Chip Stapleton Highland Presbyterian Church May 4th, 2020 Hunkered Down Devotions
Colossians 4:5-6 (VOICE)
5 Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. 6 When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.
Paul writes the above words in the last chapter of his letter to the Colossian church, as part of a whole list of instructions about how to act and live. These words in particular, are about how we are to interact with those who are outside of our faith community.
What struck me about these words as I read them this morning, was the stark contrast between what Paul is describing as the way to interact with what we would call today non-Christians or the ‘unchurched’ and the reality of those relationships in so many places.
There is no doubt that we live in a polarized world and in a seemingly ever-more polarized country. We look at and talk about each other with terms like red and blue, or liberal and conservative. We use these terms and others neatly define for ourselves and others who is in and who is out. We use these terms to delineate who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’.
This can feel good – it’s much easier to blame, show disdain for, or even hate someone that you have already written off as a ‘them’. It can provide clarity in a world that seems to be full of grey areas: we usually only feel responsible for ‘us’ and leave ‘them’ to fend for themselves.
But, of course, this is not the way. This is not the way of Jesus, this is not the path of a cruciform life lived out in faith and obedience to Jesus Christ and his call on our lives. Paul, here reminds up that we are to look at every interaction we have with someone we might consider a ‘them’ as an opportunity that we are to make the most of.
Paul is calling us to be wise and to prepare. And, just in case, we misunderstood and thought that what we are being called to do is use these opportunities to pass judgment or build ways, Paul calls us to speak and act with grace.
It is by embodying grace and letting that grace flow from our words, our actions, and our very lives that we begin to ‘respond to everyone rightly’.
At this point, you might be thinking, ‘easy for Paul to say – harder for us to live’. No doubt, this call is not an easy one. But neither Jesus, nor Paul call us to lives and actions that they didn’t live out.
Jesus didn’t just instruct us to ‘turn the other cheek’, he showed us what that looked like, lived out in even extreme circumstances. None of our enemies – real or imagined – have ever done to us what Jesus endured, and so his words and his life are the standard we are called to.
Paul was no stranger to enemies and trouble either. In fact, he ends this chapter (and this letter) filled with instructions about how we are to live with grace and love – and mutual submission towards each other with these words: ‘Remember that I am in chains’.
I don’t think he shared those words because he thought anyone would forget that he was in prison. I don’t believe that Paul was fishing for sympathy. I don’t even think that Paul was stating the situation out of a sense of pride, hoping to be commended for his sacrifice. Instead, I think he did it to underline the depth of this call.
Paul prayed for, talked with, evangelized his captors. Paul stayed in a jail cell even after an earthquake had busted the gate open – out of care for his jailors. He was living out these instructions in circumstances far worse than most of his readers – than most of us – will ever face. So, whatever our circumstances, we are called to do the same.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: Jesus, help us to see the world and those around us through your eyes. Don’t allow us to so easily place people into categories like ‘us’ and ‘them’. Instead, help us to see that we are all your children – sisters and brothers. Guide us to act accordingly. Amen.