“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That sentence has been quoted for decades, but how accurate is it? How many of us have been hurt by words? The fact is that words do hurt, and Paul gave us four practical principles concerning the correct use of our daily speech.
We Must Speak Truth (Eph. 4:25-28)
The command is clear: Put away all falsehood and speak truth (Zech. 8:16). Our responsibility is to speak the truth. We are to speak truth because “we are all members of one body.” Because we are freed by the truth of Christ, we should avoid all falsehood.
One cause of false speech is anger (v. 4:26). When we are angry at someone, we may be tempted to say false things to make ourselves look better. In so doing, we allow the devil to gain a foothold in our lives (v. 4:27); the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), and he must be resisted if we are to honor Christ.
Another cause of false speech is theft (v. 4:28). Thieves commonly lie about how they obtained something. The antidote to that is honest work, which gives you blessings to share with others.
We Must Speak Properly (Eph. 4:29-30)
Paul next explains proper speech by instructing us in three areas. First, eliminate “unwholesome talk” (v. 4:29a). Any injurious speech is forbidden. Wrong words commonly reveal a wrong heart.
Think back to a time you planned to eat a certain piece of fruit. Your taste buds were eagerly anticipating the natural sweetness. You went to the refrigerator and opened the drawer. As your hand wrapped around it, you discovered it was rotten. Ugghh. The word Paul used for unwholesome conveys the idea of being rotten.
Second, speak to build up others (v. 4:29b). We must stimulate others to grow in grace. We are to be sensitive toward their needs and use our speech to benefit them.
Third, speak so as not to grieve God’s Spirit (v. 4:30). Any unedifying words spoken to or about someone grieves the Spirit (Isa. 63:10). At our salvation, the Holy Spirit sealed us as a guarantee of our eternal redemption. Our words must reflect that glorious assurance.
We Must Speak Kindly (vv. 4:31-32)
An old saying is that “a man is known by the company he keeps.” Paul observed the company that is kept by improper speech. If we speak kindly to others, then we get rid of six items.
We must eliminate bitterness, that resentful spirit which refuses reconciliation with someone. We need to remove rage, that outburst of anger. A person with a bad temper may say, “I explode, but then it’s all over.” A shotgun also explodes, but look at the results left behind. Next we remove anger, that lingering animosity that simmers inside. Next we eradicate brawling, which is a violent assertion of your own rights. Then, we eliminate slander, speech which is harmful to another person’s reputation. Finally, we must eradicate every form of malice, any desire to cause injury.
After getting rid of those items, we replace them with three others. We must be kind, which is being gentle in love. We add to that being compassionate, having a heart of sympathy and affection for others. The biggest obstacle to kindness and compassion toward someone is commonly a sense of being wronged by that person. The solution to that problem is forgiving each other, and the supreme model for us to follow is seen by God in Christ.
We Must Speak Godly (vv. 5:1-2)
Verse 1 is the only New Testament verse that says we are to imitate God, but it follows from the reference to Him in verse 4:32. A true child of God will want to grow up to be like his Father. We can imitate God in love, expressed through our speech.
Verse 2 intensifies this by asserting that just as Christ demonstrated His love through His sacrificial actions, so we must also demonstrate our love by our actions.
Conducting our lives with speech that honors God, shows His love, controlled by His Spirit, and exemplifying Christ is our task. Being like our Father requires it.