Words You Can Build On
Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak]. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [but seek to please Him], by whom you were sealed and marked [branded as God’s own] for the day of redemption [the final deliverance from the consequences of sin].
Words have the power to heal or destroy, to build up or tear down. Corrupt words of condemnation or name-calling have the force of a sledgehammer to crush people. Gossip and sarcasm are just as destructive, but they are corrosive, taking longer to wear away a person’s confidence and ruin a relationship.
Paul doesn’t advise us to cutback on the harmful words that we say to one another. He doesn’t suggest we stop saying the obviously damaging words but continue the secret ones. He commands that we cut them all out now and replace them with words that build people up.
Yeah, but what if someone bored us, ignored us, told a friend about something stupid we did, or lied about us? Maybe that’s true, but that’s still no excuse. Every word we utter must meet the standard of God’s holiness and love for that person. We should look for good in others and affirm it, and we must notice their successes and celebrate with them. If they have hurt us, we should speak the truth for the purpose of restoration, not condemnation. Our motive changes our language and our demeanor, and perhaps other people’s responses.
Our words, though, don’t only have a horizontal impact, they also affect the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that the way we speak to one another can grieve (or, can we assume, please) the Holy Spirit. Don’t miss this. God’s emotions are affected by the way we treat one another.
Have you made Him smile today?
When you experience your freedom to express yourself at the lowest level, you ultimately condemn yourself to live at that level.
If it is painful for you to criticize your friends, you are safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that’s the time to hold your tongue,
We are seeing in these days how many are using words to harm, hurt and assassinate the character of others. Nothing new with that for Satan has always worked to destroy what God has created with words. He has taken notice the power of spoken words for he was there when God spoke and created earth and humans. I’m sure he observed that words have the power to give life and like everything else, he has twisted and distorted what God made for good into what now destroys. Most of us are familiar with the Nobel Peace Prize given to those who’s work benefits humanity in good, helpful ways. What most don’t know is that Nobel was the inventor of dynamite. His research was to discover helpful ways to build roads and tunnels and to prepare construction sites. I’m sure he didn’t consider that the same thing that could be used for good could also be used for destruction. Albert Einstein, to whom atomic energy development is attributed was horrified to find that what could be useful energy could also be used for destruction. So it is with our words. Each of us have the choice of vocabulary. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, admonishes them to “not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth.”
Most of us are aware that the language of Christians should not include “profane” or “vulgar” words. I don’t think we even need to spend time on that subject. I know there are some who spoke that way before they came to Christ and perhaps might struggle with them now. If that’s you I have some hope for you. Whether it’s our words or other areas of our lives that seem prone to indulge in sinful conduct, it’s usually in the area that we haven’t fully surrendered to Christ. James in his letter says that a spring cannot give forth bitter and sweet water and neither should Christians waffle between “profane” and “vulgar” words and words of blessing and truth. Someone will say well I’m trying hard to quit saying those things but I don’t seem to manage well all the time. May I suggest that whatever area of your life is still tied to the world that you submit it to God and ask Him to give you victory in that area of your life! The Bible teaches us that when we confess our sin, Christ not only forgives but He also cleanses-washes away.
But Paul doesn’t just leave it there as some would do. He also includes the adjectives of “unwholesome” and “worthless.” What is an unwholesome word. Unwholesome is defined as: something that is detrimental to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of someone. Paul says that any word that comes out of our mouth should not be unwholesome but instead our words should build up and bless. This is not to say that words of correction are not to be spoken but we are to:
“But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ.”
There was a woman one day brought to Jesus. Perhaps, thrown at Him would better describe it. The elders had discovered a woman engaged in adultery and according to the law, she was to be stoned. We are told this was done more to test Jesus than to find justice. As the woman is thrown at His feet, and the elders are demanding to know His position, Jesus says nothing either to them nor to the woman.
He begins to scribble in the dirt. There is a lot of speculation about what He scribbled but we don’t know for sure. After some time, He looks us and says, “Let him without sin cast the first stone.” The mob, one by one drops their stones and drift away until finally it’s only the woman and Jesus. He asks her where are her accusers and she replies that they’ve all left. “Neither do I condemn you,” says Jesus. Many want the conversation to end there and perhaps the woman did too. That way no change was necessary. Those set to punish her had gone away and it looked like she had escaped so it would have been easy to justify a continuation of the sin. But Jesus loves too much so He says to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” No rocks we’re going to be thrown but neither was the sin going to be passed over. This is what Paul is trying to teach us. We can speak truth, direction and correction but our words must be motivated by love.
Paul uses another adjective:worthless. One of the things I find so easy to do is to “fix the problems of the world” or to spend time complaining about all the atrocious things taking place in the world. But in truth those words are worthless because they change nothing. They only leave both parties more miserable and frustrated at the end of the conversation. How often do we have meetings and we talk hours about what ought to be done but nothing ever is. Worthless words. What I’ve been praying is that the Holy Spirit will so guide my words that each of them are productive and engaged in bringing about resolutions and reconciliation. Let us ask God to let us only speak words that have purpose and impact in positive, uplifting, and encouraging ways.
As Paul concludes these instructions, he tells us to “grieve not the Holy Spirit.” I know as a dad that when unwholesome, vindictive, condemning, and belittling words are spoken to my children especially when one child is speaking them to another, it grieves me because I love them all. When Christians engage in speaking words that tear down, words that intimidate, words that wound and hurt, or words that demean or shame others, we grieve the Holy Spirit for those we speak against are the children of God too. We have been commissioned by God as His ambassadors so in essence we speak for Him.
May I encourage us today to consider our words, especially those uttered to or about another Christian. We have been given the freedom to form our opinions about a lot of things but not liberty to belittle those who differ from us. For Christians the meeting point is always the truth of the Bible. We determine acceptable conduct and lifestyles by what the Bible says about such matters and not from our personal views. But in those matters that the Bible is silent, we dare not assume we are right and others are wrong and therefore subject to character assignation.
Our communities, our nation, and our world is divided. Even the church herself is divided because we each have chosen a social or political position and each side is absolutely sure they are right and the other side is wrong. We fight our wars with words, demonizing those who hold opposing views. The blessing of our freedoms is the right to disagree. But the responsibility we have as Christians is to make sure that our words reflect that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and that we are truly the offspring of God.
Jesus spoke healing words to the woman that day for perhaps nothing wounds like condemnation- our own even more than that of others. Not only did He speak words of healing, He also spoke words of liberty. “Go and sin no more,” He said, telling her that the power of sin over her life had been broken and perhaps that her self-worth wasn’t decided by others- either a lover or those who wished to stone her. God had forgiven her and now she could choose a new way of living.
To you and I God always speaks revealing, healing, helpful, corrective, and purposeful words. May He give us grace to so speak to others.