“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up someone in need so that it gives grace to those who hear.” — Ephesians 4:29 (HCSB)
My friends would be the first ones to tell you that I am *more than* a little over zealous about this verse. I’ve never been afraid to call someone out on their choice use of language, and honestly, I think that is how my youth group nick name of Mom first came to exist. I was dubbed “Mom” for always telling everyone else to be nice and not say certain things.
But people harp on that all day long. And it gets on everyone’s last nerve. You’ve all heard it, I don’t have anything about it to say that you haven’t all heard before. But what I have begun to discover is that my attitude towards this verse not only undermined but contradicted what the actual sentiment of the verse is.
The Bible doesn’t give us a checklist of what we are supposed to say and not say. The Bible doesn’t really give us a checklist of anything, honestly. The Pharisees tried to turn the Bible into a checklist, and in Matthew 21, Jesus called them fools for doing so.
Jesus doesn’t want our ritual or routine, our do’s and dont’s… He wants our hearts.
I’m a checklist person. I live by my todo lists. Checking things off makes me feel successful. And I’ve lived a lot of my Christian life that way.
I read my Bible — check
I went to church — check
I didn’t use anything I would deem a “bad word” — check
Where in the Bible does it say that is the end all be all of Christianity? Oh yeah, it doesn’t.
only what is good for building up…
Yes, the verse starts by saying no unwholesome talk but what it contrasts with that statement is only what is good. So rather than just staying away from “bad” why aren’t we passionately pursuing good? Why am I not passionately pursuing God?
“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” — Eric Metaxas
I was a good language activist. But in being that, I sure wasn’t building anyone up. I was tearing them down by telling them they were wrong, and being judgmental and self righteous.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Bible says to speak the truth in love. To confront our brother that has wandered. But in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also chides us not to point out the speck in our brother’s eye while there is still a log in our own.
I still believe what I have always believed about this verse, but my attitude has changed. I have lived with the log of self-righteousness in my eye. I wasn’t calling people out in love, I wasn’t building up, I was condemning, casting judgment, and placing myself on a pedestal of imagined holiness. So all that aside, what does building someone up actually look like?
It looks like encouraging.
I can still be hateful in “appropriate” language. That isn’t the point. The point is to use my words in love. To encourage and make people’s days better. To put them first and let them know how important they are. I think that is where it starts. It starts with a heart of love, a heart chasing after Jesus. Not a legalistic heart like the Pharisees that just wants to follow the rules.
It was really humbling for God to open my eyes to how I had been wrong. Especially because I had always oriented myself to believe that I was right and everyone else was wrong. But you know what? We are all wrong and Jesus is the only man to ever walk this planet that did it right. So instead of chasing rules, checklists, and being better than the people around me, I want to chase after Jesus. I want to passionately pursue my Savior and build others around me up through the love that He provides. Then, and only then, will I truly be living out my life the way He wants.
“Perfect Church Girl” doesn’t exist