I found a list of the top ten things that you shouldn’t say to a police officer if you get pulled over. Here are a few of them:
“You must have been doing at least 120 to keep up with me!”
“That’s great! The last police officer let me off with a warning, too!”
“Are you Andy or Barney?”
“I thought you had to be in relatively good physical condition to be a police officer.”
“You’re…uhhh…you’re not gonna check the trunk, are ya?”
Our tongues can get us into trouble and easily hurt others, and the pain they cause doesn’t go away quickly. That’s why it’s important for us to learn what the Bible teaches about using our tongues.One of the best verses in the Bible to learn about using our tongue has to be Ephesians 4:29.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
First, it tells us to avoid…
1) CORRUPT COMMUNICATION
The Greek word for “corrupt” (sapros) is the same word used in the gospels to describe a rotten fruit (e.g., Matthew 12:33) or rotten fish (Matthew 13:48).
Have you ever bitten into a fruit—like an apple—and discovered it was soft and brown inside? It’s disgusting. You spit it out and run to the faucet to drown your mouth in water. Pray that God makes our hearts just as disgusted when we use corrupt communication.
What does corrupt communication sound like? Let’s look at…
1.1) The Forms Of Corrupt Communication
Just a few verses down, Paul says that we should not use “filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient [proper]” (Ephesians 5:4). This covers a lot of territory. For some people it is ninety percent of their vocabulary!
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is swearing, cussing and using God’s name in vain. It’s filthy language, off-color jokes, sarcasm and hateful speech. It’s racist and sexist language that diminishes people who are made in God’s image. It’s even those words we use to mean a dirty word that we know we shouldn’t say!
Next up is gossip and slander. Gossip is corrupting because you drag someone else into thinking sinful thoughts about a person—not only do you tear down the person that you are gossiping about, you are also tearing down the person you are sharing the gossip with.
22 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, And they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. (Proverbs 26:22)
Just because something may be true doesn’t mean that it needs repeating. Do you know what the Bible says is the best way to deal with gossip?
20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: So where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. (Proverbs 26:20)
Just refuse to repeat it, and more than likely, the issue will go away.
Lying is another form of corrupt speaking (see Ephesians 4:25):
22 Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: But they that deal truly are his delight. (Proverbs 12:22)
Lying is an abomination to the Lord because He is a God of truth. God wants His people to be truth tellers like Himself.
Our speech extends beyond the words that come from our mouth. The words that we type into our phones or email others are words that we must also watch.
And our speech includes the t-shirts that we wear. Some of the t-shirts you can get these days have the rudest sort of sayings on them: I’m Allergic to Stupidity – I Break Out in Sarcasm, and so forth.
There are many forms of corrupt communication. If you find that you have to justify your language to someone or even to yourself, you have probably crossed into corrupt communication.
1.2) Corrupt Communication Reveals Our Heart’s Corruption
Turn to Matthew 12. Where does corrupt communication come from? It comes from our heart.
33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt [this is the same word used in Ephesians 4:29], and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. 34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. (Matthew 12:33–35)
How much is your heart still covered with the blackness of sin and corruption? Your words will show you—and others!
A person becomes a Christian by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to be their Savior. You must believe that His death and resurrection from the dead is the complete atonement for your sins. When you do, the Bible says you become a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But the old nature with its old habits—the corruption—still remain. Most people who become Christians experience victory over some of those old habits immediately, but the old nature is engrained deeply within us, and it will not be removed in our lifetime. A new Christian, for example, might immediately stop swearing, but still struggle with sarcasm and gossip.
We have to continually identify areas of the sinful nature in our hearts and attack them with gusto and in the Lord’s strength. What do your words reveal about your heart? What do you have to attack with gusto in the power of the Holy Spirit?
Look at our verse again:
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
Not only are we to avoid corrupt communication, we are to have…
2) GRACIOUS COMMUNICATION
The saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all,” has a lot of truth in it. But the goal of Jesus in your life is not that you become a mute monk taking a vow of silence. The opposite of “corrupt communication” is that we find ways to speak “grace unto the hearers.”
In order to build up others with the words we say, we need to pause and consider what we say. This verse teaches us to say three kinds of words—appropriate words, edifying words, and gracious words.
2.1) Appropriate Words
Paul says that our words should be “good to the use of edifying” The word for “use” (chreia) refers to a need (as it is translated 31 out of 49 times in the KJV).
For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1, Paul writes: “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need (chreia) that I write unto you” (1 Thessalonians 5:1). He did not need to write to them about the end times because they already knew the information.
The words that we use need to be appropriate. Two questions can help us determine if they are appropriate: Does the person need to hear them? Is the time appropriate for saying them? The book of Proverbs also teaches us to have appropriate words:
11 A word fitly spoken Is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
23 A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: And a word spoken in due season, how good is it! (Proverbs 15:23)
We need to pause and ask ourselves: Is this word I am about to say a word fitly spoken? Is it going to be apples of gold? Is this the season for saying it?
If you have to preface what you are about to say with “I probably shouldn’t say this,” then you probably shouldn’t say it! If it’s not useful or appropriate, then just keep your mouth shut.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever say anything negative about someone else. Sometimes unpleasant things must be said when a person is having problems. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus tells us that we may have to confront a brother who sins against us…but we are to do it alone, and not after telling all our closest “prayer partners.”
What is your motive in saying those things? Are you saying them to help them? Or do you speak them in defense of yourself? Are you simply mad or emotional about something that they did?
If someone offends you, it may be a good idea to wait awhile before addressing them about the issue.
