“And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them.”
Ephesians 4:29 TPT
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
James 3:9-10 NIVUK
The Passion Translation of our Ephesian verse today uses the phrase “ugly or hateful” to describe undesirable words. In other translations we have “unwholesome” and “foul or abusive“. They all build a picture that Paul was trying to get across to his readers, that the words we use are important and that we need to make sure we use the right words, both in what we say and what we mean. He wasn’t the only New Testament writer who picked up on this theme. James, one of Jesus’ half-brothers, said much the same in our second verses today.
I walked past a group of men the other day, and their discussion about the war in Ukraine was interlaced with so many swear words that I quickly walked by. Hateful words cursing human beings. Seemingly the exact opposite of what Paul and James were writing about in their letters. But we don’t have to be using profanities for the words we say to still tick the “ugly or hateful” box. What about the times when we have run someone down. Perhaps a political leader we don’t like? Or our boss at work? The next door neighbour? In the process using words that are far from the definition of “words of grace”. James was quite right when he said that words from our mouths can at times be used and uttered in worship and praise of God but at other times can be destructive and offensive.
So how does a 21st Century pilgrim only say words that are “beautiful gifts“? Holding our tongues when we hit a thumb with a hammer? Praying for our enemies not curse them? Cleaning up the words that come out of our mouths in a worldly workplace full of profanities and hate speech? And it doesn’t just end with our spoken words. If social media had been around in Paul and James’ days they would have included trolling and other negative posts in their teachings. Because God clearly was speaking through them and wants our “words of grace” to penetrate into this dark world with laser-sharp illumination. Showing a better way. A counter-cultural way.
It all boils down to our choices. We have a choice over what we say. We can react in anger and say things we will later regret, or we can hold our tongues, letting the feelings inside of us subside. Paul in Romans 12 wrote this, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”.
In the verses in Romans 12, Paul exposed the importance of our thoughts. Someone once said, “What consumes your mind, controls your life.” I would develop this to say, “What consumes your mind, controls what you say”. There is a key for pilgrims in this sentence from Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” We must turn our backs on the worldliness around us, instead allowing God to work in our minds, bringing to bear more of His presence, bringing sanctification to our “little grey cells”. Then our speech will become less and less problematic. A sanctified mind will make the right choices and the right speech will result. What we say to others will be gracious and “beautiful gifts“. But all of this won’t happen overnight. God is in no hurry. He is gracious, loving and gentle. And as we learn more and more to turn to Him in times of stress what comes out of our mouths will be the voice of God, helping those around us.