A World of Words: Shut Hard and Open Wide (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
The world we live in is a world of words.
Not only was the universe spoken into existence by words (Genesis 1:3), and presently is being persuaded to keep on existing by words (Hebrews 1:3), but also the life we wake up to each morning is a world of words. Whether it’s emails, phone calls, text messages, blog posts, or the more old-fashioned methods of letter-writing and face-to-face conversation, it’s possible that you found yourself in a conversation this morning before even finishing your first cup of coffee.
See the Command
Is the world of your words a world of grace—one full of sentences that entice the hearer to hold fast to Jesus? And how would we know anyway? This is Paul’s concern in Ephesians 4:29.
Let’s start with the obvious: this is a command. The goal of Paul’s words is a change in the movement of our mouths, a mouth that shuts hard on certain types of speech and opens wide to others. He states this negatively and then positively to remind us that the mouth can’t be simultaneously open and closed. Like the direction of a car, the speech of a believer cannot go forward and back up at the same time.
Negatively, our mouths should shut hard on corrupting speech. What makes speech corrupting? I think Paul is being intentionally broad in selecting the word corrupting. This adjective is the one Jesus chose in Matthew 12:33 to describe the fruit that comes from the bad (“corrupt”) tree. Corrupt speech is not first a speech problem, but a heart problem—“out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Corrupt speech is simply the verbal heartbeat of a deeper corruption within.
It is with respect to all types of “old-self” speech—whether in the form of false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), lying (Ephesians 4:25), anger (Epesians 4:26), slander (Ephesians 4:31), sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:4), and the like—that God graciously commands our silence. Believer, you are a “new man” in Christ with a new heart that is alive to God (Ephesians 4:23–24). Don’t let the old man speak anymore—slam on the brakes!
Rather, turning the car around, our mouths should open wide for good speech. What makes speech good?
Paul helps us with the phrase “for building up, as fits the occasion.” Good speech has a clear destination—Jesus. In Ephesians, one way Paul pictures the church is as a body with Jesus himself as the head into which believers grow (Ephesians 1:22–23; 4:12–16). Good speech intentionally crafts sentences that move the hearer further into the “fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Paul calls this activity grace. As we satisfy our souls with God, and then speak the truth in love, especially as need and opportunity arise, the Holy Spirit attaches a Christ-exalting weightiness to each word, propelling them out of our mouths, through the air, into the ears of the hearer, before coming to a soul-stirring rest in their heart. By detailing this process for us, Paul wants to encourage us that when it comes to giving grace with our words, step on the gas!
1. Is your own heart satisfied with all that God is for you in Christ today?
2. Might God bring you to repentance for recent corrupting words?
3. Who can you build up in Christ today with your words?