Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 February 28, 2016
“Speak to Build”
Text: Ephesians 4:29
James, half-brother of the Lord Jesus and author of the letter bearing his name, noted how tough it is to tame the tongue (James 3:1-12). He noted particularly in James 3:9 that with the tongue we both bless our Lord and Father and curse people made in His likeness. James’s Spirit-led letter was written, not to his culture generally, but to Christians wherever they may be found. We expect such tear-down speech in unregenerate people in every culture, but—alas—apparently such occurs in Christian society as well.
We need not roam far to note several arenas where speech tears down. Consider first the political arena. Especially now, in our quadrennial presidential primary season, we hear candidates tear down each other, we hear the electorate tear down the candidates, and—if we were flies on the wall—we probably would hear the candidates tearing down the electorate. Consider next the local church—yes, the local church. Too often fellow Christ-followers tear one another down—to one another’s faces sometimes, but more often behind the back. In certain especially sick contexts, the vitriol hurled from pew toward pulpit—and, occasionally, returned in kind—greatly injures the witness of Christ’s people to their Christ. Consider, closest to home, marriage and family. How often have spouses spoken abrasive—even abusive—speech to one another? How often have parents embittered their children by their speech? How often have children insolently maligned their parents by their speech? The answer is, “Too often,” in each case.
We sorely need help for this sad condition today. Happily, we get help in the Word of God—and in today’s text in particular. Let us hear the Word of God written, which testifies, on every page, to the Word of God living—the Lord Jesus Christ.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Our exposition today aligns itself under four heads; let’s consider them each in turn. First, the Holy Spirit says to us—via the Apostle Paul, His inspired penman—to let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths. The Greek word here translated, in the English Standard Version, as corrupting, is the word sapros (saproV)—itself variously glossed as rotten, bad, or harmful. A helpful image for us today is that of a typical saprophyte—a mushroom. Saprophytes lives on dead, decaying matter, and the picture of a mushroom surviving upon a rotting tree trunk is highly illustrative of what corrupting speech—speech which is harmful in view of being unwholesome and corruption—does to our souls and those of others. Such speech is not life-giving, either to ourselves or to others, but, rather, it is death-dealing both to us and others around us. By the grace of God, then, let us shun this speech in favor of something far better.
Second, the Lord would have us speak only such as is good for building up others. Tear-down speech, as we have seen, is ubiquitous—that is, such speech is everywhere; we can hardly avoid it. Let us do otherwise. Let us, when we can, speak that which builds people. Let us build up the non-believer, to be sure, but especially let us build up our fellow believer in Christ Jesus. Let us speak to both sets—and especially to the household of faith—in order to increase their joy. An encouraging word in season shall gladden our hearers’ hearts indeed. Let us so build by speech that others increase in their conformity to Christ. True, some edifying speech must confront sin, straying, and the like—but if this be done in a spirit of meekness and gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2), the speech results often in God’s glory and the hearer’s ultimate good. Also, let our speech build others, in order that their ministerial capacity may increase. When we encourage those who labor in the Lord, so that they may see that their labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), then they grow in ability to minister to others. Let us be slow to speak, to be sure (James 1:19), but when we speak, let it be to glorify God and to build others.
Third, speak such as fits the occasion. We need, by God’s almighty power, to speak the right upbuilding word at the right time. We all have seen that even a good word can be spoken at the wrong time or in the wrong way. We all know and love that admonition from Paul to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Yet to speak this, in unmuted tones, to a soul freshly and shockingly bereaved of a loved one is to speak a Biblical truth at a far less than ideal time. Also, to speak, “Congratulations,” to an achiever is many times well and good, but to growl it at someone, and to say it as if you have just chewed glass and swallowed, is—to say the least—to speak a good word in the wrong way. Let us flee these right words at wrong times and ways. Let us, rather, so be filled and used of the Holy Spirit that our edifying words indeed are apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).
Fourth, speak so that your speech gives grace to your hearers. Let us speak in such a way that our speech conveys God’s unmerited favor to their ears. Let our speech to others reflect His kindness—especially His kindness to them. Let us utter speech that reflects His free generosity to others. These are facets of what it means to speak grace to our hearers—and our hearers, like us, so sorely need to hear such gracious words graciously spoken. Paul, writing to the Colossian Christian households, writes similarly, “Let your conversation always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
Many years ago, I heard a Christian comedian tell about when folks wish to speak to you a word in love. If someone approaches you thus, you should get your helmet on, your chin strap secure, and your mouthpiece in—for what is about to come forth from the other probably isn’t very loving. We, the people of God, redeemed by the Son of God, animated by the Spirit of God, can do better by the grace of God. Let us avoid that harmful speech that bruises, corrodes, and rots others’ souls. Cry out to God for help if you need help with this—He loves to hear such a cry and to remedy the conditions that motivate it. Let us speak only that which is good for building up, and let us speak it at the right time (and in the right way) that which you intend for building up. Moreover, let us speak in such a way that our hearers hear the grace of God—both in what we say and in how we say it. Let us, then, one and all, go forth speaking to build—and may God both help us to do it and bear fruit for His glory from it.
 For sapros as rotten, see Willam J. Larkin, Ephesians: A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009), 101. For sapros as bad or harmful, see Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 2:219.