By Our Words

May 25, 2014

If
there is one word that strikes fear in the hearts of most church goers it is “evangelism”.  Most of us understand the necessity of people
meeting Jesus.  All but the most callous
are heartbroken at the thoughts of friends and loved ones spending an eternity
far from God. 

And
yet. . . Yet, so often we are reluctant to share our faith.  We don’t know what to say, we are
afraid to offend, we are worried about what people will think of us.  And so we justify and rationalize and talk
about our spiritual gifts and the gift blend of those who are successful soul
winners.  And we still feel guilty about
not saying anything. 
We’ll tell
people that they have a flat tire, we’ll tell people that they
left their lights on in their car or that they left their purse on the table at
Tim Horton’s.  We
will tell them about the great book we read or the new restaurant that we just
tried.  We’ll share our political
views and occasionally our fries but are reluctant to share the one thing that
we say is of eternal importance, our faith.
And
I understand that, like you I’ve made the list of people I was going to pray
for and then lead through the plan of salvation.  Maybe, like me, you have memorized the “Roman
Road” or some
other list of scriptures that show people the necessity of accepting
Christ.   And for those of you who think
a Roman Road is a cobblestone highway it’s not. 
Well technically it is, but that’s not all it is.  It is also a method that uses scripture from
the book of Romans to lead someone through the plan of Salvation.
Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of
God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ
to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by
faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done
for us.
When I was in university I took a course called
Personal Evangelism and we used the book “You Can Be a Soul Winner, Here’s How.”  And as part of the course we had to go to the
doors of complete strangers get ourselves invited in, compliment them on their
home and children, show them the necessity of meeting Jesus and lead them
through the plan of salvation.  It
sounded very similar to the training I received before I began my very short lived,
1 week, career selling Filter Queen Vacuum cleaners.  I passed both courses and sold one vacuum
cleaner and didn’t lead
anyone to the Lord.
After I graduated from College I went to
seminars put on by various groups, I read and re-read “Out of the Salt Shaker and into the World”, “The Master Plan for Evangelism”, “Contagious
Christianity” and “Just Walk Across the Room”.  I have
memorized acronyms and have trained for umpteen different crusades and have
taken part in 3 “Billy
Graham Schools of Evangelism”  And I still don’t do it well enough or often enough. 
But I’m
trying, and we should all be trying. 
I feel like the old preacher in Georgia who
used to say “When a farmer prays for a corn crop,
God expects him to say ‘Amen’ with a hoe.”  
You can’t simply pray for someone’s salvation and never talk to them about your
faith.
But this morning I’m not here to put a guilt trip on you about not
sharing your faith, and maybe you are thinking: “Well, it’s a little late for that.”  
There
is a phrase that most of us are familiar with, if only because of the plethora
of medical shows that have graced television over the last fifty years, and
that term is “First do no harm.”  Many
believe it came from the Hippocratic Oath, which was kind of a code of conduct
produced by a Greek doctor five hundred years before the birth of Jesus. And
that’s about half right, the principle is there, just not phrased that
way.  But the principle is, before you
can begin to heal you need to make sure that what you are doing will not harm
your patient. 
The
scripture passage that was read this morning includes that same advice for us
as Christ Followers.  We may not feel
that  we are gifted or capable of being a
soul winner but it is vitally important for us to do no kingdom harm in how we
deal with people on a day to day basis.
And
so in the last part of his letter to the Colossians Paul writes these words, Colossians 4:5-6 Live wisely among those who are not
believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be
gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
And so Paul begins by telling his listeners Colossians 4:5-6 Live wisely among those who are not
believers . . .
Live Wisely  It is interesting to see the difference in the
earlier translations, the King James Version spells it out this way. Colossians
4:5 KJV Walk in wisdom toward them that are without. . . Them that are without.  Without what? I don’t want
to get all scholarly on you and go spouting on about the original language
however the word that is translated “without” here
literally meant “outside
the door”. 
And we are sometimes uncomfortable with the
concept of “in” and “out” when it
comes to the Christian faith.  It seems
so exclusive. And so we use phrases like “Who am I to judge?”  “they are very spiritual” “They seem to be” But the New Testament speaks in terms of black and white, you are a
believer or you aren’t a
believer.  Even Jesus draws very distinct
lines in the sand like when he said in John
3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the
truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
And two thousand years ago the line was very
plain, being a Christian wasn’t
socially acceptable, it wouldn’t
advance your career or make you friends. 
Instead it would cost you friends, and your career and maybe even your
life.
