Most of us daily are among people that the apostle Paul would call outsiders. Not that they’re socially awkward and don’t fit in, but they are people who are outside of the body of Christ, outside of the family of God, outside the kingdom of heaven. Some of us have jobs that have us working side by side and interacting 5 or 6 days a week with outsiders. Some of us have kids in sports, and so every Thursday evening perhaps and maybe every Saturday we sit in bleachers or stand on sidelines next to some, and a lot of times we sit and stand next to the same ones. We go to stores, some of us to the same stores all the time, and we see the same people at the counters every time. Some of us go to the same restaurants on regular basis and we talk to the same waitresses and waiters every time. Some of us go to a health club regularly at a certain time of day and see the same few people on the treadmills and the weight machines next to us every time. Some of us are members of secular groups like the Lion’s Club or city planning groups or volunteer firefighter groups. Many of us have friends that we hunt with, play music with or we just chat with over the backyard fence, who as far as we know are outside of Christ.
As the apostle Paul brings to a close the section the letter of Colossians about how to live as a Christian, he ends it with some simple instructions on what to do in all those circumstances where we are among people who are outside of Christ. Let’s read it. It’s just 2 verses. Colossians 4:5-6, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” So we have 3 admonitions here to live by whenever we’re among non-Christians.
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.”
Certainly in every circumstance, among outsiders or insiders or by ourselves, our conduct is to be governed by wisdom, not by our desires or impulses or just whatever feels natural or what others are doing and how we can fit in. But among outsiders especially we need all the more to be concerned about conducting ourselves with wisdom, because in that circumstance often the pressure to conduct ourselves otherwise is much greater, as I’m sure you know. Wisdom is applying true knowledge and understanding to your circumstances and seeing what sort of conduct would be best for you and for your family and for the church and for everyone around you.
Now, what this looks like specifically is left unsaid here. Paul doesn’t elaborate much on it except for the phrase, “making the most of the opportunity” and telling us to make sure our speech is always “with grace, as though seasoned with salt.” But if you have a Bible, if you would, turn over to Ephesians 5 where we have a great little paragraph that elaborates on what it is to conduct yourself with wisdom. And I really believe that Paul expected the Colossians to also read the letter of Ephesians. The letter of Ephesians was written about the same time as the letter of Colossians, and the same Christian brother named Tychicus carried both letters to the churches. And it appears the letter of Ephesians was not just intended to go to the church at Ephesus, but to go there first and then be circulated from there to other churches in the region of Asia Minor, like the churches in Laodicea and Colossae and other places. Here’s a few reasons why I say that. In the first verse of Ephesians the phrase “at Ephesus” is not in the earliest and best Greek manuscripts that we have of Ephesians. Ephesians 1:1 in the oldest manuscripts just reads, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” In later manuscripts the phrase “at Ephesus” was added probably because the copyists knew that the letter went first to the seaport city of Ephesus before it went to other churches. Also, Ephesians does not contain much personal information. It does not contain any personal greetings, like “greet brother so and so” and “greet sister so and so” like you see in Paul’s other letters to churches. Yet if the letter was just to the church at Ephesus you would expect to find some personal greetings and personal info because the book of Acts tells us that Paul spent years in Ephesus. But probably personal greetings and info are not in the letter, because it was a letter intended for many different churches. And one of those I think was the church at Colossae. Well, let’s look at this great little paragraph in Ephesians that explains how to live wisely. It’s Ephesians 5:15-21.
In Ephesians 5:15 we see first of all that living wisely means…
“Be careful how you walk.”
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise…” Now, if you’ve ever walked across our icy parking lot in winter or walked up on a snow covered roof or something like that then you know what it is to be careful how you walk. It’s to watch where you put your feet and make sure each step is placed somewhere stable and safe and where it won’t slip. It’s a verse very similar to Joshua 1:7 where God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that [if it’s translated literally] you act wisely everywhere you go.” Living wisely involves being careful that all our choices are within the will of God, that we’re not stepping outside His will to the right or to the left. And we have to all the more be careful about that when we’re among outsiders who do not conduct themselves that way, because it’s not easy to be different from those around you. Let’s watch our words, our attitudes, our temper, our manners, what we laugh at, our business practices, our dealings with people to make sure they are Christlike. And walking carefully also involves looking ahead and taking note of the especially icy or dangerous spots and avoiding them if possible. You avoid the ice patch on the steep slope if there’s a way around it. Being careful how you walk among outsiders involves avoiding dangerous spots, unnecessary temptation, unnecessary worldly pressure. It may mean that we don’t go with certain outsiders to certain places because of what they will be doing there and want us to participate with them in. It may mean if the fellas are looking at certain stuff on the computer or talking about certain things they shouldn’t be talking about, we don’t go over there. We avoid that super icy spot over where we could easily slip, because we’re being careful how we walk. So that’s the first thing when it comes to conducting yourself with wisdom; it means be careful how you walk; make sure each step is in the will of God and avoid dangerous spots that you don’t need to be in.
