“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.” Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 (NIV)
For our fifth devotion this Holy Week, we are looking at the following stanza of the poem True Lenten Discipline:
FAST from words that pollute. FEAST on phrases that purify.
(Here is the full poem of True Lenten Discipline. Here are the devotions for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.)
The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” simply isn’t true. Anyone who has ever been wounded by unkind words knows that hurtful words sink deeply into our souls, setting up residence and becoming difficult to uproot. They echo through our lives for years to come, affecting what we believe about ourselves and our choices—whether they’re true or not.
The Greek word for unwholesome is sapros, and it means “bad, rotten, decayed.” And if we need any further proof of the harm mean words can cause, we’ll find it in the meaning of the root word of sapros, which is sepo. It means “to destroy.”
(Now this is not to say that we can’t ever respectfully discuss difficult situations and character issues that need to be changed with someone. That’s a sometimes necessary part of living life with family and friends and is entirely different than mean words that tear others up.)
Well, it would be logical that if unwholesome talk can destroy, then the opposite of this should be true; wholesome words can build others up, and that’s precisely what this verse in Ephesians tells us.
It’s one of the conundrums of life that it’s such an easy thing for ugly words to effortlessly roll off of our tongues; it seems to be much harder work to cultivate the soil of a person’s life with seeds of praise and encouragement. Perhaps we’re embarrassed or afraid we’ll be perceived as just trying to gain their favor.
To be sure, kind words need to be sincere. Insincerity rings falsely with, well, insincerity. Maybe part of the problem is that building another person up with words that benefit requires us to be observant. We have to take our focus off of ourselves long enough to study a person and recognize his or her strengths. Once we see the laudable characteristic, we must then give life to the thought and speak the words to that person. It can actually feel a little uncomfortable at first, and it’s tempting to take the easy way out and think “I’ll tell her the next time I see her.” But then you’ve missed a chance to build someone up. The “next time” may not lend itself so well to what you want to say.
Although I still may be able to hear the faint echoes of harsh words in my head, the shout of a “word aptly spoken” by people who have built into my life drowns out the other words. I’ve been encouraged by several someones to reach for goals I thought were beyond my grasp, to dream dreams, and to make a difference by relying on the power of God working in my life. That’s what we need to be doing for others.
Application: On this Good Friday, we will focus on encouraging and building others up with our words. Be on the alert for someone that you can sincerely speak words of kindness to today. And let’s not make this just a one-day event, but rather a lifelong habit.
Prayer: Jesus, may we follow your example of speaking words of life and blessing to others. Stop our tongues when harsh words want to leap out of our mouths. Amen.
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