Thursday, August 28, 2014

WATCH YOUR WORDS (Ephesians Chapter 4)

Ephesians 4:29, “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.”

I remember a day on one of my visits to Uganda when the words from the Hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” came to mind in my prayer time.  The entire hymn represents a beautiful prayer of consecration and submission to God, but the phrase that I was thinking about that morning was “Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.”  And so I headed off into my day purposed—by the Spirit—to speak such words.  I can’t remember all the specific details of the day, but I remember the phrase governing my thoughts.  It is not a simple or automatic thing and I doubt that I was entirely successful.  To have one’s lips filled with messages that are befitting our identity in Christ is at the heart of this verse.

In its context the verse speaks to the process of Biblical change that God works in the life of the believer.  It is one aspect of the “put off-put on” particulars that are consistent to God’s transforming work “through the renewing of the spirit of (the) mind” (Cf. Ephesians 4:22-24).  Falsehood is to give way to truth-speaking, sinful-anger to forgiveness, stealing to honest-labor, etc. (Ephesians 4:25-28).  That put-off put-on process is likewise to be applied to our speech.

The word translated “corrupting” is from a term that was used "primarily, of vegetable and animal substances" and "expresses what is of poor quality, unfit for use, putrid" (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  Corrupting talk represents that which is of poor quality and therefore worthless.  There are lots of kinds of speech that fall into this category: angry words (Cf. Ephesians 4:31); boastful speech (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:2); blasphemy (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:20); coarse jesting (Cf. Ephesians 5:4); deceptive speech (Cf. Ephesians 4:25, 5:6); flattery (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:6); empty chatter (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:20); gossip and slander (Cf. Ephesians 4:31, 1 Timothy 5:13); filthy speech (Cf. Ephesians 5:4); and quarrelsome words (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24).  The speech of the unbeliever is characterized by such language (Cf. Romans 3:10-14).  It ushers forth from the heart and is sourced ultimately in hell itself (Cf. Matthew 12:35-36; James 3:6). 

Though man can tame all kinds of beasts, he cannot tame the tongue (Cf. James 3:8).  To change that which ushers from the heart it is necessary first for the heart to be changed.  God alone can do that through salvation.  The tongue of the “new creation” in Christ is thus enabled by the Spirit to speak that which “is good for building up” (Cf. Ephesians 4:29).  It is by the Spirit alone that God-pleasing words can flow from our lips--words that glorify God and work to build up and encourage others.

The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is undeniably not true.  Memories of hurtful words are some of the most vivid memories that we maintain.  By way of contrast, memories of helpful and encouraging words stick with us too.  We need to prayerfully guard that which proceeds from our mouths.  On a hill in England there is a gravestone on which is inscribed: "Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, lies Annabella Young, who, on the 24th of May, began to hold her tongue." 

Instead of rotten words God would have us to speak that which “is good for building up” (Ephesians 4:29).  The truth spoken in love works towards this end (Cf. Ephesians 4:15) and included in that kind of speech are wise words (Cf. Colossians 3:16); encouraging words (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:11); comforting words (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:4); kind words (Cf. Ephesians 4:32); words expressing admonishment and forgiveness (Cf. Ephesians 4:32); grace-filled words (Cf. Ephesians 4:29); words which “(fit) the occasion” (Cf. Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 25:11); words characterized by Christ-like love (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

It is easy to complain.  It is easy to be critical.  In this sin-filled world there is plenty to criticize and plenty to complain about.  It is a much more difficult thing to be used by God in the building up of others.  Someone has written: I saw them tearing a building down, a gang of men in a dusty town.  With a "yo heave ho" and a lusty yell, they swung a beam and the side wall fell.  I asked the foreman if these men were as skilled, as the men he'd hire, if he were to build.  He laughed and said, "Oh, no indeed, Common labor is all I need."  For these men can wreck in a day or two, what builders had taken years to do.  I asked myself as I went my way, which kind of role am I to play?  Am I the builder who builds with care, measuring life by the rule and square?  Or, am I the wrecker who walks the town, Content with the role of tearing down.  Watch your words.  They matter.

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