“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.”
Our text is found in the last section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in which section the apostle gives final exhortations to the church. In the verses immediately preceding our text he exhorts to prayer. Specifically he has in mind that the church pray for him, that God would open to him a door for the preaching of the gospel. As the apostle to the Gentiles he was called to go wherever the Spirit would direct him, speaking the mystery of Christ in the world. At the moment he is in bonds because he had spoken concerning that mystery. His heart’s desire is that the church petition the throne of grace that, God willing, his bonds would be loosed, that he may fulfill his calling as minister of the gospel.
Prayer is a spiritual art, in the activity of which the church of Christ is continually to persevere, to watch in the same with thanksgiving. Particularly it is that spiritual activity in devotion to God which requires constant application of all the spiritual powers of the believers, in which the latter realize that God gives His grace and Spirit to those that ask Him. It is the highest form of glorifying God. Spiritual watchfulness in the exercise of prayer is necessary that the children of God may know the will of God and pray for those things pleasing to Him and in accord with His will. They must watch against the seducing influence of their own flesh and against the temptations of the world and the devil. They must have a deep and clear sense of their real needs and the needs of God’s cause in the world. There must always be a spiritual longing on the part of the children of God for the things of God’s kingdom, while at the same time they thankfully acknowledge that God is the overflowing fountain of all good, so that their prayers are at the same time an offering of sweet smell and of praise to God.
Because of the deep concern of the church for the things of God’s kingdom, it must follow that the prayers of the church will be especially for the needs of the apostle and his helpers in the ministry of the gospel. The apostle is not so much concerned about the opening of the door of the prison, but the opening of the door of speech. The opening of that door will allow the gospel to be preached and the mystery of Christ to be made known in the world.
Now to this idea the apostle adds the words of our text—on the surface, without any connection whatever.
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time!
Yet it should be apparent that there is a very definite connection. The apostle had just admonished the church to pray for an open door for .the gospel in the world. This evidently caused him to think immediately of those Who are without, that is, outside of the church in the world. Moreover, he is also mindful of the calling of believers with respect to those who are outside the church in the world. So understood, we can see how the apostle would be concerned, not only that the church constantly pray that the gospel may have free course, but also that the church know her calling as she takes her place in the world and particularly with respect to the children of this world with whom she comes into contact.
So we have in the text rules set down for the church in her outward conduct.
It must be remembered that the church, the believers, are in the world. The Bible no where advocates physical isolation from the world. Indeed, the Word of God is aware of the fact that because of persecution the church would be required to suffer at the hands of the world, and because of the fact that the world would develop in sin and corruption the church would make evil attempts to seek isolation. Perhaps this is what the apostle feared was a strong possibility on the part of the church in Colosse. Does he not call attention to this evil tendency and doctrine of “touch not, taste not, handle not” in Colossians 2:20-23? Besides, is it not true that the history of Christ’s church in the world is replete with examples of Anabaptistic tendencies, that is, the history of those evil sects known not for their world fight, but for their world flight? To be sure, the Scriptures teach that the church must live in spiritual separation from the world, but this is something quite different from physical separation. To live in physical separation from the world on some lonely island or in some secluded desert oasis is quite impossible, for the simple reason that in such an attempt the church would take the world along in her own flesh. Moreover, was not the Lord Jesus deeply concerned about this when He prayed that the Father would not take His children out of the world, but that He would keep them from evil? And this means spiritual separation. Then we live I physically in the world, but spiritually have no part of it. It means that antithetically we stand in the midst of the world which we oppose because of our spiritual principles. That is our Christian calling. And this is what the apostle also has in mind in our text.
Those who are without are those who are outside of the church of Christ, with whom we come daily into contact. They are those who are outside the church, and therefore outside of Christ. They are without the grace of regeneration. They walk in darkness according to the flesh. Nevertheless they live in the same world with the believers who are the children of light. They work in the same factories, do business in the same stores, ride the same buses, and fly the same airplanes. They live in houses and perhaps next door to the believers. Hence believers, children of God, have their walk among them, and necessarily come in constant contact with them—with those outside.
What we must see here is the fact that the apostle not only sees us as living among those who are outside, but he stresses the fact that we are to walk in wisdom “toward” them. Though he expects believers to reveal their true spiritual self, never imitating that world but always revealing their spiritual distinctiveness, yet we are expected to do this “toward” those who are without. We are not to assume a lackadaisical attitude of no interest in them. Our interest must go in their direction. What that interest must be, the apostle explains further in the text.
