We are studying Ephesians chapter 4 and have been for a while. This chapter is very practical, calling for believers to walk in a way that is pleasing to Yahweh. Paul says that because we have put off the Old Man and have put on the New Man, we are to live in a way that demonstrates the New Man. So far we have seen that we are to be known as those who speak the truth in every and all situations. We are to control our anger and not sin, we are not to steal, but to work so that we will be able to share with those in need. Now Paul says:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 NASB
I think that all of us are overwhelmingly guilty of not heeding Paul's command here. No matter how hard we try, we all have erred with our tongues! James says:
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 3:2 NASB
While we may never achieve perfect control over our tongues, Ephesians 4:29 is a verse that would bring a radical change in all of our relationships if we would apply it conscientiously.
Did you know that Noah Webster's Original Dictionary, published in 1806, contained only about 37,000 words? However, by 1961 the English Dictionary contained over 458,000 words. In 1998 there were approximately 700,000 words in the English language. Today the number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the "Million Word" threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT). The millionth word was the controversial "Web 2.0." Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day.
Some words to enter the Oxford Dictionaries this year include cryptocurrency, perf, bikeable, sportive, gran fondo, snacky, and omakase.
Words are powerful things, and each of us must decide how we are going to use the power of words. Words have the potential for great good or great harm. Today we're going to talk about how, out of the over 1 million available words, certain words or combinations of words have an amazing and frightening amount of power to cause enormous and sometimes irreparable damage to others.
James has more to say about the tongue than any other book of the Bible; not a coincidence as James is about "practical Christian living." James warns us of the power of the tongue to cause great damage:
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See 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. James 3:5-6 NASB
Just as a great forest is set on fire by only a little spark, so it is with the tongue. The tongue is a fire that can set a whole forest of lives and relationships on fire, consuming and destroying all that lies in its path. It is a world of iniquity; it can cause what seems to be a world of sin and destruction when it is set ablaze. A fire can begin with just a small spark, but it can grow to destroy a city.
A fire reportedly started in the O'Leary barn in Chicago at 8:30 P.M., October 8, 1871; and because that fire spread, over 100,000 people were left homeless, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, and 300 people died. It cost the city over 400 million.
Proverbs compares the tongue to fire:
For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. Proverbs 26:20-21 NASB
Because words possess power to cause all kinds of damage, we need to be very careful how we use our words! So Paul cautions us on using unwholesome words:
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth"—the grammatical construction that Paul uses here means: "every, each" word that comes from the mouth is to be wholesome, and no word they utter should be harmful. Keep in mind that the context here is dealing with unity in the body of Christ. We can use words to cause dis-unity and bring harm to the body of Christ.
The word for "unwholesome" here is the Greek adjective sapros, it is used by Greek writers of rotten wood, withered flowers, and rancid fish. So it denotes literally: "what is rotten, putrid, or corrupt, useless, or unprofitable. " It is used (Matt. 7:17-18) to refer to rotten fruit. It is also used of rotten fish (Matt. 13:48). Applied to language and relationships, it points to words that spoil relationships, poison another's influence, or corrupts another's character. The prohibition in the form of the present imperative has the force of cessation of activity in progress. Literally, in Greek, it is: "Stop letting rotten words come out of your mouths."
What exactly does Paul mean by unwholesome words? Let's see if we can define and break down the various ways we hurt people with words.
Godly people in the Bible occasionally use sarcasm, ridicule, and mockery against those who are leading people astray. Elijah, for example, mocked the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Yeshua ridiculed the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and legalism (Matt. 23). But my experience is that using sarcasm is like righteous anger. It must be carefully controlled or it spills over into sin.
Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, "Was I not joking?" Proverbs 26:18-19 NASB
After deceiving his neighbor, he tries to avoid being accused by saying he was only joking. But his deception, like a deadly arrow, has already done its damage. Some of us have the tendency to joke around too much, or be a little too harsh in our joking around. Sarcastic comments can really hurt.
2. CARELESS OR THOUGHTLESS REMARKS
An article in Reader's Digest had this to say: "My wife was only 59 when she died. Despite a heart condition and severe diabetes, she was vibrant and busy until the day she passed away. Sylvia loved life and often said that she cared more about quality than quantity. At the funeral a few people said to me, 'Sylvia had so much to live for, it's a shame she didn't take better care of herself.' The implication was that she could have prevented her death, and I remember thinking how thoughtless their statements were."
Have you ever had that happen to you? Someone said something to you that really hurt? We cannot stop the words of others, but we can guard against saying things that will hurt others:
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18 NASB
Do your words pierce like a sword, or do they bring healing?
