Keep Building One Another Up
“Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up.”—EPHESIANS 4:29.
1, 2. (a) Why can it rightly be said that speech is a marvel? (b) What caution is appropriate as to how we use our tongue?
“SPEECH is the magic thread that binds friends, families and societies together . . . Out of the human mind and the coordinated contractions of [the tongue’s] muscle sets, we make sounds that inspire love, envy, respect—indeed any human emotion.”—Hearing, Taste and Smell.
2 Our tongue is much more than an organ for swallowing or tasting; it is a part of our ability to share what we are thinking and feeling. “The tongue is a little member,” wrote James. “With it we bless Jehovah, even the Father, and yet with it we curse men who have come into existence ‘in the likeness of God.’” (James 3:5, 9) Yes, we can use our tongues in fine ways, such as in praising Jehovah. But being imperfect, we can easily use our tongues to speak hurtful or negative things. James wrote: “It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way.”—James 3:10.
3. We should give attention to what two aspects of our speech?
3 While no human can perfectly control his tongue, we surely should strive to improve. The apostle Paul advises us: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29) Observe that this injunction has two aspects: what we should strive to avoid and what we should attempt to do. Let us consider both aspects.
Avoiding Rotten Speech
4, 5. (a) What battle do Christians have regarding foul language? (b) What image could fit the phrase “rotten saying”?
4 Ephesians 4:29 first urges us: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth.” That may not be easy. One reason is that profanity is so common in the world around us. Many Christian youths hear cursing daily, for schoolmates may think that it adds emphasis or makes them appear tougher. We may not fully be able to avoid hearing foul words, but we can and should make a conscious effort not to absorb these. They have no place in our minds or mouths.
5 Underlying Paul’s warning is a Greek word that relates to spoiled fish or decayed fruit. Visualize this: You observe a man get impatient and then outright furious. Finally he explodes, and you see a putrefied fish come out of his mouth. You then see stinking, decayed fruit tumble out, splashing all nearby. Who is he? How terrible if he were any of us! Yet, such an image could fit if we ‘let rotten sayings proceed out of our mouth.’
6. How does Ephesians 4:29 apply to critical, negative speech?
6 Another application of Ephesians 4:29 is for us to avoid being constantly critical. Granted, all of us have opinions and tastes about things we do not like or accept, but have you been around someone who seems to have a negative comment (or many comments) about every person, place, or thing mentioned? (Compare Romans 12:9; Hebrews 1:9.) His speech tears down, depresses, or destroys. (Psalm 10:7; 64:2-4; Proverbs 16:27; James 4:11, 12) He may not realize how much he resembles the critical ones Malachi described. (Malachi 3:13-15) How shocked he might be if a bystander told him that a putrefied fish or decaying fruit was slipping out of his mouth!
7. What self-examination should each of us make?
7 While it is easy to recognize when someone else constantly makes negative or critical comments, ask yourself, ‘Do I tend to be like that? Really, do I?’ It would be wise to reflect occasionally on the spirit of our words. Are they primarily negative, critical? Do we sound like Job’s three false comforters? (Job 2:11; 13:4, 5; 16:2; 19:2) Why not find a positive aspect to mention? If a conversation is mainly critical, why not steer it into upbuilding matters?
8. Malachi 3:16 provides what lesson as to speech, and how can we show that we are applying the lesson?
8 Malachi presented this contrast: “Those in fear of Jehovah spoke with one another, each one with his companion, and Jehovah kept paying attention and listening. And a book of remembrance began to be written up before him for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.” (Malachi 3:16) Did you notice how God responded to upbuilding speech? What was the likely effect of such conversation on associates? We can personally learn a lesson regarding our daily speech. How much finer for us and others if our typical conversation reflects our ‘sacrifice of praise to God.’—Hebrews 13:15.
Work at Building Others Up
9. Why are Christian meetings fine occasions to build up others?
9 Congregation meetings are excellent occasions to speak ‘whatever is good for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to hearers.’ (Ephesians 4:29) We can do that when giving a talk on Biblical information, sharing in a demonstration, or commenting during question-and-answer parts. We thus verify Proverbs 20:15: “The lips of knowledge are precious vessels.” And who knows how many hearts we touch or build up?
