In our time in the Sermon on the Mount, we have noted the high bar that the Lord has set for our lives as His disciples. In our relationships, our personal devotion, and our dealings with the world, we are to live in such a way that we are set apart in our character and conduct so that the Lord is glorified. At times this standard seems impossibly high, but we know that in Christ we have the ability to walk in faithfulness to Him (2 Pet 1:3-4).
One area of the Christian life in which Scripture repeatedly calls us to holiness is our speech. Like every other aspect of our walk, the Lord sets a very high standard for how we use our words. Last time, we looked at Eph 4:29, a crucial verse for our understanding of godly speech. In the 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul begins to give instruction about how the members of the body of Christ are to conduct themselves. It is here that he lays out the paradigm for biblical change that we talk about so often. We are told to put off the old self, put on the new self, and be renewed in the spirit of our minds (vv22-24). Paul then gives examples of this, including one regarding our speech: 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 (Eph 4:29).
Here Paul tells us what not to do (what to put off) and what to do instead (what to put on). He writes, Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths… We’ve alreadylearned that corrupting talk is speech that tears down. This could include any of the sins of the tongue mentioned in Scripture, like gossip, lying, slander, clamor, critical speech, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh words. These patterns of speech characterize the old self, what we were before Christ saved us and set us apart for the glory of the Father. Wherever we find such sins of the tongue in our lives, we must seek to put them off.
Most of us have heard the old standard, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” A great many believers use the principle underlying this saying as the foundation of their attempts to kill their own sin. The idea is to identify what you are doing wrong…and stop it. Find the sin and kill the habit behind it. Many books have been written and many counseling techniques have been devised to help people “de-habituate.”
The problem is that this is only half the job, biblically speaking. We should de-habituate, but we also have to re-habituate. We must replace ungodly habits with godly habits. Or as Paul writes, we must put off and put on. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up… In other words, not speaking corrupting words is not good enough. We must replace them with words that build up.
The “put off” in Eph 4:29 may not seem too radical. The “put on” is a different story. It really raises the bar. It cuts off any speech about which there may be any doubt: but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. The true standard for our speech is not to refrain from ungodly speech, but to engage in exclusively godly speech.
How many of us apply this higher standard to ourselves? A good number of us are probably able to prevent ourselves from engaging in clearly corrupt speech, but how many of us can say that we only speak words that build up, words that benefit? You see, our aim shouldn’t be to simply rid ourselves of the sin of gossip. We should shoot higher than that. We should seek to habitually speak edifying words. And so, as we continue in this series we will discuss how to do both the putting off and the putting on in the area of our speech.
Until next time, consider this: in His entire life, Christ never spoke a single corrupting word, but only words that built up. The task of becoming like Him may seem impossible, but it is not. His very Spirit dwells in us, empowering us to obey. Let’s trust in His grace as we strive to edify one another through our speech.
Posted by Greg Birdwell