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 those who listen (Eph. 4:29)
This verse has been on my mind for many months. It appears in a passage that talks about how to “live a life of love” as “children of light”.
The words we speak to and about others are a reflection of our living lives of love as God’s children of light… or not! If living as children of light results in life-giving words to and about others, then the reverse is also true: words to and about someone that tear them down, come from a place of darkness!
· In the same way that unwholesome food breaks down the health of the body, “unwholesome talk” tears other people down:
Ø These may be words we speak to someone else - words of criticism, judgment, complaint, accusation, rejection, attack…
Ø Or they may be words we speak about someone else behind their back – criticizing them, complaining about them, slandering them, tearing down their reputation, casting suspicion about and aspersion on them to others, leaving others with a negative view of them…
Such words may provide some temporary relief in getting things “off your chest”, but this “satisfaction” is short-lived, and we are left with even more yukky feelings inside ourselves. Unwittingly, we are encouraging “darkness” in our own hearts by doing this.
· Like wholesome food that builds up the health of the body, talk that is “helpful for building others up according to their needs” entails words that benefit another:
Ø Life-giving words of encouragement, affirmation, appreciation, kindness… spoken to another
Ø Positive words spoken about another to others
Note that these words do not come out of a self-focus and self-interest, but out of a heart that is concerned about the needs of others. When we do this, both the speaker and the listener are left feeling built up!
What should we do?
· The Bible is full of “one another” passages, showing us how to love others out of the love that Jesus has poured into our own hearts. Living out of a heart of Christ-centered love, we work to build others up through the words that we speak.
· If we are carrying an offense against someone, Scripture tells us to lovingly confront the other person directly, with the motivation of reconciliation and restoration. We are to talk to them about the issue, not talk about them negatively to others! Furthermore, our honest addressing of the issues involved should not leave the other person feeling lacerated by our words. Rather, our words should “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). This applies not only to what words we say, but how we say them.
What if I’ve been hurt by the words of another?
You may have been on the receiving end of words that have torn you down – either hurtful words spoken to you that have left you wounded, or words spoken about you to others who now regard you in a negative light. How should you respond?
First of all, know that God promises His protection and vindication of those who have been wrongfully maligned by the words of another:
No weapon formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that rises up against you will be shown to be in the wrong. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,” declares the Lord (Is. 54:17)
… You keep them secretly in Your pavilion from the strife of tongues (Ps.31:20).
Then, in spite of the hurt, you and I can still choose to “live as children of light” in the face of such experiences. In this very same passage in Ephesians, Paul goes on to say, “Be tenderhearted (kind) and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (v.32).
The unkind words others speak very often come from the “darkness” that is inside themselves – they may be carrying their own woundedness, feelings of rejection, turmoil, insecurity, etc. However, rather than speculating about what lies in their hearts, we should simply keep our own hearts open, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the love of Jesus for them, until we overflow with His tenderness and compassion. When this happens, forgiveness comes easily!
Then, as opportunity allows, we may in turn speak words that are “helpful for building them up according to their needs”, setting aside our own needs in the situation in spite of our hurt. In this way as “children of light” we spread light and life and love into someone else’s “darkness”. In this way we live out the life and love of Jesus, rather than pursuing an “agenda” of our own.
Instead of retaliating, we respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, out of a heart captivated by, and filled with the love of the One who hung falsely accused, insulted, rejected, mocked and in agony on a cross and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Whatever happens to be filling our hearts, is what is going to spill out of our mouths and lives! Poisonous words are an overflow of what lies in the heart. If we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to fill us with the extravagant love of Jesus, this love is what will spill out of our mouths and lives into the hearts and lives of others.
It is easy to give extravagantly when we are rich! God offers us the opportunity to be “rich in love” so that we are in turn able to give love away extravagantly, knowing that there is always more available to us at the Source!
Today, no matter how others treat us, let us speak life-giving words that build others up according to their needs, out of hearts captivated by God’s extravagant love. We will find our own hearts lighter and filled with joy when we do this!
Let us “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24) and be builders up, not demolishers, of the people in our lives who are so precious to God.