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Responsibilities Toward Outsiders

Colossians 4:5-6 - Conduct yourselves with wisdom towards outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.

The end of summer always brings with it the renewed responsibilities of the fall season. Responsibilities of studies and schedules can be heavy and can sometimes overwhelm us. Let's be careful that we don't so over-program ourselves that our responsibilities to outsiders are neglected. God informs growing Christians in Colossians 4:5-6 that we have certain constant responsibilities toward outsiders.

Outsiders? Who are these outsiders, anyway? Does this refer to people who are outside our denomination or church or circle of fellowship? No, the outsiders mentioned here are non-Christians--those who are outside the family of God. Until a person acknowledges the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior, Scripture refers to him or her as an outsider. In Mark 4:11, Jesus referred to those who only listened to Him as outsiders. He proclaimed the good news to them, and ministered to their needs, but until they believed in Him they were considered outsiders.

Conduct

Several responsibilities toward outsiders are given to us in Colossians 4:5-6. The first responsibility concerns our conduct. We are to conduct ourselves with wisdom towards outsiders. This is how we are to live our lives. We have a responsibility to make sure that our lifestyles are in line with Scripture. Outsiders are observing us. We are on display! Our actions must be consistent with what we preach! How consistent are we, for example, if we drive a car with a bumper sticker that says "Jesus Loves You," but then we cut in front of another driver? How consistent are we if we walk around with a New Testament in our pocket or purse, but then we rip off ("borrow") paper from the office, or tools from the shop, or books from the library? How consistent are we if we're involved in a Christian outreach ministry on campus or in the community, but then we show a bad attitude in front of the very people we are trying to reach? And how consistent are we if we tell our neighbors that Jesus has changed our lives, but then they hear frequent fights and demeaning words between husbands and wives, or constant yelling at the children? We must be extremely careful of how we're coming off to outsiders, for at the slightest inconsistency unbelievers are quick to respond, "Your actions speak so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying!" or "They're no different than anyone else!"

Yes, it's hard at times to be constantly concerned about what "outsiders" are thinking of our actions, but it's a responsibility God has given us. In 2 Corinthians 6:3 we are told to "give no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry is not discredited." What a responsibility!

In some situations with outsiders it's hard to know exactly what course of action is most consistent with Scripture. Not every situation is as clear-cut as the examples given above. Should I "demand" that the non-Christian student who lives in the next room turn down the stereo while I'm studying, or do I "suggest" it, or do I put up with the noise, or do I study elsewhere? Do we tell our non-Christian neighbor to do something about the dandelions in his lawn which are spreading into our lawn, or do we keep on buying weedkiller, or do we let the dandelions spread and admire their beauty, or do we weed and feed his lawn, too?! Or should our priorities have anything to do with dandelions?

Our conduct can pose difficult questions in certain situations. This is why our verse says that wisdom is necessary. The promise of wisdom from above, which is given to us in James 1:5, certainly applies to us in such situations. God promises to give us the insight we need if we ask Him, so we really have no excuse for not conducting ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.

Wise conduct can actually draw outsiders to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 we see that the apostle Paul was not only concerned about actions that would offend believers ("the church of God"), but outsiders as well ("Jews or Greeks"). He indicates that his wise conduct--even in eating and drinking (v31)--could actually lead unbelievers to salvation (v33)! Is our conduct available as a magnet for God to use in His concern for outsiders? Our way of life may be the only "Bible" some unbelievers will ever read.

Opportunity

A second responsibility that growing Christians have toward outsiders is to make the most of everyopportunity. This does not mean we should take advantage of outsiders! The idea here is that we should look for the special opportunities in which we can communicate Christ to non-Christians. Situations will arise in which it is quite obvious that God has given us opportunities to speak for Him. It may be in a classroom where a question about the existence of God has been raised. It may be in a one-on-one discussion with an unbeliever on a contemporary issue like gay rights. It may be in small talk with a total stranger on a plane or bus. These opportunities pop up all the time. The point of this Scripture is that we have a responsibility to take advantage of these special times when they come along. We are not to "blow it off" and lose the opportunity. Once they are missed, these opportunities can rarely be recaptured.

An essential prerequisite for "making the most of the opportunity" is prayer. Notice that the apostle Paul places a great emphasis on prayer in the verses immediately preceding our text (4:2-4). He not only prays that the doors will be opened for the Word, but he also prays that he will be enabled to communicate the Word clearly.

We too should pray for opportunities and for clarity of communication when God opens the door. "Lord, give me an opportunity to speak to my boss about You. Help me to speak in words which will be clearly understood." "Lord, help me to make the most of the opportunity when that questioning friend comes to talk to me about my faith this afternoon. Guide me in the conversation and direct me in the selection of literature I could give her." "Lord, You know my non-Christian friend is going through hard times right now. Help me not to miss the opportunity to steer our thoughts and talk in Your direction." "Lord, help me to make the most of the opportunities that You will bring to me on my trip this weekend. Give me the guts to speak out for You--even to total strangers! Help me not to miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak to that special individual You're going to bring to my attention." These kinds of prayers have a way of being answered more directly than we thought possible! Try it!

Talk

In verse 6 we are given a third responsibility toward outsiders. It specifically concerns our talk. Three characteristics of responsible talk are given here. Our talk should be gracious. Our talk should be salty. And our talk should be perceptive.

Gracious talk is courteous, cordial, cheerful, controlled, compassionate and Christ-like. (See Luke 4:22.) Gracious talk is free from bitterness and bad-mouthing. Needling a person we work with is not gracious talk. Sour grapes about our grades or our position on the football team or our missed promotion is not gracious talk. Asking the slow driver in front of us if he "bought his license at K-Mart" is not gracious talk!

While our talk with outsiders is to be gracious, it is not to be bland or compromising--it is to be salty! In the days before refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative. Meat was impregnated with salt to prevent the spread of decay and corruption. In the same way, our talk with unbelievers should have the effect of preventing or slowing the spread of spiritual and moral decay in this world. This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 5:13 that we are the salt of this earth. We are not to be complacent in the midst of corruption. We should speak out against abortion and godless evolution. We should speak out against social injustice in our communities, our nation and the world. In our conversations with non-Christians we have the responsibility to communicate the biblical system of values and standards.

Finally, our talk with outsiders should be perceptive. We not only have a responsibility to respond to outsiders (as the end of verse 6 indicates), we have a responsibility to know how to respond to each unbeliever. Every non-Christian is different! We shouldn't have a "canned" approach to outsiders. Our Lord approached different unbelievers in different ways depending on "where they were coming from." (Compare Matthew 23:27,33 with Mark 10:21 and John 4:16-18, for example.)

Some outsiders need to hear about the love of God. Some outsiders need to hear about the judgment of God. Some outsiders need to have their legitimate questions about the faith answered. (See 1 Peter 3:15.) Some outsiders need to be challenged. We have a responsibility to be perceptive and sensitive to these different needs so that we "may know how to respond to each person." Praise God, we have His Holy Spirit to enable us to fulfill all these responsibilities. So let's get with the program!
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