Let Your Words Be Gracious

Leon M. Brown
Wednesday, March 2nd 2011
Mar/Apr 2011

When it comes to sharing your faith, where do you start? Some people suggest beginning with the “how-to” of one-on-one evangelism and finding a basic model to follow in any situation. As it’s reported that public speaking anxiety ranks high in North America and can be a barrier to personal evangelism, others say you first need to overcome personal fear in this area. But sharing the gospel is no mere public speaking presentation’the Bible requires laying truth on the line, such as the holiness of God, his wrath against sin, the importance of faith, repentance from sin, and the exclusivity of Christ. Other advice, perhaps not so helpful, is that you need not share your faith at all. While the first two suggestions are reasonable, they are insufficient as a starting point. It’s not that you don’t need to know the basics of how to share your faith or that you shouldn’t be concerned about overcoming your fears, it’s that there is a better place from which to begin, a bigger picture into which personal evangelism fits. It is in understanding the importance of the church’that the church is not just an aid in personal evangelism but a talking point, a place to which you can invite family, friends, and neighbors alike with great confidence.

In many evangelism training seminars or other programs, the importance of the church is almost entirely ignored. Christians are regularly taught the basics of sharing their faith: a few simple ideas on overcoming fear, how to use gospel tracts, the best ways to answer primary objections, and even how to set up appointments for future interactions and additional conversation about the gospel. But what about the importance of the church? Isn’t that where disciples are made by preaching the gospel? Isn’t that where the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper occurs (Matt. 28:19-20)? Clearly, these things take place in the church, but unfortunately in many evangelism seminars and instructional programs, the gathering of the saints on Sundays is almost entirely left out. So just what does personal evangelism look like from the perspective of the church?

The Importance of the Church

The church is paramount in the making of disciples who continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. As you gather to worship on the Lord’s Day, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven…and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 12:22-24). Christ, by his grace, has called men, women, and children from a place of darkness into marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The church is where we find strength and comfort as we hear the preaching of the gospel and partake of the Sacraments. The gospel of Jesus Christ assures us of our right standing before God and the forgiveness of all of our sins (Rom. 8:1). The Sacraments visibly demonstrate God’s faithfulness to us and his abiding love for us as we touch, taste, and see the elements as the Holy Spirit works amid the congregation. With such an amazing privilege before us each week, how could Christ’s church not find a place of priority in personal evangelism?

The result of the work of Christ’his victory over sin, Satan, and the world’is that the church is established (Matt. 16:18; Old Testament saints were a part of Christ’s church as well [cf. Heb. 11]). Without Christ’s work, there is no church. Without his atonement and all its benefits, there would be no gospel, baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, which strengthen our faith and in which we find hope’and without which, we have no motivation for personal evangelism. This is why the gospel does not start with “go, therefore,” but with Jesus’ statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him. To start anywhere else as we seek to consider our efforts in sharing the gospel with this lost and dying world would be foolish.

Am I Gifted?

Within God’s church, he has distributed a variety of gifts (1 Cor. 12:12-26; Eph. 4:11-12); therefore, some Christians have gifts that others do not. This raises questions regarding personal evangelism, two of which we will consider here: “Am I gifted?” and “Does everyone have the same obligation to share the faith?” Regarding the latter question, the answer is quite clearly no. For a variety of reasons, we can’t expect from laypeople what we expect from a pastor. A pastor is called to “preach the word…in season and out…[to] do the work of an evangelist,” thereby fulfilling his ministry (2 Tim. 4:2, 5). Because of social situations, neighborhoods, even careers, Christian laypeople have varying opportunities to share Christ. In everything, we must be confident that God is accomplishing his purposes in and through us as he sees fit, even if not every believer has the same number of open conversations about the gospel.

But what about the gift of evangelism? Many Christians simply don’t think they possess the gift of gab, so to speak, and therefore on account of their personality need not be concerned with sharing the good news. Whether this is true or not of you, the Lord has doubtlessly blessed some people with a greater ability to communicate than others. Nonetheless, if you can be friendly with your friends, family, or neighbors’at least on some level’then you are more than capable of inviting them to church and sharing the basics of the gospel. Every believer has embraced Christ as he is presented in the gospel and so knows the one in whom we place our hope. While not all Christians can express themselves with the most clarity and ease, and may not even possess the same amount of Bible knowledge, the gospel is nevertheless the basic staple of the Christian life. Everyone has some opportunity to express that faith and can invite someone to hear an ordained messenger of the Word, who will then make a fuller proclamation week in and week out.

How Do I Do It?

We can be really simple here, and it should be noted that we started with the importance of the church for a reason. As previously mentioned, the church is the place where we approach Mount Zion and where the gates of heaven are opened (cf. Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 84). In the church, we are further sanctified and encouraged to live as pilgrims on this earth. The gospel is preached, and we are assured of the forgiveness of our sins that can be found only in Christ. The Sacraments are administered, which further demonstrates God’s faithfulness; then, as the worship service comes to a close, we are blessed with the benediction. Literally, we are commissioned with a blessing from God until we meet again. And it is during those days, between worship services, that we have the opportunity to invite people to church and to share our faith. But how do we do it?

Colossians 4:5-6 gives us a paradigm for interacting with unbelievers: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” What does Paul mean when he says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time”? F. F. Bruce explains that “distorted accounts of Christian conduct and belief were in circulation; it was important that Christians should give no color to these calumnies, but should rather give the lie to them by their regular manner of life. It remains true that the reputation of the gospel is bound up with the behavior of those who claim to have experienced its saving power” (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1984], 174; emphasis added).

