Negative Command: Speak No Evil (Ephesians 4:29a)
Positive Command: Speak Good for Edification (Ephesians 4:29b)
Motivation: Speaking evil grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)
How do people who ride horses control such a huge, strong animal? That’s right—with a bit.
How does a single man in the bridge of a boat control the boat and where it goes? That’s right—with a rudder. Though the ship is large and though there are fierce winds, ships are turned by a very small rudder to go wherever the captain desires.
How does a huge forest fire get started? That’s right, with one careless spark. One careless match, and thousands of acres go up in smoke.
Humanity has accomplished some great and wondrous things. We have tamed some of the fiercest and terrifying animals on the face of the earth.
We have understood and controlled the qualities of metal and rock in order to build huge skyscrapers and span large rivers with bridges.
We have even learned how to defy the laws of gravity so that we can fly by controlling the laws of aerodynamics and combustion.
Man had achieved some amazing things. There are many animals and natural laws and elements of the earth that we have learned to control.
But there is one thing which very few learn to control. In fact, some have even gone so far as to say that if you can control this item, you are perfect. If you can tame this object, you have done more than any man or woman before you.
What is this object? Well, some of you know. Everything I have just said today comes straight out of James 3. The object in question is the tongue.
There we are told, along with what I have already said, that the tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body. It sets the whole body on fire and is itself set on fire by hell. Only a man who is perfect is able to completely control his tongue. In other words, only Jesus has been able to completely control His tongue.
But this does not mean we should not try. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says that the fruit of Christ-like living is Christ-like words. As Christians, we are to be like Christ. That is what our name means. And since Jesus was able to control His tongue, and control what He said, we must try to do the same.
In the passage before us today, Ephesians 4:29-30, Paul tells us to do just that. He tells us to watch what we say. To control our tongue. To keep from speaking evil.
As we work our way through the book of Ephesians, we are in a paragraph where Paul deals with five deadly sins for the life and health of any church. We have already learned about the dangers of anger, lying, and stealing, today we look at the fourth sin—speaking evil words.
The Bible frequently talks about the power of our words. This power of speech has the ability to create or destroy. To build up or tear down. Proverbs 18:21 says that the power of life and death are in the tongue. Therefore, we need to be very careful what we say, and how we say it. In Proverbs 13:3, we are told that the one who watches his mouth closely, saves his life, but the one who opens wide his lips goes toward destruction.
That is what Paul tells us today in Ephesians 4:29-30.
Ephesians 4:29-30. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good, for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
In Ephesians 4:29-30, just like the other sins, Paul gives a negative command against the sin, a positive command to replace the sin with, and then a reason why we should obey.
So let’s begin with Ephesians 4:29, and the negative command.
Negative Command: Speak No Evil (Ephesians 4:29a)
Paul begins by giving the negative command: let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth.
A corrupt word is anything that is not glorifying to God. It is in the singular here, so we should not let even one bad word proceed from your mouth. The word used for corrupt is sapros, and means unwholesome, or rotten.
In Matthew 7, it is used of rotten, or bad fruit. Have you ever cut open an apple only to find it full of worms? That is the idea here. When I was younger, my mother bought a few boxes of Macintosh apples from one of the roadside fruit vendors that you see this time of year.
We had ten kids in our family, and she thought we could eat a few boxes of apples. Well, we did alright on one, but then became tired of eating apples, and we forgot about them down in the basement. A few months later, when cleaning the basement, we came across that box of apples, and you guessed it—they were covered in mold, some of the rotting juices and seeped through the bottom of the box and were making a little puddle on the concrete floor. They were rotten—sapros.
This word sapros is also used in Matthew 13:48 for bad fish. Have you ever smelled a rotting fish? I was watching a Discovery channel special this past week about shipwreck salvage crews. One ship, in a storm, had become beached, and sat there for several months before the salvage crew was able to come and get it off the shore.
To aid them in this, they had to make the ship as light as possible. When they opened up the holding tanks of the ship—which happened to be a cod fishing boat—they discovered hundreds of thousands of pounds of stinking, rotting cod. Now smells are not something you can see, but as I was watching the show, the look of pure pain the crossed the salvage crew’s faces, the gagging, the watery eyes, the covering the mouth and nose with shirt sleeves—all showed me how much those fish stank. That is sapros.
