Mahatma Gandhi, the leader who helped secure India’s independence from the British in the twentieth century, was once asked why he would not convert to Christianity, even though he professed admiration for Jesus. His answer was, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
It is easy to ignore Gandhi’s words because he had a deficient view of Christ — often, it seems, he saw Jesus only as a nonviolent social reformer. It is also easy to say non-Christians should not judge Jesus’ claims about Himself based on His followers’ deeds — though this observation is not without merit. Yet like it or not, unbelievers often base their views of Christianity on the behavior of Jesus’ professed followers (at the very least, they use our hypocrisy to justify their rebellion against the Creator).
Paul and the other apostles would have us hear what non-Christians like Gandhi are saying when they note how we fall short of the character of Christ. The problem is not really that we fail to meet Jesus’ standards, although we must strive to do what He says. None of us will ever perfectly follow Him, and the world should not, on its own, expect as much (1 John 1:8–9). The problem is that often we do not admit our own failures to follow Jesus or do not confess that we often preach the gospel in a manner that invites the world to expect an instant transformation of sinners into flawless saints.
That is why Paul in today’s passage calls us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (Col. 4:5). The basic gospel message is easy to learn, but it takes wisdom to present it in a way that will not unnecessarily create obstacles to its truth in the hearts and minds of unbelievers. Warning people of the judgment due their sin with honesty, love, and humility can be difficult. We can fall into the trap either of being so concerned about sounding judgmental that we never talk about sin or of being so self-righteous that we forget the grace shown to us and treat people as if they are so unclean that Jesus could never forgive them and welcome them into His kingdom.
It takes wisdom to live and to preach the gospel effectively, and to make the best use of our time (v. 5). Often we lose a sense of gospel urgency, believing that people have endless opportunities to believe in Christ. But Jesus could return at any time, so we must make opportunities everyday to share the gospel.