The situation is no different today. False accounts of Christian behavior circulate over radio and television airways as well as the Internet; people who have never stepped inside a church believe they understand what Christianity is all about. Thus Paul’s exhortation is just as valid in our day and age. We must behave in a manner that is “regular”‘that is, consistent and in keeping with Christ, his gospel, and his church.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). There are several key elements within this portion of Scripture that help us understand a paradigm for sharing our faith. First, Paul says that our speech should always be gracious. In other words, our speech should not give an unbeliever a reason to deny Christ (their sin and depravity give them enough reasons). As Bruce pointed out, many people base Christianity on what they see and hear professing Christians do and say. If our speech does not reflect our confession, our speech is not gracious.

Paul’s words in Colossians 4:6, however, should not be taken merely in the negative. Some people believe their speech is gracious simply by what they do not say. The workplace, for example, can be filled with discussions of sexual immorality, drunkenness, or other perversions. When we do not get involved in those conversations our speech can be, in some sense, categorized as gracious. But as Paul seems to be pointing to the act of speaking and not the lack of it, it is not only what we do not say that makes our speech gracious but what we do say. If we keep this in mind in everyday conversation with unbelievers, the opportunities to invite people to church and to share the life-giving message of the gospel will be easier. Granted, the fear may never go away, but the opportunities will increase.

Notice Paul’s concluding remarks: “So that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” The result of walking in wisdom toward outsiders and having gracious speech seasoned with salt is the opportunity to answer any question unbelievers have regarding the faith. Your words and consistent life provide you with a chance to discuss spiritual matters with them. This is why Paul’s exhortations in the previous chapter focus on actions and on words (Col. 3:1-17). You are accountable for both.

What Does This Look Like?

Since personal evangelism can seem like a terrifying task, you should make it as natural as possible. Walking up to someone and saying, “Have you heard about Jesus, and would you mind coming to church with me to hear more?” is not perhaps the best way to go about sharing your faith and inviting people to church. But if you take Paul’s exhortation to let your speech be gracious, an invitation to church or sharing the gospel no longer seems as daunting.

What about an everyday conversation with a neighbor or local vendor?’although sometimes our minds are so focused on what we need to do or where we need to go that we don’t take time for such conversations. But what about that person we didn’t speak to? Were we given the opportunity to let our speech be gracious, seasoned with salt, but didn’t do so? A mere greeting could lead to a conversation that allows you to invite that person to church or to share your faith.

This is what the busyness of life does. We are a task-oriented people, often with no time for others; and this prohibits many of the opportunities we have to talk about Christianity. If we would just slow down, we’d find that the opportunities for personal evangelism abound. Regrettably, people are no longer accustomed to having others ask them about their day’as if no one cares anymore. So when you stop to make such a simple inquiry, they are grateful you would take the time. It’s in those everyday conversations that you have a possibility, in a natural way, to share the gospel or to invite people to church.

But how does an everyday conversation turn into a discussion regarding spiritual matters? This is where the importance of the church plays a role. Every day that passes between worship services, we anticipate attending church and hearing the gospel yet again. This should build a sort of anticipation for the coming Lord’s Day. With this anticipation comes excitement’and we can always talk about what excites us. Just as your favorite sports team brings excitement (sometimes beyond measure), so too should the corporate worship of God. When we are excited about the gathering of saints on the Lord’s Day, hearing the gospel and partaking of the Sacraments, it naturally becomes a part of our everyday conversations.

When you ask someone how they are doing, they respond and typically reciprocate. When they do, you have the opportunity to let your words be gracious, seasoned with salt. You should tell them how you are doing, but you can also tell them what you are excited about’namely, the corporate worship of God. Your response creates an opportunity for dialogue concerning Christ, his gospel, and his church’all in perfect keeping with Paul’s exhortation in Colossians.

Once your response has been given, the individual has the opportunity to ask more questions, particularly about your church, or he may just end the conversation. Either way, you now have the opportunity to ask him whether or not he attends church, which further opens up the discussion regarding spiritual matters. And all of this happened because you asked a person how he was doing, and you took the opportunity to express yourself regarding your excitement for the corporate worship of God.

But what about establishing a relationship first? Establishing a relationship with neighbors or your local vendor is a good idea, but you don’t need a long-term relationship with someone to talk about faith. People are interested in spiritual matters, but too often they end up talking to non-Christians rather than Christians who can give an account for the hope that is within them.

This is just one way to let your words be gracious, seasoned with salt. As you implement everyday evangelism into more of your conversations, however, you must be prepared to follow the latter half of Paul’s exhortation: “So that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). Unfortunately, as you share your faith and invite people to church, they are not often in a rush to submit to Christ and attend church and catechesis. People are hesitant and will pose objections. Although you may be concerned that you don’t have have an appropriate response for unbelievers, this should not cause you to worry for two reasons: 1) we are all learning and may not be able to answer every objection an unbeliever raises; and 2) this is why the corporate worship of God is so important.

God has ordained pastors and elders to lead his church. A simple invitation to church will provide a person with every opportunity to not only hear the gospel but also ask the elders about the faith once for all delivered to the saints. While you should strive to have an answer for all who have questions regarding Christianity, you shouldn’t feel burdened to know everything. Growing in a greater understanding of God’s Word is a process.

Be Prepared

As you begin to engage people in everyday conversation, and the Lord blesses you with the opportunity to share his truth or invite someone to church, you should have some tools at your disposal’something as easy as having church business cards to give out with the church’s address, phone number, and worship service times. And if someone is immediately interested in knowing more about Christ and his church, you can always put your e-mail address or phone number on the back of the card and likewise get their contact information.

This is just a brief glimpse into personal evangelism. It’s truly a privilege to share Christ crucified, risen, and exalted, and to see God add to his church. And as God provides occasion, you have this same privilege. As you go about your daily tasks, keep in mind that opportunities are always before you, and remember the words of the apostle Paul: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Wednesday, March 2nd 2011

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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