Influencing the World Through WisdomJuly 21, 2014
I have it on my heart this month to talk to you about your influence as a believer. I’m wondering — are you praying for someone right now who needs a touch from God or who needs to experience His love in a tangible way? Every one of us knows someone like that — and we also know those who need to experience Christ as Savior, who need to rededicate their lives to Christ, or who need to make an adjustment in their lifestyle or manner of living.
Have you ever thought about the fact that you may be the answer to someone else’s prayer? Maybe someone you don’t even know is praying for a friend or loved one who lives or works in your sphere of influence — and God wants to use you to answer that person’s prayer! God created you to shine as a light in darkness for all those around you to see. Your actions, your behavior, and your witness for Christ may be the only Christian message those people have ever heard. So never forget that your life is a pulpit, and there is definitely someone who is watching your life and taking note of your words, deeds, and attitudes!
I’ll illustrate this truth by sharing a very sobering discovery Denise and I made one day. We were in a restaurant and realized that the woman who was serving our table was very close to converting to Christ. Because the restaurant was not busy that day, we took a few minutes to talk to her. During our conversation, I asked her what was the best and worst day of the week for a waiter in terms of tips. Without hesitation, she answered, “Sundays are the worst days. In fact, none of the servers in this restaurant wants to work on Sundays.”
When I asked her why no one wanted to work on Sundays, she told me, “I’m embarrassed to say it, but the most demanding, hard-to-please customers — and those who leave the smallest tips — are usually Christians.” She continued, “When people come into the restaurant carrying their Bibles, the waiters immediately start arguing 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.”
She added, “It’s sad that a Bible in a person’s hands is a warning sign that trouble lies ahead”!
Hearing about the negative influence that believers had exerted on the employees in that restaurant, I ask more specifically about how those who worked with her responded. She told me, “The people who work here can’t understand how Christians can go to church and then come to this restaurant and treat the servers so badly. Most of us would rather serve unbelievers because they treat us nicer and leave bigger tips.”
It’s unfortunate, but true, that often Christians unintentionally do or say things that leave unbelievers with a sour taste in their mouths. They forget that their life is their pulpit, and their life is the strongest message they will ever preach.
If we’re honest, I think we all probably regret something we said or did in front of an unbeliever at some point in our lives. We’ve all made comments or acted in ways that we later regretted. For example, has there ever been a time when you listened to someone tell a crude joke, and later learned that unbelievers who were present couldn’t understand how a Christian could laugh at such a joke? Or have you ever acted so selfish and self-centered that those you were trying to win for Christ were totally turned off by you? Or have you ever lost your temper, exploded in anger, or uttered words that were not fitting for a child of God — and unbelievers saw you do it?
I don’t mean to make you feel guilty or condemned because God certainly offers forgiveness when we miss the mark and sin. But as Christians, we must be aware that a lost world is watching us. We should never forget that we may be the only Jesus some people will ever see. We must constantly ask ourselves, What kind of Jesus do people see as they watch my life?
In early New Testament times, most of society was lost. Just like believers today, 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 unsaved around them. The apostle Paul knew that if Christians lived uprightly, it would demonstrate their faith — truly their lives were the strongest message they could preach. In light of that, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write to the Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5).
Notice that God urged the Colossian believers — and He is urging us today — to walk in wisdom “toward them that are without.” This phrase is based on the Greek word exo, a word that means without or outside, and it depicts those who are outside, like someone who is standing outside of a circle. In this verse, it describes people who are outside of Christ. Paul uses this word to depict people who are non-Christian. The Jews used this same identical Greek expression when they spoke of people who were outside the Jewish faith or who were non-Jews. Now the apostle Paul uses this 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” in this verse is the Greek word peripateo — 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. The Greek word pateo means to walk, but it can be translated in various ways, such as, to walk, to step, to stride, or to tread. However, when the word peri and pateo are compounded into one word, thus forming the word peripateo, it means to walk around, to walk in one general area as a habit — or it describes a person’s lifestyle. The word peripateo is used to depict a constant and consistent way of life.
So when Paul tells us to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without,” he is telling us that walking in wisdom in the presence of unbelievers should be a way of life for us. The word peripateo for “walk” clearly means we must constantly walk in wisdom when we are in the presence of people who are non-Christians.
The word “wisdom” in Colossians 4:5 is from the word sophia — a 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 and say in the presence of unbelievers. We must be sensitive to the fact that they are monitoring our words and actions. We must use discernment, discretion, prudence, caution, sound judgment, and good ol’ commonsense in the way we conduct ourselves before non-Christians. We should be distinguishably different from them and the lost world around us.
This section of Colossians 4:5 could be interpreted as:
Habitually walk in wisdom — live it, walk it out, and let it set you apart from the world around you. You have a responsibility to walk prudently and to use discernment and commonsense when you are in the presence of non-Christians who are observing how you walk, how you live, and what you do.
If you haven’t used discernment in the things you’ve said or done in the presence of non-Christians, you can ask the Lord to forgive you, and He will forgive you and cleanse you according to His promise in First John 1:9. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you to develop a new consciousness that unbelievers are watching you. Every day when you go to work, when you buy groceries in the store, when you’re driving your car, or when you’re with your family in public, people are watching and seeing how you respond to the situations of life — whether you engage in gossip and slander or refrain from it; whether you control your temper or lose it; or whether you walk in love and are patient and kind, or you’re short-fused, unfriendly, and harsh. All of life provides opportunities for you to influence others. Make sure they see Jesus in you!
As I close, if there is any way that we can be praying for you, please let us know. Denise and I, as well as our Partner Care team in Tulsa, are here to pray for you! Every day our team gathers to lift up all our partners — and specifically praying over needs that are made known to us. PLEASE let us pray for you, but we can only do it specifically if we know the exact needs you’re facing. We always wait to hear from you.
We love you and thank God for you!
We are your brother and sister, friends, and partners in Jesus Christ,
Rick and Denise Renner along with Paul, Philip, and Joel and their families