Can you believe that I routinely have locals ask me, "Where are you from?!" They very often say, "You aren't from around here, are you?" Usually, this inquiry from them comes on the heels of my speaking, so I know exactly that to which they make reference. When I lived in Virginia, people wrongly assumed I had a North Carolina accent. Here, they have the audacity to think it a Texas or (gasp) Oklahoma drawl. I very proudly correct them, saying that my twang is distinctly south Georgian!
Fortunately, few people have every told me that I should not speak with an accent. It would be terribly difficult for me to accommodate that request. The Lord is not concerned with the geographical, dialectical tendencies of my talk, but He is concerned about my speech!
Paul told a church to pray for him, "that I may make it (the mystery of Christ, v. 3) clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person" (Col. 4:4-6). The subject of the context is evangelism, as Paul speaks of their praying for him to have an open door to teach the word (v. 3) and is concerned with conduct toward outsiders (v. 5). According to this text, what is the way I ought to speak to non-Christians?
I should speak clearly (4:3). I should not leave vague or false impressions about what the Lord says or expects in His Word. I should not compromise and I certainly should not get in over my head. I need to study God's Word carefully and regularly, then share it clearly.
I should speak wisely (4:5, 6). My entire conduct must conducted in wisdom. It is possible for me to exercise foolish judgment and wind up not speaking in the way I ought to speak. Paul connects speech and conduct here, saying in the same context that we should work to "know how you should respond to each person." That tells me at least two things. First, if there is a way I should respond, there is a way or ways in which I should not respond. Second, I need to realize that not everyone is the same. Wisdom demands that I know very well my audience and respond as the situation or individual warrants. Peter's sermon to the Jews on Pentecost was totally different from Paul's approach to the Gentiles in Athens. Jesus handled the Pharisees in Matthew 23 much differently than He did the woman at the well. Oh, how we need wisdom in speaking to non-Christians!
I should speak opportunistically (4:5). Making the most of the opportunity suggests that there may be times that are not good opportunities.. But, making the most means doing the best I can to get a person closer to obedience to Christ. Experience tells me that abrasive, confrontational, and prejudicial tactics sabotage opportunities. Paul is about to coach on how one makes the most of opportunities in the next verse.
I should speak gracefully (4:6). What does it mean for my speech to be with grace? Dunn says "grace" here "certainly echoes the normal usage of χάρις in relation to speech, that is, 'graciousness, attractiveness,' that which delights and charms (NIGTC, 266). That does not hint at compromise, but certainly means courteous and gentle. Listening to Wayne Nelson preach at Bear Valley last night, I thought how he absolutely epitomized this principle. Who knows how many non-Christians will hear his lesson? If they are reachable, his kind, caring speech will certainly aid that process. I want to overflow with kindness, patience, and genuine concern when speaking to non-Christians about the gospel. In fact, doing so is downright biblical!