You know, a smell is so powerful, that I saw in TIME magazine this past week, that the army is developing crowd control weapons which use terrible odors to clear an unruly crowd. Sapros.
Bad language is called foul language for a reason. It stinks up the air. It pollutes the environment. My family and I went camping a while back at a local lake. We were sitting there on the shore, enjoying a sunset in the quiet evening hours, when along comes two teenage boys in a slow moving rubber raft, and every other word out of their mouth was some sort of expletive. It was worse than many R-rated movies. It was terrible. It ruined the whole atmosphere. It was sapros.
I read a story of an old Christian man who went to a barber shop which he had never been to before to get a haircut. You know how barbers are, they talk about everything and anything, and seem to have strong opinions about it all. Well this barber was no different except that he had a foul mouth as well. Finally, about half way through the haircut, this old Christian man turned to the barber, pointed at his own ear, and said, “Does this look like a sewer to you?” The rest of the haircut was done in silence. Sapros.
How many of you like to have bad breath? I hate bad breath. But many people, who also hate bad breath, don’t seem to care how they foul the air with their words. When you allow foul language and cursing to pass through your lips, you are emitting a stench worse than bad breath, because it is foul to the ears and to the mind.
The Bible tells us that our prayers are like sweet smelling incense to God (Rev 5:8), but when we use our mouths poorly, they are foul. Foul language, corrupt speech. Paul says don’t let it proceed from your mouth.
Many Christians are very watchful about not saying any bad words. You know, the four-letter words which are impolite. The coarse words which we often hear on movies and TV shows and in some public conversations. But these are not the only types of sapros speaking. In fact, such coarse language is not even the worst kind of language.
As you read Scripture, the words which are the most evil, the most destructive and damaging, are the words that tear other people down. We Christians are often quite attentive to not saying four-letter bad word words, but then turn around and speak the truly bad words of gossip, slander, blame, accusation, undercutting, spreading rumors, and talking negatively about other people.
Truly corrupt talk is not so much when you “curse like a sailor” but when you talk about other people in a way that tears them down in the minds of those who hear you. I encourage you, when you open your mouth, don’t be as concerned about the four-letter words escaping your lips as you are about the corrupt words that spread slander and gossip about other people.
We know that this is the type of language that Paul is most concerned with, because of the positive command he writes in the second half of Ephesians 4:29.
So the negative command in the first part of Ephesians 4:29 is to stop speaking what is corrupt, to keep ourselves from speaking what is evil. Instead, in the next part of Ephesians 4:29, we need to exchange our corrupt speech with good speech that is edifying.
Positive Command: Speak what is Good for Edification (Ephesians 4:29b)
The positive command in verse 29 is to speak what is good. The word used here for good is agathos. It is used in the accounts of the Rich Young Ruler (Matt 19:17; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19) to refer to God. Jesus tells the rich young ruler that no one is good, agothos, but God alone.
So how do you know when you are speaking what is good—what is agathos? Well, ask yourself—is what I am saying something Jesus would say? Or, would I say what I am saying if Jesus were present? Would I talk this way to Jesus? If not, then you are not speaking what is good.
So what does speaking what is good look like? What do those who speak what is good talk about? Well, that is what Paul tells us in the last part of Ephesians 4:29. He gives us here the reason we should not speak what is corrupt, but speak only what is good. And that reason is for edification.
We should speak this way, at the end of Ephesians 4:29, for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers
Edification is the key word here. It is used several times throughout Scripture in specific reference to the main activity a church should be doing when they meet together. It is similarly translated “to build up.” We’ve already seen this term twice back in Ephesians 4:11-16 when Paul gave us the blueprints for church growth. (cf. also 1 Cor 14:5, 12, 26; 2 Cor 12:19; Eph 4:12, 16; 1 Thess 5:11).
The Greek is a construction term for raising up a building, strengthening a wall, fortifying a structure. Paul is saying here that the words we say should strengthen, fortify, build up and encourage one another. Negative words tear down. Good words build up.
There are many ways to edify others through our words. One of these, of course, is through providing others with good teaching and training about Scripture. This helps build up people’s minds and spirits.
But this is not the only form of edification. Probably some of the best forms of edification are words of encouragement and praise giving to others. When we tell people how they did a good job, when we talk positively about them to others, we are building them up with edifying words.
