The most concentrated advice on how to communicate well shows up in Ephesians 4. We are told there to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully . . . for we are all members of one body” (v. 25), and we are also advised “In your anger do not sin” (v. 26). We are told not to “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” (v. 29).
We are also instructed not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30). The apostle Paul ends his spiel by packing the biggest punch: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (vv. 31-32). When we use our words the way God asks us to use them, Paul essentially says, we can speak life and peace and joy. When we don’t use them well, we speak chaos and death, revealing that once again, we’ve jumped the fence.
The funny thing about that Ephesians passage is that any rational person would say, “Yeah, that all sounds good,” even as we fail to implement it in our own lives. What we really mean when we nod our heads in agreement of Paul’s words is, “Yeah! That is exactly how people should talk to me.”
Therein lies the rub: we’re not asked to help keep everyone else within the fences of God’s commands, we’re asked to keep ourselves there—preferably every day. If we do so, we’ll know relational freedom like we’ve never known before; if we don’t, we won’t. It all comes down to what we will do with exhortations like those in Ephesians 4. Will we choose to get rid of bitterness? Will we choose to put away lies? Will we forgive as Jesus has forgiven us? Will we choose to build others up rather than tear them down?
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