When true words are not helpful words

Posted on March 10, 2014 · Posted in Communication

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 NIV


From the context of this verse, it is fair to say that what Paul considers to be an unwholesome word is any word that does not benefit the hearer so as to build him up. This covers much, much more than just four-letter words. It includes all those words that tear down.


Paul’s direction to you, parent, means that you must understand how your words will impact your child. Are you aware of speech patterns that you have that will exasperate your child? Will your direction be received as demeaning from your child’s perspective? If it will, then your language can be classified as unwholesome and rotten at that point because it does not benefit your listener. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:10 that the purpose of authority is to build up and not tear down. You must carefully consider whether your everyday talk to your kids is building them up. This means that God wants you to be aware of how your children are responding to your words. It is easy to focus on what you want your children to do or not do. But you must also be concerned with how your direction impacts your children.


For example, ten-year-old Caitlin has had a bad day. Some friends were unkind to her at church. She has discovered that she is no longer considered to be “in” with some of the popular girls. She is sad and despondent around the house. Her dad doesn’t know why she is “down,” but reasons that she needs to snap out of it. So he says something like, “Caitlin, it is not good for you to be so down. You attitude is discouraging everyone else in the house. God wants you to be happy and pleasant to others. So, I want you to exercise some self-control and stop being so sad right now. Okay? It is time for you to snap out of this.”


Now, even though everything Dad said was true, these words were not helpful. Caitlin should not be down and gloomy. She does need to remember that she has much to be thankful to God for. Yet these words, spoken in this context, constitute unhelpful words. These words were spoken without any attempt to listen first, to understand what would benefit Caitlin in her struggle at the moment. There was no attempt to find out why she was sad. For a child Caitlin’s age, finding out suddenly that she is being excluded from the group of girls she thought were friends is devastating. Saying things that are true but not appropriate to the situation will lead to a breakdown in communication and in relationship. Once Dad is able to understand what Caitlin is struggling with, he can begin to lovingly bring the right scriptural principles to bear.


Jay Younts
Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children.