“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).
When I was teaching, I would often think after saying something to the class that I needed a sign to accompany my statement. “I’M KIDDING!” I am not sure where the roots of sarcasm come from, but they run deep in my soul, and I too often don’t take the axe of Scripture to their roots in my life. Today’s verse is an easy one to gloss over, thinking that I generally speak nicely to people, so I must be doing okay.
The other thing that we are fighting against in our current culture is our perceived idea that we must be nasty to “them,” whoever “them” is (and pardon the grammar). We are polarized on almost every issue, thinking compromise is a naughty word to be avoided at all cost. And it is easy to do, writing on social media what we would rarely dare to speak face-to-face.
Again, we read the above verse and immediately think of our dear friends and loved ones, with all of whom we seek to speak graciously. And that is an important aspect of our communication with those dearly loved, particularly those who are of the household of faith. But the reason we do this is because we have an obligation to “encourage one another and build one another up…” (1 Thess. 5:11).
Our audience should always inform our speech. Just as we should always listen to understand, we should speak so as to be understood. That means that how I say something is just as important as what I say. By the way, that is why texting and twitter are such poor communication mediums – it only conveys the what and not the how.
So, back to our verse above. It is always the case that the context helps us to understand the text. The apostle Paul is giving final instructions to the church at Colossae here in chapter four, and begins in verse two to exhort the church to be in prayer, particularly for him and his team, “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col. 4:3-4).
The context is how Paul should speak to those who have not believed the gospel of Christ. So he goes on in the next verse to encourage the church to do the same. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” I don’t want to make too much of this, but I find it interesting what Paul does not tell us to do. He does not say, “Walk with outsiders…” Matthew Henry comments on this verse, saying,” Be careful, in all your converse with them, to get no hurt by them, or contract any of their customs; for evil communications corrupt good manners; and to do no hurt to them, or increase their prejudices against religion, and give them an occasion of dislike. Yea, do them all the good you can, and by all the fittest means and in the proper seasons recommend religion to them.” Thus, guarding our hearts in wisdom, we should “walk toward outsiders” We should desire to bring the good news of Jesus to everyone we meet.
When we are exhorted in this manner, the first question we should ask is, “How do I do that?” And Paul answers it in the next verse. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Our speech should be composed of two things: grace and truth. If we are to speak graciously, it must be thoughtful and winsome, not combative and threatening. But it must also be truthful, which is what Paul is implying in our speech being “salty.”
When we hear that phrase, we might think of some sailor letting the expletives fly. But it implies usefulness. Salt is a preservative, and the only balm for our souls is the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that we “are the salt of the earth.” If we lose our saltiness, that is, the gospel, we become useless. In a remarkable way, our grace is the salt that seasons our speech. We have received grace upon grace from the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is that grace that we use to bring grace to others. So, we must always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Tim. 3:15).