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You have to be nice to me...
Updated April 10, 2023 to match the new Spanish version: “Me tienes que recibir…”
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” (Colossians 4:5, ESV)
Our sobremesas ought to be as inclusive as possible. That’s why I’m saying: I’m an outsider… AND you have to be nice to me.
Everybody enjoys laid back, after-meal table-talk with our people. We can relax and just be ourselves… coffee (strong and black, please), good food, conversation… what’s not to love?
But if our hearts are set on an effective Christian presence in the real world, evaluating our weaknesses will benefit everyone. For now, I’m thinking about what happens when we don’t resist the temptation to discuss things unique to our spiritual family—in a language outsiders are not familiar with. If there is someone at table with us who is not a believer we would do well to avoid shoptalk. Otherwise, the outsider might end up feeling more “outside” than before.
Sometimes I see us inconsiderate and self-absorbed… so much so that the time spent sharing our wonderful words turns into a squandered opportunity to draw someone from outside into our circle.
When we start talking shop, do we think people around us will be impressed by our fine-tuned grasp of Scripture and sound doctrine? Their real reaction might be closer to:
“What the___ are they talking about?”
“Do these people think they are closer to God than I am?
“Am I less than they are?”
Who wants to make friends with someone who makes them feel inferior?
When we are alone among unbelievers, it can be hard to find ways to contribute meaningfully to the conversation… but it might also be easier to avoid offense. On the other hand, a core of discerning disciples in the presence of just one person who is not a believer, can make a huge difference in that person’s experience at table with us.
It’s no fun feeling like the outsider. I’m an outsider… always have been. Now I’m a veteran missionary (picture a silver-haired old guy in raggedy clothes, leaning on a crutch with a bloody rag wrapped around his head). People—including Christian people—often struggle with what to say when I tell them what I did for 40 years in another country. “Oh, that’s nice.” And then we pivot back to sports… or cars… or politics… or the weather.
There are other factors that make me weird and unfit to be with you. I might be more strange than you imagined. But it doesn’t matter how strange I am or how uncomfortable I make you feel. There is a Biblical exhortation for you about people like me:
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 4:5-6, ESV)
See? it’s right there in the Bible…
I’m an outsider… AND you have to be nice to me.
I often have outsiders at table with me… AND I have to be nice to them.
It takes time to have a disciple or two around us who think of the outsiders in the room first.
It takes patience to cultivate a tacit understanding in which the presence of someone new means we drop the Christian slang. Instead, we share testimonies of how Jesus found us… how he has changed our lives… and how certain we are of our eternal destiny. Lots of hugs and kisses won’t hurt either.
In the midst of an increasingly sleepy witness for Jesus among “normal” Christians, we might look radical… but we will look attractive and welcoming to outsiders.
Sobremesa: It should be one of the most inclusive things we do. There is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. (Luke 15:7) There is joy in our hearts when an outsider becomes one of us.