One of the benefits God gifts Christians is that they are “clothed with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). This means that we are united to Jesus by faith (Col. 2:12). In Ephesians 4:24, the Apostle Paul describes salvation as the “putting on of a new self,” which is Christ. Thus, Christians should reflect on Jesus in every sphere of life, and especially in their speech. Being clothed in Christ must lead to sanctified speech. As Ephesians 4:29 commands, “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.” This one verse gives at least four instructions for how a Christian can speak in a sanctified way.
- A Christian must not speak corruptly.
Paul begins by saying, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths….” The word for “corrupting” is the Greek word sapros. This word is used to describe something rotten. The only other context the word is used in is when Jesus speaks of “rotten” or “bad” fruit (Matt. 7:17-18, 12:33; Luke 6:43) and when He speaks of the parable of the net and the casting away of the “bad” things found therein (Matt. 13:47-48). Thus, the idea behind “corrupting” speech is that, like gangrene, it spreads rot and filth wherever it goes forth. Whereas God speaks and breathes out life, corrupt speech breathes out death.
Jesus taught in Luke 6:45 that, “out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks.” If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and Christ is within us, the very hope of glory, then our speech should reflect these marvelous truths. Corrupt speech is not befitting of a Christian.
Corrupting speech is the sort of talk that hurts and harms others. God hates this sort of speech. In Proverbs 6:16-19, God is said to hate the “lying tongue,” the “false witness who breathes out lies,” and the “one who sows discord among brothers.” God views such speech as an abomination.
The way someone speaks is essential, but so too is the speech they are willing to endure. Proverbs 20:19 warns that the Christian should not long endure corrupt speech. James 1:26 warns that, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” God even describes the one who uses gossip, slander, and other forms of corrupt speech regularly as a debased person who hates God (Rom. 1:28-31).
2. A Christian must speak constructively.
After warning against corrupt speech, Paul commands Christians to speak, “only such as is good for building up….” We can speak constructively or destructively. Our speech can tear a person down or build them up.
When we speak the truth in love, we encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. The truth spoken without love can, sometimes, destroys. This means we must exercise self-control, holy love, and righteous compassion in our speech. We need to truly care about the people we are speaking with so that we build them up.
If you’re unsure about what could build someone up, then just remember the gospel is always edifying. If you don’t know of anything else you can share, share the Gospel. It will build Christians up.
3. A Christian must speak conscientiously.
Paul goes on to warn Christians to speak: “as fits the occasion.” In other words, we must speak conscientiously.
By conscientiously, I mean that we should speak words that are thoughtful yet honest, gracious yet true. There are times and places to say certain things. For example, Proverbs 27:14, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.”
It’s a humorous example, but it reminds us of the great truth that everything has a time and place. We don’t go into the house of mourning with words of humor, or the house of rejoicing with words of gloom. As the teacher of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for all these things, and the Holy Spirit will lead us to discern which is which.
Yet, if you are totally unsure about what to say, then share the Gospel. It is never the wrong time or place to speak the good news of Jesus Christ, for, as Romans 1:16 says, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
4. A Christian must speak comfortingly.
A Christian is not to speak corruptly but constructively and conscientiously. Finally, Paul says that Christians must also speak so “that it may give grace to those who hear.”
How do we give grace to those who hear? Well, keep in mind that we ourselves cannot dispense saving grace to others. That alone is the work of God. But also keep in mind that, according to Romans 10:17, faith comes through hearing God’s Word and, as we know from Ephesians 2:8-9, faith is a gift of God’s grace. Therefore, if you want to dispense grace to others, you need to speak God’s Word to others.
Over time, I’ve found that the more I’ve read and studied Scripture, the more the language of the Bible has permeated my own language. The more I know the Bible; the more my own speech is patterned after Scripture. As Paul writes in Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person