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Tongue: New Testament and Speech Essay

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In our last article, we reviewed the improper use of the Christian’s speech. Now, let’s think on the proper use of the tongue. Paul writes of “speaking the truth in love” in Ephesians 4:15. Here, we have the content (truth) and the motivation (love). How we speak the truth and with what tone we use is as important as what we say. Our tone and approach will affect the reception of that truth. Proverbs 15:1-2 tells us that a “soft answer” turns away wrath and a “harsh word” stirs up anger.

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life (Prov. 15:4). Our text in Ephesians four recommends speech that “is good for edification.” Edification refers to building up and strengthening something. (E.g. edifice) The purpose of our speech is to edify the listener by drawing them closer to God (Col. 4:2-6). That may take various forms – exhortation, encouragement, or a rebuke when necessary. Still, the rebuke is not a harsh personal attack.

What is not involved in “edification” is the building up of self-esteem.

This is not to say that I’m against building one’s self-esteem who needs it. It is only my intent to convey that “edification” as the Bible uses it refers to the building of one’s faith and knowledge of God. God and his word has such an effect on the “new man” that builds character, strengthens our resolve and ultimately shapes us into the image of his son, Jesus Christ (Col. 3:10, Rom. 8:29). Our role in edification is to “speak as the oracles of God” …“that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11). Our opinion unsupported by the Scripture is not part of that edification (Col. 1:28, cf. Col. 1:9-11 & Phil. 1:6). While our speech is not always that which a person wants to hear, it can be useful if said with love and gentleness. The approach and tone is valuable if we are to speak with “grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6; cf. Prov. 16:24-28). The passage just referenced addresses the ultimate goal of our speech. This grace is a gift that benefits the listener because it’s “easy to swallow.”

We all know the power of seasoning. It may be the difference between swallowing and gagging. Clearly, certain foods are more palatable and pleasing to the taste, making it easy and quick to swallow. When we say things to others in a way that makes it difficult for them to swallow, I doubt they would consider a “second helping.” In fact, I doubt that they would reach down for another spoon-full. When difficult truths are said with “salt,” the listener can receive its benefit. For others, the challenge is to speak when necessary. Some are so quiet that saying anything sinful or destructive is not a problem because they don’t say much at any time. What may be a blessing in one sense is a curse in another sense. Silence is not always golden (Ezek. 33:8; James 4:17). Error must be confronted by loving servants of God who have the ability to teach and “convict gainsayers” (e.g. elders, Titus 1:9-11). John the Baptist openly confronted Herod because of his wickedness. (cf. Luke 3:19-20).

This is unlike some in our day who seek opportunities to condemn. Rather, it is like Paul’s description of the Christian in Ephesians 5:1who will not only refuse to have fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness” but will “reprove” (expose) them. He explains in verse 13, “All things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. The very nature of one walking in the light reveals the darkness of sin not only by actions but by words. Too many ignore these principles as a way of life while still claiming to be a Christian. Christians are identified in part by their speech — a speech free from lies, gossip, boasting, flattery, and profanity but dispensed as a gift to reveal truth, show kindness, encourage the weak, comfort the grieving, warn the unruly, and confirm our love.

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Proper Use of the Tongue

In our last article, we reviewed the improper use of the Christian’s speech. Now, let’s think on the proper use of the tongue. Paul writes of “speaking the truth in love” in Ephesians 4:15. Here, we have the content (truth) and the motivation (love). How we speak the truth and with what tone we use is as important as what we say. Our tone and approach will affect the reception of that truth. Proverbs 15:1-2 tells us that a “soft answer” turns away wrath and a “harsh word” stirs up anger. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life (Prov. 15:4). Our text in Ephesians four recommends speech that “is good for edification.” Edification refers to building up and strengthening something. (E.g. edifice) The purpose of our speech is to edify the listener by drawing them closer to God (Col. 4:2-6). That may take various forms – exhortation, encouragement, or a rebuke when necessary. Still, the rebuke is not a harsh personal attack. What is not involved in “edification” is the building up of self-esteem.

This is not to say that I’m against building one’s self-esteem who needs it. It is only my intent to convey that “edification” as the Bible uses it refers to the building of one’s faith and knowledge of God. God and his word has such an effect on the “new man” that builds character, strengthens our resolve and ultimately shapes us into the image of his son, Jesus Christ (Col. 3:10, Rom. 8:29). Our role in edification is to “speak as the oracles of God” …“that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11). Our opinion unsupported by the Scripture is not part of that edification (Col. 1:28, cf. Col. 1:9-11 & Phil. 1:6). While our speech is not always that which a person wants to hear, it can be useful if said with love and gentleness. The approach and tone is valuable if we are to speak with “grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6; cf. Prov. 16:24-28).

The passage just referenced addresses the ultimate goal of our speech. This grace is a gift that benefits the listener because it’s “easy to swallow.” We all know the power of seasoning. It may be the difference between swallowing and gagging. Clearly, certain foods are more palatable and pleasing to the taste, making it easy and quick to swallow. When we say things to others in a way that makes it difficult for them to swallow, I doubt they would consider a “second helping.” In fact, I doubt that they would reach down for another spoon-full. When difficult truths are said with “salt,” the listener can receive its benefit. For others, the challenge is to speak when necessary. Some are so quiet that saying anything sinful or destructive is not a problem because they don’t say much at any time.

What may be a blessing in one sense is a curse in another sense. Silence is not always golden (Ezek. 33:8; James 4:17). Error must be confronted by loving servants of God who have the ability to teach and “convict gainsayers” (e.g. elders, Titus 1:9-11). John the Baptist openly confronted Herod because of his wickedness. (cf. Luke 3:19-20). This is unlike some in our day who seek opportunities to condemn. Rather, it is like Paul’s description of the Christian in Ephesians 5:1who will not only refuse to have fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness” but will “reprove” (expose) them.

He explains in verse 13, “All things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. The very nature of one walking in the light reveals the darkness of sin not only by actions but by words. Too many ignore these principles as a way of life while still claiming to be a Christian. Christians are identified in part by their speech — a speech free from lies, gossip, boasting, flattery, and profanity but dispensed as a gift to reveal truth, show kindness, encourage the weak, comfort the grieving, warn the unruly, and confirm our love.

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