“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 of the good gifts Jehovah has given us? How could we misuse it? (b) How should we use the gift of speech?
A FATHER gives a bicycle to his teenage son. He is happy to give his son such a special gift. But what if the son rides the bike recklessly, hits someone, and injures him? How would the father feel?
2 Jehovah is the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present.” (James 1:17) One of his good gifts to us is our ability to speak. The gift of speech allows us to express our thoughts and feelings. We are able to say things that help people and make them feel good. But what we say can also harm others and cause them pain.
3 Speech is very powerful, and Jehovah teaches us how to use our gift of speech well. He tells us: “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’s examine how we can use this gift from God in a way that will please him and encourage others.
BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR SPEECH
4, 5. What can we learn about the power of speech from Bible proverbs?
4 Words have power, so we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it. Proverbs 15:4 says: “A calm tongue is a tree of life, but twisted speech causes despair.” Just as a beautiful tree is refreshing and gives life, kind words refresh the hearer. On the other hand, harsh words hurt others and make them feel bad.—Proverbs 18:21.
5 “Thoughtless speech is like the stabs of a sword,” says Proverbs 12:18. Unkind words can cause emotional pain and destroy relationships. Perhaps you can recall when someone spoke unkindly to you and hurt you deeply. Yet, that proverb continues: “The tongue of the wise is a healing.” Thoughtful speech can mend an aching heart and heal friendships that have been damaged by misunderstandings. (Read Proverbs 16:24.) If we remember that our words affect others, we will use them carefully.
6. Why is it a struggle to control what we say?
6 Another reason to be careful with our speech is that we are all imperfect. “The inclination of the heart of man is bad,” and our words often reveal what is in our heart. (Genesis 8:21; Luke 6:45) It can be a real struggle to control what we say. (Read James 3:2-4.) But we need to keep trying to improve how we speak to others.
7, 8. How can our words affect our relationship with Jehovah?
7 We also need to be careful with our speech because we are accountable to Jehovah for what we say and how we say it. 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.” The original word translated “futile” can also mean “useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) So if we are careless with our speech, we can damage and even destroy our relationship with Jehovah.—James 3:8-10.
8 Clearly, we have good reasons to be careful about what we say and how we say it. To help us use our gift of speech the way Jehovah wants us to, we need to know what kinds of speech to avoid.
WORDS THAT TEAR DOWN
9, 10. (a) What kind of speech is very common in today’s world? (b) Why do we avoid using obscene speech?
9 Using obscene, or unclean, language is very common today. Many think that they need to swear and use vulgar words to get their point across. Comedians often rely on dirty jokes and obscene language to make people laugh. However, the apostle Paul said: “You must put them all away from you: wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8) He also said that “obscene jesting” should “not even be mentioned among” true Christians.—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
10 Obscene language is displeasing to Jehovah and to those who love him. It is unclean. In the Bible, “uncleanness” is included in “the works of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:19-21) “Uncleanness” can include a wide variety of sins, and one unclean habit can lead to another. If a person made a habit of using extremely unclean, obscene language and refused to stop, this could indicate that he should no longer be part of the congregation.—2 Corinthians 12:21; Ephesians 4:19; see Endnote 23.
11, 12. (a) What is harmful gossip? (b) Why should we avoid slandering someone?
11 We also need to avoid harmful gossip. It is natural for us to be interested in others and to share news about friends and family. Even in the first century, early Christians wanted to know how their brothers and sisters were doing and what they could do to help them. (Ephesians 6:21, 22; Colossians 4:8, 9) But it is easy for conversations about other people to turn into harmful gossip. If we repeat gossip, we may say things that are not true or talk about things that should be kept private. If we are not careful, this negative talk can turn into false accusations, or slander. The Pharisees slandered Jesus when they accused him of things he had not done. (Matthew 9:32-34; 12:22-24) Slander hurts a person’s reputation, leads to arguments and pain, and destroys friendships.—Proverbs 26:20.
12 Jehovah wants us to use our words to help and encourage others, not to turn friends into enemies. Jehovah hates those “sowing contentions among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) The first slanderer was Satan the Devil, who slandered God. (Revelation 12:9, 10) In today’s world, it is common for people to lie about one another. But this should not happen in the Christian congregation. (Galatians 5:19-21) So we should be careful about what we say and always think before we speak. Before you repeat something about someone else, ask yourself: ‘Is what I am about to say true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Would I want the person I’m talking about to hear what I say? How would I feel if someone said this about me?’—Read 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
13, 14. (a) What can abusive speech do to people? (b) What is reviling? Why should Christians avoid reviling others?
