“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
These words come from a person who knew how to love on people and how to argue with them as well — Paul. He never shied away from a difficult conversation, but he also wrote some of the most encouraging words in the New Testament. He was firm but gentle with Philemon. He spoke tenderly to the Philippians about Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:19–30). But only a couple of verses later (3:2), he spoke sternly about legalism and those who promote it. It didn’t seem like an odd transition at all.
Paul seemed to be able to say the nicest things and the hardest things in ways that made neither seem out of place or disingenuous. We all know that the Corinthian church had a lot of moral degradants, egotists and relationally challenged folks in their midst. Paul nevertheless referenced the saints among them (1:1–2) and thanked God deeply for them (1:3). Then he proceeded to correct them for a host of problems.
How could he make such rapid shifts in communication? How could he keep his love personal and not get too personal in his criticism? He was always honest in his conversations and writings yet leaned toward grace. When you look at those two pieces of his written conversation in Philippians 2-3, they were really one. He was concerned about people in both, and, because of that concern, he said nice things to build up and hard things to protect.
The conversation was not about himself, how he was perceived or offended. He was not saying things that showed subjective bias or personal preference. He loved the church and its best servants. And he would not tolerate any thing, person or idea that would hurt it. Hence, what looked like tenderness turned to anger was only genuine concern taking its appropriate course.
If the orientation in conversation is for the benefit of others — to be full of grace or to offer grace to or about people — and it is seasoned with this kind of salt, then it can be simultaneously soft and hard. Difficulty arises when our focus is on self-advancement or self-defense. Difficult conversations are hard to be held when our own interests are front and center. It is impossible to sound very concerned about others if we are screaming with self-concern.
Colossians 4:6 ends with “so that you may know how to answer everyone.” This recipe works for answering people with whom you disagree as well as with whom you agree. Being full of grace means that you truly will go out of your way to give others what they may not deserve, which may even be respect for those who have not earned it.
I believe that simply agreeing with everyone is flat and disingenuous. It is rarely the way people converse who are living according to conviction and seeking truth. The most sincere people are passionate about good and will defend it. So don’t go into conversations just bent on capitulating or having no opinion.
I also believe that being argumentative is just wrong. Looking for a fight does no one any good and simply makes the argumentative person look mean and/or negative and harsh. It is interesting to note that Paul even gave that counsel to the people among whom he praised and had some harsh words (Philippians 2:14–16). Complaining and arguing does not win friends. Speaking truth with grace and love almost always wins respect even if it fails to convince.
If you must have a difficult conversation, let it be seasoned with grace as though it were salt. Seasoned disagreement is healthy if the seasoning is grace. If it is bitterness or anger, it will never benefit anyone. Go ahead. Get into seasoned conversation and you will be surprised at how productive it can be — even the difficult parts.
BISHOP MATTHEW THOMAS has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.2