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Lesson 4: Wise Witnessing (Colossians 4:2-6)

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If you saw the sermon title and came to church anyway, I commend you for your bravery! The word “witnessing” strikes fear and guilt into most of us. Fear, because we’ve all experienced the churning stomach that sweeps over us the instant a witnessing opportunity comes up. We panic: “What should I say? What will I say if he asks me a question I can’t answer?” The computer goes dead and there’s no battery backup! And, guilt because we’ve all repeatedly failed in our witness for Christ.

I still remember from about 45 years ago one of my earliest failures at witnessing. I was a sophomore in college, taking a group discussion class. Our grade depended on the evaluations of our classmates, so we tried to pick topics that would generate the most interest: Should drugs be legalized? Is it wrong to have sex outside of marriage? Is homosexuality wrong? Etc. In every discussion, I was on the Christian side of things and a guy named Ralph was on the pagan side. He seemed to have no moral standards.

One day after class, Ralph cornered me and said, “Hey, man, do you really believe all that stuff that you say in class or are you just putting us on?” My brain froze. Here was an opportunity to tell Ralph about Christ, but I just stammered, “No, I’m not putting you on. I really believe what I say in class.” But I never mentioned Jesus Christ. That failure to tell Ralph about Jesus motivated me to get some training in how to share my faith. Over the years I’ve prayed for Ralph, that someone else would give him the clear witness that I failed to give him.

I’ve seen two extremes in witnessing. Many say, “I don’t have the gift of evangelism and I’m not good at talking with people, so I’ll just live the Christian life before them.” If that’s your approach, you’re going to have to live the Christian life better than either Jesus or Paul did, because they both not only lived the life; they also spoke to sinners about salvation. While a godly life should be the foundation for bearing witness, it’s not adequate if you never tell people about Jesus. They’ll just assume that you’re a moral person.

On the other hand, a few Christians come across as “muggers for Jesus.” These folks are the type who sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door or work in telemarketing and love it. They have no problem accosting total strangers and giving them the pitch, even if the poor guy shows no interest in talking. The guy who has been mugged makes sure that he never again gets near another religious fanatic. And those who are “silent” witnesses for Jesus gain a further excuse for why they won’t talk to others about Christ: They don’t want to be like those rude, insensitive “muggers for Jesus”!

But the Lord doesn’t want us to be “silent witnesses” or “muggers for Jesus.” He wants us to be wise witnesses who live godly lives and who take advantage of every opportunity to talk graciously to lost people about the Savior.

To be wise witnesses, walk with wisdom and talk with grace to those who are outside of Christ.

Paul develops this theme in Colossians 4:2-6. In verse 5, “conduct yourselves” is literally, “walk.” So in verse 5 he says, “Walk with wisdom toward outsiders.” In verse 6 he says, “Talk with grace.” Walking without the talk won’t communicate the necessary content of the gospel. Talking without the walk will cause the world to scoff at Christians as a bunch of hypocrites. We need both the walk and the talk.

1. To be wise witnesses, walk with wisdom.

“Walk” is a metaphor for steady a way of life that is headed in a particular direction. “Wisdom” in the Old Testament comes from a word for “skill.” It is used to describe the craftsmen who built the tabernacle (Exod. 36:1, 2). The Book of Proverbs often contrasts the wise man with the fool. The fool disregards God’s commandments about how to live, but the wise man skillfully orders his life according to God’s Word so that the results are like a finely crafted piece of furniture. To walk in wisdom produces a beautiful life.

When Paul says that we are to walk with wisdom toward outsiders, he means that we are to live in line with God’s Word so that those who are not Christians will see the beauty of our lives and relationships that reflect Jesus Christ. They ought to be able to see the fruit of the Spirit in us, which should draw them to the Savior.

When we were recently in Asia visiting our daughter and her family, we hired a van and driver one day to take us to one of the main attractions about two hours outside of town. As we were leaving late in the day to return to the city, a young couple asked if they could ride back with us. It turned out that they were from Russia. In the course of the conversation, they told Jonathan and Joy how they had noticed their family earlier in the day, especially how Jon took an active role with the children. They said this is rare with Russian families and they noticed the difference.

People are watching us. Witness is always an overflow of our walk. To be wise witnesses, we must learn to walk with wisdom toward outsiders. But a wise walk always begins in private and then spills over into public. So there is a connection between verses 2-4 and verses 5-6: Private prayer lies behind public witness.

A. Walking with wisdom begins privately through prayer.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (4:2). Paul goes on (4:3) to ask for prayer for his own witness, but these verses also apply to our witness: A private walk with God in prayer is the foundation for verbal witness.

So, prayer is the first step in wise witnessing. Before you talk to a person about God, talk to God about that person. One of the most helpful books that I’ve read on evangelism is Concentric Circles of Concern [Broadman Press, 1981], by the late Oscar Thompson. He taught his students to make a list of the people in what he called “concentric circles of concern.” You are in the center of the circle—you’ve got to be right with God before you can be His witness. Moving outward, in the next circle is your immediate family, then your relatives, close friends, neighbors and business associates, acquaintances, and finally, “person X,” someone you don’t know.

