I was a benchwarmer on my high school basketball team. I was not very good, but I enjoyed being part of a team and being with my friends. During my senior year, my team should have been amazing. We were experienced, and half of the girls on the team were almost 6 feet tall or taller. However, we were terrible and only won a handful of games the entire year.
We were heartbroken after losing a coach we all adored to a sudden heart attack. The man they picked to replace him showed great promise. He had led multiple boys’ teams to state. Apparently, he was a great boys’ coach, but he didn’t know how to coach or motivate girls. He was always yelling at us and telling us how terrible we were. Nothing he said was positive. I’m not sure how boys are motivated, but I know yelling and demeaning girls does not work. The words he chose defeated us more than any of our opponents could have, and our record reflected it.
Ephesians 4:29 NIV
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (emphasis added).
The words we use affect those around us. When I think back to my childhood, some of my most vivid memories are when someone said something unkind to me. Those words have a habit of sticking in your mind and soul. How many times has your soul been crushed by the words of a loved one, a friend, or even a stranger?
Paul is exhorting the church in Ephesus, and us, to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.” What does he mean by “unwholesome”?
According to the Greek definition of the word, it means “rotten, useless, corrupt, depraved.” We can all think of bad words—four-letter words or hate-speech—but there are other words that are equally, if not more, dangerous.
Sometimes it’s a throw-away comment to a child that meant nothing to us but crushed something inside of them. Sometimes it’s something that comes out in a heated argument with our spouses that creates wounds that can take years to heal. Sometimes it’s gossip about a co-worker that damages his/her character and reveals our own. All of these words can cause lasting damage to people who are loved and created in the image of God. They have the ability to destroy relationships and leave lasting scars.
Lead Pastor Ben Snyder’s Bottom Line was, “You CHOOSE the words you USE.” You can never unsay something. Once it comes out of your mouth and enters the ears of someone else, it will affect them. Our words have great power—they can help others grow or they can tear them apart. Build up or tear down, it’s your choice.
When you speak to others, how do you leave them feeling? Do you build others up or tear them down with your words?
How often do you pause before you speak to consider whether what you are about to say is uplifting or unwholesome? If it’s unwholesome, do you still say it?
The next time you are tempted to respond to someone impulsively, stop and think: Is what I’m saying uplifting or unwholesome? If it is not uplifting, ask yourself: Is this necessary? Is this something that is helpful or harmful? If it’s not necessary or helpful, choose to keep silent.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of words. I have the opportunity to show your love through the words I speak, but I also have the power to destroy others with those same words. Forgive me for words spoken in anger that wound. Forgive me for allowing my passion to tear down those I love. Help me stop and think before I speak. Help me keep all unwholesome speech from my lips and use my words to encourage those around me. Amen.
This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading, and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her five young children.
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