Continuing in Prayer, Part 3: Speaking Clearly
In asking for prayer, Paul describes his desire for clear communication, based upon wisdom and gracious speech.
[Pray] that I may make it [the mystery of Christ] clear, which is how I ought to speak. 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. Colossians 4:4-6 (ESV)
Clear: phaneroo (rendered apparent), from phaneros (shining, public, external), from phaino (lightened, shining, showing), from phao (to shine, especially by rays). We use words such as phosphor and photo, all relating to light and brightness.
The goal of preaching (or Sunday School!) is to make hidden truth public and external, or easily seen. The preacher or teacher must experience God's supernatural enabling to understand the mystery, the hidden truth of God's Word. The preacher or teacher must then use human language and images to make that truth public and external. This concept forces us to depend upon at least three foundational principles:
1) We teach God's Word only. Human opinions and experience are subordinate to God's revealed words.
2) Language is only a tool for communication. Human language is not sacred, and it is subject to change. If the people don't understand English, speak the language they DO understand.
3) Prayer does not move God's hand - prayer moves our hearts to become aligned to God's heart, allowing the actions of His hands to glorify the One Who deserves glorifying: God Almighty. Unless the glory will go to God alone, He will not act.
Clear communication depends upon two basic elements:
- Wise use of your listener's time
- Gracious speech, using well-chosen words
Not too surprisingly, the word wisdom has a direct relationship with the word, clear.
Wisdom: sophia (wisdom), related to saphes (clear).
To better understand Paul's use of the word, wisdom, look at the letter he wrote to the church in Rome:
I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. Romans 16:19 (ESV)
Paul encouraged Christians to be wise (clear) about good, and simple (unmixed, or innocent) about evil. He presented simplicity as the opposite of wisdom.
Wisdom, or clarity, is the ability to sort through a multitude of conflicting factors, seeing each issue clearly and ranking them in importance. Wisdom results in practical, down-to-earth sucess.
Simplicity, or innocence, is a mind that is "unmixed", unexperienced in evil, lacking knowledge of fleshly temptations that can cloud a situation. Being simple about evil is healthy because many sinful desires are not awakened.
However, a Christian that is simple or unmixed about good things cannot begin to recognize priorities or appropriateness. Surrounded by multiple good things, how can a simple mind choose what is best for each circumstance? A baby cannot tell the difference between water or bleach - an adult can recognize appropriate uses of both.
Being wise about what is good allows a Christian to recognize the most important issues, to sort through competing distractions or diverse cultural differences, and clearly see a path to effective communication.
What do you think? Does your experience support the idea that being simple, or innocent, in evil is healthy? What about children raised in a sheltered, controlled home, suddenly set free as a young adult, unable to cope with a harsh, sinful world?
Paul especially saw the need for wisdom when time is of the essence. Limited time requires a speaker to choose words and images that are most easily understood by the listener. Wisdom allows clear thinking and clear communicating.
As well as wisdom, Paul saw gracious speech as essential for clear communication.
Gracious: charis (gratifying, causing one to be cheerful or calmly happy).
Gracious speech is calculated to bring the listener to a point of cheer or happiness. This can only happen if the speaker chooses words that are true, understandable, and ultimately lead to the Source of happiness: Jesus Christ.
Gracious speech does not mean avoiding sin or error. Confrontation or rebuke is often required before a person's heart can recognize the need for forgiveness and spiritual regeneration. The point of Paul's emphasis upon graciousness is seen in salt. Salt is added to food to make it appealing, attractive, and necessary. Too little salt is just as bad as too much salt. The goal of salt is a pleasing meal. The goal of gracious speech is a pleasing understanding of truth.
In order to salt food appropriately, a chef must know the likes and dislikes, the customs and moods of those who come to eat. So for the gracious speaker. An effective communicator must earn the listener's respect and attention by knowing their likes and dislikes, their customs and moods, their misunderstandings and their life goals. The speaker must treat each person as unique and valuable, worthy of well-chosen words.
Finally, remember that this exhortation to clearly communicate was introduced and surrounded by the need for prayer. Gracious, clear communication is a spiritual gift, given by God's Holy Spirit to people who are dependent upon Him for the ability to minister.
Skilled speakers cannot minister to others. Ministers enabled by God speak skillfully.
What do you think? Does Paul's exhortation to communicate clearly apply only to Christians who are gifted as pastors or teachers?