“Let a rotten word not come out of your mouth, but only what is good for building up.”—EPHESIANS 4:29.
1-3. (a) What is one gift that Jehovah has given us, and how can it be misused? (b) To remain in God’s love, how do we need to use the gift of speech?
IF YOU were to give a loved one a gift, how would you feel if he deliberately misused it? Say that you gave him a car, and you later learned that he drove it recklessly, causing injury to others. Would you not be disappointed?
2 The ability to utter intelligible speech is a gift from Jehovah, the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present.” (James 1:17) This gift, which sets the human family apart from the animal creation, enables us to convey not just our thoughts but also our feelings to others. Like a motor vehicle, however, the gift of speech can be misused. How it must disappoint Jehovah when speech is used recklessly, causing heartache and pain to others!
3 To remain in God’s love, we need to use the gift of speech as the Giver intended. Jehovah leaves no doubt about the kind of speech that pleases him. His Word says: “Let a rotten word not come out of your mouth, but only what is good for building up as the need may be, to impart what is beneficial to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29) Let us discuss why we need to keep on guard when it comes to speech, what speech we should avoid, and how we can utter speech that “is good for building up.”
WHY WE NEED TO GUARD OUR SPEECH
4, 5. How do some Bible proverbs describe the power of words?
4 One important reason to guard our speech is that words have power. Proverbs 15:4 says: “A calm tongue is a tree of life, but twisted speech causes despair.”* Even as water revives a thirsty tree, so the calm speech of a soothing tongue can refresh the spirit of those hearing it. In contrast, the twisted words of a perverse tongue can crush the spirit of others. Indeed, the words we speak have the power to injure or to heal.—Proverbs 18:21.
5 Vividly describing the power of words, another proverb says: “Thoughtless speech is like the stabs of a sword.” (Proverbs 12:18) Thoughtless words said in haste can cause deep emotional wounds and destroy relationships. Has your heart ever been pierced by the thrusts of a verbal sword? On the positive side, the same proverb says: “The tongue of the wise is a healing.” Thoughtful words from one who manifests godly wisdom can mend an aching heart and restore relationships. Can you recall an occasion when you experienced the healing power of kind words? (Read Proverbs 16:24.) Recognizing that spoken words have power, we certainly want to use our speech to heal others, not to hurt them.
Calm speech is refreshing
6. Why is it a real struggle to control our tongue?
6 No matter how hard we try, we cannot completely control our tongue. Here, then, is a second reason why we need to keep on guard respecting our speech: Sin and imperfection incline us toward misusing our tongue. Words are a product of our heart, and “the inclination of the heart of man is bad.” (Genesis 8:21; Luke 6:45) Keeping a rein on our tongue is therefore a real struggle. (Read James 3:2-4.) Although we cannot gain perfect control of our tongue, we can keep working at making improvement in how we use it. Just as a swimmer trying to swim upstream has to keep fighting the current, so we have to keep fighting the sinful tendency to misuse our tongue.
7, 8. To what extent does Jehovah hold us accountable for our words?
7 A third reason to guard our speech is that Jehovah holds us accountable for our words. The way we use our tongue affects not only our relationship with fellow humans but also our standing with Jehovah. James 1:26 says: “If any man thinks he is a worshipper of God but does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he is deceiving his own heart, and his worship is futile.”* As we saw in the preceding chapter, our speech is not independent of our worship. If our tongue is uncontrolled—spewing out hurtful, poisonous speech—all of our Christian works could be rendered worthless in God’s eyes. Is that not a sobering thought?—James 3:8-10.
8 It is clear that we have strong reasons to guard against misusing the gift of speech. Before we consider wholesome forms of speech that build up, let us discuss speech that certainly has no place in the life of a true Christian.
SPEECH THAT TEARS DOWN
9, 10. (a) What kind of language has become part of everyday speech in today’s world? (b) Why do we need to reject obscene language? (See also footnote.)
