the salt of conversation". He called such engaging talk "the tastiest condiment of all". Three centuries before Paul, one ancient writer spoke about the speeches and lectures of the scholars of his day as "unsalted" - meaning that they were boring and insipid. But the same word for "salt" was often used in reference to Attic Greeks who were characterized by "Attic wit".
Christians, of all people, should be characterized by the flavor of 'salt' in our speech. We should always speak in such a way as to make what we have to say attractive to hear. The Bible tells us that Jesus spoke this way. He used so many metaphors, and analogies, and figures of speech, and thrilling word pictures, that people flocked in huge crowds to hear Him. He taught some of the deepest theology you could ever hear; but He was never dull when He taught it. He was often in strong debate with the scholars and religious intellectuals of His day over heavy issues; but even then, as people overheard these conversations, the Bible tells us that "the common people heard Him gladly" (Mark 12:37).
We have the most fascinating truth to share with the people of this world. May God help us never to be dull in the telling of it; but may He teach us to season our words with the attractive salt of good-hearted wit and winsomeness.
Finally, we're to see to it that we carefully study how to give an appropriate response to people in our speech. Paul says to give attention to your speech, "that you may know how you ought to answer each one."
Perhaps you've known someone who took pride in the fact that "they say what they feel". Sometimes they hurt people deeply in what they say; but they always give the excuse: "Hey; that's just the way I am. I say what I feel!" Perhaps you've been that sort of a person too. But it's very, very unwise - and frequently sinful - to simply "say what we feel". It shows an utter disregard for people. The Bible tells us, here, that we're to make a study of our words; and to think out the best thing to say in each situation.
Notice carefully the particulars. First, we're to "know" how to answer each one. This involves taking the time to stop first and think about what it is we're about to say. We're to ask ourselves if the words that are about to come out of our mouths will have the effect that God wants our words to have. Second, we're to speak only "how you ought to answer". We're not to simply say what we feel; but what we "ought"; that is, what we're duty-bound before God to say at such times. And third, we're to tailor our speech to the unique needs of the person to whom we're speaking; that is, we're to speak "as we ought to answer each one". We're not to simply throw our words out in front of people and leave it to them to deal with it. Rather, we're to make sure that what we say is what each person to whom we speak uniquely needs to hear from us.
The Bible tells us, "The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil" (Proverbs 15:28). And it also says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Prov. 25:11). Much harm can be caused by careless words. Indeed, "the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). But at the same time, much good can be accomplished for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ by our words. When we consider that we can actually turn the course of someone else's life by our words, then we make a very wise investment of our time when we stop and study and pray for the right thing to each particular person on each unique occasion.
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Now obviously, it will take a lot of work to make sure that our 'words' are appropriately spoken, seasoned with the salt of wit and flare, and uttered with the intention of giving grace to those who hear. Likewise, it will take a lot of work to learn to learn to grab ahold of the opportunities that come our way in our daily 'walk', and to conduct ourselves in each situation with wisdom from God. In fact, it will involve a whole process of continual change in us for the rest of our lives.
But it's absolutely essential that we do so. We can trust confidently in God's mighty help; but we must take the initiative, and begin now to take increasing care to watch our 'walk' and our 'words' before a watching world. May our words and our walk communicate the life-transforming power of Jesus to those who see; and may the Lord Jesus get the glory.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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