"The Rot in Our Talk"
(Delivered Sunday, January 20, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
I have been drawn to a passage of scripture this week from Ephesians 4. And I need to let you know that I was drawn to it because I am guilty of having committed the sin it prohibits.
The other day, I was chatting with a couple of people in our church who are leaders in ministry. As we were discussing some of the different ministry needs in our congregation, the name of a particular person came up. And I shared a piece of information about that person that, upon later reflection, had nothing to do with the subject we were talking about. It concerned something they did that, ultimately, didn't even concern me. It was, in the end, nothing other than a piece of gossip—something better left unsaid.
One of the people I shared this information with was my wife. And she agreed with me that it was something that didn't have anything constructive to add to the conversation. I asked her forgiveness; and sought to settle things with the Lord as well. Then, the next morning, I called the other ministry leader, confessed to him what I had done, and likewise asked his forgiveness. After a little pause; he said, "Sounds like the Holy Spirit has been speaking to you about this." And when I said that the Holy Spirit had, indeed, been very definitely speaking to me about it, he said, "Then I forgive you too."
And thinking afterwards about what had happened, I was drawn to this morning's passage. It's a passage that describes a process of personal repentance and reformation that I need to give continual attention to with respect to the use of my tongue. Ephesians 4:29-30 says,
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My experience of last week reminded me, in a fresh way, of just how grieved our Lord can be over carelessness in our speech.
The apostle James says that
Our tongues have been given to us by God for His glory. And our highest use of it is to speak His praises for His wonderful grace toward us in Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Even now, I am this morning putting my tongue to a very high use; that is, the use of speaking to you God's own words, recorded for us in the scriptures.
And yet, how much it must grieve Him when we take the same mouth that is sanctified to His high uses, and abuse it by speaking badly about someone else He loves! As the apostle James says about our mouth,
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I don't believe we take this sin with anything close to the sort of seriousness that the Lord would have us take it.
After all; let's be honest. When I started off by telling you that I had committed a sin this week, didn't you brace yourself just a little bit to hear something you didn't want to hear about your pastor? But then, when I told you what that sin was—that I had spoken critically to two other people privately about another brother in the Lord—weren't you just a bit relieved? Didn't you inwardly say to yourself, "Oh; . . . that's all!"
Well; does it make a difference that—as it says in our passage this morning—the Holy Spirit was “grieved” by my having engaged in such talk? What a horrible thing to do—to actually vex and sorrow the Spirit of God who has so graciously and lovingly taken up residence in us! Jesus, who Himself sent this very same Holy Spirit to dwell in us, has said that a man is “defiled” by what comes out of his mouth (Matthew 15:11). He said that "those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (vv. 18-19). Is it really a small thing to have defiled the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God?
Does it make any difference if I point out that I must give an account before God for the things I say—even if I say them secretly and in carefully-selected company? Only a few people may hear my words; and perhaps they may mistakenly interpret the rightness or wrongness of what I say. After all, people can't see into my heart. But God does. He not only hears what I say, but sees what's truly in me when I say them. And He rightly judges what He sees. Jesus has said, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:35-37)? Is it really a small thing to speak sinful words today that I must give an account for on the day of judgment?
Does it make any difference if I point out that, when I speak ill of my brother or sister, I am daring to set myself up as a better "judge" of that person than God Himself? If that man or woman has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, then God has washed them clean of all their sins, and has graciously accepted them, has fully adopted them, and now loves them forever as His own. And if I speak evil of one of God's beloved ones, then I'm saying that my standards are better than His! The apostle James has written; "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:11-12). How dare I condemn with my words someone that the Father has justified?
No; this isn't a small matter at all. This is a very grievous sin that still lurks around in my heart—as demonstrated by the fact that it has spilled out of my mouth. It's something that must be gotten rid of. And so, I have been drawn this week to this morning's passage.
And I'm hoping that my having been drawn to it may be used as an exhortation to you as well.
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These two short verses on the use of our tongues are a part of a larger theme in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. We cannot really grasp God's message to us in these two verses unless we understand that larger theme.
This great and very practical theme is summed up for us in Paul's words in Ephesians 4:1; "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called" (4:1). Our “walk” is a figure of speech. It's Paul's way of describing our daily lifestyle. And because of our faith in what God has done for us in Christ, we're to see ourselves as called to 'a new way of walking'. Paul lays this out for us in a very practical way. In Ephesians 4:17-24, he says,
We are to see ourselves as having been resurrected with Christ to newness of life (Ephesians 2:4-7). And just like an old set of grave-clothes that are no longer appropriate to someone who has been raised from the dead, we are to "put off" the "old man"—our old "self" that was characterized by sin. And being "renewed in our minds" (that is, brought into a completely new way of thinking that is in accordance with God's revealed word), we are to "put on" the "new man"—the "self" made new in Christ.
Now, this is a life-long process—this process of "putting off the old man" and "putting on the new man". We'll be working at this process all our days until we are finally with Christ in glory. Then, at last, we will be presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24). But so long as we walk on earth, this process will impact every area of practical life. Paul goes on to write of how this process is to express itself in "putting off" lying, and speaking the truth instead (v. 25); or in "putting off" sinful expressions of anger, and putting on godly expressions of emotion instead (vv. 26-27); or in "putting off" stealing, and putting on productive work with our hands so that we can give instead" (v. 28).
