The writer of Hebrews has left us with these words, “Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.” By the grace and power of God we must continue on, press on as followers of Christ to maturity. This applies to all of you who are here, all that are Christians, because not one of us has already reached a level of maturity for which we can be satisfied. As long as we are here we are press on.
This morning I want us to go to Ephesians 4:29 to look at an important passage. We will break this week from our time in 2 Timothy and will, Lord willing, return there next week. But for today, I think this is where the Lord will have us.
We have a high calling as a church to honor the Lord with our speech. This includes all of our speech. Godly speech is for building up the church, and ungodly, sinful speech tears it down. There will never be unity in the church of Christ where ungodly speech runs rampant.
Paul confronts us with one of the greatest challenges that we will ever face during our stay here on this earth. Paul deals with the issue of our speech. He addresses the issue of appropriate godly speech in Ephesians 4:29.
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.
Now if you do not see that as challenging, then you weren’t listening. Let’s read it again: “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.”
Paul states what might possibly be the ultimate challenge of Christian living. What is he saying in this passage? He is saying this: “Do not speak one single word that is corrupting.” Paul says, “If you are going to speak, then be certain that it is a word of encouragement, and only speak that word of encouragement at the appropriate time.” And what is the result of godly speech? It is a grace of God to those who will listen. In other words your wholesome, appropriate, encouraging words, given at the proper time, are a gift from God to those who hear. Isn’t that great? Is that how you think of your speech? Is that how you view your conversation with others?
I mentioned that this would be a challenging passage for us, that is obvious, but let me read some other passages to you that will further emphasize this challenge of proper speech. What does the Bible say about speech?
20 The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, the heart of the wicked is worth little. 21 The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of understanding.
18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
That passage speaks of quick and careless speech being like a sword that cuts and harms versus appropriate words that bring healing to the soul. Also, Proverbs 17:20, “he who has a crooked mind finds no good, and he who is perverted in his language falls into evil.” The Bible has much to say about speech, and there is also a great deal that we can learn about others simply by their conversation.
James in his epistle spends a great deal of time dealing with speech, so let’s turn there and I want to go over some of the principles found there. Turn with me to the book of James, chapter 3. Beginning in verse 1 James says this: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgement.” James begins this chapter with a stern warning concerning teachers or teaching. Why did James level this warning? Verse 2, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James’ concern about those who teach was a concern about the words that come from their mouth. A concern about what they say, about the words that they use.
What does a teacher do? He speaks before an audience. He has the floor. All are listening and all are considering his instruction. He speaks many words. And in what area is a man most likely to stumble? In his speech. And so a teacher can cause others to stumble by speaking carelessly. So James warns those who teach. A teacher must carefully weigh every word. No one should enter into a teaching situation unprepared. A teacher of the gospel should always keep before him the words of James, “we shall incur a stricter judgement.” Teaching is a serious matter.
James continues in verse 2, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James is saying if you can control your tongue, control your speech, then you have mastered all other areas. In verses 3 and 4 he illustrates his point. “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.”
A comparatively small bit in its mouth controls the strong and powerful horse and a small rudder controls the massive ship. And then in verse 5 James says, “so also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.” Like a bit and a rudder, the tongue seems rather small, rather insignificant to the whole body, yet its power is undeniable. Do you think he is exaggerating here? Is the tongue, our speech really that powerful? Yes. Speech is involved in virtually all sin found in one’s life. Often, speech is involved as sin is committed, or sin is continued, or in the cover up of sin, almost every time. The tongue is like a bit and like a rudder and it must be controlled. Yet James continues on and says starting in the second part of verse 5, “Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”
The tongue is a fire, James says, which can rapidly spread destruction that can permeate every area of life. Just like a forest fire reeks havoc on all in its path, the tongue can also destroy those in its path. Our speech is powerful. It can destroy a child, it can corrupt an adult, it can destroy relationships, and marriages, businesses, churches, and it can bring reproach upon the very name of God.
Verse 7, “For every species of beasts and birds, and of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one,” and this is key, “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” That is what James is leading up to. These are very strong words: “no one can tame the tongue.” No one, James says, can fully control his speech.
In verse 9 James says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth comes both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
It almost seems to be hopeless. That is, trying to control our speech. James says, “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” He says the tongue is a fire and it defiles the whole body. He says no one can tame the tongue, and it is full of deadly poison.
