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Did You Hear What I Said? - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-32


Well, it's our joy this week to return to our ongoing study of marriage and family. It's been a great study, and I'm looking forward to today's topic because we come to what is really a foundational issue in any good marriage or any good family, and that is the issue of communication. Communication is a very difficult thing. We experience that in our own lives, and occasionally we experience it in the lives of those who are in the public eye and whose words make newsprint and television and radio. I have in my library a book called Foolish Words. It catalogues some of those famous mis-statements of history and of contemporary culture as well. It really is amazing what some people say.

We're all familiar, of course, with men, like Yogi Berra, who were always saying something (the baseball great) who was always saying something outlandish. You've heard some of his more familiar ones. Maybe you're not as familiar with this one. The book catalogues it. He said "You should always go to other people's funerals. Otherwise, they won't come to yours." Think about that a moment. Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA Contest was asked, "if you could live forever, would you, and why?" This was her answer. "I would not live forever because, we should not live forever because, if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever. But we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever." If you understood that, there're some serious issues going on.

Presidents aren't immune from this. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Things are more like they are now than they ever were before." Maybe so. Elizabeth Dole, during her campaign said "Only one thing would be worse than the status quo. And that would be for the status quo to become the norm." That would be bad. Many of the quotes in the book, unfortunately, were attributed to Vice President Quail. There were a number of them. These were a couple of my favorites. He said, "Hawaii is a unique state. It's a small state. It's a state that's by itself. It is, it's different from the other 49 states. Well, all states are different, but it's got a particularly unique situation." With that quote it's pretty appropriate that he followed up with this one. "Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things."

Communication is, without question, one of life's most difficult skills. And as we sit here this morning, and we laugh at these mis-statements:; if we're honest with ourselves, we have to realize that each of us has a serious issue and problem in this area of communication. Not a single one of us as human beings is exempt.

What does James say? The one who doesn't sin with his tongue is what, a perfect man, which none of us are. But our problem with communication is not simply that we mis-state, that we make mistakes in the process of getting across our ideas, but the fact that we constantly make sinful and unwise choices in what we say. What we desperately need is to learn how to speak and talk like Christians. You see, learning to talk like a Christian is not a natural thing. In fact, as we'll see in the coming weeks, it runs against everything that's a part of who we are by nature. We need to learn how to talk like Christians in our marriages, in our families, in the church, in every human relationship.

And as I thought about the importance of this issue, and as I thought about where I might take us to see what the Bible has to say about this crucial issue, my mind kept coming back to Ephesians 4. Because in Ephesians 4 the apostle Paul deals extensively with the issue of our talk, our speech. Let me read it to you. It's a paragraph beginning in Ephesians 4:25 and running through 32. There's only one verse in this unit that doesn't fit the theme of communication, it's verse 28, and I'll skip over it as I read. But you follow along. And notice how he deals with this crucial issue in each of our lives.

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. … Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed to the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Now let me give you the context of this paragraph. It's important that you see the flow of the apostle's thought. Ephesians lays out for us the great eternal plan of God. In the first three chapters, which are primarily doctrinal, he lays that plan out in vivid detail. When we come to 4 - 6, he begins to practically apply that great eternal plan to our lives, to what happens with us day in and day out.

Notice how he begins 4:1. "Therefore, [as a result of this great plan I've described to you] I the prisoner of the Lord implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you've been called." He's saying, fit into the plan. Live like God intended you to live. In verses 1 - 16 of this chapter Paul outlines how God's plan applies to life in the church. And when I first came we looked at this in some detail. But then beginning in verse 17 down through verse 24, that brings us to our paragraph. Paul develops how God's eternal plan applies to each individual's salvation and sanctification.

