Text: Ephesians 4:29-32 — 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Introduction: I recently read a quote by Brennan Manning, the author of a book called the Ragamuffin Gospel. He said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him in their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” If you’re wondering why we have been taking a long, hard look at the implications of our confession, Jesus is Lord, over the last couple of months, this is it. Too many Christians fail to connect the dots between our confession of faith in Christ and our transformation to the image of Christ. This is now the ninth message in our series, “The Lordship of Jesus Christ.” When a Christian calls Jesus “Lord,” it’s a way of saying that He is our owner or master and that we live to serve Him. Over the last several weeks we’ve talked about how He became Lord by his crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father. We also looked at what it means for us to say that He is our Lord … that we surrender our wills to His will. Then we discovered the implications of Christ’s lordship over our minds, our worries, our pocketbooks, our families, our work and our private lives. Now today I invite you to join me as we consider the lordship of Christ over our tongues. The Bible has a great deal to say about the words we speak and the potential impact that they can have on others. Every one of us has been on the receiving side of hurtful and damaging speech that has left us emotionally distraught. I’m quite sure that we have also been on the giving side and inflicted some pain on others … many of whom we’re supposed to care about. I know I have. It was about a month ago that I was driving in my car with Laurie, my wife in Kenosha; we were pulling out of Woodsman’s and turning left onto Hwy 50. I was in the far left lane, and as I made the turn, a couple (I’m guessing in their sixties like us) in a truck laid on their horn as if I’d done something wrong. But I knew I hadn’t and it upset me, so I looked over my shoulder and said to no one in particular, “Why is he doing that?” The truck then pulled up beside me. I rolled down my window and I said a bad word … I called the driver and a woman I assume was his wife “morons.” She waved at me with only one finger, and in complete exasperation, I said, “You must be from Kenosha!” I don’t know why I said that. I don’t use off-color language and it was the only thing that came into my mind. Laurie looked me and said, “You must be from Kenosha? Really!” The funny thing was that the woman actually got defensive and said, “No, we are not from Kenosha.” The light turned we pulled away and both of started to laugh. A few moments later, my helpful wife informed me that I actually did cut them off without realizing it and that’s why the man laid on his horn. Well, we’ve all lost control of our tongues at one time or another. That’s why God has so much to say about the words we speak and their potential for good or evil. Join me as we study our passage from Ephesians 4:29-32 and attempt to answer four questions regarding the use of our tongues.
I. What does God SAY about the use of our tongues (Ephesians 4:29 – 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)? What the ESV translates as “corrupting talk” and the NIV as “unwholesome talk,” is a word that means rotten. It was used to refer to decaying flesh or fruit. The meaning then of this verse goes something like this: “Don’t let any rotten words come out of your mouth.” The Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter, is talking about the kind of speech that hurts others, that brings them down. Instead, Christians are expected to speak words that build up others … that help, encourage, cheer and comfort them. Jesus talked a great deal about the importance of our words. He said they reveal what’s in our hearts. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).” He also said that in the Day of Judgment we will give an account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). So, if you want to understand more about the condition of your heart, just listen to your words. Rotten speech indicates that something is wrong in our hearts. Words that give grace (favor) to others and are suitable to the occasion reveal that Jesus is reigning as Lord over our lives. I like how the writer of Proverbs 12:18 puts it: Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise (The Message).
II. Why should we CARE about the use of our tongues (Ephesians 4:30 – And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption)? Just a few verses before (in verse 27), Paul stated that behind most of our actions, invisible personalities are often present and active. That’s why he warned that prolonged anger could make a person vulnerable to attacks from the Devil (do not give the Devil an opportunity). Here he tells us that rotten speech can grieve someone else that we cannot see with our naked eyes … the Holy Spirit of God. I doubt that many of us think about this when we’re “going off” on somebody (you must be from Kenosha). In those moments we just want to put someone in his place. But the Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force. He is the third person of the godhead and as such, He can be grieved by unholy words. Perhaps the primary reason is because bad talk leads to disunity and divisiveness whereas we are called to participate (fellowship) together in the Spirit in Philippians 2:1. Notice also that Paul says Christians are sealed with the Spirit for the day of redemption. When a person puts his trust in Christ as Savior and Lord he is redeemed (purchased out of slavery to sin into the kingdom of heaven by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross). At that moment the Holy Spirit indwells us and becomes the seal with which God has stamped us as His own. It’s kind of like what my mom did when she sent me off to school with my new lunchbox as a kid. She put my name on it so that no one else would ever claim it for themselves. This is what God does when the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in our lives at that moment when we trust in Christ. He seals us with the Spirit so that on the day when our salvation is completed there will be no confusion about the One to whom we belong. We are children of God. And since we have the Holy Spirit to transform us, we need to be careful not to grieve Him with rotten, contemptible speech. What kind of speech did he have in mind? That’s found in the next verse.
III. What are some WAYS that we can misuse our tongues (Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice)? Here is a collection of wrong attitudes that one person refers to as a spiritual staircase of ascending evil. If not checked, the first will lead to the second and so forth.
A. Bitterness. It refers to talk that is unpleasantly sharp and speaks to the pain we feel when we think we’ve been wronged by someone. This kind of deep, emotional pain often keeps us from thinking clearly. Bitter people just want revenge.
B. Wrath. This is a kind of fierce indignation that often simmers just under the surface of one’s personality waiting to explode at the slightest provocation. The Bible warns that a quick tempered man does foolish things (Proverbs 14:17). Wrath is passionate rage and often very difficult to control. It’s what Nebuchadnezzar demonstrated when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down and worship the image of gold that he had set up. Scripture says that he was “furious with rage” and cast them into the fiery furnace when they refused to follow his order. And of course, the air was so superheated that the men who threw them into the furnace perished. Wrath often leads people to do the unthinkable.