10. After reflecting on whom we have usually conversed with, what adjustment might be in order? (2 Corinthians 6:12, 13)
10 The time before and after meetings is convenient for building others up with conversation that is favorable to the hearers. It would be easy to spend these periods in pleasant talk with relatives and a small number of friends with whom we are comfortable. (John 13:23; 19:26) However, in line with Ephesians 4:29, why not seek out others to speak with? (Compare Luke 14:12-14.) We could determine beforehand to go beyond saying just a formal or passing good-day to certain new ones, older folk, or youngsters, even sitting down with young ones so as to be more on their level. Our genuine interest and periods of upbuilding speech will make others even more able to echo David’s sentiments at Psalm 122:1.
11. (a) What habit have many developed as to seating? (b) Why do some intentionally vary where they sit?
11 Another aid to upbuilding conversation is varying where we sit at meetings. A nursing mother might need to sit close to the restroom, or an infirm one might need an aisle seat, but what about others of us? Mere habit may lead us back to a certain seat or area; even a bird returns instinctively to its roost. (Isaiah 1:3; Matthew 8:20) Frankly, though, since we can sit anywhere, why not vary our location—right side, left side, near the front, and so forth—and thus get better acquainted with different ones? While there is no rule that we do this, elders and other mature ones who vary where they sit have found it easier to impart what is favorable to many instead of to just a relatively few close friends.
Build Up in a Godly Way
12. What undesirable tendency has been manifest throughout history?
12 A Christian’s desire to build up others should move him to imitate God in this respect rather than to follow the human tendency to make large numbers of rules.* Imperfect humans have long tended to rule those around them, and even some of God’s servants have succumbed to this leaning. (Genesis 3:16; Ecclesiastes 8:9) In Jesus’ time Jewish leaders ‘bound heavy loads on others but were unwilling to budge them themselves.’ (Matthew 23:4) They turned harmless customs into mandatory traditions. In their excessive concern about human rules, they overlooked things that God identified as of greater import. No one was built up by their making many unscriptural rules; their way just was not God’s way.—Matthew 23:23, 24; Mark 7:1-13.
13. Why is it inappropriate to devise numerous rules for fellow Christians?
13 Christians genuinely want to adhere to divine laws. Even we, though, could fall victim to the tendency to make numerous burdensome rules. Why? For one thing, tastes or preferences differ, so some may find acceptable what others dislike and feel should be ruled out. Christians differ, too, in their advancement toward spiritual maturity. But is making many rules the godly way to help another to progress toward maturity? (Philippians 3:15; 1 Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 5:14) Even when a person is actually pursuing a course that appears to be extreme or perilous, is a prohibiting rule the best solution? God’s way is for qualified ones to try to restore an erring person by mildly reasoning with that one.—Galatians 6:1.
14. What purposes were served by the laws that God gave Israel?
14 True, while using Israel as his people, God did set out hundreds of laws about temple worship, sacrifices, even sanitation. This was fitting for a distinct nation, and many of the laws had prophetic import and helped to lead Jews to the Messiah. Paul wrote: “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:19, 23-25) After the Law was canceled on the torture stake, God did not give Christians an extensive list of rules on most aspects of life, as if that were the way to keep them built up in faith.
15. What guidance has God provided for Christian worshipers?
15 Of course, we are not without law. God commands us to abstain from idolatry, fornication and adultery, and misuse of blood. He specifically forbids murder, lying, spiritism, and various other sins. (Acts 15:28, 29; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Revelation 21:8) And he offers in his Word clear counsel on many matters. Yet, to a far greater degree than with the Israelites, we are responsible to learn and apply Bible principles. Elders can build up others by helping them to find and consider these principles rather than just to look for or make rules.
Elders Who Build Up
16, 17. The apostles set what fine pattern as to making rules for fellow worshipers?
16 Paul wrote: “To what extent we have made progress, let us go on walking orderly in this same routine.” (Philippians 3:16) In line with that godly viewpoint, the apostle dealt with others in a way that built up. For example, a question arose about whether to eat meat that may have come from an idol temple. Did this elder, perhaps in the name of consistency or simplicity, set out some rule for all in the early congregations? No. He acknowledged that variety in knowledge and progress toward maturity might lead those Christians to differing choices. As for him, he was determined to set a fine example.—Romans 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-13.
