“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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:29-32
Several years ago, my parents, knowing that my family occasionally uses hot peppers in our cooking, bought me a ghost pepper plant. As the summer went on the plant yielded several of the small, red, peppers, and so I set about preparing them for use. Most people don’t eat them whole, or even use an entire pepper chopped up in any cooking because they’re just too hot for that. The way most people prepare them is either to make pepper oil out of them or to dry them and make chili powder; that way you can control just how much spice you want to add. I made chili powder, as that can also be saved for a long time. Several months later, I was making a large crock pot full of chili. I thought to myself “I’ll just add a pinch of that chili powder and see if anybody notices.” We all noticed. Even just a small pinch of that chili powder made the chili so spicy we couldn’t eat it. Just a pinch ruined the whole pot. In today’s passage, Paul tells us that our words can have a similar effect; like an ingredient we add when cooking, our words can either bless or corrupt those who take them in.
First Paul tells us not to let “corrupting” talk come out of our mouths. Literally the word he uses, “sapros,” means rotten, but when used of words, as in today’s passage the word points to the rotten effect they can have. Like a bad apple will cause other apples to decay, rotten words corrupt those who listen. In addition, such talk “grieves” the Holy Spirit, by whom we’ve been sealed for redemption. The Spirit is the One who brings out new life in us, and when we revert to talk that belongs to the old man, it grieves Him. This should grieve us. What, then, qualifies as “corrupting” talk? Bluntly, anything which glamorizes sin or gives voice to the sinful inclination of our hearts is corrupting talk which belongs to the old man. But in today’s passage, Paul gives several examples: bitterness (acting like there is no hope when we ought to cherish hope), clamor (feeling like we always must be heard), slander (hurting someone’s reputation), malice (seeking another’s harm), and anger and wrath are all examples of ‘corrupting’ talk. Consider each of these examples and see how they convict us all. You may be asking “Is Paul really saying that all words of wrath or anger wrong?” Clearly not, as just a few verses earlier (vs.26) he says “be angry and do not sin”. The question is the motive and manner of the words. Angry words are a sin if: they are directed toward a brother in the Lord and are not motivated by love; if they communicate untruth; if they are designed to injure; if we speak them while we are holding a sinful attitude; if we speak them at an inappropriate time without regard for their impact. So then, while angry words are not inherently sinful, the list above should give us enough pause to realize we must be very careful when it comes to anger. What should we do, then? Any honest child of God will acknowledge they struggle with this. I think there are several responses we should strive for. First, we should be proactive, deliberately trying to be reserved about what we allow ourselves to say, and certainly giving more thought to our words. Second, when we recognize that we have grieved the Holy Spirit with our mouths, the right response is to repent. Since words generally involve another person (unless we are talking to ourselves) our repentance should be directed not only to God, who deserves the first response, but then also to the person whom we have corrupted with our words, and finally, our repentance should be expressed toward anyone whom we have sinned against by speaking evil of them. Imagine, just for a moment, how sin’s devastating effects could be cut short by listening to God on this issue; it could be life-changing! How many bridges would be left un-burnt? How many walls left un-built? How many scars prevented? How much witness it would be to the transforming power of God’s grace! Though it’s true that words can’t be unsaid, yet never underestimate God’s power to use true repentance.
Paul also tells us that our words, spoken in the right moment, can ‘build others up’ and ‘give grace to those who hear’. Don’t let those words slip by you, reader! Paul is saying that we have the opportunity when we open our mouths to literally bring others the grace of God! Every time we open our mouths, we have an opportunity to be a messenger of God, delivering that note of grace to a heart hurting with sin! Christ may use our words to build someone up! Words of God’s grace, when used by God’s Spirit for God’s glory have power we can not measure. Think of how many lives have been set on a good course simply by an apt word of encouragement said at the right time. Most of us at the very least can look back without much effort and identify a time in our lives when someone’s words seemed to come to us from God and built us up at a time we needed it. That is no coincidence, and today’s passage indicates that it is in fact God’s plan. We, who have experienced the gift of God’s astounding and completely undeserved favor are equipped and given purpose in this world to share it with others. Won’t you pray with me, that God will train us to so love the grace of Jesus Christ, that our lips are quick to bless and slow to corrupt?