I’m Missing the Boat on This Verse!

Posted on September 28, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Put in My Place
If you read your Bible earnestly, be prepared to take a few hits to your ego. If you are honest with yourself, it is inevitable you will come across a verse or passage which really puts you in your place.

One verse which recently did this is Ephesians 4:29, which reads: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Raise your hand high if you obey this verse to the letter. Both my hands are dangling at my sides!

What makes this verse extra conscious-searing is that there are two parts to it. One is to “not let any unwholesome talk to come out of your mouths”; the other is to speak in a way which is “helpful for building others up.” That’s a double-edged sword of conviction!

Unwholesome Talk
As is often the case, the Greek translation of words holds more varied and penetrating meanings than its English counterpart. In English, we generally equate the word “unwholesome” with cursing and discussing off-color topics. Christians should never partake of either, but the Ephesians directive delves far deeper.

The Greek word for “unwholesome” is sapros, which carries the idea of something rotten, tainted, putrefied, corrupted, and “something no longer fit for use.” Therefore, we can translate the phrase in these ways:

  • “Do not let any rotten talk come out of your mouths …”
  • “Do not let any tainted talk come out of your mouths …”
  • “Do not let any putrefied talk come out of your mouths …”
  • “Do not let any corrupted talk come out of your mouths …”
  • “Do not let any worthless talk come out of your mouths …”
  • “Do not let any talk which is no longer fit for use come out of your mouths …”

This is much more far-reaching than simply “unwholesome” talk, which is generally limited to speech which is offensive. Rather, talk which is “rotten,” “tainted,” “putrefied,” “corrupted,” and “worthless” is evil, hurtful, disparaging, abasing, and destructive.

Have you spoken in such a way of politicians? The Bible asks you not to. What about in your relationships? How do you speak to others? Do the things you say belittle and demean? Do they bring people down and serve no good purpose? Too often, my words do exactly that!

The Antidote
The antidote for “unwholesome talk” is the second part of the verse, speaking “… only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Fortunately, the English translation here is sufficient; no Greek is required. There are people – and I am blessed to know several – who do this regularly. They are wonderful, upbeat, loving, caring souls who see the good in all things and reflect this in their uplifting speech.

But I’m not one of them. I can be combative and confrontational (though mellowing), and I bet quite a few of you are the same way. Despite these negative traits, we have clear and direct Scripture. We are told what God expects of us, and we can’t use our contentious personalities as an excuse.

Building others up with our words doesn’t come easy, but this is what the Lord demands. And He wouldn’t give us this command without giving us the ability to perform it. James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

I believe this premise holds true in other areas of the Christian walk besides wisdom. I feel safe in saying: “If any of you lacks the ability to build others up by your speech, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Are you like me and need to ask God to grant you the ability to curb your unwholesome talk and speak in a positive or encouraging manner? If so, let’s resolve to do just that, because as things stand now, I’m really missing the boat on this verse!