“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph 4:29)
Last Sunday was just an incredible day through and through. The Lord did so much in me… I wouldn’t know where to begin to tell it all. In the process of all that God did, I got an incredible revelation of the creative power of our words, and the Lord challenged me to live Ephesians 4:29.
Let no corrupt word proceed out of my mouth… what does that mean? Why is this so important? Our words havecreative power. The power of life and death is in our tongues. No, I’m not talking about causing a blue speckled elephant to pop out of thin air… but I am talking about the power to move mountains. I’m talking about the power to call forth creative miracles. I’m talking about the power to declare freedom and wholeness. On the other hand, our words also have destructive power…the power of death. When we speak negatively, corruption occurs.
For years I’ve taken this verse to be “don’t swear, tell dirty jokes, or be coarse” but after last night’s encounter with the Lord I don’t think that’s what Holy Spirit was having Paul get at here. Although several translations do render this as curse words, swearing, telling dirty jokes, and the like, that’s not at all what the Greek says. When I ran a draft of this by Bill Perdue, my spiritual Dad, he sent me this:
most English translations do not translate the Greek word for corrupt properly … it is the word ‘sapros’ and literally means rotten or putrefied (decomposing, perishing) … it’s root is ‘sapo’ which carries the definition of rotten, destroy, or corrupt. Most translations tend to translate sapros as: (1) unwholesome talk (NIV); (2) let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth (MSG); don’t use foul our abusive language (NLT); stop all your dirty talk (contemporary English) … you get the point. That is why we have always equated this it cursing, course language, foul jokes, dirty talk, etc. This translation really misses the point Paul is trying to make … literally Paul is saying that we should be very careful because our words will evoke death causing immediate decay … rotten, putrefied, decomposing …
So therefore, a corrupt word is a word that corrupts. That can certainly include “dirty words” but it’s far more than that…it is any word that brings about decay, rottenness, decomposition.
If we speak what we see as true about a situation, but do not counter it with the Truth (the declaration of what we see in Heaven… the imposition of the superior reality over the inferior reality), the words we speak cause corruption.
If we speak death to something that is in trouble, chances are that it will in fact die. Why? Because our words have a creative/destructive power behind them; speaking death puts the spiritual force in motion for death to occur. It quite literally brings about a curse! Conversely, speaking life has the potential to bring life, healing, and wholeness to the situation. Speaking life imparts a blessing to the hearer.
Even apart from the supernatural force behind our words, if we truly believe something is wrong or dying we will not throw our weight behind fixing the problem. We’ll just sit back to wait for it to die, helping it along with our words, so we can move on to the next thing. (gee, that sounds like the eschatology of most of the American Church…no, not going down that rabbit trail! If you’d like to visit this topic, I highly recommend Kris Vallotton’s new book, Heavy Rain)
As I’m sitting here typing this I realize, too, that “corruption” often comes when we label things (churches, systems, people, ourselves). This is a lesson the Lord’s been teaching me and it’s a very hard lesson. Labels come naturally to me. If I can sort things…and people… then it’s easy to understand how I am to relate to them. But the Lord’s blown up my label-maker and my database… and I’m having to figure out how to relate to the world around me, to other people, even to God and myself, without handy labels and definitions. How do labels and definitions corrupt? By causing separation to occur.
Remember, the purpose of de-finition is to create a box with walls of defense. If John is a Baptist and Joe is a Pentecostal and James is a Lutheran, there are walls up between them. They need to defend themselves against one another’s conflicting beliefs. However, if John, Joe, and James are all simply lovers of Christ, they can flow together as one Body…perhaps John is a foot and Joe is an eye and James is a hand, but they are all part of the Whole. Corruption in the form of definitions and labels is rather like James (the hand) determining that John (the foot) is not needed – after all, he’s not a hand – and cutting off the circulation to John so that he will wither and die and drop off from the body.
When we speak words of definition and separation over people (including ourselves), we are causing division by speaking corruption into their lives, thus cutting them off from the rest of the Body.
…but what is good for necessary edification…. What is necessary edification? (Some translations say, “good to the use of edification”) Necessary speaks of excellence and even business; it implies, “to be able to make use of”. It is needful for us to build up others, rather than tear them down. “To edify” is “to build up”. It is to promote growth. At its heart, edification is an honoring – to prefer another before ourselves, to sacrifice and build, even to promote another, to enable and allow them to become all that God has called them to be. Edification done “right” is not teaching or speaking the correct words, it is an act of fathering1.
…that it may impart grace to the hearers… to impart is to give… and grace is a wonderful gift.
Do the words that proceed from my mouth impart grace? Or do they assume motive and speak judgment? (oh this might get a little bit too convicting) The assumption of motives and the speaking of judgment corrupt people and situations. It’s speaking death, not life. (Not to mention that we have no right to sit in the judgment seat!)
In the Greek, this type of giving/impartation implies the giving of something that one has within themselves… how much grace do I have to give? (How much grace has God given to me?) And whenever I’m not giving grace…what AM I giving?
Grace is not “just” forgiveness and unmerited favor (daiyenu, Lord 2)… it’s empowerment. It implies that creative force behind the words. Speak life – why? Because it imparts grace to the listener. It empowers them to DO. It stimulates growth, it kindles the fire, it enables them to move forward in the life plan of God. It allows them to escape from corruption; life defeats death.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
What is the opposite of corruption? Incorruption.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither does corruption inherit incorruption….we shall all be changed…the dead will be raised incorruptible… For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)
When something dies, it corrupts… the flesh decays. It rots. Lazarus stunk after four days in the tomb. When our words are corrupt, they bring about death… and stinking!
The solution is to be changed… to be translated from death into life… to speak life, to edify and build up, to impart grace… to walk in victory. Do my words corrupt? or have they been transformed? Have I put on incorruption and immortality? Am I seeing into heaven and speaking and bringing about immortality and incorruptibility into lives and situations?
Romans 12:2 admonishes us to refuse to be conformed to the world’s standards, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The world’s standard is death. God’s standard is life. With our words, we either conform to death or we become transformed and in turn, we become transformers into life for those around us.
I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19)
- “Fathering” is not gender-specific ↩
- daiyenu is a word from the Passover Seder which means, “It would have been enough.” Anything God did for us would have been “enough” but He went ahead and did far more than that. It would have been enough if grace had been forgiveness and unmerited favor, but it’s SO much more. Daiyenu! ↩