We can utter a word in an instant without thinking at all and harm someone very deeply. We can speak a lie that may set the course of destruction whose end we may never know.
We cannot tame the tongue. But God can. We need instruction on how to speak. What does God expect of us when we open our mouths to speak? What does he expect of His children every time we open our mouths to utter a word? That is the question that I want to address.
I want you to notice from the first phrase of verse 29 in Ephesians 4 that Paul leaves no room for compromise when it comes to our speech. Our standard for living as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is absolute holiness. And absolute holiness is what Paul is leading us towards in this passage when he says, “Let no corrupting word proceed from your mouth.” What is Paul saying? Well the word translated corrupting means rotten. It is a word that was used to speak of vegetables that had become rotten or meat that had spoiled. It signifies something that has become totally useless. As Christians we should never use words, language that is corrupt or rotten. We should put it off as Paul states in verse 22. That type of talk is part of the old self, the old self that has been crucified with Christ.
Isn’t it just like man to take what God has given as a blessing and use it in a corrupt way? God gave us language. Language and speech are His creation. He has given letters and words and has given us the ability to put them together and understand them so that we can communicate both with Him and with others. He has given us language and speech by which we can sing praises to Him and glorify His holy name as we have done this morning. He has given us the ability to speak so that we can come to Him in prayer, commune with Him. He has given us a language by which we can tell others of His infinite worth and majesty. We can share with others how God has displayed His faithfulness in our lives, how He has blessed us with answered prayer. All of this is done with the tongue, with the spoken word, and our ability to do that is from God. And yet man has corrupted it and continues to corrupt it by speaking what is rotten, unwholesome, and foul. Don’t be guilty of taking this tremendous blessing and exchanging it for what is evil in His sight by allowing corrupt speech to proceed from your mouth.
Corrupt speech can come in many forms. One form comes as gossip. Gossip is corrupt speech. I am afraid that gossip is so common in our day that we no longer even notice it for what it is. And gossip is so destructive to the unity of believers. Do you gossip? Do you even know if you gossip? Do we even know what gossip is anymore?
I’ve got to tell you that gossip is something that really concerns me as a church leader. Just in the last few weeks I have personally seen some of the reality of the destructive nature of gossip among Christians. I want to talk about this for a minute as an example of corrupting talk, and as I do I want, I am asking you to honestly consider whether this is an area where you need to repent. And as I say that I am asking the Lord to do the same in me.
Let me say first that gossip damages community, unity, and people. In 1 Timothy 5:13, speaking of young women Paul talks about them falling into gossip when they have idle time.
1 Timothy 5
13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.
There seems to be a tie between gossip in this case and unproductive pursuit.
And in Romans 1 we see this word gossip and get some idea of how terrible it is from looking at the words associated with it.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God…
What is gossip? Let me give you some characteristics:
- A negative spirit that is more bent on hurting than helping – not redemptive;
- Excessive interest in the business of others;
- Derogatory information about someone that you have given in a tone of confidentiality that is not motivated by doing good to them.
If we open our mouths and what comes out is something negative about another person, putting them in a bad light, then we must consider that it may be, and is most likely, gossip. We can deceive ourselves saying it is not gossip when most likely it is. We can say things like, “Pray for so and so because…” and fill in the blank with negativity. Or, “I’m really struggling with so and so because….” and we go on to run them down. Or we ask, “What is up with so and so? I heard…” fill in the blank about that person. Does this not happen regularly, even in the church?
I am convinced that if 50% of us commit today to not participate in gossip, either giving it or listening to it, that gossip would end immediately in our church body. Can we commit to that? Are we willing to stop and say to each other, “That sounds like gossip, and I’m not willing to participate in that”?
Look, if you or if I have a question or a problem or an issue with another person, then let’s go to them directly and deal with it rather than spreading hurtful gossip about them or their situation. Can we commit to that? Can we with unity, hold each other accountable with this?
John Piper says gossip is also an issue of pride. It’s an issue of pride in that you savor knowing something that others don’t know. “I’m in the know.” And the remedy is simple: it’s love for Christ and the church, so that you don’t get some kind of thrill from it.
If our words are not to be corrupting, which includes gossip, what should come forth from our mouths? “only such a word as is good for building up.” This means “the promotion of spiritual growth.” In other words, the words that you speak should be words that build up the saints or words that promote spiritual growth in another person. That should be our goal and intention when we speak. Every word that we speak should be spoken for the building up of others, for the glory of God, every word.
