Once a person becomes a Christian, things ought to begin to change. Paul likened it to “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new.” The ‘old man’ is a reference to our flesh, or everything we were prior to salvation. The ‘new man’ is the new life we have in Christ. What sort of things should we begin to put off? Pretty much everything. The things we do, the things we think about, the things we watch, the things we listen to, the way we order our lives, the ways we interact with other people, and so forth. What we’re going to think about for now is the things we say.
I know I’m not telling you something you didn’t already know when I say we can probably do more damage with our words than in any other way. We have the power to tear down and the power to build up. The Lord wants us to build up:
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for the purpose
of edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” - Ephesians 4:29
There are three words we should pay attention to in that verse: corrupt, edification, and grace. First, we are not to use any “corrupt” language. That can take a wide variety of forms. Slander, lying, hurtful criticism, blasphemy, griping and complaining, and crude language are just a few that come to mind. The things we say should edify, or build up, others. None of those things edify the people to whom we are speaking.
Finally—and this is key—the Lord wants to use the things we say to be a means of imparting grace to those who hear us. Grace in its basic sense is undeserved favor. God always imparts His grace to strengthen, to encourage, to build us up; and that is the pattern we ought to follow as His children. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we do not belong to ourselves, that we have been “bought at a price” [i.e., the death of Christ]. Because of that, we are to glorify God in both our body and in our spirit, “which are God’s.” We are His earthly ambassadors. That which people see and hear from Christians is all that many of them know about our God and Savior. When the things we say contradict God’s righteousness, then our listeners form a false picture of God and they are injured, so to speak. But when we speak the things that are consistent with God’s righteousness, our words edify those who hear us.
What do people think when they listen to you? Do your words point them in the direction of the Savior? Are they built up by your comments? Do you impart grace to those who hear you? Life and death really are in the power of our tongues.