Speech is a wonderful gift from God. Your ability to speak is so important to God that He designed 50% of the volume of your three pound brain to be involved in language skills. In other words, it takes a lot of mental megabytes to be able to talk! Cows moo, dogs bark, donkeys bray, pigs grunt, lambs bleat, bees buzz, birds chirp, but only human beings share with God the unlimited capacity to communicate concepts through clear, intelligent speech. (from "Christlike Communication" by Dr. Dale Johnsen) It is to this important topic of how we are to speak that we turn this morning.
The way we handle our mouths reflects the way we view our God. Our speech must reflect our triune God.
Our speech must reflect God the Holy Spirit
We are to put off rotten speech
Paul continues with what we are to put off and put on. Paul has dealt with truthfulness, anger and stealing. He continues as we are told to get rid of unwholesome talk. But as the NIV translates this, we can get the wrong idea since the word "unwholesomeness" is weak. Lawrence Welk is wholesome. Milk and cookies are wholesome. Wonder Bread is wholesome, but its also bleached white, without substance or flavor. Does Paul wants us all to carry on superficial conversations? Is our talk to be insipid and dull? But Paul is not saying that our speech is to reflect a shallow gentility. The word for unwholesome is sapros which means rotten, worthless, a word used for rancid fruit or fish. It is that which has gone putrid and in turn spreads decay. What Paul is commanding us to stop is speech that demonstrates a heart decaying from sin. It should not surprise to us that what comes out of our mouths reflects what is in our hearts. As the Puritan Thomas Brooks said, "We know metals by their tinkling and men by their talking."
Unwholesome talk, putrid discourse includes obscene language, but it is more than just locker room language. It is any decay-spreading conversation which runs others down and delights in their short-comings. Unwholesome speech occurs whenever certain qualities are evident as seen in verse 31.
Bitterness: Literally a sharp barb or a venomous serpents fang, so in speech it is the sour, irritable, cynical words that flow from a caustic heart. They send out arrows with barbs on the end like porcupine quills ... easily stick into others but are very painful to pull out. Rotten speech pierces our flesh like a venomous fang and leeches poison into our systems we can not remove.
Rage: This word comes from thumos from which we get the English thermal, referring to that which burns. This is the passionate outbursts of wrath, the anger which explodes. The pernicious nature of these words are seen when we feel the searing heat generated from harmful words.
Anger: This lies hidden behind rage as anger is the long-term, chronic, habitual hostility that continually boils and simmers within. We looked at this two weeks ago, as anger either blows up or clams up; either way the words spoken in anger will hurt. Words spoken in anger rip and tear at the other person leaving wounds which may fester for years.
Brawling: We picture a brawl taking place in a sleazy tavern, but the word refers to any time anger burns and rage explodes; the result is the decibels increasing. Often hurtful words are made more deadly by yelling. How often do discussions move from taking an exception to a point our spouse made, to disagreeing with what was said and finally end up as a shouting match?
Slander: These are the hurtful words spoken behind anothers back which defame their reputation.. The word here is blasphemia which we often use with regard to spreading lies about our God. But we can blaspheme those made in the image of God when we engage in gossip and rumor.
There is a story of three pastors who went on a camping trip together. As they sat around the fire talking, the Lutheran pastor said, "I have a confession to make. I have a problem with gambling. I have lost so much at the casino lately that I'm going to have to dip into my retirement account to pay my bills." The Methodist pastor said, "Well, since it is confession time, I have something to share. I'm a drunk. Hardly a night goes by that I dont down a fifth of vodka. The Presbyterian pastor said, "Well, I'm not perfect either. The sin I struggle with is gossip, and I can't wait to get back to town and tell everyone what I have learned."
Malice: This is the all inclusive term referring to cruel, harsh, vicious words which wish evil on another. This is a summary term for the plain rottenness of our speech which desires to injure another person.
When words flow out of our mouths like poison, we should see it for what it really is: putrid, rotten, fetid, smelling of death and decay. When we respond to another with biting sarcasm, out of anger, with hurtful words, we must have etched in our minds the image of vomit flowing from our stomachs. What comes out should repulse us to the core. It does nothing but spread disease. Rotten language makes people sick as they are forced to consume it, morsel by morsel, as we speak hurtful words. Just as it is hard to savor the beauty of Gods creation from the vantage point of a garbage dump so our image of God is darkened when our speech is rotten. This form of speech must end. But if that is what we are to put off, what are we to put on instead?
