Lively and Gracious Speech

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).

- Colossians 4:6

Benjamin Disraeli was prime minister of Britain in the late nineteenth century and also a famous author. In his novel Endymion, there is a character named Nigel Penruddock, a believer who is a lively and accomplished sportsman. In describing Nigel, Disraeli said, “his Christianity was muscular.”

It is not our purpose to analyze Nigel Penruddock in this study but to note that Disraeli’s statement about him likely would sound strange to many people. In the minds of unbelievers today, liveliness and attractiveness are qualities associated with muscular people, but they would probably not be associated with the Christian faith; thus, to juxtapose the terms Christianity and muscular would be considered odd. Dry, boring, and lifeless are adjectives the world more likely uses to describe Christians, and not merely because much of what the world finds attractive and lively is contrary to God’s revelation. Christian legalism, withdrawal into the subculture of “pop-evangelicalism,” and other factors encourage the world’s perception of the church.

Read the New Testament, however, and it becomes clear that the freedom the gospel brings should make Christians the most engaging people on the planet. Paul’s instruction on Christian speech to the outside world in today’s passage is one of many texts that allows us to draw this conclusion (Col. 4:6). The Greek words that are behind “speech,” “gracious,” and “salt” (logos, charis, and halas, respectively) are used together in first-century literature to refer to speech that is gracious and attractive — winsome, even witty words that are also spoken in a humble manner. In other words, the apostle wants the presentation of the gospel to the outside world done in a manner that captures the gospel’s excitement and that is able to answer the unbeliever’s legitimate questions. The idea is similar to that found in 1 Peter 3:15, which commends gentle speech that respectfully presents and defends the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The goal is not to try too hard to be funny or to speak and act in a manner that is not true to one’s personality. Instead, our goal should be that we understand the gospel and its implications so well that we do not come off unnecessarily as killjoys. Our life and speech should be such that people can see the freedom that Jesus brings and get a glimpse of what it really means to have new life in Christ.

Coram Deo

Jesus’ teaching in parables is an excellent illustration of the kind of speech that Paul talks about in today’s passage. His words were memorable, exciting, and attracted many to follow Him. At the same time, there was no hint that He pandered to the crowds, for many people were also turned off by His teaching. In preaching the gospel and living out its implications, we must do our best to follow His example in these things.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 16:24
Ecclesiastes 10:12
Luke 2:41–47; 20:19–26
Acts 17:16–34

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