And when you look at verses 21 - 24 in particular (that immediately precede our paragraph), you'll see here that he's telling us that we have been radically changed by regeneration. God has done something radical in us. He has given us a new heart, a new set of dispositions. We are new creatures in Jesus Christ. We are a new man, made new by the Spirit of God. But we still retain, what the Bible calls, our flesh, our unredeemed humanness. Therefore, we have work to do. We are a new man. But we are to allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to renew our thinking. And as our thinking is renewed, we are to put off certain things that were characteristic of the old self that we were. We're to put off those things that were characterized by the old life, habits, and ways of thinking, and words. And then we are to put on (if I could put it this way) we are to put the right clothes on the new man that we are, on the new self.

And the very first practical issue that Paul addresses that we are to put on has to do with our speech, our communication. Why is that? It's even before relationships. We've seen, we've gone through 5 and 6, and we've seen those relationships. It's even before that. Why is communication listed before that, as a practical ramification of what it means to be a Christian, and to live like a Christian? I think it's because Christian communication is so foundational. Apart from effective communication there are no good Christian relationships, in any circumstance, at any level. And this is true especially when it comes to marriage. In fact, there is nothing more important to a good Christian marriage than this skill. I see this all the time in helping couples. When I was back in California, and here in our church as well. Helping couples work through marriage issues. Always, always it comes back to this skill as underlying at least some if not most of the problems that they're experiencing.

In fact, let me give you a little quiz this morning. If I were to ask you, pass out a little piece of paper and have you write down the 3 things that are the areas of most weakness in your marriage, in your relationship with your spouse, what would you write? Perhaps you would write the big three in terms of marriage counseling. Maybe your problem would relate to something with in-laws. Or perhaps your problem would relate to something with finances. Or maybe your problems would have something to do with the area of the physical relationship in marriage. Or maybe it's something else. But I can promise you this. Whatever it is, whatever you would write, most, if not all, of the problems and weaknesses in your marriage and in mine stem from a problem in the area of communication.

Over the next couple of weeks, we're going to look at Ephesians 4. And as we study it together, we're going to examine Paul's topics logically. We'll do something a little unusual for me. Rather than go through chronologically the flow of the passage, we're going to take the units of thought separately and a bit out of order. I want us to start with Ephesians 4:29 because this verse sets the tone for everything else we'll discuss about communication. It's absolutely foundational to effective communication. Look at it again, verse 29. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

Now as you look at that verse, it's obvious that the key principle that underlies this verse is simply this: choose your words carefully. That is the communication principle that's within this verse. And Ephesians 4:29 lays out for us two foundational mandates to teach us how to do that, to teach us how to choose our words carefully, how to govern the content of what we say in every human relationship. So, let's let Paul teach us exactly how to choose our words carefully by looking at these two foundational mandates.

The first one is simply this. The use of our mouths must be carefully controlled. The use of our mouths must be carefully controlled. Notice what he says in the first half of the verse. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." In what sense are we responsible to control our mouths? Well, Paul says you're not to let a certain kind of speech come out of your mouth. What does that imply? It implies that we can do that. That we can help it. That it's a matter of choice. That it's a decision of the will. You know, sometimes in counseling, people will say to me, you don't understand, I just can't help myself. I can't stop. That's not entirely true. There's a point of truth to that, and we'll get there in a moment, but that's not entirely true.

For in fact, you can put an unbeliever in the right situation with the stakes high enough, and him really believing that to say what he would like to say is inappropriate, and he'll hold his tongue. He won't say it. He can exercise self-control at least for a short period of time. What I want you to understand, and this is crucial, is that you and I are not the victims of our mouths. We control our mouths. We do, in fact, say what we want to say. Others are apparently proud of this lack of self-control. I've heard people say things like this, well, you know, that's just the way I am. I speak my mind. Well, there's not much to speak. Scripture says that we must control our communication. It is a matter of obedience. If you're a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you need to line up behind, in obedience, this commandment. Do not let everything you want to say proceed from your mouth. Now how is it that we can bring our mouths under control? We understand the importance of this. We understand the command. But it is a struggle isn't it? It is difficult for all of us. How can we bring our mouths under control? Well, Jesus tells us exactly how.

