Christians over the years have learned that certain practices (daily devotionals, dedicated prayer, giving, etc.) help to keep the heart turned toward God. These are often called ‘spiritual disciplines’. Such disciplines may heighten your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s work in conforming your inner and outer self to look more like Jesus. What makes something a 'spiritual discipline' is that it takes a specific part of your way of life and turns it toward God.
And, that brings us to our words. Words are a specific part of our way of life, aren’t they? Lately, I’ve seen ministries unravel because of ugly or accusing words flying between Christians who are supposedly mature, some in leadership. “Dead bodies” lie all over the place because of words; shrapnel from verbal bombshells wound innocent bystanders. Why isn't the practice of using beneficial, grace-giving speech (speaking, texting, emailing, writing) considered a ‘spiritual discipline’? It should be!
Ephesians 4:29 says, “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.” I think if Paul were writing this today, he would have included words that come from our fingers, too!
What’s an unwholesome word (literally, ‘rotten’)? Obviously anything that isn’t beneficial for the building up of the one who is listening (or reading). If it is unkind, accusing, malicious, or making others cringe or cry, it is unwholesome. Have you read any emails like that lately from another Christian? I sure have!
What does it mean to build up? It means to strengthen them in their faith; to promote another’s growth in her walk with Christ. The person listening should love Jesus even more because of what you say. They should be drawn to follow Him more closely as His disciple through reading your words. Wow! If we actually obeyed our Lord in this, can you imagine the impact for the Kingdom?!
What does it mean to give grace to those who hear? We are called to be ‘grace givers’. Yet we more quickly judge and criticize others than assume good will from them. And, if wounded, we want to fight back, spewing venom to make sure everyone knows we’ve been hurt. God calls us to be grace givers, not only for the benefit of others, but because it’s what is best for us! Through Christ living in us, we can take the grace God has lavished upon us and pour it back on someone else that it may “benefit those who listen (NIV).” Even correcting someone can be done in a beneficial/grace-giving way. If it doesn’t help the person listening/reading by communicating encouragement and direction to live life God’s way, don’t say it! If it doesn’t make her love her Lord more, don’t text it!
Words are a heart issue. Jesus said in Mark 7:21 that evil thoughts, malicious words, slander, and arrogance spew from the heart. (The Message says those things “vomit” from the heart. An apt picture!) By spewing such filth, a Christian is revealing a heart that is not committed to obeying her Lord in this area. It’s not the mouth that malfunctions; it’s the heart!
When my friend, who was splattered with the residue of the conflict she didn’t create, asked me, “What do I do when that woman speaks or emails me vicious words?” I suggested she quote Ephesians 4:29 and respond, “Want to try that again?” That’s what I plan to do.
So, the next time a Christian says some ugly, unkind words to you whether by mouth or text, quote Ephesians 4:29 and say, “Want to try that again?” Keep doing that until she gets the message.