The Grace of Well-Seasoned Speech (Colossians 4:6)
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. —Colossians 4:6
“Please pass the salt.” It’s a request I’ve heard countless times at the dinner table. This week as I memorize Colossians 4:6, I’m hearing it from the Apostle Paul.
Speaking with Outsiders
While instructing the Colossian Christians how to engage in conversation, Paul issues two imperatives: speak gracious words and season them with salt, always. This standard is high. One grammarian calls absolutes like always and each “the most dangerous words you can throw around.” They make people uncomfortable because they don’t allow for exceptions; we like wiggle room. It’s easier to attain a standard of speaking graciously most of the time to some of the people. But Scripture doesn’t give us that option.
We’re called to speech that is gracious, a word the dictionary defines as courteous, kind, and pleasant. But biblically gracious speech is more than being polite. Scripture says there is a type of speech that sounds gracious but is hiding hatred, folly, and sin (Proverbs 26:25).
Speech that is truly gracious is fitting and proper (Ephesians 4:29). Gracious words promote instruction (Proverbs 16:21), are noble (Psalm 45:2), and sweet to the soul (Proverbs 15:26). But they can also make people squirm, or worse. Jesus’ own townsfolk marveled at his gracious words, right before they tried to throw him over a cliff (Luke 4:22, 28-29).
Throughout his letter Paul shows us that gracious speech does not preclude candor. He opens by asking God to give the Colossians wisdom, then he tells them that they are in danger of succumbing to human wisdom (2:8). He warns them not to be deluded, taken captive, or disqualified from the faith, acting as if they are still alive in the world. And he implores them to live a certain way, delivering imperatives to obey. His words are not soft. And they are well-seasoned.
Well-Salted, Not Salty
Writing in a pre-refrigeration era, Paul didn’t command believers to let their speech be preserved with salt—preservation from spoiling being the most common use of salt in the ancient world—but rather, he told them to let their speech be seasoned with salt. He was saying, in effect, that their speech should be flavorful to their hearers’ ears.
About once a year, I forget to put salt in my bread dough. Thirty minutes in the oven produces piping hot loaves and an aroma that calls everyone to the kitchen. Slice, butter, taste. Yuck! Without salt, bread doesn’t even taste like bread. It tastes like cardboard. I’m pretty sure even birds wouldn’t eat the crumbs.
Like unsalty Christians, unsalted bread is good for nothing (Matthew 5:13). After it’s baked it’s too late to do anything about it. A friend assured me it could easily be repaired. She sliced and buttered a whole loaf then grabbed the salt shaker. It was even worse. Like a salt lick.
Cookbook author Samin Nosrat says, “If food isn’t salted properly, no amount of fancy cooking techniques or garnishes will make up for it” (Salt Fat Acid Heat, p. 27). Shaking salt over my bread after the fact was a disgust-inducing substitute for what Nosrat calls “seasoning food from within.”
This is a helpful picture for what the Apostle Paul is commending to us: speech salted from within by the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:16), saturating our hearts such that well-seasoned speech is what overflows from our mouths (Luke 6:45, Psalm 37:30).
Our aim should be Word-saturated, gospel-infused conversations every chance we get. Regardless of how people respond, there is never a time when it is fitting for a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ to be ungracious. Nor is there an unbelieving person undeserving of, or not in need of, gracious, well-salted speech.
This doesn’t mean you guide every conversation with your auto mechanic to the verses about the “oil of gladness” (though it might), but that you talk about everyday things in a way that honors Christ. Your manner of speaking should be different from the way unbelievers talk (Colossians 3:8).
People who are hungry for truth will relish the Word spoken in love. Even talk about God’s wrath against sin will be welcomed by a heart that is longing for forgiveness. There’s a hungry world out there. So don’t forget. Please, pass the salt.
What might it look like to have speech that is seasoned from within by the salt of truth? • After church: Instead of telling a friend after she’s shared some hard news, “I’ll pray about that…later,” asking her, “can I pray with you right now?” • At the grocery store: Going beyond chit-chat with someone in the aisle about the gorgeous weather to giving the glory to the God who makes it for our enjoyment. Or, when asking the clerk about her special needs daughter, turning the conversation to hope beyond any worldly comforts. • With the children in your life: Turning conversations about everyday frustrations and trials naturally to God’s goodness, sovereignty, and love; our sinfulness and need for help; and Christ’s rescuing grace.
Would unbelievers observe you being a hope-filled person? Are you always prepared to give a reason for that hope? (1 Peter 3:15)
Ask God to season your speech with His Word, so that in every situation you’ll know what to say. You can pray this silently, even in the middle of a conversation.