Learning a New Language (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. —Ephesians 4:29
Every time I read this verse I’m so convicted. I instantly think over everything I’ve said throughout the day. How did I correct my children? How did I speak to my husband? What about my coworkers, friends? Suddenly tons of words and sentences flash through my mind and I think, how many of those words were for building up? How many gave grace to the listener? How many were corrupting?
Do you know how many words we speak in a day? A study at the University of Arizona found that the average person speaks about 15,000-16,000 words per day. That’s a lot of words!
In Ephesians 4, Paul teaches us about “walking in a manner worthy of the gospel.” He’s contrasting the way we were as unbelievers, with who we are now—our new identity in Christ. There should be a clear difference between who we were and who we are now. We are called to display that difference in the way we speak. When we were unbelievers, our words were used in self-serving, destructive ways, but now because of the gospel, our speech is changed. Our words are an important tool to show that we are a new creation in Christ.
The Bible makes clear that our words matter deeply to God. We should speak carefully, thoughtfully, considering the impact on our hearers. In our native language, it’s easy to speak without thinking. I rarely have to think before I speak in English. (Sometimes I should, but I don’t have to.) However, two years ago, I moved to Central America and I had to learn Spanish. When you learn a new language, you have to think before you speak. Suddenly, I couldn’t just blurt out my first thought (in English) because I had to search for the words (in Spanish). Often as I’m speaking, I’m correcting my (many) errors or thinking about my word choice. This is frustrating and tiring. It’s so much more natural and comfortable to just speak without thinking.
However, though I make countless grammatical errors each day when I speak in Spanish, I haven’t said anything mean or rude that I regret. I haven’t done that yet, because I am forced to think before I speak. I’m also often praying as I speak, begging the Lord for the gift of language, asking Him to help my listener to understand me. Can you imagine how different my speech would be in English if I simply did the same thing? What if I prayed through my day as I was speaking? I suspect my words would be very different. We know that those of us who are in Christ are learning a new language, too—the heavenly language of grace and edification. It takes time and practice to learn it well—it takes time soaking in God’s Word to equip us with the grace-filled language He asks us to speak.
I tell my children daily about how powerful our words are, that our words matter (James 3:5-8). But I wonder how deeply I believe this. Do I use my words as weapons? Do I use my words to be liked more or to fit in, even if it means gossiping? Our words reflect the desires of our heart and if the desire of my heart is Jesus, my words will clearly display that desire. My words will not be weapons of destruction, but words bringing His message; they will be edifying for those who hear. My words will have a clear purpose—they will reflect the desire of my heart to follow Jesus. And my words will build up the body of Christ and be gifts of grace to the listener.
What struggles do you face in your speech? Do you gossip, shout, or speak unkindly in anger?
What does your speech reflect about the condition of your heart and its desires ?
What do you need to change to deepen your desire to give grace to those who hear you speak?