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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:How should we be reaching out to unbelievers?
Text:Colossians 4:5-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Mission Work

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 65:1-3

Hymn 82:3 (after the law)

Psalm 66:1-2

Psalm 67

Psalm 65:4-6

Scripture reading:  1 Peter 3:8-17

Text: Colossians 4:5-6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Jeremy has known Shane since Grade 3.  Jeremy is a Christian and Shane isn’t.  For several years, Jeremy had been sharing the gospel with Shane.  He’d witnessed to him with love and compassion, showing him his need for Jesus.  Jeremy pleaded with God to change Shane’s heart.  He prayed that God would send the Spirit to give him a heart of flesh and open his eyes and ears for the gospel.  Jeremy really cared about Shane and his welfare in this world and what happens afterwards.  So, what’s happened with Shane as a result of Jeremy’s love?  Nothing.  He carries on living without Christ, living in sin.  Jeremy’s going to continue praying for him and loving him, witnessing whenever he can, but Shane’s heart is still stone.  Sadly, he continues on his self-destructive path.    

I heard that true story at a conference in the United States a few years ago.  It illustrates that after all we do to care about the lost, God in his sovereignty sometimes decides to delay their conversion.  Or sometimes, in his justice and sovereignty, he leaves that person permanently in their sin and under his condemnation.  We can’t change people’s hearts; by ourselves we can’t make anyone become a Christian.  But that doesn’t change our calling to love the people God has placed in our lives, to pray for them urgently, and to speak about the gospel with them whenever we can.  As we do that, God uses us in one way or another.  He uses us to bring the gospel message which leads to someone’s salvation, magnifying his grace, or he might use us to magnify his justice with that person. 

But our calling is clear.  We cannot remain indifferent while people around us cruise down the broad road which leads to destruction.  Surely we want to be a church characterized by love for the lost around us.  If someone would ask, “What’s that church like?”, we hope that the reply would be, “That’s a church that loves the gospel and they love people who need the gospel.”  Is our church like that right now?  Would you say that about our church?  It’s something to think about.  If it is, that’s great, and we can work on improving that further.  But if it’s not something you could say about our church, then it’s obvious there are some changes to be made.

We need to care about this because this is where the Word of God brings us.  The Word of God is what brings us to Christ in the first place.  The Word of God is used by the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith so that we’re joined and united to Christ as our head.  Then with that union in place, we love our Saviour and love to follow him and obey his Word.  This morning, his Word to us is all about the lost around us.  In our text from Colossians, we’re going to look at our calling with regard to those outside the faith, to the unbelievers God has placed in our lives.  These two verses answer the question:  How should we be reaching out to unbelievers?  We’ll see that:

  1. It’s in how we walk wisely
  2. It’s in how we speak graciously

Right before our text, in verses 2 to 4, Paul was asking the Colossians to pray persistently, and then to pray specifically for him and his fellow gospel-workers. The Colossians were encouraged to pray that Paul and his colleagues would have open doors – opportunities for the gospel.   They were also to pray that Paul and his colleagues would be able to communicate the gospel effectively – making it clear, as they ought to.  You could take those words in verses 2 to 4 and apply them generally to preachers today.  But a more appropriate application would be to apply them to missionaries today.  God’s Word shows that we need to be praying for our missionaries.  We need to pray that God would give them open doors for the gospel and clear and effective communication skills.

Well, that ties directly into our passage for this morning.  Paul has been writing about his calling with regard to the lost and then he shifts attention to the Colossians’ calling with regard to the lost.  There are two important things to notice right away. 

First, this is where Paul decides to end the body of his letter to the Colossians.  Yes, there are more verses in the book, but these are the greetings that round out the letter.  What we have here in our text is the last direct teaching Paul gives to the Colossians.  With the Spirit leading him, he chooses to end by pointing the Colossians to those outside and the believers’ responsibility towards them.  It’s comparable to how Matthew ends his gospel with the Great Commission.  He leaves them with this. 

The second (and related) thing I want you to notice is how there’s a relationship between what Paul writes here and everything that’s come before in Colossians.  Let me remind you that much of this letter is taken up with addressing false teaching.  This false teaching is difficult to identify with certainty.  What we do know is that it endangered the gospel and detracted from the pre-eminence, the supremacy, and the majesty of Christ.  Paul’s main burden in this letter to the Colossians was to tackle this false teaching and give the Colossians a clear direction on it.  In refuting it, he also showed them how the truth of Christ’s kingship and glory and our union with him have practical implications for how we live.  It was important to address those matters first before speaking about the lost and the church’s evangelistic calling.  Why?  Well, the false teaching being addressed was attacking the gospel.  If you don’t have the gospel, you have nothing to share with the lost.  So dealing with that false teaching first was necessary.  After all that, Paul can sign off his letter on this important aspect of the church’s calling. 

