Ephesians 4:29 has recently captured my attention and it will not let me go. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen.”
There it is, the command to guard every word I utter. How often do I ever consider the spiritual need of the person on the other end of the conversation? How often do I consider the benefit people who are hearing my conversation with someone else? How often am I observant enough to discern what the person really needs in the course of the daily chatter of the day?
There is so much that could be said about the application of this verse, but I’m going to limit my thoughts to a few ideas.
1. People need to hear 95% less criticism from me. When I utter my critical words about the government, society, problems in the church, poor performance of the St. Louis Cardinals, and a host of other issues in which I give flight to my opinions, what I say changes nothing and tends to encourage my listeners to join in. I ought to have enough integrity to stop complaining that the news media focuses so much on ‘bad’ news if most of my observations are equally cynical.
2. People need to hear 195% more grace from me. When I speak about others, what do I see and comment on first: the worst or best? In truth, most of the time, my criticism of and about others has more to do with self-exaltation (“I not be perfect, but look at how bad he is!”) than it has to do with humility and grace. I stand before God with no righteousness of my own. My only hope is the righteousness of Christ at work in my life. How can I choose to be so critical when I have been give so much grace?
3. People need to hear the truth more often. It is amazing how deeply God can strike into the sinful soul of someone who hears the truth in love from a humble, non-critical person. We all need to love one another enough that we are willing to speak the truth, which may hurt for a season, but in time will help build one another up. Of course if I am willing to speak the truth I first need to be willing to hear the truth about myself.
When I get down to it, I need to hear and obey the Word of God.
“Heavenly Father, lead me in the path of blessed conversation. Plant in my heart an abiding desire to guard the words I speak so that I will be useful to you. Give me humility and openness so that I will receive both correction and commendation in such a way that I will not react defensively or in pride. Give me ears to listen carefully to the other person ....to listen, really listen to his/her heart cry and be ready to offer the words needed. Give me courage to offer grace and correction as the moment requires. Give me peace that I might not respond “in kind” when I truly follow the directives of your Word and someone reacts in anger toward me. Teach me to point to Jesus Christ and the gospel in my everyday conversation because I am filled with your Spirit and overflow with your love.”