We've been in Ephesians (specifically Ephesians 4) talking about the different ways God equips people in His church to minister in order to bring maturity and growth in Christ.
- We looked at the gifting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the early church (and noted it was a partial list).
- We looked at how a (sometime different) expression of those gifts continues for the sake of creating a well-rounded church.
- We talked about how the point of these gifts (as with any gift) is the growth and maturity of the church, not the influence of the person with the gift or even the gift itself.
- We noted the Bible does not tell us to pursue these gifts. They are given as God sees fit.
- They are not markers of spiritual elitism.
- Each of us individually ministers to other people in ordinary, every day life in a way that aligns with those different gifts.
And we noted that life together is hard. Often our interaction includes challenges or confrontation. Encouragement is fun. Everybody likes that. However, conversations that are meant to move us deeper into discipleship with Christ are often very hard. Last week after the service, someone asked me, “Do I have to listen to everybody who wants to confront or challenge me?” Great question. Let me add a couple more.
- Do we have to agree to listen to or meet with anybody who calls us up and says we have to talk about something in our life?
- What if we are trying to listen, but people are jerks?
- What if we are at a place in our life where only one kind of voice/approach are coming through clearly right now?
- What if we have been hurt or mislead by someone before – do we need to keep listening?
- What do we do if we approach someone and they don’t listen?
- What if people think we are always out of line when we weigh in on something?
It’s a good thing Paul keeps writing.
“ If you have heard Jesus and have been taught by Him according to the truth that is in Him, then you know to take off your former way of life, your crumpled old self—that dark blot of a soul corrupted by deceitful desire and lust— so that you are transformed as God renews your mind, attitude and spirit. Then you are ready to put on your new self, modeled after the very likeness of God: truthful (speaking and living what’s real), righteous (approved by God), and holy (living within God’s design).
Sounds good, right? So, how does that look?
THEREFORE, put away your lies and speak the truth to one another because we are all part of one another. When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart or give the devil room to work. If you have been stealing, stop. Thieves must go to work like everyone else and work honestly with their hands so that they can share with anyone who has a need. Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.
It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue. Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison. Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through Jesus, our Liberating King. (Ephesians 4:21-32, The Voice)
Paul is showing us two ways that life together can go wrong or right: with our words and with our attitudes (that lead to actions). There is a lot to unpack here, so today we are going to focus on the first part: how we build each other up and are built up with words.
“Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29)
There are 4 Principles For Conversation found in Ephesians 4.The first three are for the speakers, those of us who believe that, in the course of life together as Christians, we need to step into someone else’s life to challenge or confront. (I’m not talking about easy conversations. I’m talking about the hard times in life together). The last part is for the listeners.
#1. Not even one rotten word (worthless; rotten; corrupt)
“Rotten” is a broad word so let’s narrow it down with other examples from Scripture.
- Slander (Psalm 50:20, 21). Defaming someone’s character.
- Gossip (Proverbs 16:28) Spreading stories.
- Arguing (Philippians 2:14) Constant confrontation.
- Criticizing (Matthew 7:1) Consistently judgmental perspective.
- Complaining (Philippians 2:14) Nothing is good enough.
- Filthy language (Colossians 3:8) Crudeness; offensiveness.
- Boasting (James 4:16) Relentless self-promotion.
- Lying (Exodus 20:16) Deliberate deception, especially about others.
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Your words are a gauge of what’s in your heart. So when we read that we are not to let rotten, worthless corrupt words come out of our mouths, we need to realize this is addressing our hearts as well.
If you are a slanderous, gossipy, argumentative, critical complainer who boasts and lies and generally speaks crudely… you might want to think twice about deciding you should be stepping into other people’s lives and calling them out on their stuff. You might have the most insightful thing in the world to say… and never be heard because you have allowed these things to fester in your heart – and they spill over in your words.
By the way, if you ever get frustrated that no one will listen to you, check this list – and then have the courage to ask others to give you some feedback based on this list. You might have great stuff to offer, but if you are harboring these issues in your life, people are already having trouble getting along with you, and they you are piling on with words. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
So the first step in communication: own your stuff. Take an honest look at the state of your heart. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring you discernment – and then ask a trusted friend or two to join in.