Turn to Matthew 15. It's an amazing passage, really. It speaks to the heart of this issue that all of us struggle with. Matthew 15:1,

… some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they … [don't] wash their hands when they eat bread. And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"

Now understand the issue here. The issue was passed-on, oral tradition, eventually codified in the Mishnah, that controlled Jewish life. And that law, that requirement, demanded that a person wash their hands, or they would become defiled by eating. It's still a good idea to wash your hands before you eat, by the way, but not for this reason. Notice verse 10. Jesus gets to the issue.

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them "Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."

Verse 15, [If you didn't understand that, don't feel bad. Peter didn't either.] Verse 15,

he said Lord, "Explain the parable to us." [It really wasn't that hard to understand, but the ramifications are huge, and Peter wasn't sure maybe he wanted those ramifications.] Verse 16, Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?"

You see, the Jews mistook ceremonial defilement for moral defilement. They assumed the two were the same. And Jesus said that doesn't defile you morally, what goes into your mouth. That's ceremony.

Verse 18, "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man." Christ says, listen, the food that you eat doesn't pass through the seat of your being. And therefore, it cannot affect your spiritual nature. It cannot defile you morally. Verse 18 says though, the words we speak, those come from our hearts. You see, what's in our heart flows out through our mouths. This is our problem. It's what's in our heart that morally defiles us. And it shows itself in the words we speak. What we say shows the condition of our hearts. And if you and I want to deal with what we say, if we want to begin to address our bad speaking, our bad talk, that we're not speaking as Christians to one another, then we can't deal with the mouth alone. Because the mouth is merely the conduit for what's in the heart. And the only way you can stop up the conduit is to either put a piece of duct tape over your mouth, or to deal with the heart. Those are the only two ways.

Paul Tripp in his excellent book The War of Words helps to illustrate how heart attitudes show up in our words, and he uses a couple that he was counseling. He picks on a couple (probably not their real names but), Bob and Mary. And the problem that Bob and Mary came into counseling with Paul Tripp for was because Mary struggled with outbursts of anger. And there are a lot of issues that, when you are working with folks in counseling, that you can identify. What Paul does in his book, is, instead of dealing with the problem they came in for, which was Mary's outbursts of anger, which is a problem and needs to be dealt with, and he did deal with it. Instead, he shows how Bob's words, in the counseling session showed what was really in his heart. See if you have ever heard yourself say any of these things. And let's see if we can identify what was behind these words, what was going on in the heart. Remember it's out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

Here's what Bob said. He said, you know, I don't want much. I just want a home with a little bit of order and love. Is that too much to ask? I'm doing my part. All I ask is that my wife do her part. Now, you tell me, what is the sin in the heart that's driving those words coming out of the mouth? Anger, it's anger. He's harboring anger in his heart. He may not be struggling with outbursts. He may not be blowing up, but instead, he's allowing his anger to seethe, and it's coming out in his words.

Here's another thing that Bob said about Mary's anger. He says, why does God let this go on? Why doesn't He do something? I would like Mary to hurt just once the way she hurts the children and me. What's the heart issue going on behind those words? The Bible calls it vengeance, revenge. He wants his pound of flesh. He wants her to hurt. Have you ever said things to hurt someone else? Those were coming out of a heart that desired to hurt them, filled with vengeance.

Bob goes on to say, "I just don't understand Mary's anger. I guess we're just different. I've never felt the anger that Mary feels, let alone expressed it." What's the heart attitude that's showing behind those words? Self-righteousness, have you ever said anything like that? I don't understand. I can't see what's going on there. Bob says a man needs a place to retreat to. I've got nowhere. When I punch out at night, I want the tough part of my day to be over. I don't want to come home to a more stressful situation than my work. I shouldn't have to be on the job 24 hours a day. When do I get time off? What's the sin of the heart showing up in those words? … selfishness, self-love. I am more important than anybody else, and I have a right to what I want, instead of being a servant to his wife and family.