USA Today, December 30, 1988, had this to say, "Recently CBS released The Karen Carpenter Story. Karen died unexpectedly nearly six years ago of heart failure at age 32 brought on by years of self abuse from the eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. But what brought on Karen's fatal obsession with weight control? It seems a reviewer once called her "Richard's chubby sister." Lord, please help us to know the power of our words!
Another way we hurt with words is by...
Those in the world gripe and complain about everything, as you know, but Christians are to:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; Philippians 2:14 NASB
Because all complaints are ultimately directed at Yahweh, who sovereignly ordains our circumstances, we are not to be complainers.
It's miserable to live with a complainer. It's miserable to work for a complainer. You do something well, they say nothing; you make one little mistake, and you never hear the end of it. When someone complains about you or something that you have done, how does it make you feel? You might not have thought of complaining as hurtful to others, but it certainly is. It can cause others to become dissatisfied once they hear you complaining.
Another way we hurt people with our words is through...
4. GOSSIP AND SLANDER
In the March 1989 issue of Mademoiselle Magazine, Rebecca Sharp writes, "I've always prided myself on never stooping to take part in office gossip. but lately I've noticed that some of my gossipy colleagues are getting ahead. Gossip is as natural a part of the corporate landscape as ferns and fax machines. You're making a mistake if you try to avoid it. Instead, you want to use it to your advantage."
O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; Psalms 15:1-3 NASB
I think that gossip flows too freely from all of our lips. I'll bet that everyone here, at one time or another, has been the victim of someone else's "slandering tongue." I certainly have, and it's a terrible feeling to discover that someone has said cruel, hurtful, (and many times false) things about you. But, of course, we've all intentionally spoken harsh words that we knew were hurtful towards others. How that kind of thing must disappoint and sadden our God.
5. LYING This would certainly qualify as unwholesome, but we already covered that in verse 25 so we won't say any more about it here.
Now when we talk about unwholesome words, that is kind of nebulous; what might be unwholesome to you may not be to me. I think we could all probably agree on the five we have mentioned so far: sarcasms, careless or thoughtless remarks, complaining, gossip, slander and lying. But there are many other things that some would consider unwholesome words that we might not. For example, John Piper, commenting on unwholesome words, writes: "First would be language that takes the name of the Lord in vain. It is a great contradiction of who we are as Christians if we say, "God!" or "My God!" or "God Almighty!" or "Christ!" or "Jesus!" just because we are mad or surprised or amazed." To me none of those are taking the name of the Lord in vain. Our God's name is not "God," it is "Yahweh." In Hebrew thought name means: "character." Exodus 20:7 could be translated: "You shall not take the 'character' of Yahweh your God in vain." This could literally be translated: "You shall not falsely represent the character of Yahweh." When followers of Yahweh live and act ungodly, we take His name in vain.
Another commentator writes: "This includes using shortened forms of the Lord's name, such as (I would not even say it, but I often hear Christians say it), 'O Jeez!'" I didn't know that Jeez was a shortened from of Yahweh. Piper goes on to say, "The second kind of language that Paul would call rotten would be language that trivializes terrible realities—like hell and damnation and holiness. What's wrong with saying, "What the hell!" or "Hell, no!" or "Go to hell!" or "Damn it!" or "Damn right!" or "Holy cow!" or "Holy mackerel!"? Among other things these expressions trivialize things of terrible seriousness."
Now you may agree or disagree with him, I would disagree. But I do think that telling someone to, "Go to Hell" would be unwholesome speech. I think that any word said mean-spirited and to hurt can be unwholesome. I certainly would not classify "holy cow" as unwholesome words. If you think something is unwholesome, don't use it. This command is to you, not for you to enforce on me.
What about profanity? Who decides what is profane? Is it okay to say "dung"? What about the s-word? Again, if words are used to hurt, they are unwholesome. If you think something is unwholesome, don't use it. But be careful in judging others by your standards.
Words are powerful things. We all grew up saying "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But that's a lie! Words DO hurt. You can say, "I didn't mean it," but the words still hurt. You can say, "I shouldn't have said it," but the words still hurt. Whether it is gossip, sarcasm, slander, criticism, harsh jokes, careless remarks, complaints...words do hurt! We all realize this when others are saying things that hurt us, but we don't often think of the damage of our own words. We need to be constantly praying the prayer that David prayed in:
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalms 141:3 NASB
The substance of David's evening prayer was that Yahweh would direct his words and his actions aright. He wanted Yahweh to set a guard at his lips to prevent wrong speech.
