Over recent Wednesdays, we have been considering Paul’s exhortations concerning the new lifestyle that God wants his people to adopt. We’ve touched on the themes of new life, forgiveness, peace, wives and husbands, parenting, children, work, and prayer.
Throughout these reflections, we have noted the importance of letting God’s Word and his Spirit teach us and shape our lives for his glory. We are no longer to live for ourselves but in the service of our Lord – looking to encourage and help the isolated and lonely and those who are hurting. Furthermore, we are to look for ways to introduce family and friends to the Lord Jesus.
It is important that we note Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven“ (Matthew 5:16).
And in 1 Peter 2:11-12 we read: Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Though Peter speaks of his readers, both slaves and free, as ‘resident aliens’ in this world, their lifestyle can draw others to God’s truth. Abstain from the sinful desires which wage war against your soul, he says. He has in mind our heart’s desires that are out of step with the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount – lies, false-witness, anger, greed, theft, the lustful look, the adulterous relationship – anything that stands against the mind of God.
The way we live – the integrity of our lives, and the quality of our relationships – can open up gospel opportunities.
Paul writes in the same vein in Colossians 4:5: Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Jesus expects us to act wisely and graciously towards people we live and work with in our households and in the wider community.
Furthermore, Paul says: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt… (Colossians 4:6a). He expects us to cultivate conversations that are kind and gracious but seasoned with salt – a metaphor for sparkling and interesting conversations that are not full of syrup but trigger questions about life. It’s worth working on ways to use news items, opinion columns, and books and films to spark such conversations.
Paul is exhorting us to cultivate the skill of having conversations that are kind and gracious, but that are also seasoned with salt; that is, conversations that are not just insipid and wimpish, but conversations that have a cutting edge. His reference to salt implies a sparkling, interesting, challenging brand of conversation that can lead to conversations about life and, in turn, to the gospel of Christ. Paul suggests that all of us will have opportunities to talk to others about God – his reality and relevance, his amazing love and incredible goodness. Our problem is that we don’t look for them, and if we do, we are afraid to venture into the territory of matters of faith and belief. We fear that we won’t know what to say, that others will ridicule us, that our words won’t work and that all we’ll do is kill associations and friendships.
It’s so important we think about ways we can introduce the subject of faith without being aggressive or offensive – for example, through a brief, casual, passing reference to your faith in everyday conversation. And when someone has raised a personal concern, ask them, ‘Would you like me to pray for you?’
Paul adds a sting in the tail when he writes: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6). Praying for and looking for opportunities to respond to genuine questions people ask about the nature of faith is something we overlook. It’s important we identify and learn how we might begin to respond to the five or so questions people ask about faith – suffering, science, New Testament authenticity, the resurrection, only one way, and good enough for God. Talk with your minister about this. It’s so important churches develop supportive and effective ways to reach people who do not know what to believe.
Over the (northern) summer you may want to pray and talk with friends at church about ways to introduce ‘God-talk’ naturally and easily into your conversations. Having a genuine interest in others and asking questions is a good way forward. Well-framed questions asked in the context of a normal, natural conversation can prevent the adversarial tone that often develops when spiritual matters are raised.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com