Words really matter. They have the power to both tear down or build up. They can encourage or discourage. Just as important, how we speak to and about outsiders matters. People will never want to be part of a community that talks down to them. I often wonder how appealing Christianity is to outsiders, based on what they hear us say about them. Peter tells his readers to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV).
Words are as important as actions. In fact, they are inseparable throughout the Bible. Both our words and actions are meaningful. How we respond to people will influence the way they view both us and God. As believers, we are representatives of Christ and his body. Are we attracting people to Him or are we turning them away?
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech be seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). There is a lot packed into these two verses. First, our time is not really ours. It belongs to God. We are to use it wisely. Second, wisdom is essential. We need to “walk in wisdom” toward outsiders. That requires dedication to prayer and a whole lot of patience. Finally, our speech is to be seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer people.
So many people rely on their own ability, knowledge, or people skills. But this is not what Paul appeals to. Instead, he’s urging them to tap into God’s wisdom, the Holy Spirit, and to choose their words wisely. How we speak to the unchurched really, really matters.