“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Col. 4:5)
Speech is as mundane an activity as any. We speak continuously throughout the day without thinking about it for a second. It is instinctive and automatic in many cases. And yet the Word of God places great emphasis on the moral nature of our speech and on how the people of God ought to use this good gift which God has given. The Bible is explicit in this teaching, that speech is a powerful tool, the proper use of which is great good and the misuse of which is a grave sin. Speech is not like breathing or some other involuntary function of the body. Words do not simply spill from our mouths involuntarily, but as Scripture teaches, words flow from the abundance of the heart. (Matt. 12:34)
This topic is as relevant as ever. Our culture delights in what Solomon called the “mouth of fools” which “poureth out foolishness.” (Prov. 15:2) Misuse of the Lord’s name is commonplace, profanity abounds, and the humor our society finds so enjoyable is vulgar. One need only turn on a television set on a Saturday night. Indeed little has changed since the Apostle’s day. Man is the same creature he was two millennia ago. He still uses his tongue, a “world of iniquity” as James aptly described it, to curse God and deal harm and ridicule to his neighbor. This being the case, it is all the more important that we study the Word of God and adhere to its standards for our speech and daily conversation. So important for the Christian is the right use of the tongue, that James calls a man’s religion vain if he does not bridle his tongue. The intention of this short reflection is to make a few positive observations about how we Christians are called to employ godly speech in this ungodly world.
There are numerous verses on this topic which one could examine with great profit. We shall be content with a brief consideration of Colossians 4:5 in which the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians, contrary to ways of the world, to speak always with grace and with words seasoned with salt. But what does it mean to speak with grace? We usually conceive of grace as God’s attitude of unmerited favor toward his people which flows from his own perfection and infinite goodness. However, grace is an attribute which can also be ascribed to the activity of a Christian who acts in accordance with the will of God. Generally speaking, this grace is an attitude of favor and of good-will which arises out of a regenerated heart and seeks the good of others. Positively, gracious speech is that kind of speech which is rooted in one’s own experience of God’s grace, through which God bestows His love and good-will toward us. As recipients of God’s unfathomable grace, we understand the depth of our own sin, and therefore in our daily conversions we must speak from an attitude of humility. Notice that the Apostle says “always.” Our speech must be full of grace not only when we attend church or Bible study, or when we are sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever. Rather the Apostle makes clear that this grace must characterize a Christian’s every-day talk, whether around the family table, in the work-place, or in the classroom. In short, everywhere and at all times we are called to speak with grace, imitating the example of Christ. Negatively, to speak with grace is to speak the truth in love without any taint of hatred, anger, or envy. Gracious speech, and therefore Christian speech, is never abusive. It does not seek to ridicule or harm another with lies, and it does not twist the truth for personal benefit. This includes gossip and the spreading of rumors, both of which have neither truth nor the good of the person as the goal. This is one of the great dangers of idle talk; rarely is it spoken with appropriate forethought or concern for the subject. The main goal of gossip is to stir up excitement, to arouse momentary pleasure in the latest juicy story, often at the expense of whoever the gossip is about. This is speech which is neither graceful nor seasoned with salt. We as young people must beware, for we can easily fall into this sin, a sin which ruins relationships and fractures the body of the Church.
This topic is not only important for building up the body of the Church through godly conversation among fellow saints, it is also crucial for maintaining the reputation and honor of the Gospel in the face of the wicked world. What we speak as well as the manner in which we speak often leaves upon an unbeliever some of his first impressions of Christianity. We may not see it, but those who are “without,” as the Apostle calls them, the unbeliever at the work place, the neighbor next door, and the apostate Christian down the street; they watch us, and they take note. Careless or sinful talk can easily ruin our Christian example. William Hendriksen sets forth this idea quite nicely in his commentary on Colossians. It is well worth reading.
In our speech we reflect and represent the Gospel to those who are outside the fellowship of the Church. The question is: do we consistently speak with grace? Are our words seasoned with salt? Or do we often, in the way we speak, conform to the pattern of this world? As children of God we must never speak as the world speaks. If we speak in this way, we bring shame upon the Gospel and give the ungodly cause to ridicule the name of Christ. Rather, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, we must speak in a way that is distinctly Christian and which agrees with our confession and our conduct.
Overall it is important to remember that God is a speaking God. By speech our God created all that exists, by His Word made flesh He redeemed His people, and by the very breath of His mouth He inspired the sacred Scriptures, through which He communicates His will. As the pinnacle of God’s creation man and woman have been given the gift of speech in order that we may reflect in this way the glory of our Creator. Our ability to speak has been given to us by God in order that we may respond to His own speech to us. Therefore, the tongue of the Christian ought always to be employed for the praise and honor of God and the edification of the neighbor, his every word a blessing to those who hear it. As the inspired Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesians: “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Eph. 4:29)
Brothers and sisters, as young people in the church, the Bible gives us pointed and serious instruction in this matter. Let us heed this word of God, and resolve to control our tongues and to dedicate them to the service of God. The tongue is a world of iniquity and a fire which can devour the entire body. This is true when the tongue is sinfully employed. And yet we read in Proverbs 15:4 that “a wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” May the Lord grant that this be the case among us, in order that our speech may be graceful and a means by which great good may be accomplished. As the Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to set an example in his speech and conduct among the saints, Let us all likewise strive to use our tongues to minister grace to our neighbors, to encourage our fellow saints, and in so doing, to bring glory of our most excellent Creator.