Paul says that this way of talking is necessary. Edification is not optional. It is necessary. It is something we must do. Why?
At the end of Ephesians 4:29, because edification will impart grace to the hearers.
Even when we talk positively about someone to others, it is edifying to those who hear, because they see that you are an encourager, and they are presented with a positive example for them to edify.
When you are always gossiping about others, and spreading rumors or lies about them, people come to realize that you cannot be trusted, and that your words are often mean and slanderous. So they won’t share anything with you, and will not want to listen to what you have to say. But when you praise others and build others up with your words, this is edifying to everyone involved.
So Paul has given us the negative command, and the positive command. In Ephesians 4:30, he provides the motivation. In Ephesians 4:30, we learn that speaking evil grieves the Holy Spirit.
Motivation: Speaking Evil Grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)
30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
What does that mean? Well the key is in the end of the verse. Paul could have mentioned many things about the Holy Spirit, but he mentioned the fact that we were sealed by Him for the day of redemption.
We already talked about the sealing of the Holy Spirit back in Ephesians 1, when Paul gave us the different things that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit do for us. He told us in Ephesians 1:13-14 that we were sealed by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance in heaven.
We saw there that the idea is like an engagement ring. The Holy Spirit is an engagement ring given to all believers by Jesus Christ. The church is the bride of Christ. At the end of the church age, there is an event in Heaven known as the Marriage of the Lamb. That is when Jesus spiritually marries the church.
The Holy Spirit is given to us as a seal for this day—as an engagement ring. When you believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life, one of the things that happens is that the Holy Spirit immediately entered into your life and began to dwell within you.
His task is to begin to make you into a new person, which is known as the process of sanctification. There are some things He does automatically, but for the most part His influence is not irresistible. The work of the Spirit can be resisted. When the Spirit tries to accomplish something in your life, you have two options. You can either submit to the influence of the Holy Spirit within, and live in obedience to Him, or you can rebel against the influence of the Holy Spirit and live in disobedience to Him.
He wants to guide what we do and what we say, but if we do not let Him guide us, then we will be guided by our flesh instead, and will continue to live in sin. If we do this, we are resisting the Holy Spirit, which grieves Him. It makes Him sad. It is like a slap in His face.
Imagine an engaged couple. They are so very happy. They go everywhere hand in hand. They gaze into each other’s eyes. He has twenty pictures of her in his wallet which he shows to everyone he meets. She has a diamond ring on her finger which she shows to everyone she meets.
One day, he asks to take her out to dinner, and she says she has already made plans. She is going to go out to dinner and a movie with her old boyfriend from high school who was the star of the football team, and is now the youngest CEO ever of a Fortune 500 corporation.
How would that make her fiancé feel? It would grieve him to hear such news, right? Now she might tell him that it means nothing, and that she loves him, but still, he has to wonder why, if she loves him, does she want to spend time with an old boyfriend? In this case, the man would probably feel a bit sad that his future wife has decided to do this.
But if this relationship continued, and it became more serious, eventually, the man would become quite grieved, worried, and distressed.
That is similar to the way it is when Christians, as the future bride of Christ, who have received the engagement ring of the Holy Spirit, decide to go back to our old way of living. It saddens and grieves the Holy Spirit.
This is not a perfect illustration, because the passage says we are grieving the Holy Spirit, which would be like grieving the engagement ring, but still, the picture is clear. Paul is simply telling us here in Ephesians 4:30 that corrupt speech grieves or saddens the Holy Spirit.
Of course, we can safely say that any sin in the life of the believer grieves the Holy Spirit, but Paul is specifically talking about the sins of the mouth.
We must be careful though, not to confuse grieving the Holy Spirit with some of the other sins against the Holy Spirit. For example, Matthew 12 talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is a serious sin, and Jesus calls it the unpardonable sin. This is a sin only unbelievers can commit. It comes from a state of such hardness of heart that such a person will never come to faith in Jesus. If you worry you have committed it, this worry means you haven’t.
There is also the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit (Rom 1:18-20). Anyone can resist the Holy Spirit, whether believers or unbelievers. It is committed by unbelievers who resist the drawing and convicting work and influence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It is committed by believers who resist the illuminating and sanctifying works of the Holy Spirit in their lives. When believers resist the work of the Holy Spirit, it can also be called quenching the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19).