We are to put on redemptive speech
Since Ive picked on mothers at the outset, Ill do it one more time. Another bit of supposed sage advice Mom told us was: "If you cant say something nice... say nothing at all!" Wrong again, Mom. What does our text tell us? If you cant say something nice...REPENT! If you cant say something nice, then, by Gods grace... say something nice.
God expects us to do more than keep our mouths shut. Trappist Monks are known for their vows of silence. Not speaking allows them to meditate and insures that they will utter no offensive words. Some of the early Trappists had their tongues cut out to keep them from that sin. But God expects more from us than silence. If youve been through Sonship, you are familiar with the tongue exercise where for one week you are not to: gossip, complain, criticize, blame-shift, defend yourself, boast or deceive others. As hard as that is, it becomes even more impossible as we recognize that we are instead to affirm others, express praise, witness and speak honestly.
What we are to put on instead of unwholesome words is speech which is helpful, suited to the occasion, what is most beneficial. God's solution is not to just "zip the lip" and never say anything at all. Mere silence is not good enough. It's not sufficient to merely put off the old by keeping a tight grip on loose lips; we also must also put on the new by being gracious in the words we choose to use.
Are my words helpful and not hurtful to the hearer? Do they do good or damage or destroy?
Are my words constructive? Do they build up the person I'm talking to and encourage him rather than tear him down?
Are my words needful? Are they spoken with loving intent in accordance with the person's actual needs as I understand them?
Our words should reflect the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul moves from improper speech to grieving the Holy Spirit for a reason. Speech is intimately involved in the work of God the Holy Spirit.
What happened in creation? God spoke. God said, "Let there be light..." Speech is creative. Psalm 19, our call to worship, reminds us that even creation itself speaks.
Our words are to be creative, they are to build. In verse 29 we are first told they should edify, build up others. The work of building and the Holy Spirit are intimately tied together as we see in 2:21. The Church, you and I, are being built up to be a dwelling of the Spirit. Our speech must reflect this.
What happens in redemption? Just as God spoke creation into order, so in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. That Word took on flesh. By the work of the Holy Spirit, holy men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the Word of God. The grace you and I have comes to us in words. As wonderful as creation is, as much as it communicates Gods power and greatness, it is the Word of God which shouts out Gods grace!
Not only should our speech be creative, building, it is also to be redemptive, showing Gods grace. The last phrase of verse 29 says that it should benefit those who listen. "Benefit" is charis, that is, those who hear us speak should be hearing grace. Paul says this again in Colossians 4:6. Our conversation should be full of grace, seasoned with salt. The purpose of salt is to stop decay, to prevent rot. This is the answer to the filth that often flows from our mouths. Even when we rid ourselves of coarse language, sexual innuendo, and biting sarcasm, we have to then put on speech that points those who hear to Gods grace.
It is for this reason, that if our speech is not creative, but destructive, if it is not grace centered but self-centered, then we grieve the Holy Spirit.
Paul points to the Holy Spirit here for reasons we just mentioned. In light of that, grieving the Holy Spirit should make sense. Grieving the Holy Spirit is not about making God so mad He leaves us. God does not threaten to abandon us. Grief comes not only when Gods holiness is offended, but when His love is wounded. To grieve one must love. If someone who does not love you is offended by what you do, he is not grieved, but angry, enraged.
The sealing work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in 1:13 where we are told that His presence is a down-payment on what is to follow. When we misuse language, when we deny Gods grace by graceless speech, it is as if we are seeking to jettison His presence, something we can not do. God the Holy Spirit is grieved because it is by Gods grace that He seals His own until the day of our redemption. That is the day when the long battle with sin will be over. It is the day when the deepest longings of our heart will be satisfied with the sight of the glory of the grace of God in the face of Jesus. No more groaning with imperfection; no more waiting; no more frustrated longings. Our redemption will be complete.
But when our words are aimed to hurt and tear down, we are living in denial of what God is doing for us and our future. God has sent His Spirit to indwell us to secure us for eternity, but by our words which tear down we do nothing but spit on the work of Gods grace in our lives; we reject that there is a better day coming. For there to be tongue control there must be heart and mind control.
Our forgiveness must reflect God the Father
How do we move from unwholesome speech to grace oriented speech? Our hearts need to be bathed in grace. If your mouths our going to reflect grace, our hearts must know Gods forgiveness. Our speech destroys rather than builds, emphasizes law rather than grace when we do not reflect the compassion weve been shown by a loving Heavenly Father.
