Colossians 4:6

Sermon preached on November 30, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Most of you will remember Bill Kelly, my high school friend who preached here for me last year and a couple of years before that. The times that Bill and his wife Diane visited were special. I hadn't seen Bill for 35 years and when they first visited the thing I remember about Bill was how kind he was in the things that he said. We talked about our high school times together and whenever he mentioned anything about me back then—it was something nice. He was so gracious with his speech. He could have brought up some things from my past that weren't nice—but he didn't.

Around the same time I got reacquainted with Bill, I also spend some time with another high school friend. We weren't together very long before he mentioned something I couldn't do in gym class—the forward roll. I had totally forgotten about it—it never entered my mind since I was in junior high. When I was in junior high I couldn't do a forward roll. I was a really good athlete in other ways—good in hockey, okay in baseball, and I even played soccer and was okay at that. I was a better athlete than most of my friends. So in gym class, when I couldn't do a forward roll—it was a chance for some of my friends to rub it in—and they did.

But over the years I forgot all about it. It never entered my mind. It was one of the few bad memories I was able to forget. So I was totally surprised when he mentioned it. Why would he remember that when I didn't even remember it? I suspect that he remembered it because it was one of the things he could do better than me. So he brought it to my attention. It was then that a wave of foreboding came over me—the fear of the forward roll suddenly came back and I had a sick feeling in the my stomach just like I had in gym class. It was not a pleasant memory.

That was only a little thing and I soon got over it, but as I think about it, what a difference between Bill's words and the words of my other friend. Bill's word's were gracious. He wasn't going to hurt my feelings in any way that wasn't necessary.

In our text we have a command about what our speech is to be like. The command is the context of how we are to speak toward outsiders, those who are not Christians—but it can also be applied at how we speak to Christians. It's about having grace in our speech. It says, (Colossians 4:6)

"Let your conversation be
always full of grace,
seasoned with salt,
so that you may know
how to answer everyone."

Your conversation is to be always full of grace.

But what exactly does this mean? William Hendriksen tells us that non-Christians of Paul's day used this expression and by it they referred to, (Exposition of Colossians, and Philemon (Baker New Testament Commentary, p. 183)

"sparkling conversation, speech dotted with witty or clever remarks."

Many Christian commentators tell us that Paul's meaning is not that, but is similar. The New Jerusalem Bible translates our text as,

"Always talk pleasantly."

So the meaning would be that our speech is to be, (Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, UBS Translator's Handbooks)

"charming, pleasant, attractive." "when you talk with people, what you say should be pleasant and interesting."

That is certainly true as far as it goes. In most circumstances our speech should be pleasant, attractive.

But I think Paul's meaning goes much farther than that. The word that Paul uses is 'grace'. Over the past few weeks we've seen that grace most often refers to unmerited favor for those who are ill-deserving. So when Paul tells us that our speech should be always full of grace, I believe his meaning is that it should be an instrument of grace.

Notice how Paul includes the word, 'always', or it could also be translated, 'at all times'.

I believe that there are many circumstances where it's not appropriate for our words to be pleasant. Pleasant speech, it seems to me, is a lot like how we are to live at peace with others. Paul told us, (Romans 12:18)

"If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone."

Just as it's not always possible to be at peace with everyone, so it's not always possible to be pleasant to others in our speech. Thus, because Paul qualifies this phrase with 'at all times', it seems that he has something greater than pleasantness in mind. After all, the gospel itself is an offence to unbelievers. It's foolishness to them. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 Paul said that the gospel is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling black to the Jews. There will be many times where 'pleasant' speech will not be appropriate.

Thus I think it best to understand our text as meaning

our speech is to be gracious—it is to be a blessing to others, with the ultimate intend of bringing them to Christ.

William Hendriksen says of the word 'grace', (p. 183)

"When Paul uses the term he has reference to the type of language that results from the operation of God's grace in the heart."

In other words, God's grace has changed us. We are now to be people who are a blessing to others. We need to realize this and change our speech.

Our speech is not naturally gracious. Even after we become Christians we can totally misuse our tongues. In James 3:9 James complained about how some Christians used their speech to curse others. He wrote,

"With the tongue we praise
our Lord and Father,
and with it we curse men,
who have been made in God's likeness.
Out of the same mouth
come praise and cursing.
My brothers, this should not be.
Can both fresh water and salt water
flow from the same spring?
My brothers,
can a fig tree bear olives,
or a grapevine bear figs?
Neither can a salt spring
produce fresh water."

James rejected earthly wisdom with its bitter envy and selfish ambition. He then said,

"But the wisdom that comes
from heaven is first of all pure;
then peace-loving, considerate,
full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace
raise a harvest of righteousness."

Instead of cursing others, our speech is to be full of grace. We see this same teaching in Ephesians 4:29. Paul wrote,

"Do not let any unwholesome talk
come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building
others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen."

Our speech is to be full of grace.

Gracious speech can have different sides to it.

It is part of our missionary charter. Our speech is to be gracious—it is to be a blessing to those who hear you.

Gracious speech can be harsh at times. Sometimes people need to be rebuked. They need to be spoken to harshly because it's like they're asleep and need to be woken up. The message of the gospel is a message of repentance. In Acts 8:20-23, when Simon the Sorcerer wanted to buy the Holy Spirit's power with money, Peter said to him,

"May your money perish with you,
because you thought
you could buy the gift of God with
money! You have no part or share in
this ministry, because your heart is
not right before God. Repent of this
wickedness and pray to the Lord.
Perhaps he will forgive you for
having such a thought in your heart.
For I see that you are full of
bitterness and captive to sin."

