I was a pastor for ten years. As a pastor, I was told that I was the physical representative of God to many people. Not that I was the pope or anything, but that people knew I walked with God and felt that I was their only connection to Him. I understood that… to a degree. What I did not understand is how true that is, and more, how true it is for every believer, pastor or not.
Now, I am working at a Barber Shop. I am not a pastor. I am just another guy at the shop. Or so I thought. Whether a pastor or not, I am always a Christian, and I am always out front about it. I don’t shove it in people’s face, but there are plenty of situations where my faith comes in and demands an explanation.
I never shy from explaining. That said, I have realized something in my few months here at the Barber Shop. Simply as a Christian, people still look to me as a physical representative, an ambassador (1 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20), of God.
The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae, “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.” (Colossians 4:5-6 NIV) The outsiders to the believers in Colossae would have been anyone that was not a Christian. The outsiders to believers today… are the same. And at the Barber Shop, I spend the whole day with “outsiders.”
The challenge to all of us, wherever we are, is to “Be wise in the way we act toward outsiders.” If we are the physical representatives of God to those around us, we need to be careful in how we represent our King. The way we act directly impacts an “outsiders” view of Jesus Christ. That impact can be positive or negative. For that reason, we need to “make the most of every opportunity.”
That means that each moment is a potential opportunity to shine the light back onto Jesus Christ. Our actions and reactions can either point to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, or as the leader of a pack of hypocrites, liars and self-righteous critics.
One area that Paul highlights is our speech. He says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.” Our mouth is the most difficult thing to master. A reading and reflection on James 3:1-12 gives us a good picture of just how difficult. And, sadly, our mouth is often the most misused part of our body. But here, Paul exhorts us to have two things define our speech: graciousness and purity.
The first thing people are looking for in our speech is graciousness. The guys at the shop love to “rib” one another. They poke and prod, in fun, and almost make a sport of it. However, I did notice something the other day. While they may poke and prod, in fun, at me, they don’t want me to do it back. Not if they are honest with themselves. I did it only once and saw that reality. The face of one of my co-workers dropped when I ribbed him back. He pressed on and it wasn’t a “thing,” but I could see the adverse impact it had on him. The question is, why?
I believe the answer is the same as in every other area of our life as God’s ambassadors – we represent the King. There was an unspoken, perhaps even unconscious expectation that no matter how much I am ribbed, I will not rib back. No matter how much I am insulted, I will not throw insults back. No matter how much I am wounded, I will not strike. Sound familiar?
It is the description of Jesus Himself, Who, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV) What people are looking for from us is graciousness. And the thing about graciousness is that it is most gracious, most “full of grace,” when it is undeserved. And when we are gracious, we are shining the light back to Jesus.
The other thing people are looking for from us in our speech is purity. These guys love to joke. Not just with and about each other, but about all things. And there are not a few times throughout the day that the joking takes a crude turn. I have been guilty of contributing to those conversations at times. Not to the same degree, mind you, but crude nonetheless.
Many today believe that joining the fray will make us more relevant. If we get down in the muck and mire with those around us they will feel more akin to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. They will simply never feel akin to us because… in Christ… we are no longer kin. We have been moved out of the world and into the family of God. This is not only true of us outside of the home, but even, at times, within it.
Jesus spoke to this when He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36 NIV) When we say yes to Jesus, we are married into His family and removed from all others – so-to-speak.
When we jump in and begin speaking as crudely as the world around us, we go from being set-apart to being set-apart and useless. Paul tell us that our speech is to be “seasoned with salt.” This would bring us back to Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13 NIV)
We associate salt with flavor, especially here in America. However, salt in New Testament times, was not used primarily for flavor, but rather as a preservative. Therefore, when Paul spoke of our speech being “seasoned with salt” he was referring to our speech being a preserving agent. Our speech is such that it preserves the holiness and purity of God. And, as Jesus said, “If the salt loses its saltiness… It is no longer good for anything.” And, so it is with us. We are neither good for the world or the Kingdom when our speech loses its purity.
All of this is leading up to the moment when an “outsider” will potentially ask us about our faith in Christ. The apostle Peter wrote, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV) Notice what leads up to the question – a life that “revere[s] Christ as Lord.”
And what backs up the answer we give – “a clear conscience.” This is the same as what the apostle Paul is getting at. We are living carefully and speaking with grace and purity “so that [we] may know how to answer everyone.” We simply cannot go wrong when we are answering with grace and purity, and our answer cannot be discredited when our lives back up our words.
My pastor, Dr. Sean Pierce, said something that transformed this passage, and even my life, this past Sunday. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “Live your lives in such a way that every day is a potential opportunity to share the hope we have in Jesus.” My job is not ultimately about money, it is about opportunities to speak with grace and purity, leading to answer the ultimate question – “What is the reason for your hope?” Really, everything situation we find ourselves in is for this same purpose – to point others back to Jesus.
Are you living each day with purpose? Wherever you are, whatever you do, are you “Be[ing] wise in the way you act toward outsiders; mak[ing] the most of every opportunity. Let[ting] your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”? If not, there is no better day to begin than today. We are God’s ambassadors, lets represent Him well. And in so doing, let’s be looking for opportunities to bring others to Him along the way.