13 At times, all of us say things we later regret. But we do not want to make a habit of criticizing others or saying unkind or cruel things. Abusive speech has no place in our lives. Paul said: “Put away from yourselves every kind of malicious bitterness, anger, wrath, screaming, and abusive speech.” (Ephesians 4:31) Other Bibles translate “abusive speech” as “evil words,” “injurious language,” and “insulting language.” Abusive speech robs people of their dignity and makes them feel worthless. Children in particular can be hurt very easily, so we want to be especially careful not to crush them with our words.—Colossians 3:21.
14 The Bible warns us about a very strong form of abusive speech—reviling. Reviling is constantly insulting others with the intention of hurting them. How sad it would be if someone treated his mate or children in that way! In fact, a person who refused to stop reviling others would no longer qualify to be part of the congregation. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 6:9, 10) As we have learned, if we say things that are obscene, untrue, or unkind, we will harm our relationship with Jehovah and with others.
WORDS THAT BUILD UP
15. What kind of speech strengthens relationships?
15 How can we use our gift of speech the way Jehovah wants us to? Even though the Bible does not tell us exactly what we should or should not say, it does tell us to speak “only what is good for building up.” (Ephesians 4:29) Speech that builds up is clean, kind, and true. Jehovah wants us to use our words to encourage and help others. This may be challenging. It takes more effort to say positive things than to say cruel and careless things. (Titus 2:8) Let’s discuss some ways we can build others up by what we say.
16, 17. (a) Why should we commend others? (b) Whom can we commend?
16 Both Jehovah and Jesus generously give commendation. We want to imitate them. (Matthew 3:17; 25:19-23; John 1:47) To give commendation that will really encourage someone involves being thoughtful and showing personal interest. “A word spoken at the right time—how good it is!” says Proverbs 15:23. We are encouraged when someone sincerely commends us for our hard work or expresses appreciation for something we have done.—Read Matthew 7:12; see Endnote 27.
17 If you make it a habit to look for the good in others, it will be easier to give sincere commendation. For example, perhaps you notice that someone in the congregation prepares well for his talks or makes an effort to comment at meetings. A young person may take a fine stand for the truth in school, or an older person may regularly share in the ministry. Your words of appreciation may be just what they need. It is also very important for a husband to tell his wife that he loves and appreciates her. (Proverbs 31:10, 28) Just as plants need light and water, people need to feel appreciated. This is especially true of children. Look for opportunities to commend them for their good qualities and efforts. Commendation can build their courage and confidence and can make them try even harder to do what is right.
18, 19. Why should we do our best to encourage and comfort others? How can we do so?
18 When we encourage and comfort others, we follow Jehovah’s example. He cares deeply about “the lowly” and “those being crushed.” (Isaiah 57:15) Jehovah wants us to “keep encouraging one another” and to “speak consolingly to those who are depressed.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14) When we try to do this, he sees and appreciates our efforts.
19 You may notice that someone in the congregation is discouraged or depressed. What can you say that might help? You may not be able to fix the problem, but you can let the person know that you care. For example, you can arrange to spend time with him or her. You could read an encouraging Bible verse and even offer to say a prayer. (Psalm 34:18; Matthew 10:29-31) Reassure such ones that their brothers and sisters in the congregation love them. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; James 5:14, 15) And speak in a way that shows that you really mean and believe what you say.—Read Proverbs 12:25.
20, 21. What makes it easier for people to accept advice?
20 We also build others up when we give good advice. As imperfect people, we all need advice from time to time. Proverbs 19:20 says: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order to become wise in your future.” Elders are not the only ones who can offer advice or give counsel. Parents need to guide their children. (Ephesians 6:4) And sisters can give good advice to one another. (Titus 2:3-5) Because we love our brothers and sisters, we want to make sure that we give advice in a way that will not make them feel bad. What can help us?
21 Perhaps you remember a time when someone gave you some good advice in a way that was easy to accept. What made it so effective? You probably felt that the person really cared about you. Or maybe he or she spoke in a kind and loving way. (Colossians 4:6) Likely, the advice was based on the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16) Whether we quote directly from the Bible or not, there should be a Scriptural basis for any advice we give. Nobody should force his opinions on others or misapply scriptures to support his own ideas. Remembering the way advice was given to you can help you when you give advice to others.
22. How would you like to use your gift of speech?
22 The ability to speak is a gift from God. Our love for him should move us to use it properly. Remember that words have power to tear down or to build up. Therefore, let us do all we can to use our words to strengthen and encourage others.