You list each person’s needs and begin praying for them, that God would engineer the circumstances in their lives to draw them to Christ. Also, pray that He would use you as His channel of love and give you the opportunities and boldness to talk to the person about Christ. Meanwhile, look for needs that you can help meet in each of those circles. In the context of praying and lovingly meeting needs, God will give you opportunities for witness.

Thompson’s thesis was that the most effective evangelism takes place in the context of loving relationships where lost people can see the changes that Jesus Christ is making in your life. For example, teenagers, if you come to Christ and go home and tell your unbelieving parents about your new faith, it is almost certain that they will not be open to the gospel. What will open them to the message? Go home and start cheerfully obeying them. Cheerfully clean your room without being asked. Cheerfully help out with family chores. Cheerfully be home when they tell you to be home. After they recover from severe shock, they’ll want to hear about why you’re different. That’s when you tell them!

We often think of witnessing as going out on the street to person X, whom we do not know and probably will never see again. There’s nothing wrong with telling person X about Jesus. But you don’t have to be living a consistent Christian life to witness to person X. And because person X doesn’t know you, he may not be impressed with the changes that Christ has made in your life.

But to witness effectively to your family, to relatives, or to those who know you well, you’ve got to repair your damaged relationships by asking forgiveness. You’ve got to demonstrate a cheerful attitude of joy of Christ. You’ve got to show the peace of Christ on the job when the boss puts stress on everyone.

That’s why thankfulness in prayer is important (4:2). A life of thankfulness stems from submitting your life to God’s sovereign hand. Paul says (Phil. 2:14-15) that if you don’t grumble and complain, you’ll stand out as lights in this grumbling, complaining world. And so if you begin your day with thankful prayer, and you exude that thankful attitude throughout the day, those around you will notice. It opens the door for verbal witness.

B. Walking with wisdom occurs outwardly by making the most of the opportunity.

Paul asked for prayer (4:3) that God would open the door for the word, but also that he would speak forth the mystery of Christ. In Ephesians 6:19, he asks for prayer “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” God has to open the door, but we need the boldness to speak about Christ when the door opens. If we bash in the door without God’s opening it, the message probably will not be well received. But if God opens the door and we don’t go through, the opportunity will be lost.

“Making the most of the opportunity” (4:5) is literally, “redeeming [or, buying up] the opportunity.” “Buying up” pictures a businessman or investor who knows an opportunity to make money when he sees one. He quickly moves in before the opportunity is gone. Or, picture a careful shopper who knows that all of the sale items will be gone within the first hour. So she gets to the store early to take advantage of the good deals. A wise witness is on the alert to buy up opportunities to share Christ with lost people.

I often miss such opportunities because my mind is on other things or I’m in a hurry. Recently, I went to Wal-Mart for something. I was locking my bike when a homeless woman approached me. I braced for her to beg for money, but instead she wanted to sell me $10 worth of food stamps for $5. I was in a hurry to get back to the office and I didn’t want to hassle with food stamps, so I told her I didn’t want to do it. Then after I went into the store I realized that I could have said, “I know what you’re after. You want cash so you can buy drugs or alcohol. That stuff is ruining your life. But Jesus Christ can deliver you from bondage to those things.” I could have given her a tract or a Gospel of John. But I missed the opportunity.

Paul asked for prayer so that when God opened the door, he would speak forth the gospel. He was confined in prison, but he still was looking to buy up the opportunities. That should be our mindset as well.

Let’s assume that you’re walking with wisdom, showing the reality of Christ in your daily life and asking God for opportunities. Suddenly, you get an opportunity to talk with a lost person about Christ. What do you do?

2, To be wise witnesses, talk with grace to those who are outside of Christ.

There are two things here: First, there is the content of the gospel itself; then, there is how we talk about that content.

A. Talk about the content of the gospel.

Have you ever felt that you muddled the gospel message? You’re in good company! Paul (4:4) asks for prayer so that he would make the gospel clear! That is Paul, the theologian who wrote 13 New Testament epistles, asking for prayer that he would be clear in presenting the gospel! He refers to it as “the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.” He does not mean that the gospel is mysterious or difficult to understand. Rather, the word “mystery” refers to a truth that was previously unknown, but now has been revealed. It especially referred to the truth that salvation, which had previously been revealed only to the Jews, was now available to the Gentiles. Every person, whether Jew or Gentile, now can enjoy right standing and equal access to God through faith in Christ (Col. 1:26-27; Eph. 2:11-3:7).

The main content of the gospel concerns our need as sinners. Our sins have alienated us from the holy God. Because He is holy and just, God cannot just brush away our sins. The penalty must be paid. God has declared that the penalty for our sins is death, which means, eternal separation from God. No amount of good works can pay that penalty. But what we cannot do, God did. In love, He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully human. He lived in perfect obedience to the Father. His death on the cross was substitutionary. He paid the debt that sinners deserve. God raised Jesus from the dead and now offers a full pardon and eternal life to every sinner who will turn from his sins and trust in the risen Christ alone to save him.