And that brings us to our passage this morning. It teaches us that, as followers of Jesus Christ—as those who have been called to a high calling in Him—we are to cease talking in the way that we used to. We are to "put off" the old pattern of letting corrupt words come out of our mouths; and are to use our mouths for godly purposes instead.
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Look at these two verses with me; and see, first . . .
1. WHAT WE ARE TO CEASE DOING.
Paul says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth . . .” (v. 29a)
If you were to read Paul's letter in the original language, you'd find that he emphasized the horrible nature of these corrupt words by placing them first in the sentence. Literally, he says, “Any corrupt words—stop them from proceeding out of your mouth.” And there's no qualification to them. He's not saying that we should not let them come out in one setting in which they would be embarrassing—such as at church, or in front of the children; but that it's okay to let them come out while you're with your friends or while you're at work. He's saying that we are not to let any of them come out at all, at any time!
Think of that word “corrupt”. It's a word that literally speaks of rottenness or purification. Whenever I think of this word, I think of what it's like when you open the refrigerator and see a plastic container of food that is so old that you forgot how it ever got there. When you take it out, shake it, examine it as best you can, and then—dare to open it. And when you do—pewwww! It's like you had just opened the tomb of some Egyptian mummy that wasn't wrapped very well! You wished that you had just left the job to a qualified hazmat team!
That's what this word "corrupt" is meant to convey to us! It speaks of words that are “rotten” or “putrefying”—words that are not only corrupt, but that actually spread their corruption around to whatever is next to them.
I believe that a good way to understand what kind of words are “corrupt” would be to think back to what our Lord said in Matthew 15; and about the kind of things that come up from the heart, and out of the mouth, that defile a man. He said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (vv. 18-19).
Corrupt words would be those words that spring from “evil thoughts”. Any time we express things from a sinful frame of mind—anytime that we speak in such a way as to put a positive light on evil; or advance “evil thoughts” with our words—then we're using our mouths to speak corrupt words. Stop and think how many times we entertain ourselves with words that glorify the sins that have placed our beloved Savior on the cross! Think of how many times we've mindlessly sung along with the songs of the world, and gave expression to the "evil thoughts" of someone else?
Or any time we speak “murders”—that is, anytime we “dis” someone with our words by tearing them down, or curse them, or belittling them, or spreading slander or rumors or gossip about them in such a way as to cut them down in the eyes of others; or even going so far as to say we wish they were dead—we're using our mouths to speak corruption before a God whose very nature is love and who is the giver of life. In the very next verse after our passage this morning, Paul warns, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor [that is, shouting matches], and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).
Or anytime we speak “adulteries” or “fornications”—that is, anytime we tell dirty stories or jokes that celebrate sexual sins; anytime we crudely draw attention with our words to private parts of the body; or anytime we express our lust for someone that we're not married to; or anytime we speak in such a way as to arouse the sexual lusts of someone else; or anytime we even join into such conversations or jokes, or listen to them and repeat them elsewhere—we're using our mouths to speak corruption before the God who very being is purity and holiness. In Ephesians 5:3-5, Paul writes; “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor course jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Or anytime we speak “thefts”—that is any time we give expression to our covetousness; and say how we'd like to take possession of something that doesn't belong to us; or anytime we give expression to our discontent with what God has graciously given us—we're using our mouths to speak corruption before the God who is to have first place in our hearts. Or anytime we speak a “false witness”—that is, anytime we distort the truth; or speak deliberate 'half-truths'; or speak in a misleading way; or even flatly lie—we're using our mouths to speak corruption before the God who is truth. Or anytime we speak “blasphemies”—that is, anytime we use God's name in vain; or use it in a careless way; or associate Him with that which is not of Him; or speak things that are not true of Him—we're using our mouths to speak corruption before the God who calls us to “hallow” His name above all others.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth . . .” Not even one! Not even once! Not anywhere! What's more; in the original language, Paul even puts this in a grammatic construction that describes the cessation of an activity that he assumes is going on and that must be brought to a stop. In other words, he's literally saying, “Any corrupt word—stop it from coming out of your mouths!” It would just naturally flow out of us if we didn't do something to stop it; and if we didn't do anything to stem the flow of it by dealing with the sin in our hearts from which it springs.
We need to remember what King Solomon said in Proverbs 4:23; “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” And we need to pray as King David prayed in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” As something begins to come out, we need to say, “Stop! Who goes there? If you do not fit in with God's good purposes, you may not come out of my mouth!”
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Now; if you're like me, when you hear what the Bible tells us about the danger that is inherent in our tongues you're almost tempted to go to the surgeon and have it removed! But to do that would be to only concentrate on the negatives and the prohibitions. And our walk with Jesus Christ isn't all about what we must not do. Rather, it's about what we are set free to do instead.
It's not enough to just avoid speaking corruption. God has given us our tongues for a high and worthy purpose. And He purifies our hearts so that those purposes may be fulfilled. And so, that leads us to what Paul says next; and to . . .