So now here we are in verse 5 and Paul speaks about acting a certain way “toward outsiders.”  Let’s first be clear about who these “outsiders” are and what their problem is.  This is referring to those outside the church, outside of the Christian faith.  It’s referring to unbelievers, non-Christians.  When Paul writes “outsiders,” he’s thinking of the lost.  These are sinners in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.  They have sinned against God’s law and are therefore deserving of punishment, both before and after they die.  Brothers and sisters, we need to remember always that even though an unbeliever might be a nice person, maybe even nicer than some Christians you know, that niceness doesn’t mean anything if they don’t have Jesus Christ as their Saviour.  If someone is an “outsider,” they are on their way to hell, no matter how nice they are.  Their niceness doesn’t affect their standing before God.  At the end, when you stand before the Judge, he’s not going to judge you based on how nice a person you were.  He’s not going to say, “I’ll make an exception for you because you were such a nice person.”  The reality is that even the nicest people are sinners and sin affects everything they say and do.  And even the smallest sin is an attack on the infinite glory and majesty of God.  This is why every single sinner needs Jesus Christ as a Saviour and without him there is zero hope of a favourable judgment.  As Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  We have to be 100% clear on that biblical reality, both for ourselves and for the lost around us.  We have to be clear because it drives home the urgency of our calling.  Our calling is urgent because God’s wrath against sin is real.  Our calling is urgent because hell for unrepentant sinners is real.  

So there are these outsiders surrounding the Colossian Christians.  They surround us too.  What’s our calling?  Verse 5 says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.”  The word “walk” here is used in the sense of how you conduct your life in general.  So, verse 5 is about our overall behaviour as we live among outsiders.

The important qualifier for this behaviour is that it be “in wisdom.”  Other translations have something like “walk wisely” or “act wisely.”  The idea is that our conduct has to be wise.  Of course, that brings us to the question of what that means exactly.  It’s important to remember that Paul has mentioned wisdom several times in Colossians before this.  For example, in 1:9, Paul’s prayer was that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in spiritual wisdom.  In 1:28, Paul said that he proclaims Christ, “warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom.”  And in 2:3, he wrote that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ.  Wisdom obviously can’t be separated from Christ and the revelation of Christ’s wisdom is going to be found in Scripture.  Wisdom is taking what you’ve learned from God and putting it into action in your life.  It’s about living in union with Christ who is the wisdom of God in the flesh. 

So what does it mean concretely to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders”?  Well, if all the treasures of wisdom are in Christ, we should look to him for the answer to that.  We should search the Scriptures to see how our Saviour walked toward outsiders.  If it’s him with whom we’re living in union, then we should examine his walk and aim for his wisdom, pray for his wisdom.  As we do that, there are many different things we could mention.  Let me just speak about three.  These are three ways in which Jesus walked in wisdom toward outsiders, three ways from which we can learn. 

In the gospels, there’s one word that often leaps out when we read about our Saviour and how he conducted himself amongst unbelievers.  That word is “compassion.”  He had a heart for the lost, he cared about them.  In the book of Proverbs, mercy and compassion are essential elements of wisdom.  Our Saviour displayed that in his earthly life.  He had compassion on large groups of people, like the crowds who needed food – he said in Mark 8:2, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.”  He then fed them with the seven loaves.  But he also had compassion on individuals.  In Luke 7, he went to Nain and encountered a grieving mother.  Luke 7:13,”And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her…”  Then he raised her son from the dead.  Jesus had a heart of compassion and he still does.  It’s part of his wisdom and it’s to be part of the wisdom of those who are united to him as they walk towards outsiders.  Since we’re united to this compassionate Saviour, we too should have hearts that break for the lost.  We should pray that the Spirit who lives in Christ and in us would make us more compassionate people. 

Our Saviour was also patient.  Patience is also part and parcel of biblical wisdom.  In Ecclesiastes 7, wisdom and folly are contrasted with one another.  Ecclesiastes 7:8-9 says, “the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.  Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.”  Patience is wise.  Losing it at people is not.  Do you want to find a good illustration or two of wise patience?  Look at your Saviour in John 3 as he speaks with Nicodemus.  He patiently teaches this Pharisees.  Look at your Saviour in John 4 as he speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well.  He engages her too in a patient and loving way.  Our Lord Jesus was a model of wise patience as he walked amongst outsiders.  He did that as part of our redemption, perfectly obeying God’s law in our place.  But he also did that for our sanctification, to show us how we’re to live.  We’re to live in union with him, walking wisely toward outsiders by being patient with them, recognizing that it’s often going to take time for them to understand the gospel.  We may have to repeat ourselves, say the same thing three different ways.  Loved ones, we need to pray that the Spirit who lives in Christ and in us would give us this gift of patience with outsiders.

