Witnessing: Our conduct and our speech

In Isaiah 43:10 and 12, God says to His people, “Ye are my witnesses.” That witness is in contrast to the false witnesses of the nations regarding their gods. That witness is that there is one true God who saves. He saves through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. We are not only forgiven our sins but delivered from slavery to sin. We are new creatures recreated in the image of God. Our lives are to be lived in thankfulness, shown by obedience to our only Master and Lord, Christ Jesus.

God in Isaiah 43:10 says, “Ye are my witnesses.” Notice the plural. It is not just ministers and missionaries, but it is all true believers as they share and are partakers of Christ in their threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. Each believer confesses Christ, confesses his faith, confesses the truth of God’s infallible Word. We are to do so each day and every day. Notice that God says, “Ye are my witnesses.” That means that we are authorized and equipped by God through His Spirit to witness and to praise and glorify our God. This is not a once-in-awhile activity that we might engage in. Rather, each of us is to witness and be ready to witness in the course of everyday life. We do that in our homes, with our spouses and our children; we do that in our workplace; and we do that in our neighborhoods.

In Colossians 4:5, 6 we are told how we are to witness to those outside of our faith. We are to do so in our conduct and in our speech. The exhortation comes to all the members of the church. “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.” Wise conduct and gracious speech is stressed.

To the Jew, every non-Jew was an “outsider.” To the Christian every non-Christian is, in a sense, an outsider. They are outside the true saving faith. Often they are full of contempt, ridicule, and hatred for the faith and those who hold it. How do we react to this? How we witness to them?

Colossians 4:5, 6 begins with our walk. Maybe you are surprised at this. Often we think of witnessing as speaking, declaring, and setting forth what we have seen and heard and know. But actions speak louder than words. If we live just like those outside of Christ, serving their gods of honor, position, sexual immorality, material possessions, and many other gods, then our words about Christ being primary in our lives mean nothing. It is only as we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts that others will ask the reason for the hope that is in us (I Pet. 3:15). They ask, “Why will you not join the union?” “Why, young person, will you not move in with your girlfriend?” “Why will you not look for another marriage partner when your spouse has forsaken you?” “Why do you folks have such large families?” “Why do you go to church twice on Sunday, and refuse to go to the beach?” Our walk must be an antithetical walk, saying no to sin and saying yes to God and His Word.

We are told to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” This means that our conduct must be wise instead of foolish, virtuous rather than wicked. It is as if the apostle were saying, “Behave wisely toward outsiders, always bearing in mind that though few people read the Scriptures, all people read you!

Negatively, godly conduct will serve as a weapon against false characterizations that the ungodly like to make against Christians. We do not want to put stumbling blocks in their way. We do not desire that our sinful behavior gives others ammunition against Christianity, or that they are hardened and shrink more and more from religion. We do not want occasion to be given for their disparaging the gospel and, therefore, to expose the name of Christ to laughter. A sinful life by a child of God is harmful for witnessing. The people to whom one witnesses are prompted to mock the cause of God rather than see in it a working of the Spirit of Christ to whom we belong. But also, we do not desire to join in their sinful ways, defiled with their sins.

Positively, we desire that our conduct will be used by God to win outsiders to God. Lord’s Day 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that we desire that by the whole of our conduct we may testify of “our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us; also that everyone may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.” We desire that outsiders see our conduct and say, “Behold, how they love each other and, in spite of all we have said about them, even love us and treat us with kindness, returning good for evil.”

The apostle Paul goes on to say in Colossians 4:5, “redeeming the time.” Walking among those who are outside of Jesus Christ is dangerous. We read in Ephesians 5:16, “because the days are evil.” It is as if Paul said, “In the midst of the corruption of the world, we must seize opportunities of doing good.” The participle in the original language can have the meaning, “buying up the opportunity.” Do not just sit there and wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap, but go after it. Create opportunities, avail yourself of opportunities to do good to those around you. Perhaps your unbelieving neighbor is sick, hospitalized, and unable to work. How can I do good to him and testify of the love and grace of God?

How do we witness to those outside? We do so with our conduct. In Colossians 4:6 the apostle Paul continues to say, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt….” It is in our conduct and our speech. This is important. In my pastorates I have run across those who held that believers only have to have a godly conduct, but do not need to witness with their mouths. They convinced themselves that speech was only for preachers and missionaries. Colossians 4:6 calls believing members of the church to witness by their words to persons outside the church. And that exhortation comes to all the members of the church. All of us believers are called to speak of Jesus Christ (“confess me before men” Matt. 10:32), and to speak of our Christian faith to others. We speak the Word to others as we have opportunity. This is how Christianity spread so rapidly after Pentecost and through persecution. Believers spread out bringing the Word that they had heard and echoed it to others where they moved.

Our speech must always be “with grace.” This means we will not use improper language when in a difficult situation, not witty or clever language to impress, or abusive or vindictive language to those who hate us. Rather, we are called to speak language that flows from God’s grace in our hearts and lives. It is language of truth and love. The Word of God is the basis of our speech. Love for God and for our neighbor is the motive.

Our speech is to be “seasoned with salt.” We are those whom Jesus calls the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). The idea of salt is that which makes tasty, flavorful, and delightful. Our speech to one another and to those outside the church must not be empty or insipid, but thought-provoking and worthwhile. How much of our speech is at times worthless, filled with jokes and sarcasm, and a waste of time. Rather, our speech must reveal Him to whom we belong, our faith in and love for Jesus Christ, and our care for those to whom we are speaking! Our speech should charm and attract.

This speech is not some canned story. Rather, it is directed so that it is the right word at the right time to the right person. It means that first of all we listen! We listen to the person outside of the faith. What does he believe? What are her fears or cares? What does he or she need to hear at this particular time and place? It is love for God and it is love for that person outside the faith that causes us to speak to him or her of the hope that is in us. It is the truth spoken in love. It is a word spoken in all humility, gentleness, and reverence.

How will I know what to say? The Holy Spirit Himself will help us to do this. Jesus said to His disciples when He sent them out, “…take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matt. 10:19, 20; Mark 13:11). Christ will enable us to speak and gives us wisdom for the words that we use. Christ does that through His Word and through the preaching of the Word that we receive from week to week.

May God bless our witness: a necessary witness, a godly witness, a light in the midst of darkness, a wise and gracious witness. In our conduct and speech may God be glorified and may others may be gained to Christ!