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This last section of the letter before the final greetings provides three valuable gems regarding gospel ministry.
Firstly, Paul commends the readers to pray. In fact, he urges them to persist in prayer, using a verb suggesting a difficult situation which requires endurance. It requires an alertness to the context, being vigilant, as Jesus requested the disciples in the garden the night of his arrest (cf Mark 14:34). I think those of us who pray routinely according to lists may sometimes neglect this aspect of watchful prayer. Paul also advises thankfulness in prayer, and specifically requests prayer for himself and Timothy, that God would open the door as they proclaim the word.
This is the second aspect covered in this short passage. There is a clear dependence on God to clear the way for the message to get through. That message is the mystery of Christ, which Paul explained in Chapters 1 and 2 (cf 1:26), the revelation that God in his fullness dwells in Christ, and Christ dwells in those who believe in him, regardless of ethnicity. This message is what has bound Paul, both literally and metaphorically. He is in government chains because of his evangelistic mission (more on this in tomorrow’s reading), and he is also bound by the mission of God, to declare his message clearly (cf 2 Cor 5:14).
Paul also expects the readers to speak the word to those ‘outside’ the family of faith. He exhorts them to speak graciously (i.e. with grace), which suggests kindness and charm. The other instruction is wonderfully peculiar: what does it mean to season our words with salt? I take it to mean that what we say is interesting, so that people want to hear more, just as we always want to eat one more salty chip or nut. People should not be bored with Christians always saying the same thing over and over; we should tantalize them with tasty morsels. I try to do that with my Facebook posts advertising this blog – though I am not always successful and it is certainly not easy. The second part of verse 6 confirms my thoughts about salty speech; Paul wants the reader to know how to answer each person (not ‘everyone’ as most translations have it). That is, we must listen carefully to each person in order that we can answer according to what will be tasty for them specifically.
The third point I note here is that gospel ministry is not only about our words, made accessible and clear through prayer, but there is also action. Paul tells us to act (literally ‘walk’) in wisdom towards those ‘outside’. In the Bible, wisdom involves knowing how to act according to the given situation for maximum long-term benefit, which is why there are some contradictory proverbs. Verse 5 also includes Paul’s unique phrase ‘redeem the time’ (cf Eph 5:16), which suggests making the most of the opportunities with which we are presented. The net effect of this verse, then, is that we should take the opportunities that come our way with people from outside the family of faith, to walk with them in the hope that we can express the mystery of Christ, whether in word or in deed.
Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the opportunities to walk with people who do not yet know you. Give me wisdom to know what to say, and open their hearts to hear your message. Help me to be watchful and persistent in prayer.