The last part of Christ’s wisdom we’ll look at is his discernment.  An important part of biblical wisdom is learning to discern what type of person you’re dealing with.  The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about fools.  Proverbs tells us that the wise learn to discern fools and how to deal with them.  For example, Proverbs 1:7 says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Fools don’t listen, they just argue.  In Proverbs 9, we learn that interacting with fools is a waste of time.  All you end up with is abuse and scoffing.  The wise learn to discern who they’re dealing with.  We see that vividly illustrated with our Saviour.  He knew how to discern fools.  He knew when there were outsiders standing in front of him who were there just to argue.  Christ dealt with antagonistic and proud religious leaders much differently than he did people who were lost on account of their ignorance.  He showed that wisdom means discerning when you’re wasting your time with someone.  Loved ones, the truth is that there are unbelievers who are lost and who’ll like to argue with you about spiritual things, but just because they like arguing.  They just like to be contentious.  Or they just want to see a Christian look like an idiot in front of others.  Don’t waste your time when it’s becoming apparent someone is a fool.  Here too, we need to pray for help from the Spirit.  We need to ask that God would give us this wise discernment of our Saviour.

So we’re to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, and then Paul adds, “making the best use of the time.”  What that means is that God gives opportunities.  When we pray for open doors (which we ought to do), God answers those prayers.  He will bring those opportune moments where we are in the midst of outsiders, when we’re among the lost.  When those moments come, we have to seize them and make the most of them.  In other words, this is about being conscientious – thinking about where we are and with whom we are.  It’s about recognizing the moment when you’re there with outsiders – whether it’s in the workplace, or at school, in the neighborhood, wherever it is.  There you are – you’re among outsiders.  Are you going to make the best use of that time, redeem it, by walking in wisdom at that moment?  Paul’s instruction here is for us to do that very thing.  Loved ones, let’s be fully aware of the opportunities God brings into our lives for us to be witnesses for him. 

We’re to be witnesses with our wise walking, but even more importantly with our gracious talking.  That’s the focus in verse 6.  Our gospel witness must include words.   

“Let your speech always be gracious,” says Paul.  “Gracious” here can have different nuances, but it seems to me that it definitely connects to the grace of God that we’ve been shown in Christ.  When Christians speak, it should be evident that the grace of God has gripped their lives.  We’ve been shown grace – instead of receiving what we deserve, instead of receiving eternal punishment, we’ve been blessed with the gift of eternal life.  That’s grace – receiving the opposite of what you deserve.  The gospel has showered us with grace.  Because of grace we are united to Christ as well and then his gracious and grace-filled manner of speaking is to be ours.  We’re not sent out as judges to the lost, but as ambassadors.  We’re ambassadors for a gracious King – and ambassadors of a gracious King should be themselves gracious with their speech.  Not harsh, not rude, not impolite or surly, but gracious, kind, cordial, friendly.    

Note too that the Holy Spirits adds a qualifier here at the beginning of verse 6.  There’s an important little word there:  “always.”  It’s not “let your speech be gracious some of the time with some people.”  Instead, it’s “let your speech always be gracious.”  All of the time with all sorts of people – our speech always has to commend our gracious King to the people around us.  That includes moments when we’re not even directly speaking about the gospel.  All of the time here really does mean all of the time.  Wherever we are, let’s always remember who it is we represent in this world and who it is we’re united to. 

Our speech is also to be “seasoned with salt.”  That’s an interesting expression, taken from the kitchen.  What does salt do?  It makes food more palatable.  Salt adds flavour.  Have you ever had French fries without salt?  Who would ever do that?  We all know that fries need salt.  The salt enhances the flavour.  That’s the idea here.  The idea is that we should have speech that’s savoury, speech that’s pleasant to hear, using words and expressions that make it clear that what we’re saying is important to us and we’ve been thinking about it.  Our Saviour certainly had “salty” speech, so did the apostle Paul himself.  If you read some of his sermons in Acts, you get a good sense of what “salty” means here.  It’s like in Acts 17 where Paul is addressing the Areopagus in Athens.  He starts in a really salty way by giving the Athenians a back-handed compliment, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.”  Then he mentions the altar to the unknown God and so on.  That leads to a presentation of the gospel message.  Do you see what he did there?  He seasoned his speech with salt.  He made it interesting and grabbed their attention, pulled them in.  That takes some effort and forethought.  Lazy Christians are not going to be good at seasoning their speech with salt.  They don’t want to put in the effort.  Christians with no compassion for the lost are going to be good at seasoning their speech with salt.  They don’t care.  But let’s be different.  Let’s be those who do care and who are going to think:  if I were an outsider, an unbeliever, what might get my attention?  What might draw me in and make me want to listen more?  How can I say this in the best way?

