24. How can my words build someone up?
Ephesians 4:29. “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (NLT)
ESV – let your speech be “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
NIV – speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
When this passage is taught, we often stress the importance of avoiding foul language, as indeed we should. But this time going through Ephesians I am struck by the potential of positive communication.
My conversation can have a significantly positive effect on others! What a lofty goal! I am to speak to others in a way which could “give grace to them.” O’Brien puts it this way: “Having put on the new man, we will want to develop new standards of conversation so that our words will be a blessing, perhaps even the means by which God’s grace comes to those who hear.” * I have heard and read a lot about the power of words and the encouragement that can come from one person to another based on what is said. But I’ve never before understood how powerful this could be. That God would dispense grace to another person through my conversation with them?
This raises a conversation from a pleasant feel-good encouragement to a supernatural level in which the Holy Spirit can communicate to another person through what I say, sometimes through my words and sometimes in spite of the words I use. I believe that the Spirit can communicate directly to people by causing them to understand more than what the speaker has actually said. Sometimes the Spirit helps the listener to “connect the dots” between the current conversation and multiple messages a listener has heard in the past and come up with a deeper understanding than he/she had previously.
How can I speak in a way that builds others up and blesses them? What can I say that is more than just a culturally acceptable pleasantry? The context gives me some general direction:
1) I can choose to speak words that “build up” the hearer. One commentary describes using “any words that build the confidence of one’s sisters and brothers, encourage them in their tasks, and create goodwill.” **
2) I can choose words that “fit the occasion” and are “according to their needs.” What are the needs of the person I’m talking to? Does she need encouragement? Has he accomplished something to be celebrated? Are they new to our church and perhaps need welcoming words? These questions point out the need for me to get to know my brothers and sisters on a deeper level, so I know what their needs are.
3) This passage implies that God will work through some conversations to give grace to the hearer. The possibility of supernatural benefit for another person motivates me to prayerfully consider how I can talk with others, and to ask the Holy Spirit for sensitivity to know what and when to speak.
One way to start is to ask myself, how would I like a spiritual sister or brother to speak to me? What kind of comment would encourage me? How would I like to be celebrated? What kind of response from a friend refreshes and energizes me? When I am going through a difficult time, what kind of conversation would help me trust God more?
Father, please help me to develop the ability to build up others through my speech. I want to be a conduit of Your love and grace to others. Thank You for those who have given me Your message through their words. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*O’Brien, Peter T (1999). The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, p 345. Emphasis added.
**Andrew T. Lincoln (1990). Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians. Dallas: Word Books, p 306.