Those were harsh words. But they were the exact words that Simon needed to hear. He was in great danger and Peter showed him his danger. His words were harsh—but they were gracious. They were designed to be a blessing to Simon, to get him to repent and turn from his wickedness.

Gracious speech can also be confrontational. Sometimes evil will try to steamroll over us. In Acts 4 the Sanhedrin told John and Peter not speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John replied, (Acts 4:19-20)

"Judge for yourselves whether
it is right in God's sight
to obey you rather than God.
For we cannot help speaking
about what we
have seen and heard."

They stood up for the truth. Their words to the Sanhedrin, although disobedient and confrontational—appealed the Jewish leaders understanding of a great truth that the Old Testament clearly taught—that people were to obey God rather than men. It was confrontational—but it directed them to one of their most deeply held beliefs. It was confrontational—but it was gracious.

We need such wisdom as we go out with the gospel. Yes, we should be pleasant if we are able. But sometimes we are not able. We must resist evil. But we must always be gracious.

There are many other examples we see in the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. As the apostles went forth with the gospel they were uncompromising—yet their were gracious. They were trying to bestow grace on their hearers—even the ones that were trying to kill them. (See Stephen's words in Acts 7) They wanted people to come to know Jesus. They saw themselves and they knew that their speech was to be an instrument of grace.

We see another example of God's grace in the words of Polycarp as he faced martyrdom. Around 160 A.D. he was arrested and was threatened with death if he did not renounce Christ. He was offered his freedom if he renounced Christ. The Governor of Smyrna pressed him. and said to Polycarp,

"Take the oath, and I will let you go. Revile your Christ."

Polycarp replied,

"Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? Bring forth what you will."

Polycarp's replied with such gracious words. He wasn't angry with those about to kill him. No. His words focused on Jesus. Polycarp bore witness to Jesus and magnified Him as King and Savior who is always faithful and good to His people.

There was such grace in his words. He didn't speak against those who were about to kill him. He gave them a simple answer that wasn't even confrontational. It exalted Christ and showed his devotion to Him. His answer was full of grace.

The second thing I want you to see about our text is that

it's part of a bigger whole.

Gracious words are only part of what is required of us.

Gracious intent and gracious actions have to accompany our gracious words.

It's not enough to have gracious speech. For example, in Psalm 55:21 David tells about his experience and how someone close to you can betray you. David said of him,

"His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords."

The companion who was about to betray David had nothing but gracious words. His words were full of grace. They were as smooth as butter, as soothing as oil. But they were all false. They were spoken to mislead David—to get David to trust him so that he could stab David in the back. He spoke so wonderfully—but it was all lies. Gracious words, in themselves, by themselves, mean nothing.

In his book about Joseph Stalin, Simon Montefiore tells about an incident about Nikita Khrushchev during WW II. In May, 1942 Khrushchev was responsible for a certain area of the front. He ordered an attack on the German lines that was premature. His actions played right into the German's plans and the Germans won a great victory. Stalin called Khrushchev back to Moscow to his office. Although he was upset with him, at the end of it Stalin told him that he forgave him and that everything was all right. He sent him back to the front.

How did Khrushchev react to that? Montefiore writes, (Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar, Chapter 36) )

"Khrushchev was… terrified…"

Why? Because, Khrushchev said,

"I knew of many cases when Stalin reassured people by letting them leave his office with good news and then had them picked up."

That was Stalin's way. He would speak kindly to people, let them think everything was fine, and then have them arrested a couple of days later, to be tortured, sent to a concentration camp or shot.

Gracious words, in themselves, are nothing. James 2:14-16 says,

"What good is it, my brothers,
if a man claims to have faith
but has no deeds?
Can such faith save him?
Suppose a brother or sister
is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to him,
'Go, I wish you well;
keep warm and well fed,' but
does nothing about his physical needs,
what good is it?"

It's not enough to have good words. In our hearts we must love others. Our intention should be to be a blessing to them. Thus our words should be gracious. But even more than that, our actions are also to be gracious. Our speech, our intentions, our actions— are all to be gracious.

Our great goal is to win others for Jesus, to point them to Him.

What grace we need in this. We need to be praying for God to give us love for those who are opposed to His kingdom. We need to be asking God to give us the right words, gracious words to say to them. R. C. Lucas writes, (The Message of Colossians & Philemon The Bible Speaks Today; p. 175)

"And always, however far off in understanding the questioner may be, we must seek the wisdom and grace to answer with words that will awaken his appetite for the things of Christ."

People need Jesus. They don't realize the depth of their sin and how their sin puts them in danger of hell. They think they're good in themselves. They think they're good enough. They think that they're worthy of heaven. They think that they can earn their way into heaven.

But they can't. We need to tell them that and tell them about Jesus, how He came and died in our place—and that if they believe in Him they will have eternal life.

Christians, what a privilege God has given you that you can be a blessing to others in your speech and actions.

What a powerful tool your speech is. Use it for God's glory. May your speech be full of grace, but in the church and outside it. It's incredible that our speech can be full of grace. By God's grace it can be. Ask God for this grace.