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.
— Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
Have you ever thought about how certain events, words, situations, people, etc. are able to greatly encourage us? Think about it, we can be going through some of the most dark and difficult days in our lives, then suddenly and graciously, God brings people into our lives that greatly encourages our hearts. One of these times occurred for me shortly after I accepted the call to become the preaching pastor of my former church. I was having a conversation with an older, retired pastor in that congregation (who has since gone on to be with the Lord) simply sharing with him my fears and worries about the task of working for revitalization in that particular church. With great kindness this brother stopped me and began to remind me of God’s faithfulness and grace for the task ahead and to encourage me from God’s Word. Perhaps you have had times like that in your life, times where for no apparent reason, God sent someone or perhaps a group of people into your life who greatly encouraged you.
Encouragement As Obedience
God has called each and every believer to use our words to encourage and help one another. I know, that isn’t always easy, as a matter of fact, it is impossible apart from the work and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Living in submission to the Holy Spirit leads to active obedience and growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Having said that however, I do not mean to imply that you and I have no active part in obedience. After all, it is God that is at work in us to produce good works but we are responsible for the good works (Philippians 2:12-13). So, how do we encourage one another? Well, the text that I quoted at the beginning of this post gives us a two-fold answer. First, we are to stop speaking rotten words and then, secondly, we are to start speaking wholesome (i.e. encouraging) words.
Identifying And Rejecting Rotten Words
When Paul instructed the Ephesian church to, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” what did he mean? Well the phrase, “corrupting talk” means speech that is rotten. It has the understanding of something that is worthless and of no value. Most people would then use this text to argue (rightly) that this text prohibits the use of “curse words” by those who follow Jesus Christ. However, the text goes well beyond just the prohibition of these words. Worthless speech comes in many different forms:
1)Name-calling, put-downs, & trading insult for insult.
2)Sarcasm, ridicule, mockery
3)Blaming, exaggerated attacks
6)Angry words, including threats and revenge
7)Arguments where you seek to win so as to maintain power
8)Deception, lies, and manipulative speech
9)Gossip and slander
11)Filthy talk and coarse jokes
So, for the follower of Jesus Christ, our words are to be seasoned with the salt and light of the gospel. Everything about us is to reveal the truth that we are fully identified with Jesus Christ. The direct result of this reality is that I willfully choose to reject any language that does not encourage other believers in Jesus Christ. This is why we are encouraged in the scriptures to, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:” (1 Peter 4:8-10 ESV)
Speaking Wholesome Words
Rejecting, rotten words are only the first part of the equation. We must choose to speak words that are helpful and encouraging as well. How do we speak wholesome, good words? The answer is given earlier in Ephesians 4. Ephesians 4:21-24 says, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (ESV). So, the answer is quite simple (please note that I did not say EASY). If we are going to use our words in ways that glorify God and builds others up; we must first be transformed through faith in Jesus Christ (i.e. we must be made new in Christ), which means that our minds will be progressively transformed by the gospel and secondly we must start using words that are good and encouraging (examples would include: words of praise, appreciation, gratefulness, loving, patient, kind and gentle and ultimately we are to encourage one another through the Scripture). Think about this, Jesus was full of grace and God through His gift of grace through Jesus Christ has given us much grace. Therefore, God’s grace in Christ should be my motivation for speaking with grace to others. None of this is to say that we cannot and should not have tough conversations. After all, there are times when we must call one another to repent! Let me affirm that there are times when we should and must have those conversations! However, we must be careful that we faithfully guard our hearts even as we have these conversations.
I wish I could tell you that I am perfect at using my language to build up and encourage. However, I must confess that I too am a pilgrim, making my way to heaven by the sheer grace of God. I know this though, there are no excuses for us to not pursue holiness in our words as well as in our hearts and minds. So, together, lets pursue the command to encourage one another, as those who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ for the glory of God.