Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
One word can change the entire course of a thing. The difference between “yes” and “no” in a critical situation can literally alter the future in profound ways. A parent’s declaration of a child’s “worth” or perceived “worthlessness” can set in motion a beautiful trajectory or a destructive spiral.
In the verse mentioned above there was one word that stood out to me and seems to be similar in its singular power. The innocent word “how” stands like a giant in my reading of this text. Paul could have, but didn’t, say “what”, or “when”, or “if” (read them all through and see if they would make more sense to you). Paul said “how”.
Since the apostle didn’t elaborate, I can only be taken to one place to see “how” we are supposed to speak to “each person”. (There is a implication from the preceding verse that this entire blurb is about “outsiders”, but there is also enough ambiguity in this verse to indicate that Paul could be talking about people in general.) Jesus is, we should be able to agree, the model for us all. He is the pinnacle of exemplary living that, if we are ever confused on a point of operation, can give us direct insight and direction through the narrative recounting of His life in the Gospels.
In a time when much of our language, even in the church (at times particularly in the church), is charged with venomous accusations of “this group” or “that movement” or “those people” or “everyone else”, Jesus’ manner of addressing the world stands at arm’s length. This is the man who reigned condemnation on the “good people” while a blatantly sexually immoral woman knelt, bared and ashamed, in front of Him. To her there was only grace. This is the man who pointed out the shortcomings of His dinner host and then lauded the expression of worship offered by a prostitute at His feet. This is the man that quietly promised “paradise” to a truly condemned criminal hanging beside Him during His execution (it should be noted that Matthew tells us “both” of the other men on the cross were, at one time, jeering at Jesus and insulting Him). This is the man that castigated Peter for defending Him in the garden of Gethsemane as the band of roughnecks came to take Jesus to court and eventually death.
So, “how” do we speak with “salty words”? We speak like Jesus. We choose to, at the risk of our reputation and renown, see the world through what Phillip Yancey refers to as “grace-healed eyes”. We see people for who they could be, in Christ, not who they are in themselves and in “this moment”. We see people as we ought to see ourselves: wholly reliant on the matchless mercy and undeserved favor of God.
“How” we say what is true, and of course truth is also a pre-requisite, must be seen as equally important to other criteria such as “when”, “if”, and “what”. “Salt” can, at times, mean bringing painful reality to an open wound to keep infection from setting in. “Salt” can, at other times, mean making something bitter or flavorless more palatable and effective for nourishment.
Take care today friends to wonder “how” you ought to speak to those whom God cares for enough to put you in their paths. Never neglect the “how”, it can easily cancel out the “what”.