I know the Bible says “let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26), and we must strive to settle our differences quickly. But that principle must be balanced with verses like:
11 The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; And it is his glory to pass over a transgression. (Proverbs 19:11)
You might wait a little while to cool off. You might even choose (yes, you can always choose) to overlook the transgression and forget about it.
If we cannot come into the situation with a heart that wants to help, we need to wait and pray until we can say appropriate words at the appropriate time. Remember:
1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: But grievous words stir up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Gracious communication consists of appropriate words and also:
2.2) Edifying Words
The Greek word for “edifying” (oikodomē) means to build up. It’s a construction term. For example, in Mark 13:1-2, Jesus and His disciples talk about the “great buildings” in the temple complex. This is the same Greek word.
Our communication should seek to build up another person. It should be constructive, helpful, encouraging, and corrective. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about edifying speech:
18 There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: But the tongue of the wise is health. (Proverbs 12:18)
What great images! Is your speech like a sword or is it more often like health?
What does it mean to build up someone? One aspect is what we would normally think of first: to encourage someone to stay positive, to keep on going, to work harder, and so forth. It’s the everyday human touch that keeps us from sliding into a glum and despondent existence.
But building up someone else is more. It’s helping someone become a better person. I think of a parent teaching their child to read. That changes their life forever. That’s edification.
But building up someone else is more. It’s building them up in the faith. It’s showing them how to better trust the promises of God no matter what happens. Look at Ephesians 4:11-16.
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; [All of these do their ministry by speaking words.] 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
[Now, watch and see what the purpose of edifying is:] 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love [Do you have a genuine desire to see the other person grow or are your words coming from a heart of anger, pride, or selfishness?], may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love [the body—all Christians—must come to edify one another]. (Ephesians 4:11–16)
Are your words edifying words? Are they building people up or tearing them down? Our words need to be appropriate words, edifying words, and finally, they need to be…
2.3) Gracious Words
2.3.1) Gracious Words Are Beneficial
Paul stated that our speech must be such “that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (see Colossians 4:6). What is that sort of speech like? How can our words give grace to someone else?
The definition of “grace” (charis) is to have a beneficial or generous attitude toward someone else. So when we speak words that minister grace to another person, they will be words that benefit them.
We need to ask ourselves: am I saying this to benefit this person, or to benefit myself—to make me feel better or more comfortable?
Maybe you have noticed that I have been pointing out this distinction between helping others with our words or selfishly helping ourselves.
That’s because, as sinners, we tend to want to only help ourselves or our group. This is why there is conflict in churches, in communities, and even our country. James says:
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. (James 4:1–2)
Conflicts arise when we stop caring about what benefits others and only think and say things to benefit ourselves.
2.3.2) Gracious Words Are Seasoning
In Colossians, Paul writes:
6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt… (Colossians 4:6)
Salt, I know, has many uses—it’s a preservative, for example. What use of salt is Paul referring to here? Seasoning. We season food with salt to make it taste better. In the same way, we need to make sure that our words are seasoned so that they taste well—
24 Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)
How do we season words to make them taste better? Much of it, has to do with our attitude and our demeanor. Have you ever had a checker at a store or a teller at the bank that just seemed to brighten your day with the way they talked? It wasn’t just the words they said. It was their smile, their facial expression, their body language, and their heart.
So when we season our words with grace, we need to think about what we say, how we say them, and the heart with which we speak.
One final note about gracious words and that is…
2.3.3) Gracious Words Are Undeserved
Grace, we like to say, is God giving us what we don’t deserve. The Greek word for “grace” and the word for “gift” are the same word (charis). Grace is a gift because it is undeserved…if it was deserved then it wouldn’t be a gift, it would be a wage.
What does this imply for the words that we speak?
As Christians, we need to banish the idea that a person might not deserve a kind word from us. It doesn’t matter if they deserve it or not…gracious words are for the undeserving.
If that’s hard to accept, please remember that Christ died for you and accepted you when you did not deserve it. We are all undeserving sinners, but Christ died for us anyway.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
The first step to salvation is understanding that you don’t deserve it. Only then can you reach and take the free gift of grace that Jesus offers you.
If we find it hard to forgive someone and to speak gracious words to them, then it’s time that we meditate more on how Christ loved us when we when we were undeserving sinners.
3) HOW DO WE LEARN TO SPEAK MORE GOODER?
It’s not just a matter of changing your words. Our words come from within us, so there has to be heart change. Listen to this great verse from the Proverbs:
23 The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, And addeth learning to his lips. (Proverbs 16:23)
This verse, along with Jesus’s words that we read earlier from Matthew 12, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” make it clear that our words are a heart issue.
How much of ourselves are we willing to give over to God? Our harsh or ungracious words come from hearts full of pride. They come from hearts that refuse to submit to God’s will for our mouths. We need to open our hearts up to God and let Him influence us.
How do we get the Lord’s influence in our hearts? By reading and studying the Bible. But it’s more than just reading the Bible, it’s also reading and studying it looking for how God speaks and how He wants us to speak. This is the key to meditating on the scripture. We don’t just read it willy-nilly. We read it looking for what God wants to change in us. This is what the Bible refers to as renewing your mind.
This process of giving our lives (and everything in them, like our words) over to God by the renewing of our minds through the Word of God is summed up nicely in Romans 12—
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies [including our tongues!] a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1–2)
Listen to yourself. Do you sound like Jesus? If not, when do you sound the least like Jesus? Identify the person and the place you are most likely to use ungracious words and surrender that portion to God as a living sacrifice.
Pray something like this, “Lord, I have a problem speaking gracious words to this person, or in this situation. Lord, I give that to You as a living sacrifice. Lord, I want to sound more like Jesus.”