And listen, folks, just as Bob's heart shows up in his words, so do ours. As I've been preparing this message this week, I've been more aware than ever of how my own words show what's in my heart. They show the condition, the sin that is in our hearts. And if you want to deal with your mouth, you've got to start with your heart because the mouth is just flowing out as a conduit of what's in the heart. You know, we sometimes say to one another when we sin in marriage, oh honey forgive me, I didn't mean that. What did Christ say? Yes, you did, you meant it at the time. What would be more honest is to say, honey please forgive me. I was angry with you, and I purposely chose words intended to hurt you. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

What we need to do is ask God to open our eyes to see what we say, and to see how what we say shows what's deep down in our souls so, we can repent, not just of what we say, but of the heart issues that lie beneath what we say. The sin of the heart that drives it. God demands that we control what we say. He says do not let proceed out of your mouth. And ultimately the only way to follow through on that command is to deal with our sin not at the mouth, but at the heart.

Now, back to Ephesians 4:29. What specific content does this command forbid here? He says, "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." Unwholesome, that sounds kind of nice, that's not too bad. It's just unwholesome. The Greek word literally means "rotten, putrid". It's used in the New Testament of rotten fruit, of worthless trees, and of trash fish that you catch and are so worthless that you just throw them back in. It describes something that is such poor or bad quality that it has absolutely no worth at all. And here it's used of a specific kind of words. It describes our speech.

You know in the New Testament there is a vocabulary of kinds of speech we shouldn't use. We are going to be looking at them in the coming weeks. The kinds of words that God forbids. Words like slander, abusive speech, vulgarities, and there is a whole list of others. But what I want you to see here is, rotten certainly includes all of those, all of those that are on the list. But it goes far beyond that. In this context it is contrasted with words that edify. That means any word that doesn't edify classifies as rotten. Paul forbids us to say a single word that doesn't edify those who hear us. Now this is a pretty high standard. In fact, this is an impossibly high standard in our humanness.

Only God can enable us to fulfill this command. Certainly, a tough transition for a person, let's say an adult who's saved as an adult, lived his life as an unbeliever, been exposed and used the worst kind of talk, cursing and vulgarity, words spoken in the heat of anger. Words intended to hurt and to wound others; critical words, gossip, slander, complaining, hateful words, vicious words. This is where we were, isn't it? I mean this is where I was before I came to Christ. And these that are a part of our past can rear their head in the life of a Christian. We are tempted to revert to talking like a pagan.

Take even the Apostle Peter, after about 3 years as a Christian. And those 3 years spent as the constant companion of Jesus Christ. What happened to Peter? What choices did he make when he thought his life was in danger? The gospel Matthew tells us he began to curse and to swear just like the sailor he had been before Christ found him. But it's a problem also for all of us who've been in Christ for many years, because the tongue is the hardest thing to rule. James says we offend, every one of us, with our tongues. So, Paul says there is no unwholesome word to proceed from our mouths. This is the goal toward which we should be striving. The use of our mouths must be controlled.

That brings us to the second foundational mandate in this passage that governs our communication, and it's this. The goal of our words must be edification. The goal of our words must be edification. Notice the second half of the verse, "but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear." Paul says choose your words carefully. Do you remember when you were a child? Let's go back, even to the third grade. You were in the third grade. You get off at the bus stop and your arch-nemesis would challenge you to a fight. I don't know if this has ever happened to you. This happened to me all the time. And undoubtedly, you know, this boy that was challenging you to a fight in the third grade, he weighed 200 pounds and shaved every day. And so, you'd say, I'm not going to do it. And what would he say? What are you, a chicken? Now how would we respond, how do we respond to that when you're young? You say, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. It's a lie. Who were we kidding? Listen, we still feel the wounds left by the careless words of others.

Words have tremendous power, and this is a point that Proverbs constantly makes. Proverbs 12: 18 says, "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrust of a sword," Ever used your tongue like a sword to cut into somebody to hurt them because they hurt you? Proverbs 16:24 says, on the other hand, "pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." We've experienced that too, haven't we? Someone who knows how to speak encouragement and comfort and puts their arm around you and encourage you. It's like healing to your bones. Proverbs 18:21 puts it extremely bluntly when it says this, "death and life are in the power of the tongue". You have in the power of your words, in the power of what you speak, the ability to minister death to someone to their soul, to shrivel their soul with the bitterness and vitriol of what you say, or to bring life and healing and peace and strength.

