Speak grace

graceThe bible has a lot to say about the subject of speech and communication. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs 18:21 says, “and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Words have great power. They can build up and they can tear down. They can comfort and they can kill. They can bring life or they can cause great pain. We all know how harmful words can be. There’s not a single individual who, at some point in his life, has not experienced harsh words spoken to him that when recalled still cause hurt and pain to this day. And yet on the other hand we all know what it’s like to have received encouraging words that motivate and inspire. Words have great influence – for good and for evil.

The bible also tells us that our words reveal who we really are; they are a spiritual indicator of what is going on in the heart. Jesus says,

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)

You can give a good cover-up for being a Christian. You can act like a Christian, dress like a Christian and go to church with other Christians. But the real test will be what comes out of your mouth on a daily basis.

How do you talk to other people?
Do you speak lovingly and gently or harshly and unkindly?
Do you build up with your words or do you cut others down?
And what do you like talking about – the things of the Lord or the things of this world?

Jesus says the fruit reveals the root. If the regular flow of speech out of your mouth is trivia, worldly interests, boasting, course jesting and there’s nothing about God or the gospel or matters of eternal life then Jesus would say, “A tree is known by its fruit. And that’s a bad tree. There’s an unredeemed heart.” Do you see? A changed heart brings about changed speech. A transformed life results in a transformed tongue.

Now we ask the question – what does the speech of the transformed tongue sound like? The Apostle Paul gives us some insight into this, in Ephesians 4:29

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Paul is laying down a direct challenge for us here. And the challenge concerns the way we talk, our pattern of our speech.   The word for “corrupt” is sapros and it means rotten. It’s the same word Jesus uses the above passage when he talks about the bad fruit. Have you ever picked up a piece of fruit that looks good from the top but you find it’s all soft and gooey underneath? What’s your first reaction? “Hmmm – delicious!” I don’t think so – more like “that’s nasty!” Well that’s the connotation here.

So what are some examples of corrupting talk – rotten speech that’s just nasty?

  • Vulgar language. I don’t have to give any examples do I? You hear enough on the street – foul language, profanities, expletives and cursing. It’s not the kind of speech that edifies. It’s not the kind of speech that a Christian should use.
  • Sarcasm, ridicule and mockery. This is also very much part of our culture. It seems the more you cut down and ridicule others the more cultured you are. But ask yourself, if Jesus was in the room would you still talk like that? Would you call people idiots and tell them they are lame-buts?
  • Deceptive and lying talk. Do you sometimes tell only half the truth, keep information back, and answer deceptively? Deception, duplicity, pretext, dishonesty are forms of lying and come under corrupting talk.
  • Using the Lord’s name in vain. It is a great contradiction when we who belong to God say, “My God!” or “God Almighty!” or “Jesus!” when we are mad or surprised. As John Piper puts it, “No one with a good marriage would stomp on his wedding ring to express anger. It stands for something precious and pure. And so does the name of God and Jesus Christ.”
  • Mean-spirited talk. Talk such as “Shut-up”, “Get lost”, “You’re such a loser” is mean-spirited. It may not be vulgar or deceptive or taking the Lord’s name in vain. But there’s no kindness or goodwill in any of it. There’s no love or sympathy or compassion. Paul says, “Don’t talk like this if you belong to Jesus. That’s not how people in the gospel community speak.”

You say, “OK, I get the point. We’re not to talk like that. So then how are we to talk? What kind of communication is fitting for those in the gospel community?” Paul answers that in the second half of the verse:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

You see what Paul is saying here. He’s saying that we must aim our talk to edify and bless others. You want to speak to people in such a way that when they go away from that conversation with you they are thinking, “Because of that conversation with that person, I want to be more like Jesus. I want to love God and others more. I want to be a better Christian.” You see that’s what edifying talk does.

So how do we do that – practically speaking? How do we, as members of the gospel community, use our tongues to bless rather than curse? Let me offer a few suggestions:

  • Words of encouragement and praise. We all know how empowering it is to be encouraged. I grew up in a home where there was very little verbal encouragement. I remember telling my mother that I got 70% for a maths exam. I was ecstatic because I didn’t think I was any good at maths. Her answer was, “Just think what you might have got if you studied harder.” We can do better than that in the family of God.
  • Words of appreciation and gratefulness. This is related to the above but there is more of a sweetness in it as it comes from the heart. When someone does something for your benefit – it might be something very small, and there is a warmness and delight in the heart, then tell them about it, verbalize your appreciation. Speak grace into their life.
  • Kind words. There will be times when people do things that dumb, when they fail. You’ll be tempted to laugh and ridicule. Stop those words. Close your mouth and give a thought to that person. Because right at that moment they need kind words. Speak those words to them. Give them grace.
  • Gentle words. The Spirit of God is a gentle spirit. He is a gentleman. Learn from him. Listen to his promptings. Follow his lead. Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness is strength under control. You can speak strongly, you can speak truthfully, but in a gentle tone and in a gentle manner.
  • Words of wisdom. It is said of the Proverbs 31 woman, “She opens her mouth with wisdom.” O may that be said of all of us, that when our mouths open, wisdom flows out.
  • Words of loving correction. There will be times when we need to correct someone who is behaving sinfully. The temptation will often be to come across in a manner that is harsh and confrontative. We must avert that temptation. That person needs words of grace. They need to hear the truth, but in a loving tone and from a caring heart.

Our speech is to be radically different from that in the world. We are to use speech that builds up and doesn’t tear down, that fits the occasion, and that imparts grace to those who hear. If you are looking for an example of this, you need look no further than Jesus himself. It was said of him in Luke 4:22,

“And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of our Saviour? He was a man of gracious words.  He spoke words of kindness, words of truth, words of compassion and love, words of correction, sensitive words to those who were suffering and caring words to those who were frail.

We live in a world of great darkness, misery and despair. Everywhere hearts are breaking. People are hurting. There seems very little kindness, little love, little comfort and little care. God wants us to be agents of his grace. He wants us speaking graciously, tenderly, lovingly, kindly, and truthfully. And Jesus is our example. We may not have the power to heal the blind or raise the dead like Jesus did, but we can speak like Jesus spoke, with tenderness, love and care. For the same Spirit that was in him now indwells us.

So go now and speak to one another words of life.  Speak words of encouragement and praise. Speak words of appreciation and gratitude. Speak kind words, loving words and gentle words. Speak words of wisdom and loving correction for those who need to hear them.

Let your lips be agents of God’s grace.


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