The Comfort of Grace-Filled Words (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
We were thrilled with our brand-new hardwood floor! My husband Bruce and I had saved for new bamboo flooring, asking a handy man from church to install it just before Christmas. Soon after, we followed our family tradition of chopping down a fresh Christmas tree before Bruce went on a trip. I stayed home with the responsibility of watering the tree. I was amazed at how much water it drank. It was only when Bruce came home that I realized I had been over-filling the tree stand; and water had been soaking–and apparently ruining–a large section of our new floor! I was so grieved, and expected Bruce to give me a lecture on being more careful–which would have been totally appropriate. But he responded with grace, reassuring me that the floor was only “stuff.” He then set about repairing it. Years later, I still remember the relief I felt at his grace-filled words.
God cares very much about the words we use. He is a God of words, both in revealing truth to us in the written word, and in sending the manifestation of that truth in His Son, the Living Word. Words matter to God, and they ought to matter to us.
And yet, how often do we blithely chatter away, giving little thought to the words coming out of our mouths? Conversely, how often do we pray about our words, asking God to help us speak words that honor and please Him?
Our text, Ephesians 4:29, is one of a number in the Bible that describe our words as either this or that. In this verse, we see that our words will either be grace-giving, or ill-suited to the situation. They will either build up, or tear down. They cannot do both. We can learn from this contrast. Do our words build up, or do they tear down? Are they apt in the given situation, or are they ill-suited? And most importantly, are they grace-giving or grace-depleting?
This either/or instruction about our words is a common theme throughout the Bible. Think with me about a few relevant verses from Proverbs:
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21)
These contrasts paint vivid pictures for us. Are our words harsh like sword thrusts, unrestrained, unguarded, wounding, depleting? Or is our conversation marked by softness, wisdom, healing, nourishing, building up, and restraint? The last verse provides a rich summary statement: do our words kill or give life?
The sad reality is sometimes we speak words of blessing and other times words of cursing. This "ought not to be so," says James 3:8-10. We know our words flow out of the abundance of our hearts (Matthew 12:24). Isn’t it clear that we need the Lord to sanctify our hearts?
Our words should be, increasingly united, all-of-a-piece, more Christ-like, more infused with God’s values and wisdom. Let us humbly ask Him to work in our hearts, and then to make that work evident in our words. And let us be willing to humbly ask those around us if our words bring life and grace, or if they are corrupting words that tear down. It will take humility to ask, and to hear their reply. May we receive the help we need to tame our tongues from the true and living Word.
As you memorize this verse, ask the Lord to make you more aware of the impact of your words. Are they appropriate, grace-filled, life-giving? Take stock at the end of the day, thinking back through your interactions with others, and the effect of what you said.
Commit to praying regularly about your words. Ask the Lord to unite your heart to fear His name (Psalm 86:11), that your words may flow out with grace and truth.
Jodi Ware lives in Louisville, KY, where she is a member of Clifton Baptist Church. Her husband Bruce is a professor at Southern Seminary. Jodi spends her time meeting with, speaking to, and learning from women. She is involved in women's ministry and music ministry at church, and in the Seminary Wives Institute at Southern. The Lord used a period of postpartum depression years ago to teach her the incalculable value of reading and memorizing His Word.