Words are incredibly powerful, so Paul says handle them carefully. Choose carefully. He says I want you to choose only those words that are good for edification. Now what does that mean? That we should speak only such a word as is good for "edification"? Well the Greek word that's translated edification here is used in other New Testament passages to refer to a literal building. It literally means "to build a structure". When it's used figuratively like this, it means "to promote the spiritual growth of someone else". You and I are to speak in such a way that we build each other up, as if we were building a building; as if we were helping to construct their Christian lives. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, "encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are also doing."

Turn to Romans 15. Let me show you how Paul points this out. In Romans 15 (in chapter 14 of course he's just been dealing with the issue of conscience, making decisions about those things that aren't clearly spelled out in Scripture.) And he says in 15:1,

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those who are without strength and not just please ourselves." [We shouldn't run our liberty out to the edge without regard for how that might hurt others. But notice what he says in verse 2.] "Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.

Very similar phrase as to what we find in Ephesians 4. This is what we're to be about. We're to be about building one another up. As if we were constructing a house of their Christian life.

Now, it's important to understand that when Paul says we're to speak only those words that are edifying, he's not being sentimental. He's not saying use only syrupy sweet words. You see edifying words can include some hard, difficult things. This doesn't at all mean that we should never tell people what they don't want to hear. The most graphic example, I think, of this is 2 Corinthians 7. Turn there for a moment, 2 Corinthians 7. Paul is talking about a letter that he had written before this one. In verse 8 of 2 Corinthians 7 he says, "for though I caused you sorrow by my letter" Now, he's referring here to what is called the severe letter. We don't have this letter. It was written between 1 and 2 Corinthians, to the Corinthians. And he had to deal with some very hard things that were going on in the church. He spoke very frankly, very firmly, and notice what he says.

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. [Well of course, to some extent I regretted it because it] caused you sorrow, … [but I'm glad it was] only for a while– I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance;

In other words, edifying words can sometimes be hard words. They can be hard for the person to hear. They can seem severe. Later, in this same letter, in 2 Corinthians 12:19, Paul says, listen, I've given you some hard things, but I have spoken them all for your upbuilding, beloved. Think of the ministry of Christ for a moment. Were all of Christ's words, you know, Mr. Rogers' words? Not at all. Christ spoke confronting words to those who were unrepentant. He rebuked those who lacked faith. He often spoke in condemning and scathing words to and about the Pharisees. But His communications and His words were always appropriate. So, what do we learn from this?

The key issue in edifying words, whether they are encouraging or discouraging, whether they are winsome or a warning, whether they are friendly or firm, the key issue is that they are always designed to help the person to whom you are speaking. Edifying words, get this down, are aimed at the problem, not at the person. Edifying words are always aimed at the problem, not at the person.

So, how can we determine which words will build another person up, will build structure of a Christian life for this other person, promote their growth? Well, notice how Paul continues. He says such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment. Literally, for the edification of the necessity. Does that help you? In other words, I want you to speak words that edify, that are required by a specific concrete need. Our words must be appropriate to that person's need and to their circumstances. In other words, our words must be timely and appropriate. But how can we know that? How can we know what will most minister to someone else? What will be the appropriate words for their need?

Well, implied behind this phrase is the importance of listening. Uh oh, now there's something we're really not good at. Why is it? Why is it that we struggle so much to listen? Well, the problem's our own sinfulness. We usually want to assert our own opinions, our own positions, our own feelings, our own ideas. Certainly not to listen to somebody else. But let's be honest for a moment. Even when we aren't talking, rarely are we truly listening. What are some of the enemies of true listening to the other person? Well, the most obvious is one that we're all guilty of at some time or other, and that is, you're quiet, they're talking, but you're rehearsing what you're going to say next. You're not really listening. You're thinking through what you want to say when they're done, when they stop.

