Opportunity With Outsiders|
Too often, a Christian may consider an encounter with an unbeliever as a “necessary evil,” an undesirable consequence of living in the world, or just an inconvenience. A Christian sometimes laments the fact that he must live and work among foul-mouthed, blasphemous, ungodly persons. He identifies with the plight of Lot among the Sodomites, who “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds” (2Pet. 2:8). He sometimes longs for a place to escape from the world, such as an isolated island where he would not have to suffer the company of sinners.
Such feelings are understandable, for no Christian should enjoy witnessing sin, but this attitude is unlike that of our Lord Jesus Christ. In contrast to this un-Christ-like attitude, Scripture describes a Christian’s encounter with an outsider (one who does not believe in Christ) as an opportunity in Colossians 4:5-6:
“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.”
Let us think carefully about this instruction and the valuable opportunity of encountering an outsider.
The commandment of Colossians 4:5-6 is to “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders,” not to “avoid outsiders like the plague.” Walking with wisdom toward outsiders requires us to have conduct that is outstanding. This is what the Lord described as letting our light shine before men so that they would see our good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). Christians are professors of a high standard of godliness, and people of the world will hold Christians up to the high standard they espouse. This means that we will be scrutinized, for the world searches for an opportunity to accuse us of hypocrisy, excuse their own ungodly behavior, and speak evil of God. Therefore, we had better conduct ourselves with wisdom if we want to reflect well upon our Father in heaven and our Savior.
The phrase “making the most of the opportunity” in the NASB (“redeeming the time” in the KJV and ASV) literally means “buying up the opportunity.” Encountering and communicating with an unbeliever is not something to be dreaded, but rather it is to be considered a valuable opportunity to be seized. For an encounter with an unbeliever who has never known Christ, it is an opportunity to preach Christ and save a soul. For an encounter with an unbeliever who derides Christ, His gospel, and His church, it is an opportunity to answer every false argument with truth and to defend the Way.
The commandment extends beyond our conduct to our speech also. Our words are to be “with grace,” that is, with a kindly spirit and not hateful. We should speak in a manner that is “seasoned with salt,” that is, palatable and pleasant, perhaps even with the preserving effect of saving a soul. A Christian never needs to be harsh, vulgar, or insulting in his speech toward outsiders. The idea seems to be that we should be kind and inviting in our words toward outsiders in order that we may capitalize upon the opportunity to communicate with them.
When a Christian opens up such communication with an outsider, he can begin to understand what that individual needs to know. Thus, the Scripture says that “you will know how you should respond to each person.” Every person is different and needs to be taught from different angles. Some have a slight understanding, some have a misunderstanding, and others have no understanding at all. The only way to know what is needed is by seizing the opportunity and communicating.
The best way to understand how to implement the commandment of Colossians 4:5-6 is to consider the Lord’s example. He presented a blameless life of godliness to glorify His Father. When He encountered sinners, He did not recoil at the sight of them, but He did make His disapproval of their sin clearly known. When He spoke to those who were lost, He spoke with boldness but also with grace. He invited honest questions and discussion. He answered each individual with precisely what the person needed to hear. He made the most of every opportunity with “outsiders.” In His image, let us do the same.
Stacey E. Durham
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