Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act towards 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.
Paul didn’t say he was writing this letter from prison, but by this point the danger of violent opposition was very real. It wasn’t long after this that believers developed the “secret sign” of the fish, from the initials to Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, so they could identify each other with a minimum of risk. Even so, the evangelistic imperative was still there, as it is for us; they couldn’t be quiet about their faith. America is just starting to experience an essentially very mild form of persecution of Christians (though that might see an increase over the next two years). With “political correctness” at such a fever pitch, anything you say can get you into trouble! Like Paul says, we need to be wise in how we interact with those who are not walking in faith, whether or not they carry the label of Christian. That said, God will give us opportunities to proclaim Christ in various ways, and we are to recognize them and make the most of them. I keep being affirmed in my conviction that in the 1st Century non-believers seldom if ever attended meetings of believers; evangelism was always on a personal basis, away from the group. We have turned that on its head, counting “inviting someone to church” as evangelism! People do get saved in church services, and we aren’t to turn anyone away, but we aren’t to leave evangelism to the “professionals,” either. Paul goes on to say how we are to do that, graciously without being bland. This of course brings to mind Jesus’ statement that we are “the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) It also agrees perfectly with what Peter had to say on the subject. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16) When we live our daily lives in Christ, people are going to want to know how we do it, and that will be our opportunity to lead them to Him.
This has been my conviction for many years now, but in Japanese society, matters of faith and religion are simply never discussed. Actually, that applies to almost anything that might be considered personal. You might work at a company for years and never know if the person at the desk next to you was even married, for example. As a non-Japanese I can get away with saying things and asking things that might be considered rude in a Japanese, but the flip side of that is that people don’t think my faith applies to them because I’m not like them. Catch 22! For all the challenges of ministry in Japan, I am never to give up, remembering that nothing is too difficult for God. (Jeremiah 32:27)
Father, thank You for this reminder, particularly as I’ll be speaking to a classroom full of nursing students this morning and to a hotel ballroom full of “movers and shakers” this evening. I pray that my words would be both gracious and salty, “whetting the appetite” of each person who hears, so that many may enter into life in Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!