There are many verses I remember memorizing as a child. I am a pastor’s kid, and grew up in Sunday School classes learning scripture through song and good old fashioned memory verses. For me, memorizing wasn’t just in church. Verses like, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” were often quoted. Our family had a tradition every Christmas of reciting together, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus….” I won’t finish that one as it was all of Luke 2:1-20! We all had it memorized. The verse that sticks out most in my memory, however, is Ephesians 4:29
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
This verse was recited over and over again in our home. It would be used as correction, time and time again, when I would use hurtful language or attack someone with my words. The question it asks is, how are your words building up those who listen? Are your words giving the hearer the best opportunity to enter into the good things God has for them? Words have incredible power to create or destroy, build up or tear down, encourage or produce fear, and speak life or death.
I love how the “unwholesome words” is pitted against the rest of the verse. Rather than looking at what is off limits, we just need to understand the purpose of our words. What should our speech be used for? God has created all things with intention. We get to discover those good intentions and live life within that purpose. Good isn’t just the absence of the bad, but rather sin is misappropriating the creation and intentions of God for other uses.
Let’s take a look at what our words are meant to be used for.
To edify means to build up, to instruct, or to improve. A word that is edifying is one that improves the person. It does not leave a person in a worse state or the same state. In order for a word to be edifying, it must have a lasting affect in the positive. This can be both intellectual or spiritual. A teacher in a classroom has this motive and intention – to use everything they say to instruct the students in new thoughts and understanding. A preacher in the pulpit has the intention to give revelation and understanding of God through words. This verse states that edification is a requirement of all words. A grid for our speech should always be, will this improve anything, instruct someone, build them up?
For a long time I had a hard time truly understanding what it meant to edify. I understood it in the sense of an instructional teaching, but our words are meant for so much more than that. They are meant to affirm, encourage, correct, and offer up praise to God.
One of the main roles we have in each others’ lives is of affirmation and encouragement. We have the privilege of pointing out how we see the nature of God present in our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have an incredible opportunity to encourage each other through reminders of who and where God is in any situation. We get to share our love for one another. We get to thank one another for who they are and how we see them living as God has created them.
Praise is another way in which our words can be edifying. Using our words to praise God is a unique way to not only build up others, but ourselves also. As we declare the truths of who God is, it instructs our own spirit and aligns us with the truth of God. This goes well beyond an intellectual pursuit. Praise transforms us, those who hear, and even the space that we are in. You can’t really go wrong with using your words to praise God.
Another important use of words is to correct someone. This one takes a little bit more flushing out. The one who is correcting must always have in mind the goal of edification. The goal of correction is to see the other person flourishing in who they are meant to be. Our words should be used to reach that goal. Correction is used to point out the gap between the listener’s current state and the fullness of life in Christ. It is an invitation to repentance. Correction shows a better way, whether that be through a call to repentance or teaching someone how to do a math problem correctly. Simply stating “you are wrong” does not edify.
There is a time and place for words to be used. I remember a prophetic friend of mine telling me that over 90% of things she hears and sees prophetically, she never gets the go ahead to say. For all things there is a season. Just because something is good, doesn’t mean that it needs to be said. I have difficulty with this at times. Often, when I have a thought on a subject, or a word for a person, I feel like it is so urgent and they need to hear it right away. I have a heart to see them inspired, built up, to know God in greater ways, and I am blinded to the situation in front of me.
I have a friend I had been praying for and asking questions of for months. One moment in prayer with God, I heard him say, “I have not given him grace to deal with it at this time.” Right away I was convicted of how I had been using my words outside of “the need of the moment round about you that it may bring grace to those who hear”. The grace of God allows us to live in the richness of his blessing. It is what brings us to repentance and to confidently live in obedience and righteousness. The words we speak are to fit into this. We should not speak from an agenda but out of understanding what is good in the moment for those around us.
Words have great power, power to give life but also power to destroy. James 3:1-12 gives warning of the power of the tongue and demands our taming of it. Where James gives warning, Ephesians gives the grid. We cannot be flippant with our words and we cannot be silent. God has such rich intention for our speech. We have an invitation to speak life into everyone around us. This boundary of speech is meant to give freedom. When we know the gift we have in our tongues we can speak boldly the words that are good.