Now, we’re going to talk about making the most of the opportunity in just a bit, so let’s skip Ephesians 5:16 and look at v17. “So then do not be foolish…” That’s just another way of saying “Conduct yourselves with wisdom…” isn’t it? “Do not be foolish, but [here’s what’s involved in living wisely]…
“Understand what the will of the Lord is.”
I really think that involves more than just learning the Bible, though that would be part of this. The Bible reveals to us what the will of the Lord is. But this also involves thinking in every circumstance in which you find yourself about what the Lord would have you to do here and applying what you’ve learned from the Scriptures to your circumstances. And it’s a present tense imperative in the original text, meaning this is to be a continual ongoing thing you do. But a lot of people don’t do this. They get up in the morning and they just go and just react to people and circumstances and just do whatever comes naturally or feels good at the moment. They don’t pause to think first, “What does the Lord want me to do today? How would the Lord have me respond to this person or this situation? How would the Lord have me handle this difficult person I work with? What would the Lord have me do about the frustrations I have with the kids’ soccer coach? What would the Lord have me do about the neighbor’s dog using my yard as his bathroom? What would the Lord have me do here and there?” That’s conducting yourself with wisdom. It’s constantly thinking about what the will of the Lord is and applying what you’ve learned from His word to your circumstances.
And then it also involves this. Look at v18. He gets more specific.
“And do not get drunk with wine.”
That’s what the outsiders do for their joy and peace and to feel good. And that’s what you may be tempted to join them in when you’re among them. But it’s “dissipation“. It’s wastefulness, recklessness. It’s not living wisely.
Conducting yourself with wisdom means you don’t get drunk, rather you get your joy and peace, you get your fix this other way. And if you translate it literally it’s either “but be filled in spirit” or…
“But be filled by the Spirit.”
He’s talking about letting the Spirit of God fill you with joy and peace and righteousness, the good things He wants you to be full of. It’s the same concept I think in Romans 14:17, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Rather than getting our joy and peace and good feelings by drinking alcohol like the world. Let’s let the Spirit of God fill us joy and peace and righteousness and the things He wants to see in us.
Now, how do you do that? Oh I’m so glad you asked, because Paul explains how. He follows that command “be filled by the Spirit” with participles, verbal adjectives that explain how to do that. v19…
“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”.
Doesn’t it fill you joy and peace and this desire to be all that God wants you to be when we sing to each other these songs. “I want You more than gold or silver Only You can satisfy You alone are the real joy giver And the apple of my eye.” And when we sing, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…” And when we sing, “Jesus is coming soon morning or night or noon, many will meet their doom Trumpets will surely sound, all of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the skies, going where no one dies, heavenward bound.” Doesn’t it lift your mind out of the here and now and the temporary troubles of this life and remind you of the big picture, remind you of what this life is all about? And when we sing, “My sin – Oh the bliss of the glorious thought – My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” That fills me with joy and peace and good things far more than beer every could.
And then the next participle…
“always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father”.
Doesn’t it fill you when you count your blessings, when you think about what all God has done for you and is doing for you and will do for you, and you’re thanking God?
And then the last participle is v21…
“submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.”
Doesn’t it fill you with joy and peace and a sense of usefulness and like you’re doing what you were made to do when you submit yourself to the needs and concerns of other people? Probably you’ve noticed good things happen in your heart when you serve other people. There are good feelings that come with knowing that you’re helping people and that God is pleased with you. It takes your mind off of your own problems and troubles because you thinking about others. And you see how right and beautiful that is and it makes you desire to do it more. It’s part of letting the Spirit of God fill us with what He wants to fill us with.
