Unwholesome Speech

You have probably heard that the Bible says not to use curse words. The actual text quoted to make this point is actually quite different in meaning.

It comes from Ephesians 4:29 – “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.” (ESV) or as it is more commonly referenced “29 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.” (NIV).

See people often assume that corrupting or unwholesome talk is specifically about using curse words, but as the verse goes on it becomes clear that it is an admonition to use our words to build others up and to encourage them. Our speech should be a benefit to others. Unwholesome talk in this context has more to do with using our speech to harm others-to cut them with our words. Unwholesome speech is malicious and has ill-intent. Unwholesome speech entails using our words as weapons to assault others. When we gossip, when we insult, when we hit below the belt in an argument, when we belittle others, when we say things to manipulate others – we are engaging in unwholesome speech.

This is not to say that we should make an effort to introduce curse words into our vocabulary, it is to say that when we simply consider “bad words” as wrong without regard to the hurtful conversations we engage in, then we are missing the point.

Christians should be a people who lift others up. We should provide encouragement to others. We should be safe. When people bring their problems to us, we should listen and respond in love.

A major theme in the Sermon on the Mount is that people have become so focused on the letter of the Law that they have justified bad behaviors and actions without realizing that what they are doing is still out of sync with God’s moral will. One example is that the Law says murder is wrong. The people began to think that as long as they had not killed another that the things they did out of anger were just fine. Jesus says, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” In other words, murder is wrong but the intent of saying murder is wrong is to refrain from holding onto anger against others.

James 3 reads:

  • For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

The tongue may be a small part of our body, but it has a big impact on everything we do. We use our tongues to say that we love the Lord and then we use our tongues to speak ill of other people. We should not use our words to curse others and we should not speak in such a way that we devalue people. We should, on the other hand, treat all people with dignity – recognizing that we are all created in the image of God.

Unwholesome speech is more than just using curse words. In what ways is your speech encouraging to others? In what ways does it need some reform?

Today I leave you with a video about what it means to use the Lord’s name in vain. Enjoy!!


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♬ original sound – Kelley