Today the line is blurred because there are
cultural Christians.  To illustrate: I am
a Habs fan, don’t look
at me that way. When we returned from Australia I decided that if I was to
truly embrace my Canadian identity that I would need to have a hockey team to
cheer for, so I chose the Habs.  It didn’t take long to discover that in hockey there
are Habs fans and anyone but Habs fans.
Now in saying that I really don’t know anything about the Habs, don’t know their history, have only been to one
live game, and that wasn’t
willingly and the only games I watch on TV are during the playoffs, if then if
there isn’t
anything else to watch and I’m not
reading a book. At any given time I can usually only name one or two players on
the team.  And you are thinking you’re not much of a fan.  Don’t judge me. Who are you to say that 
I’m not a habs fan?
It’s the same way in Canada with religion, most people know that they need
to be identified with some religion and so for whatever reason they choose
Christianity.  They really don’t know anything about Christianity, don’t know it’s history, the only services they get to are the playoffs, you know
wedding funerals, Christmas and Easter, and that’s only if there isn’t a
conflict with other things in their lives. And if you question their commitment
they say “Don’t judge me. Who are you to say that  I’m not a Christian?”
But two
thousand years ago the lines weren’t blurred and Paul recognizes that those in
the early church were going to have to co-exist with those who were outside the
church, those who weren’t believers.  And
he doesn’t tell them to cloister themselves in little commune, only venturing
out when absolutely necessarily, instead he acknowledges that both those who
embrace Jesus and those who don’t are going to occupy the same
communities. 
There
are times that we wish we could live in a world that shared our beliefs and our
culture and our language.  That we would
never have to worry about people challenging our faith and blistering our ears
with their language.  But that wasn’t a
reality for the church in Colossi and it’s not a reality for us today, and it
shouldn’t be.
God
loved lost people so much that he made the greatest sacrifice that he could for
them, he sent his son.  And the very
first believers were commanded to become fishers of men.  And one of the things that I learned while I
was fishing with my dad was that you were a lot more apt to catch fish if you
were where there were fish.  And so the
early church knew that if they were going to love lost people like God loved
lost people that they would have to be willing to make sacrifice like God
did.  And by choosing to live with those
who did not believe they often faced persecutions and scorn and even
death. 
And by
choosing to live with those who did not believe they were able to demonstrate
the love of God and to live a godly and holy life and because of that those who
were without became those who were within. 
  But we aren’t just told to live
with those who don’t share our beliefs we are told to live wisely with them.   
Notice
that he didn’t tell his readers to live smartly but to live wisely.  And there is a difference, I heard an article
on the radio this week about EQ, and that’s not to be confused with IQ.  IQ measures your intellectual ability.  EQ measures your emotional intelligence and emotional
intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way
you behave and the way you interact with others.
One
author wrote “If you have high emotional intelligence you are able
to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others, and
engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this
understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier
relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling
life.” 
Or as Paul wrote,  Live wisely among those who are not believers.
And
that is tough.  Paul is telling the
church to live in such a way that their lives won’t be a hindrance.  That people won’t be able to use as an excuse
but look at . . .  and you can fill in
the blank.  They are no different than
me, or they did this or they did that. 
Just
think before you do something.  We need
to live the way that Christ commanded us to live, love the way Christ commanded
us to love.
And the
passage continues Colossians
4:5-6 Live wisely among
those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.
Be Aware  When I took Personal Evangelism it was very
much concerned with meeting someone and initiating a spiritual conversation,
leading them through the plan of salvation, guiding them through a decision and
prayer and pointing them to a church. 
And people go saved that way, but seriously.  You don’t have to be strategic about find someone who
doesn’t know Jesus.  
The story is told about a battle during the civil war and the fortunes
had turned on the Union troops and the commander called for a retreat.  When suddenly an enlisted man broke ranks,
ran across no man land, hit a confederate soldier with his rifle and carried
him back dumping him a the officer’s feet. 
The officer looked at the man and said “Where
did you get him?”  to
which the man replied, “Over yonder and there are enough there for
everyone.”  You don’t have
to look very far to find those who need Jesus; they share your work place, your
class room and might even live under the same roof.  Be aware that people are watching how you
live and what you say.   There is so much
truth in the statement that you are the only bible some people will ever read.  They are watching what you do and what you
say, which leads us to the next point.
