“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
The assumption in the plethora of 20th century evangelism campaigns, and methods developed in Evangelical church circles tended toward a one-size-fits-all pattern. The patterns assumed that everyone will find God in the same exact way, and that a certain amount of basic information was necessary to experience God. And so Evangelicals were/are trained to ask questions like, “What would say if you died today, and stood before God, and He asked you why He should allow you into heaven?”
The question assumes that people will answer the question wrongly, and that you will be able to “share the Gospel” with them, which typically means, begin a monologue about a set of passages from the book of Romans, or tell them that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, and that this is their only hope. After 50+ years of Romans Roads and Master Plans for evangelism so many people have heard these methods, that many of them could recite them back to us, better than we can deliver it. This pattern of evangelism created by hopeful Evangelicals planning to reach the world for Jesus, has somewhat (I do not want to say completely) backfired. It assumed that people did not know this information, and even if they did, that repeating the information over and over was a sufficient means for changing their minds. It assumed that all people find God in the same manner. Well, that is a piece o’ crock. Perhaps no one in history knew this better than the first great evangelist – the Apostle Paul, and this is exemplified above by his words in the letter to the church at Colossae.
Paul says we should “walk in wisdom“. Otherwise talking about God is not a blustering repetitive monologue. It requires sensitivity, concern and perhaps a bit of study.
He says our speech should be “always be with grace.” Grace does not have to have the last word. It does not assume that it knows everything another person feels or believes. It waits it’s turn, and it assumes the best about the other. Grace really listens: not just with ears to have a winning retort, but with ears to understand the other.
“Seasoned with salt” is an interesting phrase. It sounds like advice on a cooking show. It sounds as though Paul is asking us to make our words palatable, tasty, interesting, and full of spice. It is not just the same old bland diet of basic information repeated over and over.
“That you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Paul appears to think that every person is different, and that they approach discussions about God from different perspectives. How novel! (I don’t think there is a tongue in cheek emoticon, but if there is you can insert it here.)
I am assuming that Paul would have been one of the first people to reject one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter Christianity, and would have been frustrated by the attempt to make entrance into the faith a one-size-fits-all experience. We certainly don’t have a God Who is one-size-fits-all, in fact, He transcends this concept of size, and will meet us wherever we are. All of us. Even that Other person over there. Even that stubborn looking person, who may not be as stubborn as you think.