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How We Ought to Speak

The book of Colossians has much to say regarding the speech of those who are now in Christ. As God’s chosen people, there is a clear and biblical manner in which we ought to speak. Paul tells the church at Colossae to put away slander, obscene talk, and to abstain from lying (Col 3:8-9). In place of those activities they are to teach and admonish one another and to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness (Col 3:16). They are to continue steadfastly in prayer (Col 4:2) and speak graciously, winsomely, wisely, and sensitively with outsiders (Col 4:5-6).

Before concluding his letter, Paul asks the church to pray for him. Remarkably, he doesn’t ask them to pray for his release from prison. Instead, he asks them to pray that God would provide him with opportunities to share the gospel!

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3-4).

What I want us to notice is the last part of verse 4. Paul’s desire was not only for opportunities to make the gospel manifest, but clarity in his preaching. He says clarity in talking about the content of the gospel is his duty, or his obligation. This passage, and the parallel passage found in Ephesians 6:18-20, help us understand how we are obligated to speak as ambassadors for Christ.

Speak with Precision and Clarity

As Christians, we ought to speak with theological precision and clarity (Col 4:4; Psalm 119:130). This is how we remain faithful to, and contend for, the good news entrusted to us (1 Tim 6:20; Jude 3). This means at least two things. First, we must use the right biblical words and concepts to communicate our message. Second, we must ensure what we say is as clear and plain as it can possibly be to our audience. This doesn’t mean we throw out biblical terms for inoffensive, therapeutic ones and water down our message. Rather, we should strive to explain the biblical terms we use (that God inspired!) in a culturally accessible manner. Whatever our cultural context, we are to give clear and precise expression to timeless truths without doctrinal compromise. Preaching the gospel with creativity and novelty is nothing to celebrate when it comes at the expense of the truth.

Preaching the gospel with creativity and novelty is nothing to celebrate when it comes at the expense of the truth

This also means our speech must not be vague, ambiguous, or unclear. This happens when our message lacks the details needed for a right understanding or becomes bloated with super-spiritual and therapeutic words and phrases that would leave even the most fluent Christianese speaker confused. We must never compromise biblical truth for catchy and spiritual sounding phrases that are unclear and confusing.

Speak with Boldness and Confidence

In a parallel passage in Ephesians we also learn that we ought to speak with boldness. Paul, once again writing from prison, asks for prayer that he would declare the mystery of the gospel boldly. This is synonymous with proclaiming the gospel clearly and precisely. It takes boldness to preach a message which an unbelieving world finds so offensive.

“To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18b-20).

As Christians, we ought to speak boldly because of the confidence we have in our sovereign God. We know the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18-24; 2:4-5). Our boldness is rooted in the fact that God’s Word will not return void and will accomplish its purposes (Isaiah 55:11). We should not be ashamed of preaching the good news because has God has ordained it as the means by which His kingdom is advanced (Rom 10:14; 1 Peter 1:23-25). When we subtract from, or add to, the gospel message we show a lack of trust in the Spirit to work in and through the Word to bring about salvation.

What’s at Stake

If we want people to understand the gospel, vague and ambiguous phrases won’t do

If we want people to understand the gospel, vague and ambiguous phrases won’t do. When we realize eternity apart from God is at stake, we should do everything we can to ensure we are boldly presenting the gospel as clearly and precisely as possible. Anything less shows a lack of love for our neighbors. In order to communicate biblical truth with clarity and precision, however, we must know what Scripture says. We are commanded to grow in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10, 28-29; 2 Pet 3:17-18) and to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). As a result, we will know how defend the gospel and preach it winsomely, effectively, and graciously (Col 4:5-6).

A genuine love for God will result in a desire to represent Him well to the world. If we understand what’s at stake for those who don’t believe the gospel, we should strive to preserve, promote, and preach the Christian faith in a way that will be clear and direct. May we, as ambassadors for Christ, pray for boldness and clarity, which is how we ought to speak.

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