Now, some teach that if you grieve or quench the Holy Spirit, He leaves you. This teaching comes from a misunderstanding of the different roles the Holy Spirit had between the Old and New Testament.
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit only came upon certain individuals for certain tasks, and only for a certain period of time. Sin would cause the Holy Spirit to leave.
For example, after King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, his sin was pointed out to him, and he prayed a prayer of confession. His prayer is recorded in Psalm 51.
Then, somebody wrote a song based on Psalm 51 called “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” And one of the lines in the song—like one of the lines in the Psalm, says “Take not your Holy Spirit from me.” And so people get the idea that the Holy Spirit comes and goes from the Christian by whether we sin or not.
What they don’t understand is that for the New Testament Christian, things are much different. First, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, not just some. Second, He indwells permanently. He does not come and go. John 14:16-17, 1 John 2:27 and many other passages make this clear that when He comes, He abides forever.
When He comes to abide within you, He does so permanently. He remains. We’ll see, when we look at Ephesians 5:18, that sin can cause you to stop being filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean He leaves you or stops indwelling you. It deeply saddens Him because He is dwelling within you and you are not giving Him control.
Grieving the Holy Spirit is simply making the Holy Spirit sad because we have chosen to sin rather than obey His influence in our lives. Specifically, Paul talks of this here in reference to our words.
Paul draws this idea from Isaiah 63:10, which says the Israelites grieved the Holy Spirit. There, it refers to Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness, which led to their rejection by God. That whole generation died in the wilderness. And if you remember, the primary sign of their rebellion was in their words.
The Israelites were constantly complaining and murmuring against God and His chosen leader, Moses. And as you read the accounts in the Exodus and Numbers, God is saddened over and over by their ungratefulness and their complaining, and over and over again, He comes to the verge of destroying them.
Grieving God means to make Him sad by our words and our actions against Him, and against His leaders.
Again, take Moses as an example. Israel’s rebellion led Moses to sin with his mouth (Ps 106:33, Num 20:10; Deut 3:26), and eventually, to disobey God by striking the rock rather than speaking to it for water. This also grieved God, and as a result, Moses was not allowed to receive the inheritance in the Promised Land.
So grieving the Holy Spirit is caused when we speak against God or against other Christians, and it can bring about serious repercussions to the believer who does it. Physical death, as we see in the case of the Israelites or loss of inheritance—not loss of eternal life, but loss of inheritance and reward in heaven—as was illustrated by the life of Moses.
Do not speak evil words to one another, for it grieves the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is given by God to the church to help us become like Jesus, and to grow us into unity and love for each other. But when we speak hateful and hurtful words that tear others down, that spread lies about others, and that fail to edify and build up, this grieves the Holy Spirit. Gossip, slander, and accusation are all words, as James says, that are fueled by hell.
So don’t let your words be fueled and inspired by hell. Instead, let your words be fueled and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Speak only what is good and profitable toward others. Use your words to encourage and edify and build others up.
Have you listened to yourself talk recently? Try it for a week. What you say, how you say it and to whom you say it.
Such an exercise will give you your spiritual temperature. It will diagnose your spiritual health.
A young lady once said to John Wesley, “I think I know what my talent is.”
Wesley said, “Tell me.”
She replied, “I think it is to speak my mind.”
Wesley said, “I do not think God would mind if you buried that talent.”
Do you have a wayward tongue? God wants you to get rid of it. Words are a very powerful thing, and all of us need to have control over our words. The excuse we sometimes use of just “speaking my mind” is generally just an excuse for a lack of control over our tongue. A lack of control over your tongue leads to corrupt communication.
The remedy for such corrupt communication, is found in Matthew 12:34. We have all heard it said that you are what you eat, but Matthew 12:34 tells us that you are what you say. Jesus says there that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. What you say and how you say it reveal what is in your heart.
So, if you want to change the way you speak, you need to change what is in your heart. The remedy to corrupt communication is to fill your heart with the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, so that only truth and beauty can emerge from your lips. Study the life of Jesus. Pray to become more like Jesus. Strive to live like Jesus.
The love of Jesus will fill your heart with love, and out of the overflow of love within your heart, your mouth will begin to speak loving words.