9 Obscene language. Cursing, profanity, and other forms of obscene language are part of everyday speech in today’s world. Many resort to expletives to emphasize their speech or to compensate for an otherwise limited vocabulary. Comedians often use vulgar, sex-oriented speech to make people laugh. Obscene language, however, is no laughing matter. Some 2,000 years ago, the inspired apostle Paul counseled the Colossian congregation to put away “obscene talk.” (Colossians 3:8) Paul told the Ephesian congregation that “obscene jesting” is among things that should “not even be mentioned among” true Christians.—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
10 Obscene speech is offensive to Jehovah. It is also offensive to those who love him. Indeed, our love for Jehovah moves us to reject obscene language. When listing “the works of the flesh,” Paul cites “uncleanness,” which can include impurity in speech. (Galatians 5:19-21) This is a serious matter. An individual can be disfellowshipped from the congregation if despite repeated counsel he unrepentantly makes a practice of using speech that refers to or promotes what is grossly immoral, degrading, and corrupting.*
11, 12. (a) What is gossip, and how can it become harmful? (b) Why do worshippers of Jehovah need to avoid slanderous speech?
11 Harmful gossip, slander. Gossip is idle talk about people and their lives. Is all gossip bad? Not if we mean innocent conversation in which we might share positive or helpful news, such as who just got baptized or who needs a word of encouragement. First-century Christians had a keen interest in one another’s welfare and shared appropriate information about fellow believers. (Ephesians 6:21, 22; Colossians 4:8, 9) Gossip, however, can be harmful if it distorts the facts or reveals private matters. Even more serious, it can lead to slander, which is always damaging. Slander is “the utterance of false charges . . . which defame and damage another’s reputation.” The Pharisees, for example, resorted to malicious slander in an attempt to discredit Jesus. (Matthew 9:32-34; 12:22-24) Slander often causes quarreling.—Proverbs 26:20.
12 Jehovah does not view lightly those who use the gift of speech to defame others or to cause divisions. He hates those “sowing contentions among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) The Greek word rendered “slanderer” is di·aʹbo·los, which is also used as a title of Satan. He is the “Devil,” the evil slanderer of God. (Revelation 12:9, 10) Surely we want to avoid speech that would cause us to become, in effect, a devil. There is no room in the congregation for slanderous speech that stirs up such works of the flesh as “dissensions” and “divisions.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Hence, before repeating some news about someone, ask yourself: ‘Is it true? Would it be kind to repeat this? Is it necessary or advisable to share this information?’—Read 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
13, 14. (a) What effect can abusive speech have on its hearers? (b) What is reviling, and why does a reviler put himself in a dangerous position?
13 Abusive speech. As previously noted, words have the power to hurt. Admittedly, at times because of human imperfection, we all say things we regret. However, the Bible warns about a pattern of speech that has absolutely no place in a Christian home or in the congregation. Paul admonished Christians: “Put away from yourselves every kind of malicious bitterness, anger, wrath, screaming, and abusive speech.” (Ephesians 4:31) Other translations render the phrase “abusive speech” as “evil words,” “injurious language,” and “insulting language.” Abusive speech—including degrading name-calling and harsh, relentless criticism—can strip others of their dignity and leave them feeling worthless. The tender and trusting hearts of children are especially vulnerable to the crushing effects of abusive speech.—Colossians 3:21.
14 In the strongest possible terms, the Bible condemns reviling—the practice of verbally abusing others with insulting or derogatory language. An individual who makes a practice of such speech puts himself in a dangerous position, for a reviler can be removed from the congregation if he fails to heed repeated efforts to help him change. Unless he changes his ways, he could also lose out on Kingdom blessings. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 6:9, 10) Clearly, then, there is no way for us to remain in God’s love if we make a practice of uttering speech that is unwholesome, untrue, or unkind. Such speech tears down.
WORDS THAT ARE “GOOD FOR BUILDING UP”
15. What kind of speech “is good for building up”?
15 How can we use the gift of speech as the Giver intended? Recall that God’s Word urges us to speak “only what is good for building up.” (Ephesians 4:29) Jehovah is pleased when we speak words that build up, encourage, and strengthen others. It takes thought to speak such words. The Bible does not provide a set formula to follow; neither does it contain a list of approved types of “wholesome speech.” (Titus 2:8) To utter words that are “good for building up,” we do well to keep in mind three simple but important factors that characterize upbuilding speech: It is wholesome, it is true, and it is kind. With such factors in mind, let us consider a few specific examples of speech that builds up.—See the box “Is My Speech Upbuilding?”
16, 17. (a) Why should we commend others? (b) What opportunities are there to commend others in the congregation? in the family?