Here is a practical suggestion on how to keep from saying "unwholesome" things: Speak Less—decide not to talk so much. Make an effort to remain silent:
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. Proverbs 15:28 NASB
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. Proverbs 17:28 NASB
Your chances of blowing it are directly proportional to the amount of time you spend with your mouth open. Try closing it for a while. Publius, a Greek sage, observed, "I have often regretted my speech, never my silence."
The tongue not only has the potential to cause great damage, it also can control and influence for good:
"But only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment"—edification is from the Greek word oikodome, which was used in:
in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, Ephesians 2:21 NASB
Here it is translated "building." Oikodome refers to a building or to the act of building. Here it is referring to building up the body of believers. We are to use our words for good to build others up. James talks about the use of the tongue for good:
Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at 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. James 3:3-4 NASB
James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship. The rudder of a ship is small, but it controls the movement of the entire ship. One little shift in the rudder and the whole ship changes course. The tongue isn't very big, but it has the power, through a few words and subtle inflection, to move people and change the course of human events.
Think about the great speeches or even the great phrases of history: Patrick Henry's resounding: "Give me liberty or give me death." Nathan Hale's vibrant words: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." How about FDR's famous commentary on the bombing of Pearl Harbor: "This is a day that will live in infamy."
Who can forget JFK's inaugural speech and the words: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s stirring word's from the Washington D.C. Plaza: "I have a dream."
Those words all changed the course of history. They challenged our very souls and spirits, and as a result, we and our country will never be the same.
Words can do the same for people and their perception of themselves. They can be used for good. They can be used to inspire, lift up, motivate, instruct, and empathize.
A while back Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska conducted a group of studies called the "Family Strengths Research Project." Stinnett and his researchers identified six qualities that make for strong families. The first quality and one of the most important to be found in strong families was the quality of appreciation. "Families that are strong are strong in part," Dr. Stinnett concludes, "because family members express to each other their appreciation for what the other members DO and for who they ARE."
In a similar study, another researcher looked into the effect of praise in the workplace. His study showed that the ratio of praise to criticism in the workplace needs to be four to one before employees feel that there is a balance—that there must be four times as much praise as there is criticism before they feel good about their work and about the environment they work in.
That is pretty staggering information—information that tells us that if we want to do something good, that if we want to have a healthy family, a strong workplace, or any other effective group that we need to be sure that appreciation, praise, and thanksgiving are heard at least four times as often as is criticism. Praise and thanksgiving are important—our words have the power to influence, to encourage, and to build others up.
So we looked at words that are unwholesome, what about words that build up, what would they be?
1. ENCOURAGEMENT AND PRAISE Paul wrote:
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NASB
Too often, we are prone to criticize others. Instead, we should be looking for reasons to praise them. Encourage others in areas where they are doing well. This goes for your children and your spouse as well.
2. APPRECIATION AND GRATEFULNESS
This is related to encouragement and praise, and it must come from the heart (not as flattery or manipulation). If you are thinking rightly about your mate or children or co-workers, express it verbally. Tell them how much you appreciate all that they are doing. They won't know it if you don't put it into words.
3. KIND WORDS
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul said, "Love is … kind." You should especially be kind when someone has done something dumb or has failed. It is tempting to ridicule the person, but at that moment, godly words of kindness are needed.
4. GENTLE WORDS
The fruit of the Spirit includes gentleness (Gal. 5:23). The Greek word does not imply weakness, but rather strength under control. The gentle person is under the control of the Spirit, who is pictured as a gentle dove. Gentleness means thinking about how the other person feels and how your words will make him feel.
Why should we watch our words and not let unwholesome speech come out of our mouths, but say things that build others up?:
"So that it will give grace to those who hear"—"so" is hina, this is a purpose clause. The word "grace" here is the Greek word charis.
If you are at odds with anyone, perhaps because he or she has wronged you, you'll be inclined to think, "But this person doesn't deserve words that build him up! He deserves to be put down!" But, grace is undeserved favor! Grace extends to others what Yahweh has extended to you. We are to be like Yeshua, and He was gracious:
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, "Is this not Joseph's son?" Luke 4:22 NASB
What is the means of grace here in Ephesians 4:29? It is our words to other believers. Yahweh uses our speech to give grace. Are you aware that you can be a means of grace in another believer's life? That is a very sobering thought. I can impart grace to a fellow believer! Peter put it this way:
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:10 NASB
The Greek word for "gift" here is charisma; it has the idea of: "grace." We have received grace, and we are to minister grace to each other. Think about this for a minute. How important is God's grace to you? We can't make it through one day apart from the grace of God. We need God's enabling power to live our lives, and this power, this grace, can come to us through the ministry of others.
