Salt and Iron would like to thank and recognize Walter Peterson for submitting his work to our 1st Annual Essay Contest! Walter graduated from Hillsdale College. He explains his motivation for writing:
Writing makes me think through my ideas. It also helps me learn to take criticism well.
Read his entry below:
When considering the meaning of a passage of scripture, one must be careful to correctly categorize it as either descriptive or prescriptive. A descriptive passage is one which tells how things were, are, or will be. For example, in Genesis 22, God told Abraham to kill his son and sacrifice him on an altar. That does not mean that Christians should adopt this as regular practice, as we are not commanded to do so and it would contradict God’s attitude toward child sacrifice as stated elsewhere in scripture. Prescriptive passages are those that tell the reader something they must do or believe. Whether a passage is descriptive or prescriptive is determined primarily by context, both historical and grammatical. Relevant facts, such as who it was written to, what culture the readers were immersed in, et cetera, are the historical context. For instance, knowing what the heretical Gnostics were teaching in the first century helps flesh out what Paul is refuting in Colossians 2:18-20. Observing the grammatical context means reading the surrounding text and ensuring that one’s interpretation does not contradict it, or to put it another way, that the surrounding text informs the meaning of the passage. Another crucial point is that scripture interprets scripture: other passages addressing the same topic must be taken into account. The whole Bible is God’s word, and cannot contradict itself.
The book of Colossians was written as a letter, and as such was meant to be read to a congregation in one sitting (that is part of its historical context). Paul was addressing a specific church with specific issues to address, though, as he orders it to be read to the congregation at Laodicea as well, he knew that at least some of it was applicable to all Christians. Paul’s letter instructs Christians in putting on the new self in order that they may be presented “mature in Christ” (1:28). In chapter 3, he writes of believers’ behavior towards one another, and then, in chapter 4 verse 3, he transitions to discussing how Christians should communicate with unbelievers about the gospel. He says, “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ… that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Paul says that the door for the word is currently closed, referring to unbelievers, those whose hearts are hard and unreceptive to the gospel. This sets the stage for the next verses: he describes how he should speak when the door opens, then instructs how the readers should speak. So when he says “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”, he is primarily referring to when a believer shares the gospel with an unbeliever. So our conversations with unbelievers must be seasoned with wisdom, knowledge, and grace, so as not to place obstacles to their conversion. As Peter writes: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:14b-15, emphasis mine).
Matthew Henry says of Colossians 4:6,
Let your all your discourse be as becomes Christians, suitable to your profession—savoury, discreet, seasonable. Though it be not always of grace, it must always be with grace; and, though the matter of our discourse be that which is common, yet there must be an air of piety upon it and must be in a Christian manner seasoned with salt.
While I do not disagree with Henry when he says this seasoning applies to all topics of discussions, I think the context of the passage shows that Henry is closer to Paul’s primary point when he goes on to say,
We have need of a great deal of wisdom and grace to give proper answers to every man, particularly in answering the questions and objections of adversaries against our religion, giving the reasons of our faith, and showing the unreasonableness of their exceptions and cavils to the best advantage for our cause and least prejudice for ourselves.
For though regeneration is entirely a work of God, we must also say with Scripture that God works through his people. We do not want to make our ungracious language a stumbling block between the unsaved and the Gospel of Christ. Paul knew that he must declare the gospel clearly to those imprisoning him, and he encourages other believers to seek the wisdom to see the best way to share the gospel clearly and with grace.