There are a number of enthusiastic cooks in our family. A byproduct of this passion is an affinity for TV cooking shows. One thing I’ve learned by watching skilled chefs is that they really know and respect each ingredient so as to create the most flavourful and satisfying dishes. They approach their cooking with care and creativity.
I think the Apostle Paul was probably a resourceful cook. With all the travelling he did, he must have developed some favourite dishes and picked up many ideas from the various cultures he encountered on his journeys. At a minimum, he seems to have understood that most basic cooking rule: don’t forget the seasoning!
Any chef worth their salt knows that both the quantity and timing of the application of seasoning matters greatly. Take for example three simple dishes: a steak should be salted generously before it’s grilled, bolognese sauce while it’s being cooked and hot chips immediately after they’re extracted from the deep frier. Getting the timing wrong will fail to produce the best outcome. The quantity is also critical. Too much salt will spoil the dish, too little salt fails to bring out the full flavour potential.
So it is for us as we engage with people about our Christian beliefs. The context of our devotional passage is sharing the love of Christ with unbelievers. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul is asking for prayer so 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.” (Col. 4:3-4)
As followers of Christ, we are all called to be His “witnesses”(Acts 1:8). While the command applies equally to all Christians, the methods employed can be incredibly diverse, as can be seen throughout the book of Acts in particular.
Spiritual wisdom is necessary to ensure we approach each God-given opportunity with due care and sensitivity. It’s important to resist the tendency to treat people like ‘evangelistic projects’ rather than unique individuals who deserve love and respect.
We may neglect to take sufficient time to get to know people in order to properly understand their unique personality, their history, and their concerns. Like a telemarketer, we jump straight into our pre-prepared script naively assuming that our clever evangelistic techniques will somehow trick them into accepting the truth of the Gospel. We place too little emphasis on letting the relationship mature naturally in order to develop a sincere interest in their holistic wellbeing – mind, body and spirit. Ultimately, we risk damaging the relationship with ‘premature seasoning’.
It’s also possible to ‘over season’. We might place too great an emphasis on working our ‘evangelistic agenda’ into every conversation, giving the perception that we’re not really interested in them as a person. Like an over-salted bowl of soup, the relationship spoils.
Of course for many of us it’s the opposite problem. Our insecurities and fear of rejection lead us to avoiding the topic of our Christian faith altogether. We watch every Spirit inspired opportunity pass by and fail to convey how important Jesus is in our own lives. Our friends, colleagues and neighbours struggle to distinguish us from the world around them. Everything on the plate looks and tastes the same. The relationship fails to reach its potential, never being seasoned with the truth of the Gospel.
So what’s the solution? How do we effectively gauge the appropriate timing and amount of witnessing required in our relationships? Paul gave us the answer:
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Col. 4:2)
No matter how many evangelism classes we attend, books we read or clever techniques we rehearse, nothing is more effective in this supernatural endeavour than the power of prayer. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit provides the wisdom we need when He makes the path clear. That is the only way to ensure we don’t ‘spoil the dish’ with untimely or excessive seasoning, and is how we “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Col. 4:5). Even a cursory survey of current world events will lead to the conclusion that Jesus’ return is imminent (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-9). There is no time to waste. With God’s guidance, every relationship will eventually provide an opportunity for our Christian witness to be expressed, in words and deeds. All we need to do is to get on with our seasoning by following Paul’s example, who even while in prison for his faith was able to say:
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” (Col. 1:28-29)