16 Sincere commendation. Both Jehovah and Jesus recognize the need to speak words of commendation and approval. (Matthew 3:17; 25:19-23; John 1:47) As Christians, we too do well to offer genuine commendation to others. Why? “A word spoken at the right time—how good it is!” says Proverbs 15:23. Just ask yourself: ‘How do I feel when I receive heartfelt commendation? Does it not warm my heart and lift my spirits?’ Indeed, a sincere word of commendation lets you know that someone notices you, that someone cares about you, and that what you did was well worth the effort involved. Such reassurance builds your confidence and motivates you to work even more diligently in the future. Since you appreciate it when you receive commendation, should you not, in turn, do your best to give commendation to others?—Read Matthew 7:12.
17 Train yourself to look for the good in others, and then give voice to the positive. In the congregation, you may hear a well-developed talk at a meeting, notice a young one who is reaching out for spiritual goals, or observe an older one who is faithful in attending meetings despite the limitations of advancing years. A sincere word of commendation may touch the hearts of such ones and strengthen them spiritually. In the family, husbands and wives need to hear words of warm commendation and appreciation from each other. (Proverbs 31:10, 28) Especially do children thrive on feeling noticed and appreciated. Commendation and approval are to a child what sunshine and water are to a plant. Parents, look for opportunities to commend your children for their praiseworthy qualities and efforts. Such commendation can build courage and confidence in your children and motivate them to try even harder to do what is right.
18, 19. Why should we do our best to encourage and console fellow believers, and how can we do so?
18 Encouragement and consolation. Jehovah deeply cares about “the lowly” and “those being crushed.” (Isaiah 57:15) His Word urges us to “keep encouraging one another” and to “speak consolingly to those who are depressed.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14) We can be sure that God notices and appreciates our efforts to encourage and console fellow believers whose hearts are weighed down with sadness.
19 What, though, can you say to build up a fellow Christian who is discouraged or depressed? Do not feel that you must fix the problem. In many cases, simple words are often the most helpful. Assure the downhearted person of your care and concern. Offer to pray aloud with the discouraged one; you can beseech Jehovah to help that one to know how much he or she is loved by others and by God. (James 5:14, 15) Reassure him that he is needed and valued as a member of the congregation. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) Read an encouraging Bible verse to assure him that Jehovah truly cares about him as an individual. (Psalm 34:18; Matthew 10:29-31) Taking ample time to share “a good word” with the despondent one and speaking from your heart will no doubt help him to feel loved and appreciated.—Read Proverbs 12:25.
20, 21. What factors make counsel effective?
20 Effective counsel. As imperfect creatures, we all need to receive counsel from time to time. The Bible encourages us: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order to become wise in your future.” (Proverbs 19:20) Giving counsel to others is not limited to the elders. Parents counsel children. (Ephesians 6:4) Mature sisters may need to offer counsel to younger women. (Titus 2:3-5) Love for others moves us to want to give counsel that the recipient can accept without feeling crushed. What can help us to give such counsel? Consider three factors that make counsel more effective: the attitude and motive of the counselor, the basis for the counsel, and the manner in which it is given.
21 Effective counsel starts with the counselor. Ask yourself, ‘When is counsel easy for me to accept?’ When you know that the one counseling you cares about you, is not speaking out of personal frustration, and has no ulterior motives, the counsel is easier to accept. So when you counsel others, should not the same things be true of your attitude and motive? Successful counsel is also based on God’s Word. (2 Timothy 3:16) Whether directly quoting from the Bible or not, we should have a Scriptural basis for any counsel we give. Thus, elders are careful not to impose their own views on others; neither do they bend or twist the Scriptures, making it seem that the Bible supports some personal view. Counsel is also more effective if it is delivered in the right manner. Counsel that is salted with kindness is easier to accept and lets the one receiving it keep his dignity.—Colossians 4:6.
22. What is your determination regarding the use of the gift of speech?
22 To be sure, speech is a precious gift from God. Our love for Jehovah should move us to use, not misuse, this gift. Let us remember that the words we speak to others have power—the power to build up or to tear down. Let us, then, strive to use this gift as the Giver intended—“for building up.” Our speech will thus be a blessing to those around us and will help us to remain in God’s love.
The Hebrew word rendered “twisted” at Proverbs 15:4 can also be rendered “crooked; perverse.”
The Greek word translated “futile” is also rendered “useless.”—1 Corinthians 15:17.
As used in the Scriptures, “uncleanness” is a broad term that can cover a wide range of sins. Although not all uncleanness warrants judicial action, an individual can be expelled from the congregation if he unrepentantly practices gross uncleanness.—2 Corinthians 12:21; Ephesians 4:19; see “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of July 15, 2006.