It is said that for every word of Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, 125 people lost their lives in WWII. Every word, written or spoken, has power–even the insane musings of a madman, and as children of God, we should consider this truth very seriously. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro. 18:21). Our words can indeed accomplish great things for the Lord (or against Him), yet it is also true that “no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8). Thus, we must mark our words carefully to ensure they are worthy (Eph. 4:1).
In view of the power of our words, it is no surprise that the apostle Paul would conclude the practical section of Colossians by discussing our communication (Col. 4:2-6). Christians live transformed lives because the gospel changes everything about us. When we enthrone Jesus as the King of our lives, He will dictate our priorities (3:1-4), direct our moral decisions (3:5-14), determine our worship (3:15-17), and bless our relationships (3:18-4:6). He must also dictate our discussions and interactions with people, especially those who are outside of Christ. Colossians 4:2-6 emphasizes this truth clearly. The section includes two imperatives with explanations following each one. Following the directives in these verses will help to transform how we communicate with God and with others.
The first command is found in Colossians 4:2. Paul wrote, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” Prayer is our method of communicating with God and as such, it is a spiritual discipline to which we should devote great effort. To “continue earnestly” has to do with persistence. It means “to busy oneself with” or “be devoted.” Prayer was an important part of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, and it should be of ours as well. Note also that Paul elaborates his call to constant prayer by describing the way we should pray. Namely, vigilance and thankfulness. To be vigilant is to be aware or alert. But of what, in this case, must we be watchful? It could be about the return of Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 5:6). It could be in reference to watching for the enemy (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8). Perhaps he has in mind the threat of false teachers and their doctrines (cf. Col. 1-2). Or maybe all of the above. No matter, Christians are to always be on alert as they pray, and they must pray with all thanksgiving. It is interesting to note how often the Bible enjoins an attitude of gratitude on the part of Christians. This is because the absence of thanksgiving is the beginning of the journey toward apostasy (cf. Rom. 1:19ff), while its presence reminds us of God’s goodness and pushes us toward Him. As one writer said,
A true appreciation of the believer’s status, “dead” to the world and its powers, “alive” to God in Christ with all one’s sins forgiven, and destined for glory, will inevitably produce thanksgiving. And such an attitude of thanks will serve as a powerful deterrent to the inroads of the false teachers as well as a stimulus to pray.
Indeed, our communication to God should be thoughtful, watchful, and thankful, but this does not exhaust the meaning of the passage. We often concentrate the majority of our prayer toward ourselves, and though it is not wrong to pray for ourselves (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7), it should not be the exclusive content. Colossians 4:3-4 relays Paul’s desire for the saints to communicate with God on his behalf, not for his own benefit but for the benefit of others. They were to ask God to open doors of opportunity for Paul so that he may be able to speak the mystery of Christ boldly and openly to people all over the world. Note the selflessness of his request. Such is the result of a Christ-centered prayer life. When Christ is the essence of our existence (Phil. 1:21), the content of our prayers change. Instead of focusing the majority of our time communicating with God about ourselves, we tend to focus more time talking to Him about others.
The second command in this passage is found in Colossians 4:5–“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.” The verb “walk” is used frequently in Scripture to denote a manner of life and such is the case in this passage as well. To “walk in wisdom” is to “be wise in the way you act.” There are those with whom we come in contact who may never hear a sermon, but they should see one in action whenever they look at us. Christians have a responsibility to reach the lost and impact the world for the good (Matt. 5:13-16). Thus, we must be ever mindful of how we behave ourselves among those who are lost. We do so by (1) redeeming the time and (2) speaking with grace. To redeem is literally to “buy out of.” The idea is to make the most of every opportunity. Our speech should be gracious, or kind, and seasoned with salt, or thoughtful and tactful.
It is too easy for Christians to be caught up in the cultural affairs, political concerns, and societal trends of the day. Naturally, as we interact with co-workers or parents at the baseball field, we will discuss current events and challenges along with any number of other things. But in those interactions, we must remember that our purpose is to win souls for Christ. We must always be mindful of our goal and choose our words and opportunities carefully to that end. Use a discussion about the economy as an opportunity to remind a friend that God provides. Show a respectful attitude toward government leaders during a heated political discussion. Deal with disagreements at work in a way that honors God. Avoid complaining, even when things are difficult. We interact with those outside of Christ every day and the examples are infinite. For a Christian, one who enthrones Christ Jesus as the King of their lives, those interactions take on a greater meaning.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” Unquestionably, Nietzsche understood the power of words to influence minds and bring about change. But Solomon also understood the power of words when he wrote, “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life…” (Pro. 10:11). That is the case because the righteous man speaks words that point people to the Prince of Life (Acts 3:15). Brethren, our words matter. Because we have put on Christ, we must use our words to honor Him. Our communication must be transformed to His glory.