“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as it fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”–Ephesians 4:29
Words are a strange thing, but words matter deeply. When you listen to a person speak who speaks a language you don’t understand, the words sound like non-sense. This is especially true with non-phonetic languages. To you these sounds have no meaning, but to those who speak the language, each sound has meaning. The sounds have an agreed upon meaning between those who speak the language. The sounds are formed to express words and those words fit together to express matters of the heart. All human beings want to express themselves. Living together requires that we be able to communicate with each other. However, the Bible tells us that our hearts are corrupt (Jeremiah 17:9) and that we cannot openly communicate all that comes to our heart. Some people pride themselves in, “Just telling it like it is!” Christians cannot do this. We must pray for the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to have self-control.
The words that we say, which are verbal expressions of what is in our mind and heart, have a moral quality. Our words are seldom neutral. Our words either tear down or build up. Our words either honor the Lord or dishonor Him. Our words affect those around us. Our words clearly tell the people around us how we feel about them. Jesus tells us (Matthew 12:35-37) that a person speaks out of the overflow of the heart. A person with a good and godly heart will speak words of blessing and encouragement. A person with a rebellious ungodly heart will speak evil words that destroy and tear down those around them. Jesus goes further to say that at the day of judgment we will be held accountable for every careless word we speak.
Every word matters. Christians, those who have confessed with their mouth that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:8-10), will go forward by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit with a changed heart. This changed, and changing, heart will overflow with different words. The difference in how a Christian speaks is a big part of what sets them apart from the world. Our different words demonstrate a different heart toward God and others. Authentically different words – same words spoken at work, at home, at church, and with friends – demonstrate an authentic change of heart.
Let’s look first at some examples of bad speech that dishonor God. These words demonstrate a deeper struggle with sin in the heart. First, is using the name of the Lord Jesus as a curse word. All Christians are forbidden to use the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7). The name of Jesus is a sacred and holy name, chosen for Jesus, and to be used for the sacred purposes of prayer, worship, and thanksgiving. Next, is the common practice of using vulgar, obscene curse words to express your emotions. Every language has different curse words, but every culture agrees that certain words are understood to be obscene and are used for that purpose. Obscene words are used for their force, power, and shock value. But the vulgar nature of these words takes us as Christians away from the sacred, or holy/set apart, place we ought to live in as Christians. When we use these words, we are convicted because they take us into the perversion and anger of the world and away from Jesus as we vent our anger or perversion.
We must be very mindful in this perverse day that our words never joke or speak about sexual matters that are inappropriate. We are directly warned in Scripture against “crude joking” (Ephesians 5:4) and are admonished that the sexuality of the marriage bed is to be held in honor, set apart from common talk (Hebrews 13:4). In our words we must have the self-control to not give vent to our anger, to hold back from a complaining spirit, and not gossip about those around us. You must not whisper about the latest rumor you heard that undercuts the character of a co-worker or neighbor (Proverbs 16:28, 18:8, 26:22). If these ungodly words are a consistent and growing part of your life, you need to examine your heart before God. You need to confess these sins and pray for the Holy Spirit to help you speak in a different and Christ-honoring way.
On the other hand, Paul admonishes the Ephesians to only speak in a good way that builds up those around us and honors the Lord our God. If we know Christ as our Savior and have spent time drawing near to Him today, it will change your heart. When your heart is changed from being near Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit – your words will be different than this dying world! By the work of Jesus, you will go about today blessing those around you. Your words will honor Jesus and shine like light in darkness. You will be one who offers wise counsel. One who holds your tongue when you should. One who gives thanks instead of complaining. You will be a person of encouraging good humor. You will speak with honesty but also with compassion.
In these things, the Christian will strive by wisdom and self-control to speak well timed words. We must return blessing for cursing, lead with words filled with grace and love to diffuse angry situations. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Our words are to give grace to those who hear. Grace is undeserved favor. Even when – especially when – others come at us with angry sinful words, we must come back to them with undeserved words of kindness, encouragement, and love. Our words must bear witness to the salvation of Jesus that has changed our heart. Our words must overflow with the eternal life that is ours in Jesus.
Taming our words will be a life-long struggle of sanctification (James 3). May the Lord give us progress everyday for His glory and for the blessing of those around us.
Soli Deo Gloria,