Now you might be thinking, "How is this possible?" Have you ever been in the pit of despair, being overcome by your circumstances? I have. And in those times, Yahweh uses His Word to strengthen me, and He uses prayer. But He also uses "fellow believers." When I think of times of trial, I remember the comfort that I received from my friends; friends who gave me encouraging words, words of support, words of comfort. My friends reminded me of what I knew the Scripture said and reminded me of Yahweh's faithfulness. My friends ministered grace to me. They were used of God as a means of grace. Ministering to one another in time of need is an important means by which the Lord mediates His grace to us:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NASB
When you live independent of the corporate community, when you don't spend time with other believers, you cut off a means of the grace of God. How sad it is for the person who has no one to minister grace to them in their time of need.
During the time David was hiding from Saul, who was trying to kill him, he fled to the cave Adullam. While in that cave, he wrote Psalm 142, a cry of distress to Yahweh. Notice verse 4:
Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul. Psalms 142:4 NASB
How sad to think that no one cares for your soul. How sad to have no one to minister God's grace to you.
Let me give you some practical suggestions and some specific activities that will help us minister grace to one another.
1) Share biblical truth with one another. Most of the time when we get together, we talk about everything except the Scriptures and our God. We talk about our jobs, favorite sports, hobbies, and the weather. We talk about everything except what God is teaching us from His Word and through His providential working in our lives. In my experience, I haven't found many believers who are willing to have true fellowship. But when I have found it, it has been refreshing and joyous.
Several years ago I was sitting at my kitchen table discussing the Bible with a lady who was visiting from out of town. She commented on how much she had enjoyed our time of fellowship. She attends a very large, very active church in her home town. I asked her how much time she spends with friends from her church talking about the Bible and what God is doing in their lives. She said, "None." So many people are involved in church, but not in fellowship with their God or other believers.
We need to get into the Word of God and then share with others what Yahweh is teaching us. I really enjoy and look forward to our testimony times, because I love hearing you share what Yahweh is teaching you. We all face the same struggles, and as you share your victories, I am encouraged.
As we share biblical truth with each other, we minister grace to each other:
Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:12-13 NASB
Here we see that an important, no, a vital means of withstanding the enticement to apostasy is that of mutual exhortation. The word "encourage" is parakaleo, which means: " to encourage, comfort, beseech, to beg." It's the same word used for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is not a negative warning, but a positive encouragement.
How often are we to exhort each other? "Day after day" exhortation is required, because the fight of faith is "daily." Temptation is "daily." The influence the world has upon us is experienced "daily." Our need for spiritual sustenance is "daily." All of this assumes frequent contact with the people of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit reminds us to prod one another heavenward every day. Let our speech and our manners be such toward each other as to give grace.
Calvin said, "As by nature we are prone to fall into evil, we have need of various helps to help us in the fear of God. Unless our faith is repeatedly encouraged, it lies dormant; unless it is warmed, it grows cold; unless it is aroused, it gets numb."
The duty of exhorting one another is neglected by most of us. We're faithful to judge and criticize others, but we're not so faithful to encourage them. One of the best ways we can encourage one another is with the Scriptures. We are to share biblical truth with each other:
Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 NASB
As we share Scripture with each other, we are sharpened and encouraged. We need each other, we need encouragement as we face trials. An encouraging word can give us the strength we need to stand.
J.I. Packer said, "We should not think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us In such a way that our fellowship with Himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment."
Another way in which we minister grace to one another is by:
2) Sharing our sins, failures, and discouragements:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16 NASB
We hesitate to share our sins and our failures with each other, don't we? Why? I guess we want people to think well of us, and we don't want them to know that we fail. That is just our pride. We forget the truth of:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB
We are not going through any experience that is new or unique, we all face common trials, and we all fail. Sharing our failures can help others to see that they aren't alone in their failures.
Believers, I think we all understand how important God's grace is to our lives. What I want you to see today is that YOU are to be a giver of that grace! I want each of you to think of yourselves as "givers of grace." What an influence we could have if we all lived in light of the fact that we are to be giving grace to each other. And by grace I mean: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances."
There is a story in the Jewish Talmud about a king who sent two jesters on an errand. He instructed them, "Foolish Simon, go and bring me back the best thing in the world. And you, Silly John, go and find for me the worst thing in the world."
Both clowns were back in short order, each carrying a package. Simon bowed low and grinned. "Behold, Sire, the best thing in the world." His package contained a tongue.
John snickered and quickly unwrapped his bundle. "The worst thing in the world, Sire." Another tongue! (Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations [Assurance Publishers], # 6387, p. 1422.)
Believers, we have great power to influence others with the words we speak. May our influence be to build them up and not tear them down.
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