So this is how we conduct ourselves with wisdom. And we need to especially pay attention to conducting ourselves wisely when we’re among outsiders. We’re careful how we walk, making sure each step is in the will of God and avoiding places where we would easily slip. We’re always asking the question, “What would the Lord have me to do here?” And we don’t get our joy and peace from drinking. We get it in other ways, in the ways that God would have us to.
Now, let’s go back to Colossians 4:5 and look at the next instruction in our text. This is another thing involved in conducting yourself with wisdom toward outsiders.
“Making the most of the opportunity.”
He’s saying that when you’re among outsiders you have an opportunity that you need to make the most of. What do you think he means by that? Opportunity for what? Opportunity to promote your business? Opportunity for fun? What’s he mean?
Let’s read it with a little context and I think it becomes clear what he means. Let’s read the 2 verses before it. Colossians 4:3-4, “praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” He just told them to pray that God would provide an opportunity for him to share the gospel with outsiders. Then he says, “Now, you Colossians make the most of the opportunity you have when you’re among outsiders.” He’s talking about making the most of the opportunity to influence lost people for Christ, to lead them to the truth that will save their souls.
Now, how do you do that? Well, I thought let’s just look at how our supreme example did it. Luke 19:10 says, “the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” That’s what Jesus was all about, saving the lost. And so Jesus would make the most of the opportunity He had among the lost. What would He do? Let’s notice 4 very very simple things. #1…
Jesus would choose initiate conversations with the lost rather than just keep to Himself.
John 4 for instance. He and His disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee. They were passing through Samaria in between. They’d traveled all morning. At around noon they came to a well just outside the town of Sychar and Jesus sat down to rest for a bit and the disciples went into town to buy some food. Then here came this Samaritan woman carrying a water pot to the well. She didn’t say “Hello”. She didn’t even smile at Jesus. She was not interested in talking to Jesus, because Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans generally despised each other. And on top of that she was a woman and He was a man, and in that day and culture generally men and women did not converse with each other in public. But though it was out of the ordinary and though she wasn’t interested in talking, Jesus choose to initiate a conversation with her.
That’s part of this making the most of the opportunity. So when there’s that same fella on the treadmill next to us that we always see at the gym, when there’s a new co-worker sitting a table away from us in the break room, when we’re taking a walk around the block and see a new neighbor out shoveling his driveway or doing something in his yard, making the most of the opportunity I think is not keeping to ourselves and going on our way. It’s introducing ourselves, it’s showing interest in their lives, it’s asking how their doing, how they like working here, where they’re from, beginning a relationship with them.
A second thing Jesus would do in relation to those outside the family of God is…
Jesus would share meals with them when He could.
He would share meals with the Scribes and Pharisees sometimes. And in Mark 2:15 you see Jesus reclining at a table for dinner at the home of Levi, a tax collector, which was another strange thing for a devout religious Jewish man to do. Tax collectors were really hated in 1st century Jewish society. Much worse than an IRS guy today. They worked for the Roman government, for the foreign occupying nation. And they had a reputation for ripping people off. And yet Jesus is having dinner with Levi, the tax collector, and not just with him, but also with all of Levi’s tax collector buddies and all of his other outcast friends who had reputations in town of being sinners. These people had very little in common with Jesus. Their values and priorities and interests were very different from His. But Jesus would have dinner with these people.
I think we’re making the most of the opportunity when we invite our neighbor over for dinner, when we hollar over the fence, “Hey Phil, I’m barbecuing ribs. We have more than enough. You’re welcome to come on over and eat with us,” when we invite a co-worker to lunch, when we choose to sit across from someone to eat in the break room rather than just at our own table by ourself. If we’re going to help lead the lost to Christ we have to get to know them and let them get to know us, build a relationship, show them we care about them, build their trust. And sharing meals with them is a great way to do that.
Here’s a third thing Jesus would do in relation to outsiders –
Jesus would be a friend to them.
Luke 7:34 says the Scribes and Pharisees were accusing Jesus of being “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Now, He was not guilty of being a gluttonous man or a drunkard. Those were false accusations. But He was guilty as charged of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Jesus would acknowledge them. He would greet them. He would start conversations with them. He would give them His time. He would make them feel important. I’m confident He would call them by their 1st names. Acts 10:38 when Peter was preaching to Cornelius and his household he said, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil”. He went about doing good. He would help the lost in whatever ways He could. He would encourage them. He would empathize with their pain and their struggles. He would meet their needs.
