“The three great things that govern mankind are Reason, Passion and Superstition; the first governs a few, the two last share the bulk of mankind, and possess them in their turns; but superstition is most powerful, and produces the greatest mischiefs.”
Last week I used this quote from philosopher John Locke to explore a Christian faith that is not swept away by desire or passion that leads to mischief or obnoxious behavior, but a Christian faith that is reasonable and gracious, that we can believe the Bible is true and not be obnoxious or judgmental, that we can be theologically sound and be reasonable.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6 NIV
“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive, so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6 NLT
Using two different Biblical translations of this passage can help us fine-tune our approach to sharing our faith. Wisdom and reason are closely related. If we are wise, we are careful about what we say and how we say it. If we are wise, we think before we speak. Reason as a verb is to “exercise the rational faculty; to perform the process of deduction or of induction; to reach conclusions by a systematic comparison of facts.” Wisdom is a combination of experience and the ability to think or reason effectively, especially when making decisions.
The Apostle Paul, the writer of these verses, encourages us to be wise and reasonable with those who are “outsiders” or unbelievers. Our conversation should be “full of grace”. Grace is a Biblical term for unmerited favor, a gift that we don’t deserve. The English definition for grace is “courteous goodwill”, so to be gracious is to be courteous, kind, and pleasant.
Interestingly Paul uses the term “seasoned with salt” or “attractive” to describe the tone and even flavor of our conversation. It also contains a possible double meaning. Salt is both a preservative and an additive to enhance the flavor of food. Therefore, we can say that our “graceful conversation” should preserve the meaning or truth of the Gospel, and make it taste better or more “attractive”. Considering how bitterly offended by the Gospel our culture seems to be, making it more digestible is certainly a challenge. I’m not a big fan of spinach, asparagus, or beets. It doesn’t matter how tasty you make them sound. I’m not eating them. My mom made me eat them when I was younger, but now I avoid them like the plague. Paul wants our conversation to be gracious and even tasty, but not forced.
Paul also adds that we need to have a “right” response, which can also hold a double meaning. Our response should be theologically faithful to God’s word, and provide a justifiable or acceptable answer. Holy cow Robby! I know I’m really picking this apart, but I think it’s important to know the details of what we believe and why we believe it. Our culture and even some within the “Christian faith” are actively deconstructing and tearing the truth of God’s word apart piece by piece. Jesus knew what his disciples would be facing when he sent them out to “spread the word”. That’s why he told them “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 NIV) What did Jesus mean? He wants his followers to be innocent and wise, to be shrewd is to be sharp mentally and astute.
A great example of how not to engage in conversation was my response to evolutionary teaching in biology class my freshman year in college. It wasn’t wise, graceful, or attractive. As a Christian attending a Baptist college, I didn’t think I would be taught that the theory of evolution was an indisputable fact. Creation wasn’t really even considered as an alternative theory of our origins. Needless to say I took it upon myself to defend my belief that God not evolution was the reason for my existence. I can’t remember the entire exchange between the biology professor and myself, but it wasn’t good. Towards the end of the discussion, during class I might add which made it even worse, I said or implied that it was stupid to believe that the theory of evolution was an absolute fact, and required as much faith to believe as creation. Instead of a gracious and well-flavored conversation, I took it in an immature direction. You know something like, “yeah, I think you’re stupid and your mom dresses you funny.” Robby, shame on you! Indeed. It was definitely a cringe worthy moment in my life that I’m not proud of.
I would like to say that this was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. Any time I got an opportunity to lock horns with anyone who opposed the faith, I usually didn’t hesitate. I was a zealot. I was like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Freedom! I was on a crusade to conquer for Christ. Fortunately, the Lord tempered my tenacity and redirected my zeal. My beliefs really haven’t changed that much, but my method of communicating has evolved. Did you catch that? How I brought evolution back into the conversation? Sorry, I’m just being silly. Where were we? Right, being reasonable, wise, and gracious.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 NIV
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24 NIV
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5 NIV
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12 NIV
Through a series of my own failures and experiencing a shortage of grace among some members of the body of Christ, I realized over time that something was missing. As Yoda wisely said, “the greatest teacher failure is”, whether it was mine or someone else’s. There is nothing wrong with spiritual fervor and a passion for God, but it must be “clothed” or wrapped in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, plus an outer layer of love that binds it all together perfectly. Does that mean that my zeal for God and His word has diminished? Absolutely not, but in light of my own imperfections, I have learned to be more reasonable, gracious, and polite. Contrary to our current culture we can agree to disagree and still love one another. It’s not easy, but according to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, it is not only possible, it’s also necessary…more on that next week.
Hope you have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management