Some weeks ago I started a series of prayer letters tackling the issue of believers experiencing trouble in this life. Scripture tells us that because we belong to Christ we will face opposition from the world (John 15:18-25) – the world-system which is under Satan’s authority (Eph. 2:2b; 6:12). There is good news – Christ has conquered the world (John 16:33) and in Christ we have victory over the world (1 John 5:1-5)!
The next area of troubles that we looked at were those related to the enemy of our souls – Satan. For the past few weeks we have examined what the Bible says about biblical reconciliation. One of Satan’s primary ploys is to take advantage of conflict and sin that has not been resolved biblically. When conflict is not resolved biblically, the result is unforgiveness and bitterness, which results in disunity (2 Cor. 2:5-11; Eph. 4:26-27). So, by God’s gracious enablement, let’s resolve our conflicts in submission to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Eph. 4:26-27, 29-32).
This week we will look at a trouble that we experience as a result of our own actions or the actions of someone else. When is the last time someone’s words tore you apart? When was the last time your words tore someone apart? Scripture says this about the tongue, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body. Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water”1 (Jas. 3:2b–12).
When professing Christians are not Spirit-controlled they can let speech proceed from their mouths that grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). How do I know that ungodly speech grieves the third person of the Trinity? Look at verse 29, “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). When we speak with “foul language” it tears people down. Ungodly speech tears people down and grieves the Holy Spirit! Let’s look closer at Ephesians 4:29. The Greek word translated here as “foul” is σαπρος. Louw and Nida define it as, “pertaining to that which is harmful in view of its being unwholesome and corrupting—‘harmful, unwholesome.’2 It is describing speech that is harmful to others spiritually. Instead, Christians should speak words that are, “good for building up someone in need.” The Greek word translated here as “good” is αγαθος. It is a contrast with σαπρος (harmful) and it is describing speech which is “helpful.” Helpful speech has the intended goal of “building up someone in need.” The word translated “building up” is from the Greek word οἰκοδομην. Louw and Nida define the word as follows, “to increase the potential of someone or something, with focus upon the process involved—‘to strengthen, to make more able, to build up.’”3 The word οἰκοδομη was also used to describe, “the construction of something, with focus on the event of building up or on the result of such an event—‘to build up, to construct, construction.’”4 It speaks here of our words strengthening other believers spiritually. Such “helpful” words give grace to those who hear them. They are helpful words for the purpose of strengthening, not weakening. Such words give grace to those who hear them. They show kindness to those believers who hear them.
Early in my Christian life, out of necessity, I committed Ephesians 4:29 to memory. In fact, I pray this Scripture back to God each day, asking Him to help me live according to it. As a result of the sin within us, we are able to speak harmful words that weaken others spiritually. Such actions grieve God. This would be a good time to think about what kind of speech proceeds from our mouths. Are we saying things that are helpful, that strengthen other believers spiritually? If not we need to repent, confess our sin to God, and apologize to whomever we have sinned against with our speech.
Helpful speech that strengthens other believers is not always, “Way to go! Good job!” type of talk. Sometimes it is speech that corrects – “No, that is not right. The Bible says…” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Sometimes it is speech that rebukes (Eccl. 7:5; Prov. 27:5; 28:23), which is stronger – “You are out-of-line biblically and you need to stop” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:2; Titus 1:12-14; 1 Thess. 5:14). When we need it, correction and rebuke are loving and helpful for strengthening us spiritually. But, when someone honors the Lord, encourage him/her with “helpful speech” that builds him/her up spiritually. When a believer is discouraged, use helpful words to build him/her up spiritually. Use Scripture to encourage other believers (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Acts 20:32; 1 Pet. 2:2-3).
Harmful speech is destructive. It is such a large issue that I am going to take the next two weeks to dig deeper into the issue. Next week I will address from Scripture what some would refer to as “humor,” which many times brings hurt to those who are on the receiving end.
1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).
2 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 229.
3 Ibid., 675.
4 Ibid., 513.