I mentioned earlier that this verse would be a great challenge for us. It is a verse that brings to light the fact that we are responsible for and are to be accountable for every word that proceeds from our mouths. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “And I say to you, that every careless or every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” Jesus is emphasizing the importance of what comes out of our mouths.
Some might understand this idea of building up to only mean that we are to speak kind words or positive words to others. But that is not all that it means. We should also reprove and rebuke at times. We should be willing to lead others in holiness at times by shedding light upon their sin, not judging them by our own standards of right and wrong but confronting them with God’s standards and pointing them to His Word. That also is edification or promoting spiritual growth in one’s life.
What a tremendous responsibility that we have concerning the words that we speak! And it is not like it is something that we just do occasionally! We speak all the time. What does that mean? It means we must always be sober minded and alert. Always walking in the Spirit. Always seeking God. As often as you speak you should be fixing you mind upon Him, you should be desiring to please Him. Maybe that is why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” Constantly communing with Him. Never letting your guard down.
And even with that Paul continues on to add another qualification for proper speech when he adds, “as fits the occasion.” So not only are we to speak words of edification, but Paul adds this stipulation relating to time or to the proper time to speak. In other words, your talk must fit the occasion. That means that you must consider the person or the people to whom you are speaking. It means you must be sensitive and assess the situation before you speak. Many Christians have difficulty with this.
Sometimes we feel like it is always proper to deliver a sermon to a brother or sister. But that is not always appropriate. We are to speak to people in such a way as to help them right where they are. How do we know this is true? Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” To continue to share the gospel with one who hates the truth is not always proper. A sermon is not always in order for that person. To be argumentative and to always attempt to win an argument before men is not always appropriate. Nor can we successfully cover all of the deep doctrines of God in any one conversation. The time must be appropriate. Also, Paul said to the Corinthians, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, for you were not yet able to receive it.” Just as you would never give a newborn baby large portions of meat, you cannot give immature Christian large portions of weighty doctrines. They may not be able to handle the deep things of God. The need of the moment, as Paul said, has not yet arrived for those immature believers to receive certain truths.
All of this further emphasizes our total dependence upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance every single time we open our mouths to speak, every time.
And what is the result of proper speech? The last part of verse 29 tells us, “that it may give grace to those who hear.” And what a tremendous blessing this is. Think about this with me for a moment. When a brother or sister in Christ comes to you and speaks to you an appropriate word at just the right time, then you are the recipient of God’s grace. That brother or sister that is walking by the Spirit of God is a means of God’s grace in your life! And conversely, you too can be a means of God’s grace in other people’s lives if you are speaking appropriately and at the right time.
I am sure that you have experienced this. You may be struggling in a certain area and God sends someone with just the right word for you. Maybe you are burdened with your responsibilities and someone calls with a word of encouragement. Maybe you have fallen into sin and a brother confronts you and you repent and run to Christ. Maybe you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit through teaching that prompts you to change inappropriate behavior, an appropriate word at the right moment. Conversation amongst believers should be a channel of God’s grace in our lives.
Now, has this been a challenge for you? Let me tell you it has for me. You may even ask, “How is it possible?” Is it really possible to weigh every word, to only speak the right word at the right time and that it always be a word of edification, a word that promotes spiritual growth in other people? Is it really possible? I mentioned earlier that it seems almost hopeless, but it is not. It is not hopeless if you are truly in Christ. Apart from an intimate relationship with Him it is impossible, it is hopeless. But for those who are in Christ you must understand that it is Christ who is at work in you.
Remember what Paul said in Philippians 1:6? “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who has began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” It goes back to the issue of sanctification. It is not by our own strength that we obey, that is impossible; it is by His strength. We can obey, we can speak appropriately and godly by the strength of His might. It is only as we cast ourselves upon Him that it is possible. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1 of the “surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead.”
It is by the same power that God used to raise Christ from the dead, that very same power that God uses in our lives to enable us to obey and please Him in every respect. It is possible by God’s power and by His alone. We must never forget that. It is not our place to become overwhelmed by His commands, but to submit to His will. He did not save us to leave us alone but to do His perfect work in us.
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.
What a blessing it is to both receive and to be a channel of God’s grace through this gift of speech. May God grant you and me strength to obey for His glory.