People are far more willing to hear what we have to say to them if they first know that we are their friend, that we genuinely honestly care about them. The majority of converts are not converted by some stranger just asking them to have a Bible study with them. Some are, but it’s rare. The Institute For American Church Growth asked over 10,000 people this question: “What was responsible for your coming to Christ and this church?” And 79% said it was from the influence of a friend or relative. So let’s make the most of our opportunity among the lost by being a friend to them, talking with them about their lives, giving them our time, bringing them a meal when their sick, helping them shovel their driveway, bringing them cookies, coming to their kid’s ball games, things like that.
And then one more thing Jesus would do, which probably too often we stop short of –
Jesus would talk to them about their relationship with God.
Jesus was not just about making friends. He came to seek and save the lost. The whole goal of initiating conversations with them, sharing meals with them and being a friend to them was not just to meet their need for company and their temporary needs. It was to be able to lead them into the eternal salvation of their souls. And so He would do the social taboo. He would talk to them about their relationship with God. With the Samaritan woman at the well, He talked to her about the living water that would quench her thirst forever if she’d drink it. He wouldn’t just eat and hang out with the tax collectors and sinners, but He would call them to repentance. And you know, sometimes Jesus lost friends because of what He would say to them about their relationship with God. John 6:66 says, “As a result [of something Jesus said] many of His disciples [not the twelve, but others who were following Him] withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” They didn’t want to be so close to Jesus anymore after what He said. But it was more important to Jesus that people hear the truth that could save their souls than that they just stay friends.
We can lead into it by just asking simple questions like, “Do you have a church family?” or “What do you think about church?” or “What do you think about Jesus?” or “Do you believe in God?”, or just inviting them to church with us or to a Bible study we’re having in our homes. And I don’t think we should let the fear that they might ask questions that we won’t know the answers to stop us. It’s okay, isn’t it, to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll look into it.” Or, “I don’t know, but I think I know somebody who does know about that, and he loves to talk to people about it. I’m going to have him over to talk with me about it. Would you like to come over too when I have him over?”
Then here’s our final instruction in regard to being among outsiders, Colossians 4:6.
“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
This is about the manner in which we should talk to people. It is not only important that we tell people what they need to know, but it’s very important that we tell them in the right way. The way you say something to somebody makes a world of difference.
He says our speech is to “always be with grace.” Probably has the sense of kindness, respect, pleasantness, attractiveness. I think Paul just further explains it when he says, “as though seasoned with salt.” If you think of the message we want to communicate to someone as food that we are offering that we want them to take and eat and digest, let’s make that food as palatable as we can by seasoning it with the salt of kindness and tact and respect. A harsh tone or an arrogant tone or an insulting word is just like throwing garbage on the food that we want them to eat; it just repels people from whatever you’re trying to say to them.
Listen to these Scriptures. Proverbs 16:21, “… sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” Did you get that? “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”
II Timothy 2:24-26, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” Notice if we want to be used by God to bring someone to repentance and the knowledge of the truth and help them come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, we must not be quarrelsome, we must be kind and patient and gentle. If we’re unkind, impatient, harsh, rude, insulting, offensive we’ve ruined our chance of being used by God to bring them to repentance.
James 3:18, “And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” “Seed” in the book of James is a figure for the word of God. 1:21, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” The word is what is implanted, it is the seed. And James here talks about the seed whose fruit is righteousness, the seed that actually changes somebody’s life and produces righteousness in their life. And he says that in order for the seed of the word to actually produce righteousness in somebody’s life it must not only be sown in that person’s heart, but it must be sown in peace, not in quarreling and arguing with people.
One more, I Peter 3:15. A part of this verse we’re very familiar, “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you“. But then do you know the rest of it? “yet with gentleness and reverence.” Be ready to explain why you believe what you believe. Yet when you do, make sure you do it in the right way, with gentleness and reverence.
This is all very simple stuff. But this is the mission God has given us to do in this world. He’s called us to function as light bulbs in this dark world, and this is how we do that. Among outsiders we conduct ourselves with wisdom. We’re careful that each step is in the will of God and we’re not wandering toward situations where we would easily slip. We’re constantly asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do here?” We don’t get our joy and peace the way the world does, but through other ways. And among outsiders we make the most of the opportunity to lead them to salvation. We initiate conversations, we build relationships, sharing meals, being their friend, and with kindness and respect and tact and gentleness we share with them the truth that God has entrusted to us.
– James Williams