Soccer and the Gospel
INTERSECT: The Outsiders
"Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know
how ye ought to answer every man" (Colossians 4:5-6).
Do you know someone who is not a Christian? Perhaps it is a family member, friend, co-worker, or classmate. While only God knows the heart perfectly, as closely as you can tell (and perhaps by his or her own admission) this individual does not believe in Christ. Do you have a face in mind? Now, let me take it a step further: how do you plan on sharing your faith with him or her this year?
Paul describes those who have not put their trust in Christ as “them that are without,” more literally, those who are “outside.” We might be tempted to think of those “outside” the church building or “outside” of our local congregation. However, the real issue is whether a person is a believer in the saving work of Christ. Those trusting Christ are inside. Those who do not believe are outsiders. It is as simple as that. When it comes to the spiritual condition of those outside of Christ, the Bible is clear—all are in a desperate condition, and Christians must respond to the urgent need.
This challenge from the Apostle Paul calls us to consider the responsibility and privilege of sharing our faith. After asking the Colossian believers to pray for an open door for him to share the gospel, Paul immediately challenged the Colossians in their own witnessing efforts. He focused on two indispensable and inseparable parts of sharing our faith—actions and speech.
Watch Your Walk
What did Paul mean when he instructed the Colossians to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without”? He was urging his readers to be wise in their lifestyle before and interaction with unbelievers. Wisdom comes from knowing God, knowing the Word of God, and knowing how to apply the principles of the Word of God to everyday life. Anyone who has done much witnessing at all understands that sharing your faith requires wisdom. No situation or person is quite the same.
Paul also urged the Colossians to redeem or make the most of their time. The word redeem carries a financial connotation. We must understand that time is the most valuable commodity available to us and “buy it up.” None of us know how much time we have. In the United States, life expectancy hovers around 80 years of age, but expectancy is no guarantee. When you watch sports, you see teams trying to manage the clock. In football, a quarterback spikes the ball to stop the clock. A basketball team fouls the opposing team to stop the clock. Timeouts still the clock for a few moments, but eventually the clock runs out, and the game is over. In real life, we have no such measures to stop time. And, more importantly, this is no game. This is life, death, and eternity.
While our actions are important in communicating the faith, ultimately “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). With this in mind, Paul urged the Colossians to have grace-filled speech, “seasoned with salt.” To be “salty” in popular slang means to be disrespectful or agitated. That is not what Jesus had in mind when He told believers, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13).
Salt has a preservative quality to it. This was especially important in biblical times, when it was used to cure and keep foods. Of course, salt also adds flavor to food. The metaphor is clear: in a world of death, decay, and dullness, the followers of Jesus bring a preservative quality to the world. Second Corinthians 2:14-17 builds on this thought when it challenges us to spread the fragrance—the knowledge of Jesus—everywhere we go.
Yet, the only way our speech can be gracious and salty (in the proper sense) is if we become conduits of grace. In other words, grace must be at work in our own lives before we can season the lives of others. God’s loving and gracious activity and power must permeate our lives. We cannot simply turn it on when witnessing opportunities arise. We must live every day in grace. Our efforts to share the gospel will then overflow from our hearts. It is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Gracious, salty speech starts in the heart.
Make It Personal
In 2012, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of churchgoers and discovered 80% of faithful churchgoers believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. Only 61% of those surveyed, however, had told another person how to become a Christian in the previous six months.”
If you are a Christian, you have a responsibility to share the gift you have received. You don’t have to present it exactly the same way I would. Conversations with people about spiritual matters seldom happen in neat little packages. While it doesn’t matter how you share your faith, it is crucial that you do.
Sharing your faith takes consistency in your walk, your lifestyle. It takes wisdom. It takes gracious speech, seasoned with salt. How serious is this responsibility? Just look at Paul. A man in chains for spreading the gospel asks believers to pray he will have more opportunities to share the gospel. Then, he urges them—and us—to answer God’s call to share the gospel with the outsiders before it is eternally too late. Sounds serious to me!
About the Columnist: Dr. Barry Raper is program coordinator for ministry studies at Welch College and pastor of Bethel FWB Church near Ashland City, Tennessee.