C. Anger. The difference between wrath and anger is that wrath is a short, passionate burst of emotional ferocity, but anger is a more settled hostility. Angry people have allowed their hearts to become hardened over the years and now can’t seem to say a single nice thing about anyone.
D. Clamor. This describes those who get excited during an argument and begin shouting, even screaming at the other person. It’s a loud, sustained expression of discontent.
E. Slander. This refers to any attempt to speak evil of another who is not present to respond to the charge. Slanderers love to demean others and ruin their reputations.
F. The last word “malice” means to plot evil against those who have faced your wrath, anger, clamor and slander. It probably is a summary word for the first five. What a shame when people refuse to keep their tongues in check … but instead are bitter, wrathful, and angry. They clamor for their own way and slander anyone who does not give it to them. This is not the kind of thing that should represent those who profess Jesus as Lord!
IV. How can we ENSURE the proper use of our tongues (Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you)? We can do this by practicing the kind of behaviors that characterize our God.
A. Be kind to one another. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his audience, “Love your enemies and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be the Sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Kindness is one of the words that characterize the very nature of God. And He is not only kind to those that love Him, but to those who ignore Him! Kindness is a little bit risky because some mistake it for weakness, the kind person choosing not to return evil for evil, but to bless everyone including those who others might regard as an enemy. Illustration: A friend called me on the phone in my office one night and was already livid about something he assumed had taken place. As he vented on me, I knew that he had his facts wrong. I couldn’t wait until he paused, because that’s when I planned to let him have it with some of my own righteous indignation. As I waited for my opportunity, I sense the Lord was telling me to respond differently. I didn’t want to. I wanted to win this argument, but I listened and this is what I said, “Brother, it’s clear that you’re very angry right now. What can I do to help you resolve it?” At first, there was silence on the other end, and then he said, “I’m sorry. I had a bad day and I think I’m just taking it out on you.” It’s amazing what a little kindness can do!!
B. Be tenderhearted toward one another. This is the call to be sympathetic to others. Instead of verbally assaulting those who might possibly deserve our wrath, we choose to demonstrate compassion toward them. We say, “I will care for you, not look the other way when you come with your hand out.”
C. Be forgiving of one another. This is a gift we give to those who do not deserve it. After all, who really deserves to be forgiven? That’s the whole point, isn’t it? We choose to be gracious and release others from any ill will on our part when we have been wronged by them. How is that Christians can do this? When we consider just how much we have been forgiven by Christ for all the sinful offenses that we have or ever will commit against Him, how could we possibly refuse to do the same for someone else? This is the entire message of the cross. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and to remove the consequence … spiritual death … so that we can have life abundant and eternal. Is it even possible that Christians who confess Jesus as Lord could fail to forgive another when we’ve been forgiven of so much?
Application: No man can tame the tongue (James 3:8). If you want to do better in the use of your words, if you want to speak to others in a way that builds them up and gives grace that fits the occasion, then you will have to look outside yourself for the resources to do it.
· Ask God to help you. When we attempt to do something on our own, the results are commensurate with our abilities. When we pray, the results are in proportion to God’s ability. And we know that with Him all things are possible.
· Follow the example of Christ. When reviled, He did not respond in like manner. Jesus bridled His tongue and only ever used it in ways that pleased His Father. The next time you’re inclined to respond with bad words … ask what Jesus would do in your place … and do it.
· Rely upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 518-21, we’re told … And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way we address each other when we yield our lives to the Spirit of God. We speak to others in ways that bless and build up.
Conclusion: In the December 1998 issue of Voice of the Martyrs, a man named Pastor Wurmbrand who spent fourteen years in a communist jail in Romania rather than deny his faith, told the story of a fellow prisoner named Demitri. He wrote, “He was a pastor whose backbone had been beaten with a hammer. When certain vertebra was hit, he was paralyzed so that he could only move his neck. You can imagine what a tragedy this was. If he had been in a home or hospital, he would have had a wife, mother, or nurse to take care of him. How would we take care of him? There was no running water to wash him, no linen to change him. He lay there in his human waste. He could not stretch out his hands to drink a cup of water. The others who could walk and work were taken to slave labor during the day. When they came back in the evening, he had to wait for them to help him drink a cup of water. He lay like this for a couple of years. It was hell on earth. Then in December 1989, Romania had a revolution and the dictator Ceausescu was overturned. Freedom came and Demitri was released from prison to be with his family and friends. No doctor could help him, but now he had loving hands to help him. He still could not move hand or foot. One day someone knocked at his door. It was the Communist who had crippled him. He said, ‘Sir, don’t believe that I have come to ask forgiveness from you. For what I have done, there is no forgiveness, not on earth or in heaven. You are not the only one I have tortured like this. You cannot forgive me; nobody can forgive me. Not even God. My crime is too great. I have come only to tell you that I am sorry about what I have done. From you, I go to hang myself. That is all,’ He turned to leave. The paralyzed brother Demitri said to him, ‘Sir, in all these years I have not been so sorry as I am now, that I cannot move my arms. I would like to stretch them out to you and embrace you. For a year I have prayed for you every day. I love you with all my heart. You are forgiven.’” THAT’S THE POWER OF WORDS!! WHEN SPOKEN BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD THEY CAN BRING HEALING TO PEOPLE INSTEAD OF CONTRIBUTING TO THEIR DESTRUCTION. Today, if you confess that Jesus is Lord, then know that He is Lord of your tongue and use it to generously dole out the grace of God to others.