Today, I’m finishing my three-week time in Ephesians. There’s clearly a lot more in this book that I need to learn, but that’ll be at another time when I come back to it. I haven’t decided which book of the Bible I will study next.
One of the first passages that stood out was one dealing with speech:
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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)
Pretty basic stuff, but not easy at all. For a long time, I thought that as long as I didn’t go out of my way to say hurtful things, then I wouldn’t be hurting anyone in my speech. However, I’ve realized how dangerous a careless word or comment can be. I need to be extremely careful of everything I say. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
According to v. 29, here is the way a Christian should always talk:
- Without corruption: nothing bad or rotten should be said. Specifically, chapter 5 says that “no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” about sex should be involved (v. 4). There’s a fine line between being honest (and not prudish) about sex while at the same time not talking about it to satisfy the lust of the speaker (off the top of my head, I can think of several instances where I have done this). If you find yourself bringing sex unnecessarily into many of your conversations, that’s probably a bad sign. (Apparently, Ted Haggard did this frequently before his homosexual behavior was discovered.)
- Building up: constructive and encouraging, even when criticizing; being careful not to criticize without offering encouragement. I often assume that people around me know that I appreciate them and their work — but, of course, I never tell them. So when I do come to them with criticisms, it’s deflating and discouraging. I know how that feels because I’ve been on the other end of the stick.
- Fitting the occasion: whatever needs to be said. Everything should be carefully shaped to address the need of the situation. No doubt this requires a lot of skill, practice, and prayer. I look forward to seeing this become second nature as God teaches me how I can make my speech become “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).
- Giving grace to those who hear: communicating the grace of God that should be evident in our own lives. Every word we say should be a gift from God to those around us. Reading the Bible or a good Christian book is an encouragement to me; my own words should encourage others in the same way.
The next three verses demonstrate that a) it’s possible to grieve the Holy Spirit by the way we speak toward others (v. 30), and b) speech should contain no characteristics of “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” as well as “all malice” (v. 31); instead, our words should be “kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32). That last phrase is a good reminder that we are called to speak to others the way God speaks to us — with love, mercy, and forgiveness.
Holy crap, this post went a lot longer than I thought it would. I was worrying as I began this blog that I’d get tired of it really fast, but it’s clearly becoming too much fun to stop. It’s been a great success in getting me to think more deeply over the scriptures. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.