Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

As I read this passage, quite honestly I feel as if I need to be saying (both verbally and from my fingers on social media) far less. Seriously, how often do we stop and think before we say or type something to ensure that what we are saying meets the standard noted in Ephesians 4:29? I would submit more often than not we let the words fly not in a spirit of edification for the purpose of imparting grace, but rather to get that one last jab into the gut of the one we are arguing with.

This is a very easy trap to fall in, one which forms bad habits when it comes to our conversational tone. When we examine this passage in a bit more detail, we can obtain a better idea of what is meant by corrupt words compared to those necessary for edification for the impartation of grace. So let’s get started breaking down this passage.

The word translated as corrupt is the Greek adjective sapros meaning “rotten, putrefied; corrupted by one and no longer fit for use, worn out; of poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless.” When it comes to definitions, it seems rather clear what the idea of corrupt is all about. Basically, corrupt words are those which bring nothing positive to the table. Think of it this way. At Thanksgiving dinner, would you drive down to the local landfill, scoop up some piles of food refuse, bring that back home and then serve it to your family or friends? I would hope not, but that is what we do when corrupt words come flying. They are rotten, putrefied, and completely worthless.

Next up for examination is what is corrupt, namely words. Logos is the Greek word that is translated as word in this passage. Typically, this word is related to what is spoken, most notably from our mouths. However, corrupt words can flow from other sources than just from our lips. While Ephesians 4:29 does note corrupt words coming from our mouth, the overarching concept speaks to any form of communication. In an age where social media provides the opportunity more than ever to share corrupt words with others, we have to be careful about what we type on our smartphone, computer or another device that provides us the opportunity to interact with others in a manner other than face to face. All forms of communication need to be devoid of corruption.

The Apostle Paul provides us with proper communication standards. He notes that whatever proceeds from our mouth must meet two guidelines: 1) It must edify and 2) it must impart grace to those who hear our words. Let’s break down these two ideas.

First, what is meant by edification? This is likely a word we do not use that much in modern parlance. Edification carries with it the concept of building up or in the case of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, “the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness.” Everything we say should be spoken with the purpose of growth, not the growth of self or puffing up in a spirit of pride (worthless, corrupt words), but conversely the building up of our fellow man.

John Eadie in his commentary on Ephesians rightly notes, “Conversation should always exercise a salutary influence, regulated by the special need. Words so spoken may fall like winged seeds upon a neglected soil, and there may be future germination and fruit.”[1]

In the impartation of grace to the hearer, our words can indeed fall upon the neglected soil spoken of by Eadie. Furthermore, Peter O’Brien rightly comments that the “motivating purpose of this positive exhortation is that it might give grace to those who hear. Having put on the new man, we will want to develop new standards of conversation so that our words will be a blessing, perhaps even the means by which God’s grace comes to those who hear.”[2]

Let’s pay attention to the words that proceed from our mouth as well as that which proceeds from our fingers onto an electronic device. May all we say bring glory to God, be replete with edification for the purpose of imparting the grace of God to others. Before you fly off the handle at home, at work, or on the internet, ensure what you are about to say is godly. If what you are about to say does not pass the Ephesians 4:29 test, it is better left unsaid.

[1] John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005), 353.
[2] Peter O’Brien, PNTC: The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 345.

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