Colossians 4:5-6 Live wisely among those who are not
believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be
gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
Speak Graciously The bible constantly
warns us of the danger of the tongue, and we are all aware of that.  We don’t need Solomon to tell us things like Proverbs 13:3 Those who
control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin
everything.  Or Proverbs 15:2 The tongue
of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out
foolishness.
And it was Abraham Lincoln who said “Better
to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”
And this is tough, probably not
for you but for me.  There are times I
think I need to have business cards printed up that say “I’m sorry, I’m a jerk”.  Because too often I am to quick to speak my
mind, or to be sarcastic in my response to someone. 
Paul tells us to make sure our
speech is gracious and attractive.  But
listen to how the New International Version translates this verse Colossians 4:6 NIV Let your
conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know
how to answer everyone.   Not just
gracious but filled with grace.  When you
talk to people who don’t share your faith is your conversation filled with
grace? 
And while salt is common place
today, two thousand years ago it was an incredibly valuable commodity.  I could preach an entire sermon on salt, and
I have.  But let it be suffice to say
that salt was used for preserving food, for flavouring food, for medical
reasons and even as part of the salary of Roman soldiers was designated for the
purchase of salt.  Thus the phrase “Worth
your salt.”   It was seen as something of great value.  Is that how our words are seen, not by us,
but by those who hear them? Or overhear them.
I’m afraid that there are times
that the closest my speech comes to be flavoured with salt is that it stings,
and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. 
Which is why we are told in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love. 
It’s easy to speak the truth, not so easy to speak the truth in
love.   
And one of the
greatest culprits these days is Social media; regardless of how you feel,
people aren’t going to put their phones down. 
And all too often we
use social media to vent and it really sets up a “them and us mindset.”  We are right and they are wrong, and here are
all the reasons they are wrong.  And
while it’s easy to hide behind our Facebook or Twitter profiles the damage that
can be done is immeasurable.
Larry Wilson, the
pastor of Fall Creek Wesleyan Church, recently posted a blog entitled “8 Social
Media Mistakes You Need to Stop Making Right Now”
  and in it
Larry writes, “Advocate any position you truly believe in. But please do
so kindly and with no attempt to humiliate, crush, demolish, wreck, or reduce
to a puddle of tears the people who disagree with you. Say something nice or at
least say it in a nice way.”
Words are words, and they need to be spoken
with grace and seasoned with salt, regardless of whether you speak them, write
them, post them or tweet them.  Very few
people have ever been argued into Christianity, and probably fewer still have
been embraced Christ because of a rant they’ve read
on Facebook about their lifestyle posted by a nasty Christian.
Remember when your mother used to tell you, if
you can’t say anything nice don’t say
anything at all?  Not bad advice. 
And this goes back to the live wisely, check
stuff before you post it, because when you don’t
sometimes you end up looking like an idiot and if it’s in any
way connected to your faith it makes all Christians look like idiots, just
sayin’.
And as long as we are here,
listen to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything
you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to
those who hear them.   Did you
catch that?  Don’t use foul or abusive
language.  And I don’t care if everyone
uses this word or that word, if you have chosen to follow Christ then you have
chosen a higher path.  And that applies
for what you post online, and also who posted it before you.  When you repost something and the original
title contains vulgarities it reflects on you and if you profess to be a
Christian then it reflects on the Christ you serve.
I have seen people from
Cornerstone post wonderful spiritual stories followed by something with
language that would make a sailor blush, I know, I blushed.   So in case you found Paul’s words a little
vague I will read them again, slower.  Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use
foul or abusive language.
You
can’t separate your faith from who you are, and you don’t want
to.  It’s not
enough to speak graciously to co-workers and strangers and then snipe at your
family and friends.  Or the other way
around, only being nice to the folks you know. 
And I understand that there will be times that you have to defend your
faith in no uncertain terms.  But you don’t have
to be nasty or get personal about it.
And you are thinking “That’s
really tough”  Yep, sure is and it’s not
something you turn on and off.  Peter
tells us in 1 Peter 2:1 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all
deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.   How do you do that?  By embracing the power of the Holy Spirit in
your life.  Seriously you can’t do it
alone and that was never the intent.
Have you given your speech over
to God?  Every day? Have you asked him to
guide your words and to make them gracious? 
Every day?
If you pride yourself on your
sarcasm, or being able to put people in their place with your words you might
have a problem.
We are told in Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in
our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control.  What
if our speech was coloured by those characteristics?  
So, knowing that you can’t do
it yourself, and knowing that the Holy Spirit can produce that kind of fruit in
your life, is today the day that you surrender your will and your words to the
Holy Spirit?