Or another problem, another enemy of good listening is trying to gain information you can use, either to defend yourself or to attack them. I see this all the time in marriage conflicts. They are quiet for a moment, but they're not listening. All they're doing is trying to gain some advantage, something they can use to defend themselves or something they can use to attack the other person.

Here's another enemy of true listening. It's comparing yourself with the speaker. Ever done this? Somebody's telling you a story or a situation in their life and you're thinking, you think that's something. I've got a better one than that, and I'll tell it in just a moment.

Or there's mind reading. A lot of this happens in marriage. We get to know the person so well that we assume that we know what they're going to say. We may not actually finish their sentences out loud, but we do it in our minds. It goes like this: They're talking to us, and about the time three words come out of their mouths, we say yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you're going to say, and I know what the answer is. I'm ready to say it as soon as you finish.

Or there's just buying time for your next comment. You know, we all understand that the conversational ball, we can't just hold it and keep it to ourselves, so at some point, at least most of us do, I hope you understand that. So, most of us some time will throw it back at the person we're talking with and give them the conversational ball, but when we do that, sometimes we're not really interested in listening. We're just being courteous, and we're just buying time for our next comment. You know, this is our responsibility. This is like my fee for getting to talk again is giving them a chance to talk again.

Listening is a lost art and a lost virtue. But it's so important. You know, God listens to us doesn't He? God listens, and He hears us, and that's one of the things we love most about our God. Turn to Psalm 116. I love how the Psalmist puts it. Psalm 116:1.

I love the LORD, [why?] because He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, [He's listening!] Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live."

Listen, God always listens to us. We come from wherever we are. We cry out to Him as His children, and He hears us. He listens. He knows what our needs really are because He understands us. And then He moves to meet those needs, and listen, God expects us to listen to others in just the same way. You and I are to listen.

How can we improve? And this is really a separate message in and of itself, but let me just give you a couple of ideas here. How can we improve our listening skills so that we can truly speak to meet the needs of the moment? So that we can understand that person well enough to speak to meet their needs. Here's just a couple of practical ideas.

Make sure you have all the facts. I have to admit this is something I'm not as good at as I want to be with my children. We kind of jump to the conclusions because we are adults. We understand. So, make sure you have all the facts. Proverbs 18:13, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is a folly and shame to him."

Think carefully about how you ought to answer. Proverbs 15:28. "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer."

Ask questions to draw the other person out. Make sure you really understand what they are saying.

Here's something that Sheila and I have found very helpful in our own marriage, and that's to paraphrase what the other person's saying. Say, okay, let me see if I understand what you're saying. What you're saying is, and repeat it back to them. I can't tell you how many times, even though both of us as you can tell are fairly effective communicators, I can't tell you how many times, when we've done that, the other will say, no, no, no, that's not what I meant at all, and restate it. Listen, not just to their words, but to their tone and the feelings that come through as well.

Remember, the mouth is a conduit from the heart. You're trying to read not merely what they're saying, but what those words and the tone and how they're saying it communicate about what's going on in their heart. And if you and I would listen like that, we would really know what the person we're talking to needs, and we would be able to edify them according to the need of the moment.

Proverbs 15:23 says, "a man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word." Proverbs 25:11 "like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances." This is how we're to speak. And when we do, what results? What will result from not letting rotten words come out of our mouths, but instead, only those words that are good for edification, according to the need of the moment? What is the result? Notice the end of the verse, "it will give grace to those who hear." I love that phrase because, you know, it raises our eyes from our human relationships to God. It reminds us that we serve a great God, and that our God has given us a mission, even with our mouths. We are His ministers to dispense His grace with what we say. Your mouth doesn't belong to you. The ability to speak doesn't belong to you. It belongs to God. And God's given you a mission. It's to speak in such a way as to administer His grace to other people, the people He's brought into your life. Paul Tripp, in his book War on Words, also writes this,

Perhaps this is the highest goal for talk within the body of Christ, that our words would be conduits of the life-giving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, we really do focus on being part of what God is doing in the lives of others. We view our relationship from the vantage point of ambassadors.

