One of my favorite types of posts to write are responses to questions that readers have submitted. If you have a question or suggestion for a future article, please visit here to Ask a Question. Here’s the question for today:
“I came across a passage that I think is really important in the Bible and once again, I wish I knew what it meant. Col 4:6 – let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. I have heard various interpretations of what that means and I still can’t say I really get it or remember. Yet it’s obviously so important, giving instructions on how we should behave with non- believers.”
The short answer is this: Salt was a preservative that kept meat from going rancid. In the same way, because Christians have received the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our words should be marked by graciousness and a life-giving spirit. Context is King
Remember, Paul is writing Colossians from prison. A few verses earlier (Col 4:2-4), he asks for prayer, that he would have opportunities to speak clearly about Christ and the gospel even while he is in prison. It seems likely that he transitions to verses 5-6 out of a desire to see fellow believers follow his example – not speaking in self-justification or defensiveness, but in order that others would clearly hear and understand who Jesus is and what he has done.
Rather than feeding into those who wanted to defend and protect Paul’s reputation from getting dragged through the gutter, Paul’s desire was to uphold the reputation of Christ. It would be tragic for gospel-believing Christians to live and speak in a way that is not gentle and life-giving. Because Christians have received grace, they live in grace and they should speak graciously.
Paul is encouraging believers to be wise and gracious towards non-believers (v.5). Rather than speaking in order to preserve our own lives or reputation, our words should be seasoned with the life and hope that come through the gospel. It should be obvious that “speaking salty words” also includes hard and unpopular things – otherwise Paul would not be in prison.
Simply put: Keep the gospel front-and-center, avoid getting into arguments and debates about unimportant matters… instead, keep the focus on Jesus.
In today’s world, “salty language” is something that would get your kids in trouble. But, as mentioned above, it’s important to remember that salt is a natural preservative. In a hot, dry, desert climate where refrigeration didn’t yet exist, salt was valuable and important. Meat would be encased in salt, which would kill bacteria and form a protective crust which could then be washed away prior to cooking. This is process is still used today (prosciutto, anyone?).
Colossians 2:6 isn’t the only time when Paul writes about how Christians should speak. In Ephesians 4:29 he writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” and Ephesians 5:4 says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Jesus also used saltiness as a way to describe his followers,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
(Matthew 5:13 ESV)
Again, the emphasis is on our preservative effect we should have in the world around us. Christians are not to be people who add to conflict or cause divisions. Instead, we are to be people who seek the good of our world. We should work and act and speak in ways that bring blessing to those around us. Ultimately, we preserve the world by proclaiming the good news of redemption and hope through Jesus Christ – because without him the world is perishing.