Colossians 4:5-6, Proper conduct towards unbelievers


"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone," Col. 4:5-6(NIV)

How do you behave with and toward unbelievers? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you tolerate them? Are you concerned about their salvation? Do you act like them when you aren't in Christian company? Do you snub them if they aren't holy? Some Christians think that being kind to unbelievers is like throwing pearls before swine. Then there are Christians who stand on street corners, in malls, and in front of abortion clinics to witness to unbelievers. Others just don't care one way or another. Where do you fit in? Do you share your faith using hugs or headlocks? Honey or a hammer? Or do you even share your faith at all?

The Word of God is very specific about how you as a Christian are to conduct yourself toward the non-Christian. Turn with me to Col. 4:5-6 and we will read together what God wants you, as a Christian, to do.

The literal translation of Col. 4:5-6 is

In wisdom, walk toward the ones outside, redeeming the time. Let your word be always in grace, having been seasoned with salt, to know how it is necessary for each one of you to answer.

  1. God wants you to conduct yourselves with wisdom toward unbelievers, v. 5
    1. First of all, before anything else is said, we need to focus on something very important: the cross of Christ.
      1. It is because of the cross and our redemption found there that we are able to seek to be wise and good towards unbelievers.
      2. The sacrifice of Christ has cleansed us from our sins, forgiven us our trespasses, and enabled us to be gracious and kind by changing us. As we were once against God in our unbelief, God was gracious and kind to us. Because of Jesus we are to be kind to others.
    2. Literally, the Greek says to "walk in wisdom toward outsiders."
      1. To the Jew every non-Jew was an outsider. To the Christian, every non-Christian is an outsider; that is, outside the church. Outside of a relationship with the Lord Jesus.
      2. The context of the church: "In the days of the early church believers were often slandered by these outsiders. Christians were called atheists because they served no visible gods, unpatriotic because they did not burn incense before the image of the emperor, and immoral because, of necessity, they would often meet behind locked doors."
      3. Today there is still an attack on the church. Christians are called bigots because they condemn homosexuality, intolerant because they oppose abortion, religious extremists because they condemn sin, and narrow-minded because they believe there is one "one faith, one Lord, and one baptism" (Eph. 4:5).
      4. Yet, in spite of these attacks we are to remain humble, loving, caring, kind, and gentle. If we are not, if we do not show love and forbearance in the face of cruelty, insult, intolerance, and ridicule, then you are not showing the world that we know Jesus?
    3. That is why it is so important to have wise conduct before unbelievers.
      1. One reason is so you aren't made a fool.
      2. The reputation of the gospel depends on you.
      3. The world judges Christianity by what it sees in you.
          1. Are you representing it well with kindness, holiness, consistent reverence to the Lord?
      4. Also, unfortunately, the world judges Christianity by what it sees on television where lies about Christians and Christianity are broadcast as the pagans version of the "gospel truth." All the more reason to live holy lives.
          1. I remember years ago watching Miami vice. It opened with two Christians preaching. There was this bad guy who tripped and fell at the feet of two "Christians" who had Bibles and had been preaching. When the bad guy fell at their feet, the Christians started hitting him with their Bibles, kicking him, and yelling mean things at him.
          2. On another show, "Renegade" there was coffee house scene where a Christian couple behaved rudely, bigoted, cowardly, and stupid.
      5. Nevertheless, in spite of the insults, you are to be wise.
    4. God wants your conduct to be with wisdom. This conduct is your manner of behavior. This means you are to be
      1. sympathetic (this could be in counseling, listening, etc.)
      2. compassionate and humble (1 Pet. 3:8).
        1. "To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;"
      3. loving
        1. "Don't repay evil for evil, or insult with insult, but with blessing repay the evil cast at you" (1 Pet. 3:9).
      4. patient - you are to be considerate and longsuffering with the unbeliever.
      5. know when not to speak
        1. That is often one of the hardest things to do. It is so often the best thing to simply listen to a person and wait for a better opportunity.
      6. If your conduct is indeed with wisdom, then the name of Christ will not be maligned.
        1. The unbeliever will have no basis to mock Christ, His church, or His people.
        2. And, he may be brought into the fold of Christ.
  2. God wants you to make the most of the opportunity with unbelievers, v. 5
    1. Literally, the Greek says "redeeming the time," or "buying up the opportunity." The sense then would be "Do not just sit there and wait for opportunity to fall into your lap, but go after it. Yes, buy it."
    2. There is definitely a time to be aggressive in your relationship with an unbeliever.
    3. I would hope that as Christians you would not become complacent about evangelism. God uses the Gospel to call His people out of the world.
    4. The time is short and the world is evil: Ephesians 5:15-17 says, "Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."
  3. God wants you to let your speech to always be gracious with unbelievers, v. 6
    1. Paul is asking the Colossians to be careful with their tongues.
      1. Careful when they speak in public and private, no gossip.
      2. Careful when they speak to an equal or someone in power, no slander.
      3. Careful when they speak to the poor and the rich, no favoritism.
      4. Careful not only when speaking of the gospel but also when speaking of the weather, the economy, politicians, the authorities.
        1. In all your conversation be good.
    2. Gracious: God wants you to be careful, gracious, kind in your speech.
      1. Grace is getting what you do not deserve. Give them kindness, love, compassion, and patience.
    3. And note the word "always."
      1. In all situations at all times.
        1. playing a sport, watching a movie, driving, shopping, business, in church, out of church, at work....
    4. Being gracious means to be kind, gentle, positive, helpful, and insightful.
    5. A further description of this kind of gracious speech is: seasoned with salt, v. 6.
      1. Those whom the Lord calls "the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13) must not be tasteless.
      2. I work at a place where all the people around me are unbelievers. Their conversations are often vile, crass, filled with not so clean jokes. All to get that sense of belonging and being "in" with the rest of the group..
      3. Don't be like the ungodly around you.
      4. Salt prevents corruption.
        1. Elsewhere Paul said, "Do not let any corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Eph. 4:29).
  4. God wants you to know how to answer everyone, v. 6.
    1. Speak the right word and the right time to the right person.
      1. 1 Pet. 3:15 says, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
    2. Part of having answers means being wise.
      1. Proverbs, as well as the rest of Scripture, is the only source of true wisdom. With wisdom, you will be able to properly answer in times of counseling and heartache, joy and sorrow, and in times when morality is an issue.
    3. Part of having answers means knowing doctrine.
      1. The Catechisms are excellent teachers of doctrine.
      2. Know the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, the gospel message, the resurrection, the return of Christ, and the rest of what the Bible teaches.
    4. Part of having answers means studying difficult issues.
      1. Study evolution, cults, and other religions.
      2. You don't have to master them, just be familiar with them.
  5. And don't forget, in your wisdom and grace toward them, pray for them.
    1. They need to be granted the faith that God gives (John 6:28ff)
    2. They need to be granted the repentance that God gives (2 Tim. 2:25).
    3. They need to be granted the belief that God gives (Phil. 1:29).
    4. You can make a difference in your prayers (James 5:16).
      1. A...The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."


So what difference do these verses make in your lives? Plenty. Your conduct and speech before an unbeliever is vitally important. Your conduct should be with wisdom, your speech with grace.

I know a Christian who years ago worked with an unbeliever. For two years, this Christian answered the unbeliever's questions; he was gentle and kind in his conduct in all situations and always tried to point his friend to Christ. He sought to be wise and gracious. Today that unbeliever has become a pastor. The Lord used that Christian, his wise conduct, his gracious speech, to help bring another into His kingdom. To Jesus be the glory. Amen.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.