The opposite of the crude sixsome of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice, is the Christlike threesome of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Kindness is the opposite of bitterness, as it is gentle and generous. Rather than poisoning it seeks to heal. Compassion is the opposite of rage, anger, and brawling, as it is emotionally moved to empathy by the plight of others. Forgiveness is the opposite of slander and malice, as it relinquishes a debt and is willing to give people something much better than they actually deserve. You can remember these three by a slight inversion of order: KFC - Kindness, Forgiveness and Compassion and none of these can be produced without grease - I mean - grace. When we check our speech in light of these, we will discover what grace oriented speech is all about.
Our speech is changed not by some moral reformation. It wont happen by saying a nice thing for every negative. Our speech wont change by thinking happy thoughts. Our speech will change when our hearts change by the power of Gods grace in our lives. If we want to see change flow from our hearts through our mouths, we must possess an intimate relationship with God the Father where we, by faith, embrace the kindness, compassion and forgiveness of God the Father.
Our difficulty is we always want to start with the offender, to make him change first. We dont start off with putrid speech. No, it comes as a response to someone pushing our buttons. At that moment we let fly a strongly worded denunciation we do so for one reason... WERE RIGHT! I dont say mean things just to be mean. I say them to make a point. Someone has wronged me and Ill word my response so that they will see Im right. What do I want? Not much, just that they come crawling and squirming and begging for my forgiveness first. Then the war begins, lobbing verbal grenades at one another in an effort in self-justification. It is then the Gospel is so distant from us and acquitting bitterness comes so easy. Confess your sin of wanting revenge; let God forgive you of your bitterness and anger and malice. And then, you will find yourself free to take the second step, which is to forgive the person who has sinned against you. Washing yourself in Gods grace, you will then be able to share that grace with the one who offended you, and you will be able to forgive him just as God in Christ has forgiven you.
In this way, our hearts should imitate the Fathers forgiveness. This link between God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others is important, because it is only through knowing ourselves to be forgiven that we are set free to forgive others lovingly. How can we ever forgive as God the Father forgives? How are our hearts turned so that our mouths speak grace?
Our sacrifice must reflect God the Son
While many conceive of our imitation of God the Son to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick whereby the work of Christ is reduced to moralism, Paul sees our imitation of Christ as an important component in what we believe to be true. In Ephesians 5:1 we are told to imitate God, but the imitation is a costly one, not just a simple trying to be good like Jesus, but an imitation of Christ which leads to death.
We are called to imitate Gods love in our life, but this love is one which takes us to the Cross. It is in the face of suffering, in light of pain of serving another that we are called to live. Rather than speech which destroys, we are called to forgive and in so doing take on the pain of sacrificial forgiveness. Little defines love better than this image of giving oneself for another. This is the love demanded of husbands for their wives in 5:25. This is the love where we die to our selves, to our right to be right and allow another wonderful feeling of grace.
Richard Selzer in his book Mortal Lessons writes these moving lines,"I stand by the bed where the young woman lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted in palsy; clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh.... Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, the nerve was cut. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and altogether they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wrymouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. 'Will my mouth always be like this?' she asks. 'Yes,' I say, 'it will. It is because the nerve was cut.' She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. 'I like it,' he says. 'It is kind of cute.' All at once I know who he is. I understand, and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close, I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works." (Thinking Biblically About...Forgiving Others, by J. David Hoke) It is in sacrifice that the love of Christ shines most clearly. It is in death to ourselves, our agendas, our selfishness that we can begin to see what it means to live as God desires. It is in the light of the Cross that our need to speak words which hurt are seen for what they really are, the very sins imputed to Christ. It is there that the Fathers wrath is poured out on a willing victim so that we can know the Fathers warm embrace. It is then we can love, forgive and speak words which build. Yet to love sacrificially always entails risk. Whenever we love we stand the distinct possibility of getting hurt. C.S. Lewis addressed this fear when he said: "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be certainly wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love... is hell." Here we see the whole work of the Triune God come to bear on the simple task of speaking words which reflect our loving God. The Fathers love which called us from eternity past to be His own, the Spirits sealing us, ensuring that our sin will not drive us from the Father. All this drives us to the Cross. The words we speak must reflect Christs sacrificial love. To say otherwise is to demean what we profess to be true. The good news of the Gospel is that for sinners such as we are, we know of our acceptance before the Father, sealed by the Spirit, because the Son loved us to the point of His death. He gave Himself up. His sacrifice was acceptable. The language here reflects the images of the Old Testament where the burnt offerings were said to be fragrant before God, that is, accepted by God as sufficient. That is what we celebrate here at the Lords Table. It is here that we, by faith, lay a hold of Gods gracious gift of Christ. We eat and drink in the faith that God will continue to work in us the grace to honor Him with our lives, our hearts, our mouths.