Let your speech always be with grace
Colossians 4:5-6 Paul’s offers wisdom on how Christians should conduct their private lives of prayer and their public lives in the secular world
”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.“
Colossians 4:5-6 NASB1995
The last chapter of Paul’s epistle to the church in Colossae is focused on two things: the Christian life of prayer and the conduct of Christians in the world. Paul knows that the life of the Christian isn’t lived just at home or at church, so he offered advice on how to conduct life in the secular world. The advice is probably even more timely in our age of social media than it was in the face-to-face world of the 1st Century AD.
Image of the fire of Rome in 64 A.D., generated by DALL-E 3
At that time, all sorts of false stories were circulating about Christians. For example, the Roman Emperor Nero accused them of starting the fire that devastated Rome in 64 AD, which resulted in the Great Persecution by the Romans. Early Christians were accused of cannibalism because of their belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Romans and others overheard Christians talking about consuming the body and blood of Christ, which was misinterpreted as cannibalism. The outside world saw Christians gathering in early churches as participating in cannibalistic rites!
The consecrated elements of Holy Communion, as created by DALL-E 3
These false charges didn’t last long as Christians were able to demonstrate that bread and wine were used in communion, but other accusations of atheism (the lack of belief in the Emperor as a divine deity) and incest were common. Paul realized that the proper way to stop the stories was for Christians to live their public lives wisely, with kindness and love for even the worst persecutors.
By treating others with respect and love, providing the impoverished with food and shelter, never cheating customers in the marketplace, and living an unblemished life among non-Christian neighbors, those in the outside world began to realize how foolish the stories were. Every interaction with another person was an opportunity to show that followers of Christ were not monsters, but people to be admired and trusted.
The second verse deals with verbal interactions with others. The Greek word translated here as grace — χάρις (charis) — can be thought of as having a double meaning. It can be construed as meaning we should speak with the influence of God’s grace (“of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues”) and also with human graciousness (“that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech”).
So what’s this about seasoning words with salt? Classical writers used the term salt to refer to flavoring conversation with wit. Paul was essentially suggesting that we use grace and wit in our exchanges with others. Scottish theologian William Barclay had an interesting view of this phrase, saying:
“Here is an interesting injunction. It is all too true that Christianity in the minds of many is connected with a kind of sanctimonious dullness and an outlook in which laughter is almost a heresy… The Christian must commend his message with the charm and the wit which were in Jesus himself.”1
Biblical scholar Arthur Peake supported this idea, noting:
“They must strive to cultivate the gift of pleasant and wise conversation, so that they may be able to speak appropriately to each individual (with his peculiar needs) with whom they come in contact.”2
Paul is concluding his letter to the church in Colossae by explaining to the congregation that God is concerned not only with our prayer life (Colossians 4:2-4), but how we interact with the public (Colossians 4:5-6). In the earlier chapters of this epistle, Paul was arguing against bad doctrine and for the truth. Here, he’s pointing out that even the correct knowledge of the Gospel was of little benefit to the world unless it was applied in private prayer and public life.
Here in 2023, these two simple verses should be the template for Christians to follow in their lives. Whether we’re interacting with others on social media or face-to-face, conducting our lives with “wisdom toward outsiders”, seeing each interaction as an opportunity to promote Christian values, and learning to communicate with knowledge, wit, and consideration goes a long way toward healing the rift between the spiritual and secular worlds.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Loving Father, help me each day to always act toward others with wisdom and grace, and make the most of any opportunity to share the Gospel with those who haven’t heard of Jesus and His grace-filled gift of salvation to believers. When I speak or write to others, I pray that the words I use and the meditations of my heart are always acceptable to You, my Rock and my Redeemer. AMEN.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org.
Barclay, William "The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians" (The New Daily Study Bible) (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975)
Peake, A.S. "The Epistle to the Colossians: The Expositor's Greek Testament" Volume 3, Section 5 (2 Corinthians-Colossians) (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897)