Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 7:24-35; Colossians 4:2-6; Psalm 136:1-9; 2 Chronicles 7-8
Paul introduces two more commands before concluding his letter: to pray and to be wise in our engagement with outsiders. Ethics addresses more than major moral dilemmas, and includes our everyday interactions with others. Underlying both commands is Paul’s commitment to spreading the Gospel. Before looking at how we should address outsiders, Paul calls on the Colossians to be devoted to prayer. This does not describe an occasional prayer tossed in God’s direction, but is unrelenting persistence. Like watchmen on ancient city walls, we should continuously be in prayer about what may be coming and in thankfulness for what has happened.
We may see little to be thankful for in our circumstances, but Psalm 136 shows how we can always be thankful for the Lord himself. He is a good God whose love will never end. He has created an amazing universe for which we can be thankful. After the Israelites prayed the same words (2 Chronicles 7:3), God reminded them that even when they desert him, his love will continue. His eyes and ears continue to search for them in the hope that they will repent and return to him. We can be thankful for a God who longs to forgive those who turn to him.
We then should be in constant prayer for opportunities to let those who do not know God that he lovingly longs for them. We must consistently pray for ways to present this message. Being mindful of God’s love and forgiveness of us, we can avoid the haughty words and arrogant attitudes that Paul denounces earlier in the letter. Instead, he prays that he can explain the message clearly, and provide answers to people’s questions. The original Greek reads that Paul ‘must’ speak clearly and ‘must’ answer people, although English versions often lessen this sense of obligation.
Today’s ethical issues and dilemmas can lead people to look for answers. We must be ready to explain the biblical perspective on these issues. Sometimes people need to dialogue about what the Bible says is right or wrong before they are willing to dialogue about God directly. We need to know how to discuss these issues, but we need more than knowledge. Christians sometimes come across as privileged insiders with a bad attitude towards outsiders who disagree, particularly on difficult ethical issues. We should not be like this. We are to be wise, gracious and ‘salty’ in our discussions with those who disagree with us.
The way we come across in discussions with outsides in directly tied into our prayer life. As we pray with watchfulness, we will be aware of the issues that the world is struggling with. As we pray with thankfulness, we will be aware of God’s grace to us and full of grace as we communicate with others. The respect with which we treat those with whom we disagree can speak louder than our arguments. Speech seasoned with salt is an idiom that in Paul’s day meant communicating in lively, amusing and interesting ways. The opposite was a bland, boring sermon that put the audience to sleep. Paul points to the importance of communicating in lively ways that engage people’s hearts and imaginations through relevant imagery, stories and spiritual power. We should not just say that God commands it or God forbids it and leave it at that. God gave us more than the Ten Commandments, and provided images, metaphors, examples, stories, people’s lives and Creation itself to elaborate on and illustrate his message. The Holy Spirit will show us how to do this if we ask him for this wisdom (James 1:5) as we present his message and answer others’ questions about God and his ways.