17 The Christian Greek Scriptures show that the apostles did provide helpful advice on some personal matters, such as about clothing and grooming, but they did not resort to making blanket rules. Today this is a fine example for Christian overseers, who are interested in building up the flock. And it actually extends a basic approach that God followed even for ancient Israel.
18. Jehovah gave what rules to Israel as to clothing?
18 God did not give Israelites elaborate laws about dress. Evidently men and women used similar mantles, or outer garments, though a woman’s might be embroidered or be more colorful. Both sexes also wore a sa·dhinʹ, or undergarment. (Judges 14:12; Proverbs 31:24; Isaiah 3:23) What laws about clothing did God give? Neither men nor women were to wear clothes identified with the opposite sex, evidently with homosexual intent. (Deuteronomy 22:5) To show their being separate from surrounding nations, Israelites were to put a fringed edge on their garment, with a blue string above the fringe, and maybe tassels on the corners of the mantles. (Numbers 15:38-41) That basically is all the direction the Law gave about clothing styles.
19, 20. (a) What direction does the Bible give Christians on dress and grooming? (b) What view should elders have about making rules concerning personal appearance?
19 While Christians are not under the Law, do we have other detailed rules about dress or adornment set out for us in the Bible? Not really. God provided balanced principles that we can apply. Paul wrote: “I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb.” (1 Timothy 2:9) Peter urged that rather than concentrating on physical adornment, Christian women should concentrate on “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit.” (1 Peter 3:3, 4) That such counsel was recorded suggests that some first-century Christians may have needed to be more modest and restrained in their dress and grooming. Yet, instead of requiring—or forbidding—certain styles, the apostles simply provided upbuilding advice.
20 Jehovah’s Witnesses should be and generally are respected for their modest appearance. Nonetheless, styles vary from country to country and even within an area or a congregation. Of course, an elder having strong opinions or a certain taste in dress and grooming may decide accordingly for himself and his family. But as to the flock, he needs to bear in mind Paul’s point: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for it is by your faith that you are standing.” (2 Corinthians 1:24) Yes, resisting any impulse to set rules for the congregation, the elders work to build up others’ faith.
21. How can elders provide upbuilding help if someone goes to an extreme in dress?
21 As in the first century, at times a new or spiritually weak one may follow a questionable or unwise course in dress or the use of makeup or jewelry. What then? Again, Galatians 6:1 offers guidance for Christian elders who sincerely want to help. Before an elder decides to offer counsel, he may wisely consult with a fellow elder, preferably not going to an elder whom he knows shares his taste or thinking. If a worldly trend in dress or grooming seems to be affecting many in a congregation, the body of elders could discuss how best to provide help, such as by a kind, upbuilding part on a meeting or by offering individual assistance. (Proverbs 24:6; 27:17) Their goal would be to encourage the outlook reflected at 2 Corinthians 6:3: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.”
22. (a) Why should it not be disturbing if minor differences of viewpoint exist? (b) What fine example did Paul provide?
22 Christian elders ‘shepherding the flock of God in their care’ want to do as Peter outlined, that is, not ‘lord it over those who are God’s inheritance.’ (1 Peter 5:2, 3) In the course of their loving work, questions may arise on matters where there could be differing preferences. Perhaps it is a local custom to stand to read paragraphs during the Watchtower Study. Group arrangements for field service and many other details about the ministry itself may be handled in a customary way. Still, would it be a disaster if someone had a slightly different way? Loving overseers desire that “things take place decently and by arrangement,” which expression Paul used regarding the miraculous gifts. But the context shows that Paul’s main interest was “the upbuilding of the congregation.” (1 Corinthians 14:12, 40) He showed no inclination to make an endless number of rules, as if absolute uniformity or complete efficiency were his prime objective. He wrote: “The Lord gave us [the authority] to build you up and not to tear you down.”—2 Corinthians 10:8.
23. What are some ways in which we can imitate Paul’s example of building others up?
23 Paul unquestionably worked to build up others by positive and encouraging speech. Rather than fellowshipping with just a small circle of friends, he went out of his way to visit many brothers and sisters, both the spiritually strong and those who especially needed to be built up. And he stressed love—rather than rules—for “love builds up.”—1 Corinthians 8:1.
Points for Review
□ Why is change appropriate if we tend toward negative or critical speech?
□ What can we do to be more upbuilding in the congregation?
□ What is the godly pattern about making many rules for others?
□ What will help elders to avoid making human rules for the flock?