I know I’ve said it before: the greatest argument for the validity of Christianity is other Christians. By the same token, the greatest argument AGAINST Christianity is other believers as well. It would be nice if Christianity was measured by the world simply by virtue of the evidence and the character and nature of our founder. But most people won’t listen to the truth of Christianity until they see the truth of Christianity lived out.
It’s a humbling realization that no one gets “argued” into the Kingdom of God. People come to Christ when they are pointed to the Savior. They are pointed to the Savior by the way we live before them.
Paul understands this. He gives us great (and intensely practical) advice in Colossians 4:5,
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Because these words are so valuable, and because I hope you have learned that there is great value in paying close attention to what the Bible says, we are going to look at verse five this morning and deal with the whole issue of our words in two weeks.
Paul gives us two instructions in verse 5, first he tells us that we are to be
Be Wise With Outsiders
Jesus told his disciples that in their ministry they were to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16). It is another way of saying the same thing. But we should ask, “why?”
- because it is easier to push someone away from the gospel than it is to draw them to the gospelMany people are looking harder for a reason to dismiss the claims of Christ than they are embrace those claims. They understand that Christ calls us to turn from the old way of life and begin trusting Jesus and living by his values. Most people resist such a notion and are eager to find a reason to dismiss such ideas. One false step on our part can harden someone who is already resisting the truth. We must be careful.
- because it is easier to be pulled away from the truth than it is to bring someone to the truthWe must be wise in the sense of being careful. Influence goes both ways. Our goal is to influence someone to consider Christ. The world is seeking to subtly lead us away from Him. The lure of the world is seductive. If we are not constantly on guard we will find ourselves adopting the methods and values of the ungodly. We must diligently protect and cultivate Christian character.
- because the stakes are enormous.The fact is, we are dealing with issues of Heaven and Hell here. Our job is to present to the world the good news of Christ. If people hear and believe they face eternal celebration and joy. If they turn away, they face eternal and unabated torment. Seldom in life is there such a clear line of demarcation. Those who trust Christ go to Heaven, those who don’t, go to Hell. It’s quite simple.
We must be wise with the world because it is essential that we win the opportunity to share the transforming news about Jesus.
Practically, when Paul tells us to be wise in the way we act toward outsiders he wants us to remember a couple of things,
The World will provide resistance as we seek to grow in Christ.
In Ephesians Paul writes, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Note the reason . . . the days are evil. We must remember that fact. We face opposition in our journey to God’s Kingdom.
John Bunyan’s (not to be confused with Paul) classic “Pilgrim’s Progress”, paints this picture so well. In the story the main character “Christian” makes his way to the cross and gets “saved”. But the rest of the story is “Christian’s” journey to Heaven. Along the way he encounters all kinds of powerful and inviting distractions that slow him down and threaten to destroy him.
In our life we see these things in the fact that every time we start to pray, the phone will ring. Every time we plan to do something in His name something will come up. We start to read God’s truth and we get sleepy. If we try to live ethically everyone else will tell us that we’re making them look bad . . . so STOP IT!
If we want to guard ourselves from the influence of the world it will take diligent effort on our part. We must diligently work to be familiar with God’s Word. We must work at prayer. We must work at sitting under solid teaching of speakers or writers. We must work hard at weeding out disobedience in our lives. Spiritual growth will not come naturally . . . we have to pursue it.
It’s much like an athlete . . . you don’t get better simply because you get older or bigger. A person becomes a better athlete because they work hard. They exercise to build up strength. They practice their skills over and over again. They get good coaching. It takes deliberate effort.
If we are not careful, the outsiders will convince us that our spiritual life is a “Sunday only” affair.
Different People Should Be Approached in Different Ways
When I spent a month in Europe with our college choir one of the best things about the trip was the fact that we got to spend the night with host families from the various churches. It was not only one of the highlights of the trip, it was also among the most interesting. Why? Because they spoke, German, or Austrian, or Danish . . . and I don’t!
We would have to play charades sometimes in order to get our message across. Imagine the kind of gyrations you would make to ask, “Where is the bathroom?” Think about how differently you communicate to a blind person, or a deaf person, or a child.
As you know, I teach an intro to computers class. And the most difficult part of that class is trying to talk in a language that will be understood. Imagine what might happen if I said, “Boot up your computer” (can you see someone giving their computer a “swift kick”? or “Grab the mouse” (do you hear the screams . .. MOUSE?) or “Press the Start Button” (Do you see the people searching their keyboard for a button called start . . . or continuously pressing their finger on the screen?)
How must better to say, “O.K. we’re going to turn on our computers now . . . and here’s how we do that.” Or, “that white device next to the keyboard with a cord on it is called a mouse. It is called a pointing device because with it you can move an arrow around your computer screen.” Or wouldn’t more people understand, “move your mouse so that the arrow is directly over the word START on the bottom left corner of your screen . . . then press the left mouse button”?