#2. Words that build up…
This word carries with it the idea of building a home; (figuratively) it is constructive criticism and instruction that builds a person as a suitable dwelling place where the Lord is "at home." (biblehub.com).
God builds the foundation of our new life through Christ; we are the “living stones” that build on this foundation. As with any home, quality matters. God allows us to play a role in building up the church by building up the people in the church. We used to sing a song, “Building up the temple… building up the temple of the Lord.” That’s the idea.
So if “no unwholesome talk” was what not to do, here’s what you should do. Think of everyone as the dwelling place of God, and you by your words will help to build a place where God is at home. What does this look like? Jesus said to pray that God’s kingdom would come to earth. What characterizes God’s Kingdom? Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, truth, grace, purity, hope… Is that what we build with?
What difference would it make if we consciously thought about this with every word we said. My kids get on my nerves – am I building up or tearing down the dwelling place of God with the next thing I say? My spouse annoys me… my friends let me down…am I doing my best to bring about the things that characterize God’s Kingdom on earth?
My brother or sister in Christ needs someone to speak into their lives. I guess it’s me (we think with fear and trembling!) What attitude and words can I use that will build up the dwelling place of God?
#3. “When they need it the most”
Proverbs 27:14 says, “If one blesses his neighbor with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse to him.” Sometimes we just shouldn’t talk. If you are going to speak a challenge into someone else’s life, you have to meet them where they are. The pressure is on you to see and understand the person to whom you are talking and speak according to their needs.
Proverbs 25:11 says, “Words spoken at the right time are like golden apples in a basket of silver.” In other words, they are precious. They are in short supply. Anyone can say worthless and corrupt things. It’s easy. Beautiful speech is hard. If you can speak appropriately, you will stand out as you bring richness and beauty to your relationships.
If that sounds hard, it is. That sounds like time spent together…friendship… relationship…investing in someone’s life so that by blood, sweat and tears you have gotten to know them, and NOW you are at least in a position to bring life to them and build them up according to their needs.
How many times do we walk away from a tense situation with someone thinking, “They have issues. I was just faithful to say what God laid on my heart. If they can’t hear it, it’s their problem.” Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. Maybe you did not take the time to pray, to prepare, to make sure you were in a position to build up according to their needs, not vent according to yours. Maybe you barged in when they weren’t ready for you. Maybe you were a spiritual bull in an emotional china shop. Maybe you are the issue.
If you are speaking, do it with fear and trembling, with your radar up for signs that you are bringing offense that comes from you and not your message. Pray for wisdom. Make sure you are on solid ground biblically (am I speaking truth?) and relationally. Ask permission. Rewrite emails 5 times. If appropriate, ask others for their discernment. If you offend, listen and learn.
#4. To those who hear them…
And now we get to the one receiving the message. You are supposed to listen. Proverbs 12:15 reads, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
In a community of ‘give and take’ with people who are often different from you, there will be times when people speak your language, and times when they don’t. Sometimes people will approach you at just the right time, and other times they won’t. So what do we do if we as a listener have a lot of reasons not to listen, or we have trouble hearing what others have to say because of how past experiences have formed us?
First, set boundaries. It’s okay to draw lines. Maybe some people shouldn’t have permission to speak into your life because of their track record, and you say, “No thanks. I have others around me who are helpful right now.” Maybe there are others you want to hear, but you are really nervous, so you meet them with a third party. When I was coaching, I had the AD read emails from angry parents. I know a couple where one of them filters certain email messages for the other one. Boundaries are okay.
Second, if speakers have to own their stuff, listeners do to. People will offend you. And maybe it’s them – but since I already covered that - maybe it’s you. Maybe you are overlooking a heart that is for you and you are only seeing an approach that offends you. Maybe you are reading into what they say. Maybe you are letting past experiences distort how you view the present one.
If you are listening, do it with openness and humility, with your radar up for signs that your past experiences or your personality are making it hard to hear what’ being said. Set clear and safe parameters for communication if you need to. Try to hear without needing to defend. Filter the message through others. See what the Bible has to say. Pray for God’s wisdom.