Ephesians 4:29 NRSV
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
Today’s text takes me back to my glory days in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ’the days when I served as a youth pastor. Ephesians 4:29 was like a light saber, my sword of choice in working with teenaged boys.
It turns out seventh grade is a boy’s coming of age when it comes to discovering the destructive power of words. As they walk through the valley of the awkwardness of adolescence (a.k.a. the shadow of the death of childhood innocence), they become vigilantly aware of each other’s vulnerability and pounce with the force of a school of piranhas. From sarcasm and ridicule to cruel put-downs and amateur cussing, junior-high boys excel at slaying each other’s self-esteem in an effort to bolster their own. Adolescent girls do it, too, only at a level of sophistication so severe it makes the bathroom humor of the boys look like child’s play.
I will forever remember Ephesians 4:29 in the now unauthorized 1984 NIV translation, which I prescribed like medicine to those young people. To this day when I see one of those kids, they will say it to me: “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 all who listen.”
The truth? Within each of us, buried in the bowels of our false self, lurks that insecure junior-high mentality poised to pounce with our words. I recall when a member of the Farm Team at Seedbed received a nasty, scathing, shame-filled email from a person he had been trying to serve on a project for the past year. Her words hit him with the force of a baseball bat. The power of a few callously crafted sentences stunned me.
It’s interesting how the Bible, over and over, places such a premium on our speech. Within sentences of Paul’s exalted explanation about being renewed in the likeness of God he brings it down to the most practical activity of our everyday lives’the brass tacks of talking. Why? Because image bearing has everything to do with our words. Remember, God created the world with words. “In the beginning was the Word,” John tells us, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 niv). Indeed, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14 niv).
What if one of the most critical aspects of being created in the image of God is being invested with the power of words? Words create worlds, and they can tear them apart. With our words we can bless or curse, build up or tear down, berate or benefit.
Living a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called means learning to use words like God uses words. Maybe that’s why Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1 niv). Why “especially prophecy”? He answers, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (v. 3).
So fellow image-bearers, how are we doing with our words? Our words are the most ever-present, ever-ready, enormous source of power we possess. The possibilities are endless.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who said heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Thank you for showing us what the Word of God looks like in human flesh. Awaken me to the power of your Word and my words. I want to use words like you do. I want to bless and build up and love with my words. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
If you did an audit of your words yesterday, what would you find?
Who will you build up with your words today and how might it benefit others who hear it?
Who are ten people you want to take care to bless with your words in the coming week?
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