Ephesians 4:29: New Speech

‘There is a story in the Jewish Talmud about a king who sent two jesters on an errand. He instructed them, “Foolish Simon, go and bring me back the best thing in the world. And you, Silly John, go and find for me the worst thing in the world.” Both clowns were back in short order, each carrying a pack-age. Simon bowed low and grinned. “Behold, Sire, the best thing in the world.” His package contained a tongue. John snickered and quickly unwrapped his bundle. “The worst thing in the world, Sire.” Another tongue! (Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopaedia of 7,700 Illustrations [Assurance Publishers], # 6387, p. 1422.)’ This story makes the point well, that the tongue has an incredible potential for good and evil. Life and death, corruption or edification, reconcile or divide; Proverbs 18:21 rightly says, ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’

Today as we continue in our look at Ephesians we come to this issue of the double edged nature of the tongue, 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.’ Lets remember the context. Paul is talking about being new creatures in Christ. He has told us about how the gospel causes us to be a new person and now in light of that newness we must put off the old man’s ways and walk in the ways of the Spirit. We must no longer walk like the Gentiles who do not know God and have not experienced the resurrection power of Christ in regeneration; we must walk in the power of the Spirit and in the likeness of the new man we will one day be in the new creation, like Christ. Paul moves from that general premise of being new to the specifics of the new life. V25 was about putting away lying; v26 anger; v28 stealing and in its place generosity. In v29 Paul returns to the matter of the tongue. What is interesting to note is that the tongue is obviously a big problem that it needs to be addressed more than once. In fact in the immediate context Paul addresses our speech four times. In v25 it is the issue of lying; in v29 the verse we will be considering today it is the double edged nature of corrupting or building up that is in view; in v31 we see Paul having to address further examples of weaponized speech as he talks about clamour and slander; then again in 5:4 he says, ‘Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.’

We will have many opportunities to talk about the tongue so we do not need to try and say everything about it today. Today I would like us to zero in on our text and think about three things that relate to the new speech patterns that ought to mark us as new creatures in Christ. Firstly, we want to look at the heart and speech and show how new hearts are necessary for this change. Secondly, we want to think about what Paul means by corrupting speech. Thirdly, we want to be positive and look at the God given purpose for our speech as we consider it purpose for edification.