The Words We Say
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29
Our words hold power – the power to tear down and to lift up. To deflate and to persuade. To bring strife and to bring joy. We find so much in God’s Word about carefully managing our thoughts and what comes out of our mouths. It’s a book primarily about building relationships. And when we don’t consider the harmful effects our negative words can have on others, there is potential for broken relationships.
A friend candidly shared recently that he had bite marks on his shoes from getting his foot stuck in his mouth so many times. Oh, how I can relate! I cringe when I think of the many idiotic things that I have escaped my mouth. Often, it’s my desire to look cool or seem funny and clever. Yet, it comes out so wrong. I may hurt a friend, embarrass my family or faith, and even wiped a bit of the shiny off how others perceive me.
The first half of Ephesians 4:29 is a reminder to not let any unwholesome talk leave our mouths. Jumping over to verse 31, we see one way unwholesome talk can be defined: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
Who acts like this? I think of small children who get into immature fights at a playground. Yet, we never really grow up. Mean girls in Junior High School and High School turn into mean, spiteful women. We must rise to a level of thinking higher - to where our Godly Father calls us and where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We have been raised with Christ, so we must look up and set our minds on things that are above, not on earthly things – both selfish and ungodly. (Colossians 3:1-2)
How then should we speak to one another? “…only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” And over to verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Only after keeping a journal did I also see how many of thoughts are dedicated to my own selfish wants and needs. My prayers too. How often do I consider my friends, family, neighbors and coworkers? When have I ever spent a few minutes thinking how I may build them up and follow up on their needs?
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
The times when our words are correct, yet they come from a heart made of stone are just as ineffective. In Matthew 15, Jesus strongly criticizes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. So bent on the rules, they miss the heart of the matter. He says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Often, we may appear to honor God with our words but our hearts may be far from Him and His people.
Jesus then addressed the crowd: “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth; that is what defiles them.”
God is changing our hearts and minds, so that we may think like Him. Rather than conforming to the ways of this world and joining our friends in idle gossip, for example, we would allow God to transform us through the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2)
After all, the smartest way to better our speech is to first change our minds – where the words we say originate. To speak positively and with genuine love, we must first think that way – like Jesus.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8).
For me, it’s a fighting battle. My natural self wants to stray toward negative thoughts and distrust. It’s often easy to fall back into old patterns and even feel that sense of belonging when I join in the group chatter around me. Later in Ephesians 4, Paul reminds us to keep our former life just that – in the past, where all of our deceitful desires and corrupt thoughts live. Like putting on a new set of clean clothes, we have become something new, different and not of this world. Our new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Why would we ever go back to our old ways?
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)