2. WHAT WE ARE TO DO INSTEAD.
He says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (v. 29).
We are responsible for what comes out of our mouths; and so, we're to be sure that what comes out is “what is good” or “useful”. And Paul defines this “goodness” or “usefulness” as that which leads to “edification”—that is, that which “builds up” someone else.
Again, I believe Paul gives us a good clue, elsewhere in his letter to the Ephesians, as to what he means by “edification”. Earlier in the fourth chapter, he writes about the different ways that the Lord Jesus has equipped us as His church to minister to one another. He says that . . .
And there we have at least three different descriptions of what it means for us to "edify" one another. Our Father' great goal for us is that we become “unified in the faith”—that is, that we all believe the things that He teaches us in His word, and that we all grow to believe these things together in a unified way. His goal is also that we come into “knowledge of the Son of God”—that is, that we grow intimately know and love our Lord Jesus; and that we experience a closer, personal walk and fellowship with Him. And what's more, His goal is that we each grow into “a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”—that is, that we become increasingly like Jesus in the way we think, in the way we live, and even in the way we talk.
And it is our privilege, dear brothers and sisters, to use our tongues to build one another up in these ways! We're to speak the truths of His word to one another; to exalt the glories of Christ with each other; and to exhort one another to greater levels of Christ-likeness in our daily lives. We're to "edify" one another in a thoughtful and deliberate way with carefully chosen, carefully applied words—literally, speaking what is “good for necessary edification” (or what is “according to the need of the moment”, as it's translated in the New American Standard Version”).
When we share some well-sought and well-timed portion of God's word to one another—a portion that is designed to bring God's specific promise to some particular situation, or to address some gentle reminder to someone of God's perspective in some situation—then we are speaking what is “good for necessary edification”. When we sing together the songs of the faith that shine the spotlight on our Savior and His glory—particularly at some situation that lifts our spirits toward Him—we're speaking what is “good for necessary edification”. When we pour 'medicine' on someone who is hurting—encouraging them when they're discouraged, or when their faith is growing weak—we're speaking what is “good for necessary edification”. Or even when we share the good news of the gospel with someone—becoming an instrument by which the Holy Spirit draws someone to a faith in Jesus—we are most certainly speaking what is “good for necessary edification”.
When we do this, we are imparting “grace to the hearer”. Such words, “fitly spoken”, are like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). We would be letting our speech “always be seasoned with salt [that is, seasoned with that which stops corruption and rot; seasoned with that which preserves and promotes healing] that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).
Can you think of a higher use of our tongues than this? How much better it is to employ our mouths for the advancement of eternal good, than to carelessly allow spiritual "corruption" to come out of them!
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But this leads us, finally, to consider . . .
3. WHY WE ARE TO DO THIS.
To some degree, we've already touched on this point. We certainly should want to stop corrupt words from coming out of our mouths because of all the good things that edifying words can do; but the highest reason is because we love the One who has taken up residence in us. Paul says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30).
First, consider who it is that dwells in us. We're indwelt by the Holy Spirit—the second Person of the Trinity. He is described as holy. He is said to be the very Spirit of God. Just think of what a wonderful thing it is that God the Holy Spirit would condescend to dwell in us—as weak and frail and as prone to sin as we are! He doesn't simply dwell “near” us—though that would be wonderful enough. Rather, He graciously dwells “in” us. We are His temple—His dwelling place on earth! What a sense of honor we should feel!
Second, consider that we are “sealed” by Him for a glorious destiny. One reason He has been sent to indwell us is so that, by His presence in us, He may "seal" us "for the day of redemption". The Bible tells us that, in Jesus, "we have redemption through His blood" (Ephesians 1:7). We have been bought with the purchase price of His own blood; and we now belong to Him. And to insure that we will never be lost to Him, and to indicate that He will one day take us to Himself eternally as His own, He has sent "the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession" (1:13-14). The Holy Spirit's presence in us is a sure and certain "seal" that, one day, we will be in heaven—fully glorified forever—with Jesus. What a grateful sense of holy destiny we should feel!
And finally, consider that when we behave in a way today that is so terribly inconsistent with our eternal destiny in Christ—and particularly through our corrupt words—we "grieve" that holy One by whom we are "sealed". I praise God that the Holy Spirit's presence is never taken away from the truly redeemed man or woman. But clearly, we bring great sorrow to Him when we speak in a way that is out-of-keeping with who we truly are in Christ. I even believe that we also hinder the Holy Spirit from doing the things in our lives that He wishes to do, or from manifesting Christ in us in the ways He would wish, when we engage in corrupt speech.
Out of love for Jesus who redeemed us with His own blood—out of love for the Holy Spirit He has sent to indwell us and seal us for future glory—out of a love for the holiness that Jesus has purchased for us, and that the Holy Spirit perfects in us—we should never engage in corrupt talk. Out of a heart made new, we should always seek to speak good words of necessary edification that bring grace to those who hear.
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My experience of this week has taught me that I have much growing yet to do. But I suspect that you do to. And if you'll pray for me and support me, I'll do the same for you.
Together, let's put away all corrupt speech from our mouths.
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