Colossians 4:5 & 6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
It might be easy when reading the scriptures to fall into an us and them attitude when thinking of how we ought to behave, speak and act. The scriptural writers, especially when we’re reading Paul, Peter and James, are very concerned with helping a new community in it’s formative first generation. This leads to a lot of us language, but it doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of them. Us and them thinking can lead us to disparaging them and us defaming them, us devaluing them and us disenfranchising them. That is not our calling.
God’s grace, as it is lived and shared, and as it forgives and builds up, is not just for Christians to lavish on Christians. When we speak to someone who is not a person of our faith we do not do so with distaste, condescension or incivility. Their dignity remains intact and it is part of our responsibility to recognize and defend it. We should speak to anyone who may be “outside” as we speak to anyone who may be “inside.” We speak with grace, seasoning our speech for the well-being of the listener. When we speak with graceful seasoning those lines drawn up to separate us from them just seem to disappear.
Not to mention the simple fact that I can be a horrible judge of who may be inside or outside. We can all come to certain conclusions about what the classical or orthodox theological positions of Christianity should be, and we all know that there’s a broad field of doctrine being taught and lived across the earth. Some will self-identify as Christians, some will self-identify as another religious affiliation, or none. People with whom we interact may be very much like us, or not like us at all. The constant in all our conversations will be God’s grace, and that grace is the constant flavoring in our all conversations, all our “answers.”
My favorite example of this kind of grace is found in Acts 17:16-34 when Paul speaks to the people in Athens, Greece. At the time Paul sees a lot of idolatry, the idols lined up in the city are very real, very immediate. This disturbs Paul’s soul and he wants to share the message of Christ with the people, so he begins his address in the Areopagus (Town Hall) by complimenting them. Whoa, what? Yes, he starts by affirming their religious devotion and the thorough nature of their religious practice. He quotes their own poets to affirm all people’s place as God’s children. See how he speaks a blend of us and them? He recognizes an “us” aspect with his hearers. With this kind of foundation he unpacks his message. All the people won’t believe him, but they sure heard him. He delivered his message seasoned with grace. And it’s no wonder that our verse today is from his letter to the Colossians. How many times today do we see Christians rationalizing their way into beginning their gospel presentation with some form of, “How’s that road to hell going for ya, sinner?” or some other form of turn or burn harness that begins with stripping a perceived outsider of dignity and respect?
When feelings of condescension rise up in me I must renounce them and find a new footing. When my conversation becomes animated by distaste instead of grace I must stop and change my heart. When my speech is flavored by bitterness it’s not what my hearer needs. When I’m loving us and not loving them I’m playing the wrong game all together.