Do not 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. ~ Ephesians 4:29
When I was a kid, my siblings and I would occasionally fight. OK, maybe it was often enough that my dad got really sick of it. In an effort to teach us to be kind instead of fighting, my parents made us apologize whenever we were mean to each other by getting down on one knee and saying, “I beg your pardon, your majesty.” That punishment was short-lived if I remember correctly, but it did tend to bring groans and giggles from both offender and offended.
They also put the verse above on poster board, put it up by our kitchen table (where we ate supper every night), and made us memorize it.
The point of both of these life lessons stuck. Although I’m not always good about speaking what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, this verse has shaped me deeply.
As humans, each one of us has dignity. We are made in the image of God. And as Christians, we are adopted into his family, becoming part of a royal priesthood of believers. So our words to each other matter.
Not only do words matter, but they carry weight. In a culture where everyone talks and few people listen, we forget that words are heavy.
We forget that our social media posts that belittle people who disagree with us carry the weight of rebellion and anarchy – because we have attacked someone else’s dignity. We forget that our snide quips about our co-workers carry the weight of tearing down that person’s dignity in the eyes of others. We forget that our off-the-cuff sarcastic comments about our roommates, spouses, and children carry the weight of discouragement and cursing – because we have said, in essence, “you do not have dignity.” How often I am guilty of these things!
We also forget that our spoken encouragement carries the weight of life, reminding a person of their unique role to play in this world. We forget that our spoken truth-in-love (real love, not pride masquerading as love) carries the weight of bringing repentance and life, reminding a person of their beautifully humble place in God’s eyes. We forget that our spoken grace-in-love (real love, not fear of conflict masquerading as love) carries the weight of glory, spurring that person on to love and good deeds.
And so it is that Jesus’ disciples say to him, when he asks if they want to leave him as so many others have done, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
So it is that in the Old Testament, when a father blesses his children before he dies, the blessing is much coveted. It is weighty.
Our souls quiver at the weight of others’ words. May we be quick to say, “I beg your pardon, your majesty” when we have wounded with our words. May we be even quicker to speak only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. May our words carry the weight of blessing, highlighting the dignity that is given us from our Creator.