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©Douglas Beyer 2000

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growing in my CONVERSATION
Ephesians 4:29

The United States ConstitutionIt is often said that one picture is worth a thousand words. In some cases that may be true. But are you aware that with one thousand words we can write the Lord's Prayer, the Hippocratic oath, the Gettysburg address, the Boy Scout motto, the Twenty-third Psalm, a Shakespearean sonnet, and the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution? What picture do you think is worth more than those thousand words?

Words are important. They can do much good and much harm. A Greek philosopher asked his servant to prepare the best dish possible. The servant prepared a dish of tongue, saying, "It is the best of all dishes, because with it we may bless and communicate happiness, dispel sorrow, remove despair, cheer the faint-hearted, inspire the discouraged, and a say a hundred other things to uplift mankind."

Later the philosopher asked his servant to provide the worst dish he could. A dish of tongue again appeared on his table. The servant said, "It is the worst, because with it we may curse and break human hearts, destroy reputations, promote discord and strife, and set families, communities and nations at war with each other."

Knowing the power of language to do both good and evil, Paul writes to the Ephesians a verse worth memorizing: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).

Corrupt Communication

Be careful that you don't get caught in your own mouthtrap. "Opened by mistake" applies more often to mouths than to mail. It is not always easy to say the right thing on the spur of the moment. We can sympathize with the guy who met an old friend after many years.

"How is your wife?" he asked.

"She is in heaven," replied the friend.

"Oh, I sorry," he stammered. Then realizing that this was not the thing to say, he corrected himself: "I mean, I'm glad." That seemed even worse so he blurted, "Well, what I really mean is, I'm surprised."

Many a loose tongue gets its owner in a tight place!

There's probably a good market for a new brand of toothpaste which has shoe polish in it. It's for those who put their foot in their mouth.

  "If your lips would keep from slips,
   Five things observe with care:
   To whom you speak, of whom you speak
   And how, and when, and where."  
(W. E. Norris cited in Best Quotations for All Occasions, Doubleday, 1945, p. 216)

Corrupt communication refers not just to verbal accidents, but to verbal sins. Paul makes this even more explicit in the next chapter of Ephesians. "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person...has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:4,5).

Any attempt to control the flow of verbal sewage which pours forth from movies and other forms of popular entertainment brings loud cries of "Censorship." Flying the proud banner of "Freedom of Speech" dirty minded men and women fill our ears with filthy words and stories. That is understandable for those who know not the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But even the friends and followers of Jesus can get caught up in this bad habit. Perhaps it has always been so. God's word to the Ephesians is his word to us too: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth."

Some of you need to wash your mouth out with the soap of God's Spirit. You need to clean up your language — not because it is offensive to women and children, but because it is offensive to God himself. Jesus said "You will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word you have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36). Every careless word you have spoken will someday come back to haunt you, and you will account for it.

Wisdom is knowing when to speak your mind and when the mind your speech. It is amazing that people will fight for the right to say what they think and then say so much without thinking.

The Norwegian bachelor farmer said, "The best rule I know for talkin' is the same as the one for carpenterin': measure twice and saw once."

Human minds are like wagons: the lighter the load the noiser they sound.

Commendable Communication

The tongue is both the best and worst of dishes. It is both corrupt and commendable. Paul suggest two good things about commendable communication: it builds up and ministers grace to the hearers

It builds up the hearers. 
All around us are people whose lives are in disrepair. To "edify them" is an old-fashioned way of saying to build them up. An encouraging word from you, spoken at the right moment, can mend a broken heart.

Eliphaz paid Job a great compliment when he said, "When someone stumbled, weak and tired, your words encouraged him to stand" (Job 4:4 TEV). Such words, the wise Solomon said, when fitly spoken are "like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).

Sometimes silence is golden, but sometimes it is plain yellow. Many people don't talk much about their faith because they don't have much to talk about. They say something by what they don't say. Peter denied the Lord by his silence at Christ's trial long before he denied him by cuss words to the servant girl (John 18:15-27). His silence spoke louder than words. "I don't care" was his message on that awful day.

Frances Havergal prayed, "Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for Thee." Yielded to the service of Christ, our lips can build something beautiful.

Verbal carpenters must begin construction on the hearer's turf. They start where the hearers are, not where the speakers are.

Jesus didn't just reach down to us. He came down and reached out. We build up hearers not when we speak down to them, but when we come down and reach out to them.

In New Testament times the Greeks thought the Romans were bourgeois, the Romans thought the Barbarians were crude slobs, and the Barbarians thought the Greeks were aristocratic prudes. Paul became all things to all people that by all means he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). He didn't talk just to get something "off his chest," but to build up the hearers.

It ministers grace to the hearers.
Commendable communication not only builds up the hearers, it ministers grace to them. Along with baptism and holy communion, words are a means of grace. When two or three are gathered in Christ's name and Christ himself is present (Mat. 18:20), conversation becomes communion, rather than mere communication.

"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified and he confesses with his lips and so is saved" (Romans 10:9-10 RSV). The gospel is gospel not just when it is believed, but when it is confessed. The rock on which the church is built is not Peter's confession, but a confessing Peter (Matthew 16:18). Where the gospel is believed and confessed, there is divine grace.

Good news!What is in the well of your heart must come up in the bucket of your mouth (Matthew 12:34). Your words will minister either grace or disgrace. Having received an ugly letter from one of his members a pastor returned it to the sender with this note: "The enclosed letter came a few days ago. I am sending it to you because I think you should know some idiot is sending out ugly letters over your signature. Sincerely…"

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians. 4:5 NIV).

The same God who gave birds the power of song gave you the power of speech. Grow, therefore, in conversation that is commendable. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."

 

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