Tuesday: Unity-Building, Grace-Filled Speech

Which of Paul’s words of counsel with regard to the use of speech among believers is the most important to you just now? Why? (Ephesians 4:25-29).

Paul repeatedly uses an interesting structure in Ephesians 4:25-32, which is illustrated by Ephesians 4:25 (NKJV): a negative command (“putting away lying”); a positive command next (“let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor”); and then a rationale (“for we are members of one another,” which seems to mean “because we are members of one body and so related to one another as parts of that one body”).

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Paul’s exhortation to “speak truth” is not an invitation to confront other church members with a tactless recitation of facts. Paul alludes to Zechariah 8:16, which exhorts speaking the truth as a way of fostering peace.

Since in Ephesians 4:31 Paul banishes anger and angry speech, his words in Ephesians 4:26 provide no permission to exercise anger within the congregation. Rather, Paul concedes the possibility of anger, while limiting its expression with the sense, “Should you become angry, do not allow it to bear fruit in full blown sin.”

Paul appears to interrupt his theme of speech with a negative command about thieves: “Let the thief no longer steal” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV). Positively, the thief is to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV; see also 1 Corinthians 4:121 Thessalonians 4:11) based on the rationale, “so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV). Perhaps Paul includes this word about thieves here because of the connection between theft and deceptive speech as illustrated by the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. Paul’s faith in Christ’s transforming power is so strong that he envisions thieves becoming benefactors!

Paul then commands, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29, NKJV), which describes a destructive word making its seemingly unstoppable way toward the lips to do its damaging work. Positively, Paul imagines any negative expression not being just stopped, but replaced by a statement that exhibits three criteria: It (1) “is good for building up,” (2) “fits the occasion,” and (3) gives “grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV). If only all our words could be like that!

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