The man we come to remember week by week spoke with power and grace. We recall that Sabbath day, when he closed the book, gave it to the minister, and sat down. On that occasion the eyes of every person in the synagogue were fixed on him and they wondered at the gracious words which came out of his mouth. In wonderment they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:20-22). The content of that address was not recorded but Luke tells us that they all were moved by those words of grace!

Speaking gra­cious words is something Paul encourages us to strive after. He wrote, “Let your speech be alway with grace, sea­soned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col 4:6). This exhortation to speak always with grace forms the central theme of our consideration.

It is significant that the apostle prefaced his remarks with this thought in verse 5: “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.” Speaking words of grace must be accom­panied by a corresponding walk in wisdom. Walking and talking wisely allows us to give full expression to the word of Christ which ought to dwell in us “richly in all wisdom” (Col 3:16). It is worth point­ing out that the Greek word for “richly” carries the meaning of copiously or abundantly.

So we are to walk wisely and talk wisely, but with grace, ensuring that our conversation is seasoned with salt. Here are two key ingredients – grace and salt. Let us look at these two components in more detail.

Thoughts on Grace

The Greek word for grace is charis and the lexicons tell us it is that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, and loveliness. Paul is telling us that our speech ought to be joyful, pleasurable, delightful and so on.

In Proverbs 16:21,23-24 (ESV) we read this about gracious speech: “ The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness … The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persua­siveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a hon­eycomb, sweet­ness to the soul and health to the body.” Notice that kind wisdom and gracious words persuade and heal. They can be a wonderful force for good.

Paul makes a similar point in Ephesians 4:29 (ESV): “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”. Edifying topics of conversation give grace. They impart a sense of well-being and pleasantness that allows the hearer to be strengthened. Is our speech like that?

Background on Salt

Job comments that salt was a condiment, “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?” (6:6). It was added to food to impart or enhance its flavour.

In the Old Testament, the phrase “seasoned with salt” is only used in two places, both under the Law:

  • The incense offered in the Holy Place is said to have been “tempered together” (Exod 30:35). The margin has “salted together.” The ESV and other modern translations have “seasoned with salt.”
  • Salt was also a vital component of the meal offering: “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offer­ing: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (Lev 2:13).

In connection with this second quote we note that the offering mentioned is a meal or grain of­fering, not a meat offering as in the KJV. The Hebrew word is minchah, meaning a present or a gift. It was voluntary, freely offered out of the abundance of a man’s heart. By bringing a meal offering, the Israelites acknowledged God’s supreme sovereignty and that all blessings came from Him.

The meal offering was a cereal offering consisting of fine flour mixed with oil and ac­companied by frankincense (Lev 2:1-2). The frankincense was not spread on the flour like the oil but was added in such a way that it could be lifted from the minchah and burned upon the altar (v2). The oil is a symbol of God’s Word, and frankincense is representative of prayer, and God loved that aroma (v9) because it was a symbol of a faithful and grateful servant.

Being more than just fine flour, it stands in contrast to the sin offering. In Leviticus 5:11 we learn that the poorest man could offer a sin offer­ing consisting of a tenth part of fine flour without oil and frankincense. As a sin offering it could not have the character of a minchah and that is why oil and frankincense were not permitted. A man could not offer to God the fruits of the Word of God and of prayer in connection with a sacrifice seeking the forgiveness of sin.

It should be noted that the meal offering was the only offering completely free from the shedding of blood because it was an offering in which man’s need for atonement was not being highlighted.

In Leviticus 2:13 there is a three-fold repetition relating to salt. There is a temptation to read the last of these as applying to every offering under the law, but it doesn’t say that, and isn’t stated in any other offering. Why add salt? Well, here is an interest­ing fact. There is more salt in animal tissue such as meat, blood and milk, than there is in plant tissue. Nomads who sub­sist on their flocks and herds do not eat salt with their food, but agricul­turalists, feeding mainly on cere­als and vegetable matter, need to supplement their diet with salt. So, with the only of­fering where there was no blood and no animal tissue, no natural salts, God said “I need you to put some salt in there.” Why was that?

Firstly, there is a practical reason for adding salt; it would assist with the burning in the fire (in fact salt is sodium chloride, and sodium as a metallic element burns with a golden yellow colour) and it would season the remainder eaten by the priests. But the spiritual lessons are far greater. In Leviticus 2:11 we read that leaven and honey were excluded because they aid corruption, and in contrast salt was added because it helps prevent corruption. Salt was in and leaven was out.