We understand the need to speak in a language people understand don’t we? So, why do we insist on talking to non-Christian people with a vocabulary that is understood only by believers? Even words like, “sin” and “redemption” are somewhat fuzzy to most people. When we start talking about the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, spiritual gifts, imputed righteousness, the Beatific vision and such, we should not be surprised when we are met with blank stares. (Just like I’m not surprised by some of them now!) We must look for ways to communicate God’s truth in a language that our listener can understand.
Why are there Christian “rock” groups? It’s because the musicians are seeking to communicate the truth of God in a vernacular their audience understands (even though I may not!). Why are there Christian Drama Groups (like the Jeremiah People)? . . it’s because they want to communicate in terms that we can relate to. Why are there Christian Comedians? It’s because there is an attempt to start with the entertainment mentality of the audience and then draw them to Christ. We may not like some of these things, but we do need to understand why it is being done.
Remember Jesus. He is God and became man so that he might live among us. He talked about common things in the life of His people. And from there, He led them to an encounter with God’s mercy and grace. If we want to be wise in seeking to reach those outside the faith, we must take the same approach.
We Can Sometimes Say More With Our Living Than Our Talking
In Titus 2:6-8, Paul tells his Associate,
encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
Now this shouldn’t be news to you. We have spent the last six weeks looking at some of the practical differences in our daily dealings with other people. We noticed that Christian marriages should be different from other marriages. Why? Because they are based on a principle of service rather than benefit. Christian families should be different from the world because Children honor and respect their parents (even when they are older) and parents treat their children as treasures entrusted to them by God. We saw that Christians should be different in the workplace. There should be no better place of employment than to work for a Christian. A Christian employer does not see people who are going to make him a profit, he sees PEOPLE that he has been given responsibility for. And we saw that there should be no better worker than a believer. A believer is concerned to give a full days work for a full days pay . . . but even more. A Christian worker is concerned to honor the Lord with how he works.
As we gaze through the New Testament there is a great deal of important theology. But there is the unmistakable message that the true follower follows in every area of life. The “unchanged Christian” is not only an oxymoron, it is foolishness. The unchanged “Christian” is no Christian at all!
Now please understand, I’m not saying that we won’t make mistakes. I’m not saying we won’t sin. We will do both of those. Christians have bad days, they lose their cool, they get wrapped up in the material. But when they do, the Christian is quick to confess and repent.
Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to a young woman who wanted counsel regarding living the Christian life. Allow me to paraphrase what Edwards wrote,
- Don’t let opponents of Christianity find any reason to criticize our faith because of your behavior. God’s children are called to live up to the standard of holiness set by our Savior, the Son of God. We should especially excel in characteristics similar to that of our Lord: a quiet and humble heart; having a supernatural and unmitigated love for all; an eagerness to perform loving acts for others even at our own expense, and may we always be more concerned about the other person’s needs than our own. [Edwards, Works Vol. 1 p. 135 “Letter to a Young Lady]
Our first testimony about Christ will come from what we do . . . not what we say.
Make the Most of Every Opportunity
- The minister was preoccupied with thoughts of how he was going to, after the worship service, ask the congregation to come up with more money than they were expecting for repairs to the church building. Therefore, he was annoyed to find that the regular pianist was sick and a substitute had been brought in at the last minute.
The substitute wanted to know what to play.
“Here’s a copy of the service,” he said impatiently. “But you’ll have to think of something to play after I make the announcement about the finances.”
After the service, the minister paused and said, “Brothers and Sisters, we are in great difficulty; the roof repairs cost twice as much as we expected, and we need $4,000 more. Any of you who can pledge $100 or more, please stand up.”
At that moment, the substitute pianist played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
I think she was given the full time job.
Everyone of us has had missed opportunities in their lives. There have been stocks we should have invested in, the job we should have taken, the pass we should have caught, the point we should have raised and there have been opportunities to share Christ that we passed up. I believe that the Lord forgives our mistakes and opens new opportunities, there is nothing more tragic than an opportunity to share eternal truth that is missed. Let me ask you something, are you open to opportunities to share the gospel?
Mind you, I’m not just talking about opportunities to speak up. Sometimes we have the chance to share the gospel without a word, through an act of compassion, a loving service, a listening ear, a caring embrace. This is what Paul was driving at in the first part of this verse . . . we are to live wisely so that we can make the most of our opportunities.
The Lord wants us to look for those times when we can demonstrate or testify of Jesus. It may happen at a ball game, in the grocery store, in the car on the way to work, over lunch, while pumping gas.
In order to make the most of every opportunity though we have to do some things,
- Put our time in God’s hands.Let’s face it, sometimes we miss the opportunities given us because we are in a hurry. We know if we take time to care . . . it will take time to care. But, If we really care, we will need to be willing to allow the conversation, and the relationship to develop. We must be willing to let God’s priorities be our priorities.
