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 may benefit those who listen.
The early church suffered from the same problem as today’s church. Some folks didn’t know when to keep their mouths shut. And when they spoke, it was often unhelpful and without benefit. Because of that, Paul urged them to refrain from “unwholesome talk.”
What is unwholesome talk? I’ve always understood it to mean talk that is vulgar or sexually explicit. I suppose if we were to apply a movie rating, wholesome talk would be rated G, family friendly.
A scan of the various Bible translations and transliterations of unwholesome renders the following: corrupt, rotten, bad, harmful, evil, foul or abusive.
As usual, the context of Paul’s instruction will give us greater insight into what he had in mind. We’ll examine Ephesians 4 where he calls attention to the types of conversation that should be avoided by believers.
(1) falsehood (v25)
Most troubling was lying in the form of false teaching. Paul references the dangers of believers swayed by “every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (v14) As we can see in this passage, he saw false teachers as cunning, crafty, and deceitful. It’s hard to believe anyone would enter the Christian faith desirous of scheming or plotting for personal gain. But hidden agendas do exist and we should be on guard.
Paul was also concerned with the more general meaning of falsehood. In verse 25, he instructs, “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” He doesn’t address specific lies here, but the biggest problem with lying I observed in the church was gossip.
(2) bitterness (v31)
The writer of Hebrews addresses the problem of bitterness in the church. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) Bitterness is a sour attitude toward another, a grudge. It can result from a slight, hurt feelings, or a disagreement that causes discord and enmity between individuals. It seldom remains confined to an issue between two people. It grows to cause trouble and defile many. Church members take sides and form cliques which disrupts the intended good work of the body of Christ.
(3) rage and anger (v31)
Sad but true. Arguments between Christians can be ugly. Undoubtedly, there will be disagreements in the church but handling them in an unloving and ungodly manner is never right.
(4) brawling (v31)
Brawling results from rage and anger. It’s when fists start flying. I can’t recall ever seeing problems in the church go this far, but I have heard of it happening. Paul wouldn’t have brought it up had it not occurred in the early church. Obviously, it’s wrong and should never happen.
(5) slander (v31)
Making false accusations that defame our brothers and sisters in Christ is unconscionable. But it happens. I know of people who are out of the church today because of false stories spread about them or someone they knew.
Paul also tells us the kind of talk that should proceed out of our mouths. “… only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (v29)
He gives two criteria: (1) it builds others up. (2) it benefits the listener. If both conditions aren’t met, we should keep our mouths shut. What wonderful advice for bridling the tongue. Before we say something about somebody else ask the question, “Does it build up the person I’m about to talk about?” If so, move onto step two. “Will this information benefit the listener?”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some work to do. If every Christian would take Paul’s counsel, imagine what a difference the church could make in this world.
For more on this topic, check out this article: With Christian Freedom Comes Responsibility
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 3 (July – September) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.