“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV).
To the Jews of the apostle Paul’s day every non-Jew was an outsider, and this concept is true in Christianity also: every person who is not a Christian is an “outsider” in being outside the church and the Christian faith. This is not a negative concept, it is just as much an understanding that Christians have a special responsibility toward those whom they could help or hinder in terms of coming to faith.
It is important to notice that in discussing how to interact with those outside the Faith, Paul could have mentioned scrupulous financial dealings, avoiding inappropriate dress or behavior, general helpfulness or many other things, but he doesn’t. These things are all important, of course, but Paul singles out two other aspects of our Christian walk instead.
First, Paul urges us to make the best use of the time we have. This could mean two things: either using time wisely so that those outside the Faith see our diligence in the calling we have, or, alternately, that we use the time we are with those on the outside to maximum advantage by making sure our behavior is always a proper witness. In Paul's words “making the best use of the time,” the Greek expression is “buying up the opportunity,” so the latter possibility is perhaps more likely – that we use the time with those outside the Faith to maximum advantage.
But in any case, after admonishing his hearers to use time wisely (see also Ephesians 5:15-17), Paul continues by stating the one aspect of our interrelations with others that he wished to stress above all others at that time: that our speech should always be gracious and “seasoned with salt,” so that we know how to answer each person with whom we deal.
“Gracious” speech was something noted about Christ himself (Luke 4:22), and Paul stresses that His followers must reflect that same aspect in their own lives if they are to reflect Him truly. Gracious speech is the opposite of words that are unpleasant, unkind, unedifying, unclean or in any way unwholesome. Why stress this above other things? Perhaps Paul had in mind the ease with which many people slip into the wrong kind of speech when they are with others whose speech is not gracious. And our speech, along with our actions, is certainly one of the two things that define us to others. In fact, we are often with others in situations where we have no opportunity to show our faith through our actions, yet the need for right speech is always present.
An interesting aspect of this is seen in Paul’s mention that our speech should be “seasoned with salt” – a figurative way of saying that it should not become corrupted. The Greek expression is in the “perfect” tense giving the meaning of a past action with continuing effect. We need to remind ourselves that our speech has been cleansed and needs to be kept that way in interactions (Ephesians 4:29). It is with that meaning rather than being “ready to discuss our faith,” as is often said, that Paul ends his exhortation by saying that we should “know how … to answer each person” – know how to answer them graciously and “seasoned with salt.” Paul makes it clear that this is one of the most important things we can, and must, do in interacting with those outside the Faith.