- Keep our hearts open to His directionWe must ask the Lord to make us aware of the opportunities. Pray that we notice a tear, a tone of voice, a look of loneliness or despair. We need to see the pain so we can extend Christ’s compassion. We need to see when people want to talk and when they just need a friend. Sometimes people don’t want a sermon, they just want to share their concern. We need to be sensitive to the right time to go further.
- Trust His ability to use even the weakest vessel.
The biggest hindrance for most of us is that we feel we aren’t qualified to do the job. Let me tell you something . . . no one is qualified to do the work of eternity . . .unless God works through them. And do you know what else is true? If God is working in and through you . . .anyone is qualified. God used Amos the Shepherd, Moses the wanderer, Matthew the tax-collector, Paul the religious extremist, Peter, Andrew, James and John the fisherman. Jesus used a man who had been demon-possessed, a woman who had lived an immoral life, a man the world called “unclean”. And He can use you.
The key is that we remember that only He can change a heart. We are but tools in His hand. If we remember this God will surprise us with what He can and will do through us.
If you believe you don’t have any opportunities to testify of Jesus then you aren’t paying attention. God will give you opportunities every day. It may not be an extended conversation. It may not lead to a time of prayer. But there are opportunities to point people to Jesus.
Terry Muck tells of a letter he received from a man who used to have absolutely no interest in spiritual things. He lived next door to a Christian, and they had a casual relationship like neighbors often do. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer, and died three months later. Here’s the letter,
- I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbor – afraid for me, I guess – stayed with me all night.He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river he came over to me and said, “let’s go get some breakfast.”
I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to be like that. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life. [THOSE OTHER RELIGIONS IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD p. 150-151]
What made the difference in this man’s life? It was that one believer was wise enough to refrain from trite simplistic answers, and simply be a friend. It was that one man dared to make the most of the opportunity he had to reveal Christ to his friend. There were few words . . . but the message came through.
I hope you see that these simple words carry a powerful message. You matter to God! Your influence makes a difference.
TO THE QUESTIONER
I know it is possible that you may be here today and find all this talk somewhat confusing. You know you need something in your life, but you don’t know what it is. You’ve heard about the church and what a difference it makes and so you’ve come. Maybe your here today because a friend you respect invited you. I’m glad you’re here.
But I must also tell you something. What makes a difference in these people’s lives is not the church, or the preacher. It’s Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus was no ordinary man. In some incredible way, He was God in become man. He felt our pain, He endured our hostility, he faced what we face, all for one reason – He loves us.
The Bible doesn’t mince words. We are told that we have not lived the way God wants us to live. We have disregarded Him over and over in our lives. And because of that, we find ourselves headed in the wrong direction. Jesus came to turn us around. He chose to die on the cross to pay for our rebellion.
But that’s not the end of the story. Three days later, this same Jesus arose from the dead. No, this wasn’t a near death experience . . . this was a overcoming death experience! Jesus told His followers that He would never die again and His sacrifice was sufficient for anyone who would trust and follow Him. You don’t have to believe me, check out the evidence.
That’s where the solution is found. If you’re willing to stop running away, the Jesus that changed my life, and the lives of others in this room, will change yours. Today you can be forgiven of everything in your past. Today you can start fresh. It begins as easily as sincerely telling God: “Lord, I admit my lostness and trust your love for me. Today I receive Jesus the Christ as my Rescuer and will follow Him as my King.”
You need to understand, It’s not all an easy journey. Sometimes growth is painful. Sometimes life hits us hard. But through it all, the Lord stands with us. And in His strength we find joy even in the storms. We find strength even in weakness. I pray . . . your friends pray, that you will let Jesus lead your life too.
TO THE BELIEVER
Friend, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you need to remember something: the World is Watching. I don’t mean that CNN is camped on your lawn reporting your every move. But your family is watching, your neighbors are watching, your co-workers are watching, your friends are watching. And yes, in our small town, there are lots of people you don’t even know that are watching. They are wondering if the gospel is true. They are wondering if Christ really makes a difference to a life.
They will draw their conclusions not from a Bible Study (at least not at first), or a church service. They will draw most of their conclusions from watching you. They will look to see if there is compassion, if there is love, if you are willing to give them time. They are watching to see if your life reveals that you believe what you say. They will look to see how you handle heartache, how willing you are to forgive, and how you deal with your anger. And yes, they will look to see if you care enough to tell them about this Jesus you say is so wonderful.
One of my favorite Police Dramas was the show Hill Street Blues. At the beginning of every show the officers were gathered in a room with the Sergeant getting the announcements and their assignments for the day. At the conclusion of the meeting he would dismiss the group and then get their attention one last time with these words, “You Be Careful Out There!”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, “you be careful out there”. . . .there’s much at stake . . . and the world is watching!