To communicate that content clearly, learn some key verses to go with each point:

Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Romans 4:4-5: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

You almost always have to combat the idea that God will grade on the curve and we are good enough to go to heaven because we aren’t “really bad sinners.” Here is where the offense of the cross comes in: If we are good enough to go to heaven, then Jesus did not need to die on the cross. His death on the cross for my sins confronts my pride in thinking that I’m good enough to deserve salvation. Since the message of the cross is foolishness to the natural man, as you share pray silently that God would graciously open the person’s eyes to the truth.

Also, as I mentioned last week, make it clear that saving faith is not just mentally agreeing with the facts of the gospel. Turning to God in faith for salvation necessarily requires turning from sin. Genuine saving faith is inseparable from heartfelt repentance.

To find out if you’ve communicated the content of the gospel clearly, ask, “How according to your understanding can you have eternal life and forgiveness of all your sins?” Or, you can ask, “If you were to die today and stand before God and He asked, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?” Their answer will tell you what they are trusting in for eternal life. So talk about the content of the gospel. But the way you talk about that content is also important:

B. Talk about the content of the gospel in a winsome manner.

Paul tells us (4:6), “Be gracious; be interesting; be sensitive.”

(1) Be gracious.

“Let your speech always be with grace….” In light of Paul’s repeated emphasis on grace, this probably means that our presentation of the gospel should be permeated with God’s grace, the message that He gives salvation as a free gift to sinners who deserve His judgment. But, also, it includes speaking graciously to others. As a sinner who has received grace, you won’t speak in a condescending or condemning manner to another sinner. You will be kind and humble, letting the other person know that we’re all sinners who would be on the way to hell, were it not for God’s grace.

(2) Be interesting.

Let your speech always be … “seasoned with salt.” He doesn’t mean to use “salty” language, as sailors use, of course! Salt had two main uses in Paul’s day. It was used as a preservative from spoiling, which implies that our speech should be pure and free from corruption. It should show those whose lives are spoiled due to sin how they can be restored through the gospel. But, also, salt was used as a spice, to make food more tasty. Our presentation of the gospel should stimulate people’s taste to want more.

In this regard, have some helpful illustrations to explain the gospel. To illustrate that truth is narrow and there is only one way to God, use the analogy of taking the right medicine. To illustrate that it is impossible to save ourselves by good works, picture swimming to Hawaii with no boat or flotation devices. No one can do that. To illustrate God’s justice and His love, tell about a judge who must sentence his son for a crime, but who steps off the bench and offers to pay his son’s fine. To show what it means to trust in Christ, talk about getting on an airplane or use the story of the tightrope walker carrying a man across Niagara Falls on his shoulders. Explain that faith is only as good as its object. Jesus and His death on the cross must be the object of our faith. Ask pointed questions: Have you sinned against God? If you died right now, where would you spend eternity? Would you like to trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord right now?

(3) Be sensitive.

Paul says that you must “know how you should respond to each person.” This is where you must be careful in using a memorized presentation of the gospel. One person may need to understand sin and judgment, whereas the next person may need to understand God’s abundant grace for sinners who repent. Study Jesus’ witnessing encounters in the gospels. He confronted the proud Pharisees, but was gentle (although He still dealt with sin) with those who knew they were guilty. Pray for wisdom as you speak, so that you will know how to respond to this person’s unique needs.

Conclusion

Always keep in mind that every person’s primary need is to meet Jesus Christ personally. Each person must see that he is a sinner under God’s righteous judgment. He cannot save himself. But God in mercy sent the Savior, who bore the penalty for all that will trust in Him. If the person raises issues that take the conversation off of Christ, try to bring it back to Christ. If he says, “I believe in evolution,” or, “How can a good God allow all the suffering in the world?” you can reply, “That’s a good question. I believe that there are reasonable answers to it. If I can give you a reasonable answer, would you then commit your life to Christ?”

Usually, the person will waffle: “Well, I have a lot of questions.” “What are they?” “There are a lot of them.” I’ll then explain that the real issue is, “Who is Jesus Christ?” If He is who He claimed to be, then we all will stand before Him in judgment. Our questions will not get us acquitted on judgment day! God won’t say, “You got Me there! You get a free pass!” Often I encourage the person to read the Gospel of John and ask God to reveal to him who Jesus is and to help him believe. John (20:31) says that he wrote his gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Don’t forget that the person you’re speaking with is an “outsider.” He is outside of Christ, outside of God’s forgiveness, and headed for eternal judgment. He needs to repent of his sin and trust in Jesus Christ before it’s too late. Like seeing someone in a burning building who needs to be rescued, seeing his desperate situation will help you overcome your fears. Buy up the opportunities to tell sinners the best news in the world!

Application Questions

  1. What do you find most difficult about witnessing? Why?
  2. Where is the biblical balance between sensitivity and boldness?
  3. To what extent should we go against our personality in witnessing? Should a shy person be bold?
  4. How can we be more alert to opportunities for the gospel?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Evangelism, Grace, Wisdom