Ephesians 4: 29-32 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
This passage felt like a big wet slap in the face to me. Over the past year I’ve found myself struggling with “corrupting talk.” Frustrations with employers, family members, friends…even random strangers (who were astonishingly bad drivers) have gotten the best of me more often than I care to admit. What is sad is that my ability to criticize is so finely tuned that I trick myself into thinking of it as a “gift.” I actually convince myself that the world needs people like me…people who are such great “evaluators” that they can take things and make them better. Only I don’t make things better…I just chew them up and spit them out. Making myself miserable in the process.
I’m glad I had the chance to read these verses and think about them prior to writing this. Obviously my initial reaction was conviction. But I don’t feel that it ends there. I don’t feel like we are being told to keep our mouths shut, or even to only say nice things to people. My mom used to tell me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t think that’s the message.
The command is to use words that are “good for building up, as fits the occasion.” There is no question that we are to speak the truth…and do so courageously. But I think that it takes some intentionality, some effort to speak truth gracefully. At times it seems like those two concepts, truth and grace, are fundamentally opposed. It can feel like we have to sacrifice one to have the other. I think that this internal struggle stems from how we view others in relation to ourselves. Truth feels like criticism when it’s delivered in a way that draws attention to how we differ from one another. Statements like “you did this wrong” or “you need to be more _____” illuminate how I differ from the person I’m speaking to. (or at least how I see us differing).
The image that pops into my head is one of two people climbing a mountain. One climber, further up, calls down to the person struggling to climb with instruction. Unless the instruction is purely encouraging, it’s almost always difficult to receive. The slower climber likely feels burdened and even hindered by the “truth” being delivered. I contrast that image with that of two climbers, side by side, making their way up the mountain together. The words that pass between the two are collaborative rather than authoritative. Rather than feeling annoyed by the “more successful” climbers instruction, there is synergy.
It’s helpful for me to remember that in relation to God, I’m no further up the mountain than anyone else. The people God has placed in my life are my team…and it’s far more rewarding (and more glorifying to God) when the entire team succeeds. That truth should affect my speech.