Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
— Colossians 4:5
One day as my wife and I were eating out, we discovered that the woman who served our table was a committed Christian. Since it was a slow day at the restaurant, we took a few minutes to talk to her. During our conversation, I happened to ask her what was the best and worst day of the week for a server in terms of tips. Without hesitation, she answered, “Sundays are the worst days. In fact, none of the servers in this restaurant want to work on Sundays. It’s the worst day of the week for a waiter.”
Fascinated by her answer, I asked her why no one wanted to work on Sundays. She told me, “As a Christian, I am embarrassed to say it, but the most demanding customers — those who are the hardest to please and leave the smallest tips — are usually Christians. In fact, when people come into the restaurant carrying their Bibles, the waiters and waitresses immediately start fighting about who has to serve that table because we know it’s going to take a lot of work and they won’t leave much of a tip.”
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She continued, “Isn’t it sad that a Bible in a person’s hands is the warning sign that trouble lies ahead?”
Hearing about this negative influence that Christians had exerted on the employees in that place of business, I decided to delve deeper and ask how this had affected those who worked with her. She categorically told me, “The people who work in this restaurant just can’t understand how Christians can go to church on Sunday and then come into this restaurant and treat the servers so badly. Most of the servers here would rather serve unbelievers because they treat them nicer and leave bigger tips.”
It is unfortunate — but true — that often Christians unintentionally do or say things that leave unbelievers with a sour taste in their mouths. These believers forget that their life is their pulpit and the strongest message they will ever preach.
It is a fact that many believers have lost their Christian influence because of things they do or say that reflect a wrong image of Jesus Christ. If we are honest, I think we all probably regret something we did or said in front of unbelievers at some point in our lives. We all have made comments or acted in ways that we later regretted.
For example, has there ever been a time when you listened to someone tell crude jokes, and later learned that the unbelievers who were present couldn’t understand how a Christian could laugh at such jokes? Have you ever acted so selfishly that you totally turned off the unbelievers you were trying to win for Christ? Or have you lost your temper, exploded in anger, or uttered words that were not fitting for a child of God — and unbelievers saw you do it?
If you have done any of these things, I don’t mean to make you feel guilty or condemned, but as Christians, we must always be aware that a lost world is watching. We can never forget that we may be the only Jesus some people will ever see. This is why we must constantly ask ourselves, “What kind of Jesus do people see as they watch my life?”
In New Testament times, most of society was spiritually lost. As in today’s world, the Christians of that time found themselves in a world that was hostile to the Gospel. Because they were a minority in their world and the rest of society didn’t understand them or their faith, they were constantly “watched” by the unbelieving world. The apostle Paul knew that if Christians would live uprightly, it would demonstrate their faith. Therefore, their lives were really the strongest message they could preach. In light of this, Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5).
First, I want you to notice the phrase “to them that are without.” This phrase is based on the Greek word exo, a word that means without or outside. It depicts those who are outside, like someone who is standing outside of a circle. You are either in the circle, or you are out of the circle. In this verse, the word exo describes people who are outside of Christ. The Jews used this Greek expression when they spoke of people who were outside the Jewish faith or were non-Jews. The apostle Paul used this identical phrase to portray people who are outside of Christ or who are non-Christian.
Hence, this part of the verse could be interpreted:
“Walk in wisdom toward those who are non-Christians.…”
The word “walk” is the often-used Greek word, peripateo. It is a compound of the words peri and pateo. The first part of the word is peri, which simply means around. The second part of the word is pateo. Typically, the word pateo means to walk, but it can be translated in a variety of ways, such as to walk, to step, to stride, or to tread. When the word peri and pateo are compounded into one word to form the word peripateo, the new word means to walk around, or to walk in one general area as a habit, or it describes a person’s lifestyle. It was often used to depict a constant and consistent way of life.
Therefore, when Paul told us to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without,” he was telling us that walking in wisdom in the presence of unbelievers should be a way of life for us. The use of the word peripateo (“walk”) clearly means we must constantly walk in wisdom when we are in the presence of people who are non-Christians.
The word “wisdom” is the Greek word sophia, a very old word that denotes wisdom but which also expresses the idea of discernment. In other words, you and I must use judgment about the things we do or say in the presence of unbelievers. We must be sensitive to the fact that they are monitoring our words and actions. We must use prudence, caution, good sense, carefulness, and good ol’ common sense in the way we conduct ourselves before non-Christians. We should be distinguishably different from them and the lost world around us. Unbelievers are watching and are monitoring our actions. By living upright lives before them, we can make a godly impact on them.
In light of these Greek words, the first part of Colossians 4:5 could be interpreted:
“Habitually walk in wisdom — live according to its dictates and let it set you apart from the world around you. You have a responsibility to walk prudently and to use discernment and common sense when you are in the presence of non-Christians who are observing how you live and what you do….”
In tomorrow’s Sparkling Gem, I want to talk to you about what to do if you have done some- thing that has given a wrong impression of Jesus Christ to non-Christians who are watching you. You may have to swallow your pride, but it is vital that you make things right with those individuals. If you don’t present the right image of Christ to them, your bad example could be the very thing that causes them to reject Christ and suffer an eternity without God.
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I ask You to help me be more aware of the unbelievers who are watching my life. Forgive me for the times I’ve been preoccupied and forgotten that my life is my pulpit and the strongest message I will ever preach. Holy Spirit, help me to stay mindful that non-Christians watch how I live, what I do, and how I treat others. Help me to constantly be aware that my life may be the only sermon some people will ever hear. Help me live my life wisely and in such a godly manner that others will see a contrast between me and the dark world around them. Help me take advantage of every opportunity to shine the light of God’s love and His Word to those who sit in darkness.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am a good witness for Jesus Christ! When people see me — how I live, how I talk, how I act, and how I treat others — they are left with a good impression of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is teaching me how to shine like a light in darkness to those without Christ who are around me. Because of my Christ-like example, many people without Jesus will come into the Kingdom of God. Since my life is the only sermon some people will ever hear, I will live my life each day in a way that accurately reflects the Person of Jesus Christ!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever known a person who claimed to be a Christian but who had unethical practices in his life that horribly conflicted with his claims of Christianity? How did this hypocrisy affect unbelievers who were watching his life?
- Is there anything you are doing right now that would give a wrong impression of Jesus to non-Christians who are watching? Why don’t you take a few minutes to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart so He can show you areas in your life where your testimony could be better?
- Write down those areas the Holy Spirit has shown you where you could improve your Christian testimony. Once you make this list, put it in a visible place where you can be reminded to pray about it daily.