Summary: What are the consequences of an untamed, hurtful tongue? What are the consequences of an under control, helpful tongue?
Taming a Hurtful Tongue
I don’t mean to upset anyone, but someone brought a lethal weapon with them to Church this morning. For purposes of security and safety, our ushers should have asked some to check such deadly weapons at the door...but they really couldn’t, because they come attached. I’m speaking-of course-about our tongues.
James speaks of this weapon in Scripture when he calls it a raging fire, untamable, and full of deadly poison. Proverbs 18:21 says -- "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
Paul the Apostle was passionate about whether or not we set a good example for others and whether or not we use our words in a way that accurately reflects the life of God that is in us.
This passage teaches that the Christian walk is a continually repeated two-step process- of putting off the old habits and putting on new attitudes and behavior that pleases God. This passage dives into detail and depth regarding the most important things we need to know about how to communicate as a Christian.
Paul says that as Christians, it is imperative that we put off “unwholesome talk”. What’s he getting at? In Paul’s day, the word translated "unwholesome" or "corrupt" was used to describe fish which had been on the dock too long, or rotten fruit that wreaked with the smell of decay. Unwholesome communication refers to worthless speech which is in some way decayed, diseased, and disgusting. It could include obscene talk, crude vulgarity, gossip, idle rumors, sarcastic jabs, slander, profanity, and undeserved harsh criticism.
The picture here is that of rotten words coming out of the same mouth that blesses God. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths."
I. Dealing with the Symptoms v. 29-30
Dealing with the symptoms includes two disciplines:
A. To avoid and stop any unwholesome talk
B. To speak what is helpful for building others up
Paul gives us three guidelines for Christlike conversation, three questions to ask ourselves so we can evaluate our words and their effect on others:
1. Are my words helpful?
Does what I say help or hurt? Do they do the person good, or damage or discourage him in some way?
2. Are my words constructive?
Do they build up the person I’m talking to and encourage him or do they tear him down in some way?
3. Are my words needful?
Some times we are so careless with our words. Sometimes we say things in such a way that it hinders others in their walk with God. Careless evaluations, careless comparisons, careless comments, careless questions, careless assumptions -people did this all the time to Jesus...foolishly evaluating Him on misunderstood assumptions, condemning Him for misapplied scriptural directives, assuming the worst about him without facts to back it up. Because of who Jesus was, He handled the hurtful words without any difficulty...but when any of us do the same with one another, we will probably injure our friend and do damage to the relationship. God says we shouldn’t do that. These are God’s three criteria for consciously governing our choice of words: Is it helpful, is it constructive, is it needful?
The point here is not that God wants us to repress the truth or to be silent about spiritual issues and accountability. If we know that God wants us to speak to a friend about a spiritual issue that we are concerned about, then we are to go to that person with a clear understanding of our scriptural responsibility and have a heart to heart talk - ask questions for clarification and share your concern. Be ready to encourage them and pray for them. In that way, we are doing properly what Paul said in vs. 25 about speaking truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love will not always involve words that are pleasant or nice, for it may involve asking someone a tough question, or confronting someone about a problem, or going to ask for forgiveness when you’ve done something wrong. Those things aren’t always ’nice’ or ’comfortable’. But they can be helpful, constructive, and needful.
So, here’s the application: Begin to look at every temptation to use words that condemn, or accuse, or criticize, or to gossip as a reminder, a signal, to use your tongue to speak wholesome words instead. Every time you catch yourself about to say something mean or snide or profane, let that be a red flag in your mind that says, "here’s my opportunity to put off the old and put on the new by saying something that’s not only clean, but is also helpful, constructive, and needful."
C. Why? Why is this so important?
To stay in fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Verse 30 gives us the reason -- "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."