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.
Words are powerful. They can build up and inspire. Or they can tear down and deflate. Ephesians 4:29 urges us to take seriously the power of our words.
As you may recall, in Ephesians 4:22-24 our life in Christ is pictured as a matter of putting off the old self and putting on the new. We get strip off the negative and dress up in the positive. The verses that follow offer specific applications of this general principle. In Ephesians 4:25, we’re to put off falsehood and speak truthfully instead. In Ephesians 4:26, we’re to take off sinful expressions of anger. In Ephesians 4:28, thieves are to stop stealing and start working.
Ephesians 4:29 continues this pattern of moral exhortation, beginning with the negative to be rejected before moving to the positive to be embraced: “Do not let any unwholesome [sapros] talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful [agathos] for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The Greek word sapros can mean “rotten, of poor quality, bad, or harmful.” It shows up in the saying of Jesus, “[E]very good [agathon] tree bears good fruit, but a bad [sapron] tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:17). As Christians, we need to put away rotten words that harm and hurt others, words that tear down rather than building up.
By contrast, we are to use our language positively. The words that come out of our mouths should be “helpful [agathos] for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). The word translated here as “helpful” can simply mean “good.” Note two ways in which we can use the power of words for good. First, our words can build up people according to their needs. Second, our words can “benefit those who listen.” The original Greek is stronger than this. It says that our words can “give grace to those who hear them.” That’s right. Your words can be a source of grace to others.
Ephesians 4:29 challenges us to consider how we use the power of our words. Do your words tear down or hurt others? Do you get stuck in complaining that discourages others and fractures community? Or do you use the power of speech for good, for building up those around you and for being a channel of God’s grace to them?
Something to Think About:
As you think about these questions, you might ask yourself: How would my colleagues at work describe the impact of my words? How would my close friends or family members talk about how I use the power of my words? Am I known as someone who regularly builds up others?
Do I see myself as a channel of God’s grace through my words? Would others see me this way?
Something to Do:
Surely there are people in your life today who could use some building up. Use your words to do this very thing. Be a channel of God grace for those in your life who need encouragement.
Gracious God, I am challenged by Ephesians 4:29. Though I’m not one to use lots of “bad language,” there are times when I revel in complaining or gossip. I can use my words in ways that hurt others and break down community. Forgive me, Lord.
Help me to steward well the power of my words. May I see opportunities to build up others and seize these opportunities. May I find ways to share your grace with others throughout the day, whether I’m at work or at home, hanging out with friends or interacting with a checkout clerk. Help me to use the power of my words for good, for your good, Lord, and for the good of others. Amen.