“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
Sometimes I hear people ask, “Okay, I know preachers have a responsibility to share the Christian faith, but how about the ordinary members of the church? Do all believers have a part to play in spreading the Gospel around the world?”
The simple answer to that question is, “Yes!” Every Christian has an obligation to pray for the spread of the Gospel, to support it with all the means at his or her disposal, and to share it with others. We discover this pattern of Christian witness in the Book of Acts. In Acts 8:1, 4 we read: “And all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…and those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” It was not simply the apostles and leaders of the church who were involved in passing on the Gospel; it was the deacons and ordinary members of the church who played an active role in spreading it too.
Paul had this principle in mind when he urged the Colossian Christians to ‘make the most of every opportunity’ and to make sure that they knew ‘how to answer everyone’. Paul’s words are directed here to the whole church and not simply to the leadership group. It is true that there are some Christians who are specifically called and gifted for this ministry of evangelism – Paul calls them ‘evangelists’ in Ephesians 4:11. But it is not simply the evangelists that Paul is thinking about when he calls upon the Colossians to ‘make the most of every opportunity’. He has the average church member in mind.
Essentially, what Paul has in mind is that believers should make a wise and sacred use of every opportunity to advance the cause of Christ, either through good works or conversation that commends Christ. While it is true that apostles and evangelists are meant to engage in direct teaching and witness, here Paul’s emphasis is on how ordinary believers are meant to ‘answer’ people. There seems to be a definite distinction between what we might describe as ‘direct’ evangelism and ‘responsive’ evangelism.
If this is a real distinction, which it seems to be, then it is a common sense and realistic one. It is easy for well-meaning but ungifted Christians to button-hole whomever they meet in the vain hope that they are somehow doing good. But this is rarely the case. Usually, there is an awkward silence all round. Instead, Paul suggests that rather than initiating discussions about Christ, believers are meant to respond to and provide answers to others’ questions. The task of the average believer is to accept openings rather to create them. Paul clearly believes that opportunities for response and explanation are to be found everywhere, for everyone is looking to discover answers about life and its meaning. And when these opportunities come, which they undoubtedly will, Paul says that we are meant to seize them.