Paul adds a reason for giving this kind of attention to our speech:  “so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”  Just like what we read from 1 Peter 3 (especially verse 15), it’s plain that Christians have to be ready with answers.  Outsiders are going to have questions for us.  We have to be prepared to supply good answers, answers that are gracious and savoury, “seasoned with salt.” 

Where is the substance of these good answers supposed to come from?  Here we could think of what it says in 1 Peter 3:15, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”  Set apart Christ as Lord in your heart.  Christ is the Lord, our Master, therefore he is our authority.  His Word is our authority.  If unbelievers are asking questions and we need to supply answers, we start by going to the Word of our Lord, by going to the Scriptures.

So how do we prepare ourselves for reaching out to outsiders?  How do we prepare so that we can give good, gracious, salty answers to those who ask about the Christian faith?  It all starts with being good students of Scripture.  Loved ones, also when it comes to reaching out, nothing good happens without the Word of God.  If we’re going to be the outward looking church God wants us to be, we all need to be immersing ourselves in the Bible.  We need to be saturated, no, not just saturated, but super-saturated with Scripture.  Take every opportunity you can to study it, whether on your own or with others.  Also, be reading good Christian books and magazines that explain and apply the Word of God.   When was the last time you read a non-fiction Christian book?  Loved ones, I encourage you to get yourself equipped by not only being busy with the Word, but also with resources that will deepen your understanding of the Word and give you helpful ways of bringing biblical teaching across to others.

Brothers and sisters, how did the Christian church grow so rapidly in the first century after Christ?  You could say that it was God’s doing and you wouldn’t be wrong.  But how did God do it?  He worked through missionaries like Paul, certainly.  Yet that wasn’t all.  He also worked through ordinary believers like the Colossians.  God worked through Christians who walked in wisdom toward outsiders.  He worked through believers who knew how to answer outsiders with gracious and savoury speech.  The church grew because believers cared about their lost neighbours, co-workers, and family members.  These believers knew the consequences of unbelief and they were motivated by love to reach out and share the gospel message.  God worked through them to gather his church in a powerful way.  I can’t promise that our love and care for the lost today will result in a church bursting at the seams.  It could be that many of the people to whom we witness will be like Shane.  But it could also be that some will be saved through us.  We want that, we pray for that, and we do what we can.  Yet at the end, it’s not about the results.  It’s about faithfulness to our calling as people united to Christ.  We can leave the results in God’s hands and trust him to do what is best in his eyes.  For us, our calling remains:  love the lost, reach out to them with the gospel, and share the hope we have through Jesus Christ.  God will be glorified as we do that, whatever the outcome may be.  AMEN. 


Holy and righteous Father,

We have a gospel that gives us so much comfort and hope.  We have a Saviour who has poured out your love on us.  Because of him, we are your dearly loved children.  We have your Spirit dwelling in our hearts and he makes us love you and want to serve you.  He makes us open to your Word and your leading.  We are so incredibly blessed – thank you, Father.  We see so many around us who don’t know you and don’t know your gospel blessings.  Our city is so full of lost and confused men and women, children.  Some of us have family members and friends who don’t know you.  They still have hard hearts, dead in sins and trespasses.  Father, please help us to walk in wisdom towards all these outsiders, all these lost souls.  We ask for your Spirit to give us a wise heart like our Lord and Head Jesus.  Please give us the gifts of compassion, patience, and discernment.  Teach us to walk like our Saviour.  We pray that we would also speak like him, being good ambassadors.  Please grant us gracious speech, savoury speech, so that we can give good answers to unbelievers who ask us about our hope in Christ.  Father, we pray for open doors for the gospel in our lives and we pray that you would give us eyes to see these opportunities.  With your Spirit, please give us boldness to take these opportunities.  Please work through us to accomplish your purposes in this world.  We pray especially that through us we may see many more people brought to you.  Let your Spirit work through our efforts.  Father, we pray that our church will be a beacon of light in this dark world.  Please let our church be known for its love for the gospel and love for the lost too.  We pray that not for our glory and our praise, but so that you will be exalted.  That’s what we want.  We desire for your Name to be praised through us.  You are worthy of that, our great and majestic God.       

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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