Walking in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
That is, walking in the sphere of Christian wisdom. The wisdom of believers is not the same as the wisdom of the world. The latter is foolishness, and God make it so, according to I Corinthians 1:20. The foolishness of the world is that it cannot see the wisdom of God. Though the world may have what it calls wisdom, it is not the same as the wisdom of believers who are in Christ. When believers walk in the sphere of Christ, they also walk in the sphere of wisdom. That means that they are motivated by faith and by the grace of the love of Christ, and that, too, toward one another. It also means that they walk according to the Word of God as it is the revelation of Christ. In that revelation of Jesus Christ they have the precepts according to which they must walk in the midst of the world. However, the apostle has in mind a particular application of this wisdom to specific circumstances. According to the circumstances in which we find ourselves we are to walk in wisdom toward those without. This refers, of course, to practical wisdom. As another before me has said, one does not preach the gospel to a man who is at the point of drowning—rather, he helps the man get out of the water. One does not offer the last rites of the church to the man who falls among thieves—but he stops the flow of blood, and gets the man to the hospital. He is the good Samaritan—this is walking in wisdom, and redeeming the time.
Redeeming the time is taking advantage of the opportunity. As the opportunity presents itself, it must be taken advantage of. The Christian therefore must never allow an opportunity to pass by without revealing to outsiders the wisdom in the sphere of which he walks. What he does to and for the outsider he does because he belongs to Christ, because he lives in obedience to Christ, Who commands him to love God and the neighbor. In one word when the believer walks in wisdom toward those without, the outsider must see Christ in him. That is what the apostle is driving at. But there is more.
The believer must also be gracious in speech.
It is through our speech more than anything else that we also reveal our walk in wisdom. One does not simply walk in wisdom toward those without saying anything. It is precisely through our speech that our walk in wisdom is manifested. Through our speech we put into words the thoughts of our heart. As one thinketh in his heart, so he speaks. And remember, this speech is that of the believer to those outside, to those who have a different speech, which is corrupt, vile, profane. The speech of the believer to them must reveal the grace of Christ which is within us, or we had better say nothing at all.
It is speech that must be seasoned with salt.
The figure of salted speech indicates that the speech is to be tasty, palatable, flavorful, savory. When speech is seasoned with salt, when it is acted upon by grace, it becomes beautiful and pleasant. Such it is, first of all, in the judgment of God; for it is speech that is in harmony with and according to His standard of truth and righteousness, and therefore according to the Word of God. God speaks in His Word. When our speech is seasoned with salt it compares favorably to the Word of God. When we read of the gracious words which proceeded out of His (Jesus’) mouth (Luke 4:22), we can only conclude that they were words that were seasoned with salt. Such must be also the speech of His disciples, of everyone who walks under the banner of Jesus Christ in the midst of the world. Such must be the speech of each one who walks in wisdom toward those that are without. It follows, doesn’t it, that that speech will be quite different than the speech of the ungodly. Indeed, the child of God will be known by his speech. If one talks like the world, there is no reason to believe that he is a child of God—he gives no evidence that he is. Our speech must reveal the grace of Christ which is in us. But that is not all.
The apostle adds to this—”that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” The apostle Peter (I Peter 3:15, 16) also writes of this when he exhorts believers to sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. This, he says, they must do to have a good conscience, that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
This is also the idea of the apostle in our text.
No matter whether the outsider mocks with you, speaks with malicious intent, or whether he is dead serious—whatever the circumstances, the believer must always be ready to answer. And when you give answer, you are confronted with a question, a question by those who are outside. The apostle does not say what it is that they may ask. Most probably their question will be one or more of these: Who are you? Why do you live like you do? Why do you go out of your way for me? How do you explain the fact that no profanity passes over your lips? How can you be concerned about me who did only evil to you? Who is this Jesus Christ Whom you claim to follow, Whom you emulate in your life and walk? What is it that makes you tick?
And you must be ready to give answer!
Here is your opportunity to walk in wisdom toward those that are without. Let him know in no uncertain terms not only who and what you are, but more particularly Who your God is Whom you serve, and Who your Jesus is Who delivered you from the lowest hell and is bringing you into the highest heavens.
These are the rules to live by!
Living by these rules, you will have a good conscience, and the practical evidence that Christ lives in you. So you will realize your calling to love God not only, but also your neighbor and even your enemies. When you love even your enemies, you do not condone his sin and say nothing about his corrupt speech; rather, you reprove him and plead for amendment. To be silent is to sin. To speak the truth to him is to love him.
Wonderful calling, but with serious implications!