We see that salt also speaks of permanence, hence it is linked with a covenant in verse 13; an enduring relationship. Here are two more examples:

  • the prophet Abijah said, “Hear me, O Jeroboam and all Israel! Ought you not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?” (2 Chron 13:4-5 ESV)
  •  the contributions of the people to the Levites were a perpetual due, a covenant of salt for­ever! (Num 18:19)

Salt therefore speaks of permanence, an enduring relationship. And in the only offering that didn’t have natural salts (due to the absence of animal tissue), God said to leave out the corruptible things (leaven, honey) and add salt (perma­nence) as a covenant forever.

Now all of this would have been in Paul’s mind when he used the symbol of salt in Colossians 4:6.

How we Talk in this Modern World

Paul has exhorted us that our speech must be with grace and seasoned with salt, flavoured with permanence. Let us appreciate that the things we say are long-term statements, in the ears of the listener and in the ears of God! But sadly, in all the natural world, we humans behave very inconsist­ently. We can one minute bless God, says James, and in the next curse our neighbour (James 3:9). Where is our sincerity? James shows that such hypocrisy is condemned by nature: fig trees don’t bear olives; vines don’t bear figs; brackish springs don’t yield fresh water (James 3:12). To him it is inconceivable that the tongue which is exercised wholeheartedly with God should defile itself by speaking evil of man.

As we are well aware, too often a wrong word has bitter long-term consequences. The tone isn’t right, or there’s a lack of respect, or there are ac­cusations (lying, hypocrisy, wrong doctrine), or sometimes we pick up that people talk about us behind our back. Are we discussion items at other people’s dinner tables?

Words can also be written as well as spoken. Today’s Facebook conversations can be typed at speed with reckless abandon and no thought about where they will go. They are easy to misinterpret.

People can even hide behind a false name. Where is the sincerity in that? Where is the edifying and enduring relationship of salt? Where is the long­term commitment to build and minister grace in those hasty lines sent in the spur of the moment?

So many think so little before they speak. The Proverbs note: “A fool takes no pleasure in under­standing, but only in expressing his opinion” (18:2 ESV)

The Lessons on Communication – Good and Bad

In Joshua 22 the 91/2 tribes on the western side of the Jordan feared that the tribes on the eastern side had com­mitted a corrupt and dangerous act in build­ing an altar. The tribes on the eastern side had done it because they didn’t trust the western tribes.

The western tribes, though, prepared for war and came to remonstrate with the eastern tribes. Neither side was prepared to investigate and communicate with the other. They both assumed the worse of the other but once the dialogue started they soon found that by talking in a calm and reasoned manner their concerns were baseless. If the eastern tribes had communicated first, then the whole issue would not have arisen in the first place. Paul wrote, “But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal 5:15).

There is a good lesson on communication in 1 Samuel 25. David came with murderous intent and 400 men to settle a misjudged score with Nabal. The gracious Abigail quickly came out and, even though David was in the wrong, cried, “On me, my Lord, be the guilt” (v24 ESV)! And David calmed down. There was no bloodshed and ultimately good prevailed. The Wise Man advises: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1 ESV).

Another lesson is in 2 Samuel 16. David was on the run from his son, Absalom. Shimei came out and cursed him as he went, throwing stones at David, at his servants, and at all the mighty men. Captain Abishai had had enough, and said, “Let me go over and take off his head” (v9 ESV). David’s gracious reply is beautiful: “Let him curse! May it be that God will repay me with good for this curs­ing” (v11). When was the last time we said that?: “Let him curse!” Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3 ESV).

Communication Judged

Christ warned: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the house­tops” (Luke 12:2-3 ESV).

Consider for a moment what will be brought to light at the judgment seat of Christ. Arranging Brothers, that terse letter you wrote to another ec­clesia will be brought up, made public and assessed. At the judgment, brother and sister, that hurtful rumour, that rebuke, will be unveiled. And we will all know about it. At the judgment, young people, that Facebook entry that slandered another son or daughter of God, trying to put them in their place, will be exposed. Every single bit. And we will all know about it and what won’t matter at all is the number of online friends we may have, or the number of likes!

May we resolve to make our verbal communica­tion always to be pleasant and for the good of the other, to build-up. May our written communication be well thought out and for long-term good. May our social media contributions be mindful of long­term consequences. May our family discussions be respectful and kind.

Remembering Christ

As we reiterate Luke’s account of that wonderful speech in Nazareth, we learn that “the eyes of every person in the synagogue were fixed on him. And they wondered at the gracious words which came out of his mouth” (4:20,21 ESV). It was a wonder to them because they rarely heard their leaders or contemporaries speak like that. It was foreign to their experiences. How much more would they have wondered if they were able to hear him before his adversaries when he later defended himself with dignity and restraint.

He suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps. He didn’t sin: there was no guile found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threat­ened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously (1 Pet 2:21-23). As we remember him, let us pattern our communication on his, always seasoned with grace!