From Monologues to Dialogs

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 ESV

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

A dialog is a conversation.  Your goal for communication with your teenagers is to see grace-giving dialogs become a normal part of life. In this series we have looked at some of the hindrances that produce monologs. Typically a silent, withdrawn teenager is not in a good situation.  Let’s look carefully at Ephesians 4:29 and see what it says about promoting dialog.

The verse begins with a directive – let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. I have included two translations to show the richness of this passage.   The Greek word translated corrupting in the ESV is also translated unwholesome and rotten in other translations.  This word does not paint an inviting picture. To understand exactly what Paul has in mind we must look at the context of the whole verse. Paul isn’t just warning against profanity here. Talk that is corrupting is talk that does not fit the occasion. It is talk that is not suited to the need of the moment. Notice also that Paul uses two absolute directives. The first is to let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. The second one is to use only words that build up, that are helpful. The fact that these two absolute directives follow one right after the other is also instructive. This challenging verse is designed to drive Christians to Christ. We can understand absolute directives that teach we should never steal or never commit adultery.  But the force of this verse is increased by its scope and subject. Paul is saying that you must only use language builds up your listener. If you do not, your speech will be rotten—corrupting in its very nature. While the intent of the verse is obvious, it is also disarming. Clearly, without the power of the Spirit we have no hope of obeying this double-edged directive.  

One additional thought about corrupting speech. Words that are unhelpful and lack grace are also words that stay in the mind of the hearer.  They continue to corrupt. Perhaps you can recall words said years ago, in anger or without sensitivity. These words continue to corrupt long after the speaker has forgotten that he spoke them.

The immediate larger context of this verse begins in verse 17 of chapter 4. Paul insists that Christians no longer walk (or, live) like the world around them. This is accomplished by putting off the old self and putting on the new self (vv. 22-24).  Talking like the world means that your speech is not designed to build up and give grace. The world’s speech is manipulative in nature:  how can I get what I desire from my listener? The speech of the new self is designed to understand the specific situation of your listener and then to provide gracious help that is exactly what they need. Too many words spoken to teenagers are a drive-by delivery. Little thought is given to how your words will be received. Drive-by directives destroy opportunities for dialog and yield monologs in their place. An example of a drive-by directive is did you clean your room yet? Or, it is time to cut the grass. These kind of directives don’t build relationships, particularly if they characterize most of your communication with your teenagers. They will not be received as words of building and encouragement. 

In opposition to this drive-by approach, Ephesians 4:29 says that ALL of your speech must fit in the absolute parameters of speaking only what is helpful—and nothing else. This is stunning. If you truly catch the power of this verse it becomes easier to understand why the apostles cried out to Jesus to increase their faith when they understood what true forgiveness entailed (Luke 17:3-10). Think about it! The Holy Spirit, through Paul, is giving directions for every word that you say to your teenagers. Every word. That is why the Proverbs teach that a wise man uses words with restraint (17:27). This is not the way the world talks, and Paul insists that Christians no longer walk, talk and live like the world.

To follow the teaching of Ephesians 4:29 you must know how your words will impact your teenager. You must understand what he struggles with, what he enjoys, what his dreams are, what his thoughts of God are like. You must care enough about him to use words that are carefully crafted to bring grace to his life. This is no easy thing, but it is what God wants. This powerful verse in chapter 4 is an application of the prayer of Paul in verses 18-23 of chapter 1. God’s incomparably great power is available for his people. It is available for you as you ask God to help you speak only words of grace to your teenagers.  Truly the eyes of your heart must be opened to embrace the radical, life-changing speech that Ephesians 4:29 calls you to. God will provide the strength that you need, but you must ask him for it.

This skill will mean listening well, as we have mentioned. It will mean taking the time to invest yourself in your teenager’s life. it will mean understanding the temptations he faces each day. It will mean understanding how you have failed him as a parent, and it means seeking forgiveness for words that have not been full of grace. Your teenager needs the words of grace and help that you can provide. He needs to be built up by hearing words that fit the situation of his life. Ask God for the strength and faith and wisdom to have your speech transformed by this verse. As you pursue the wisdom of this verse, as you cry out to God to work changes in your speech that are consistent with his purposes, you will find that one day you and your teenager will be having a dialog about things that matter.

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