Be wise in the way you act towards 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 (Colossians 4:5, 6).
One summer when I was in high school, my mom, who was a farmer’s wife, went to work in town. Today that doesn’t seem like anything. But almost 50 years ago? It was a big deal. Wives and mothers stayed home, typically. Since many parents didn’t share their financial situations with their children back then, I’m guessing that money was pretty tight to prompt this sudden turn of events in our home. Our simple dairy farm existence changed.
Salt Makes the Difference
One of the changes? I had to learn to cook, and rather quickly, since I became Dad’s noon meal chef. And no sandwich and chips for this sweet, gentle man (he was a farmer, after all). It was homemade bread, fried meat, boiled potatoes, gravy—the works. I discovered early on that salt is vital if you’re going to be a decent cook. (Have you ever eaten unsalted gravy? Salt makes all the difference between ambrosia and glue!)
Salt makes all the difference in our Christian witness too. Paul used this metaphor to teach the disciples in Colossae how to live among unbelievers. Colossae was not unlike our nation today: diverse, pluralistic, materialistic. It was doubtless challenging to live out a savory life of faith in that culture. As Paul underscored in his letter to the Colossians, foundational to living out their faith was realizing that it’s all about Jesus. All things of God are “in Christ,” Christ was “in them,” and they were to live “in Christ” as they witnessed to their culture. What does a “seasoned-with-salt,” in-Christ life look like when lived in the presence of unbelievers? It looks like Jesus! Christ, who, before Paul, taught that a salty life matters, (see Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50) inspires us by his example.
Jesus Is Our Model
A salty life is an intentional life. Jesus went where he knew outsiders were. He deliberately passed through Samaria . . . no good Jew would do that. Yet he knew he would meet this woman—an outsider—at a well, and grace her with some of his most profound teaching on worship (John 4). One day Jesus got in a boat with his disciples and purposely went to Gentile territory, of all things. Immediately upon landing they were met by the screaming, bleeding Gadarene demoniac (life with Jesus was never boring). Jesus set him free and that one man became a catalyst for the whole region coming to know about Christ (Mark 5:1-20, 7:31-37).
A salty life is an initiating life. Most Jews would walk the opposite direction from tax collectors yet Jesus marched right up and asked Matthew to follow him (Matthew 9:9). Jesus had what Karen Mains calls an initiating attitude of love. In his book Eats with Sinners, Arron Chambers writes, “Jesus was different, and they were attracted to him. They wanted to be around him because he wanted to be around them. They wanted to hear what he had to say because what he had to say gave them hope. Lost people are just looking for hope. Jesus gave them hope because he welcomed them, accepted them, and he loved them.”
A salty life is an interruptible life. Jesus welcomed interruptions. When interruptions came from unbelievers he handled them with great kindness. “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). The centurion who came to Jesus requesting healing for his servant was greeted with an instantaneous, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would” (8:13). The leper who begged Jesus to heal him received this kind and compassionate response: “I am willing!” (Mark 1:40-42).
A salty life is an inclusive life. Jesus ate with sinners. Arron Chambers says that “when Jesus ate with sinners he wasn’t just saying ‘I like you’ or ‘I am with you,’ he was saying ‘I am you.’ Jesus didn’t just come to visit us; he came to become one of us.” So Jesus ate with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9). He allowed a sinful woman to invade dinner to express her loving gratitude to him (7:37-50). Sharing a meal was the premier way of including people, of identifying with people, and Jesus did this on countless occasions.
Just as it was for the Colossian Christians, it’s challenging for Christians today to live out their faith in the presence of unbelievers. But we must. When George Barna wrote Re-Churching the Churched more than 15 years ago, he estimated that there were between180 and 190 million unbelievers in the United States. That staggering number is rapidly increasing. Not only that, there is what J. E. White calls a “profound spiritual emptiness”; many in our world today know nothing about Jesus Christ. We live in a post-Christian world; we dare not neglect being salt.
Christ “in Us”
Christ in us enables us to be intentional with outsiders. We must go where they are. That is one way to make the most of every opportunity. White notes, “Jesus spent his time with those far from God; he built relationships with them, dined with them in their homes and went to their parties. This was clearly a life value for him.” It must be for us as well.
Christ in us enables us to be initiating. An acquaintance once told me that he didn’t share his faith with unbelievers. Instead, he waited for them to ask and then he would share. The trouble is, he was rarely if ever asked. No doubt our walk and talk must coexist. But if we are truly living salty lives, we won’t wait for those on the outside to come to us. We will purposely look for them, reach out to them, and draw them in with acceptance and grace.
Christ in us enables us to be interruptible. Handling interruptions well is a mark of maturity. This is crucial. People in need will not have their crises on our time schedules and we need to be available. We are living in an age and time when rudeness is rampant and loss of civility is palpable. As I begin to write this, it is “World Kindness Day.” Has it come to that? Do we have to set aside a day to draw attention to the fact that we need to be kind? May it never be with us! Kindness is an essential accompaniment to the interruptible life.
Christ in us enables us to be inclusive. After extending ourselves by going where unbelievers are, we might consider extending ourselves even more by inviting them to come to us. Hospitality says like nothing else, “I want to include you in my life.” Fix that pot roast, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Invite that neighbor who is outside to come and eat with you. Perhaps, just perhaps, the outsider will soon become an insider. And don’t forget to salt the gravy.
Carla Scott (whose husband, Mark, writes the The Lookout’s Bible study commentary) is a women’s ministry leader and freelance writer in Joplin, Missouri.