Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. – Eph. 4:29
It’s been one of those mornings. I’m always impacted by my time in the Word and talking with God, but sometimes He makes it unmistakeably clear what He wants me to focus on.
My regular OT reading today took me through Proverbs 11 – 15, and I wrote out several verses that struck me on the wise and foolish use of words. The editor’s note at the end of Prov. 15 said: “Words are more powerful than we realize. When God ‘spoke,’ He created a world – a glorious cosmos. And when you speak you, too, create a world – a world of harmony, or a world of disharmony. Ask yourself now: what kind of a world will I create by my words today?” *
My NT reading included John 8, when Jesus told the Jewish authorities that his language wasn’t clear to them because they were unable to hear what he said. (John 8:43) Their ears were blocked because they didn’t really belong to God, and therefore couldn’t understand the truth. These authorities felt self-satisfied – more than that, superior – so they weren’t open to instruction, even from God.
Finally, my bookmark in Psalms was at Ps. 15. The first three verses read:
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others.
These verses were the subject of another editor’s note in my Quest Study Bible, titled “The Power of Words,” which included the above verse in Ephesians. It seems clear that God is directing my attention to some specific areas.
My first order of business is to check my hearing. It’s so tempting to read these verses and immediately apply them to someone else. I think that qualifies as a hearing problem. But God isn’t speaking to someone else; He’s speaking to me. Prov. 12:1 is pretty blunt on this topic: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. Then there’s 12:15: The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. So, Father, help me to dig the defensiveness and self-righteousness out of my ears, so I can hear the truth You have for me.
Next, I look at the Ephesians verse and ask, what is unwholesome talk? I know that unwholesome food is something that can provide a pleasurable sensation, but at best has no power to nourish and at worst, is harmful to the body. A piece of juicy gossip can be as tantalizing as any mega-fat, super-sweet concoction, and just as damaging to my heart. Words spoken in accusation and anger can provide an emotional rush, until the consequences of the lashes and slashes become apparent.
Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords . . . (Prov. 12:16,18)
So, unwholesome talk is any word that doesn’t nourish, that doesn’t build up, that causes harm. I need to reflect before I speak: is what I’m about to say just empty-calorie platitudes, or words that will tear someone down and cause harm? Just as I wouldn’t willingly slash my own leg or break my own arm, I need to realize that my words can do just that to my family, my neighbor, and the body of Christ.
Wholesome words will, by definition, promote wholeness. Any body has weak or hurting parts; how then can I use my words to promote healing, to build spiritual muscle, to bring comfort and support, to encourage, to bring peace, to serve according to God’s purposes? If my words aren’t building up, they’re tearing down, and God will call me to account for every careless word I’ve spoken.
I need to take a very careful look inside and ask myself, what kind of a world will I create with my words today?
*Cover to Cover Complete, CWR 2012, p.657.