Have you ever thought about that? That's your role. That's your role with your spouse. That's your role with your children. That's your role with everybody you come in contact with. Your mouth is to be an ambassador speaking God's grace into that person. Your mouth is to have a redemptive purpose in every life you touch. He goes on to say, "What does this mean? It means recognizing that our relationships do not belong to us. People do not exist for our happiness and our contentment. Rather, God has appointed us to faithfully communicate His powerful love for them." Boy, does that raise the standard! It gets our eyes off of ourselves, and it directs them to God and reminds us that we're His slaves, we're His servants, and we're to be doing His work in the lives of others.

Almost all of our talk, if we're honest, is me-centered. It's highest purpose is to express my wants, my desires, my demands. Most of what we say is merely an attempt to get what we want, without any reference to our Lord. But Paul here calls us to a much higher standard. He says we are to speak from our mouths as the ambassadors of the grace of Christ, into the life of our spouse, into the life of our children, into the lives of everyone we interact with. Notice how he puts it in the parallel passage over in Colossians 4. This same idea. Colossians 4:6, he says, "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."

What an amazing responsibility we are to have in how we use our mouths. We are ambassadors of the grace of Christ, speaking grace and redemption into the lives of the people around us. You say, now come on, Tom. I mean, is what we say really that important? Absolutely. Look at verse 30 of Ephesians 4. In the Greek text it begins with a connecting word. Something like this. "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption". Maybe you've heard this verse all your life, and you've never put it into its context. You know what Paul is saying here? When you and I choose to sin with our words, when they're all about us, when we fail to see ourselves and our words as God's ambassador into the lives of others, we grieve the Spirit of God who has sealed us for eternal redemption. What a frightening thought.

But there's an even more frightening reality about our talk. And that's that ultimately our words reveal who we really are in our souls. Our words will condemn us before God. Turn to Matthew, just very briefly, Matthew 5:22. Jesus is talking here in the Sermon on the Mount about the issue of the command not to murder, and He says this in verse 22. "I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." Now what's going on here? Jesus is saying that verbal abuse grows out of a heart of anger and hatred. The same kind of heart that leads to murder. So, a verbal insult, (listen carefully to this) a verbal insult carries the same moral guilt as the act of murder, because it comes from a heart that has the same emotions, the same sinful desires. And a person who is characterized by verbal abuse consistently shows a murderer's heart, and is headed, according to Christ, to an eternal hell.

If you're a Christian, you're not going to speak like a pagan anymore. You're going to speak like a Christian. If you're a Christian, start talking like one. Notice Matthew 12. Jesus puts it even more directly. Verse 34,

"You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil speak what is good?" [Can't happen. Because, remember, it's the heart that speaks.] For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. [Verse 36 is a chilling verse.] "… I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Because, you see, our words are a perfect mirror into our souls. They tell us what's on the inside. Paul says, if you're a Christian, start talking like one.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for these direct, firm words that cut us to the heart. Lord, I pray that You would forgive us. Help us to control our mouths. Lord, help us to use the self-control You've given us by Your Spirit, not to let any rotten word proceed from our mouths, but only such a word as is good to build others up.

Help us to listen so that we really understand their needs and can minister to them with our words according to the need of the moment. Father, help us to be instruments of Your grace in people's lives. Help us to remember that our mouths are not our own. They, too, have been bought with a price. They belong to You, and now are to speak grace where once they spoke cursing.

Father, I pray for the person here today who is being condemned even now by the words that they use. They see themselves Father, by the work of Your Spirit, as without Christ, because their mouth has just revealed their heart. Lord, I pray that today You would bring them to genuine repentance and faith, that they would cry out to You for a new heart. That's our great desire.

Father, I pray for those of us who are in Christ. Help us to learn how to talk like Christians.

I pray it in His great name, and for His glory, Amen.