John 21:25 ESV: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
1 John 3:18 ESV: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Ephesians 4:29 ASV: “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear.”
In recent years, I have increasingly begun to value the practical instruction Paul gives in his Biblical letters; instruction about how those who are Christ’s are to live and relate to others. While I still value and enjoy the deep spiritual revelations Paul shared, I think it is wise to be wary of intellectual assent without real-life application. Let’s not forget that the same Paul who proclaimed profoundly deep revelation also said things like: “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing,”1 and “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”2 . It is easy to over-value knowledge and under-value applied love, because knowledge in itself demands no change, while love is always accompanied by humility and sacrifice (and glory)! A question I’m asking myself is this: do I really “know” a Truth if it is not being expressed in the way I conduct myself in the world and relate to others?
Ephesians 4:29, quoted above, is an example of one such practical instruction. While it sounds like an ancient version of the modern saying: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” it is actually much deeper than that. To understand more fully what Paul was saying, let’s start by looking at the definition of some of the Greek words that this verse was translated from:
Greek transliteration: “sapros.”
1. rotten, putrefied
2. corrupted by one and no longer fit for use, worn out
3. of poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless
-Sapros seems to roughly mean: “worn out, unfit, useless.”
– Greek transliteration: “oikodome.”
1. (the act of) building, building up
2. metaph. edifying, edification
a. the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness
3. a building (i.e. the thing built, edifice)
“Edifying” seems to be a good translation of oikodome, which seems to mean “to build up, to strengthen.”
-Greek transliteration: “charis.”
a. that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
2. good will, loving-kindness, favour
a. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
3. what is due to grace
a. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
b. the token or proof of grace, benefit
1. a gift of grace
2. benefit, bounty
4. thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward
Charis is a harder word to pin down, as it describes something divine. If I had to define grace, I would say it is “the influence of the divine.” When a human heart is influenced by grace/the divine, it will always, at least in some way, change the way one lives and relates to others.
With these things in mind, here is what I think Paul essentially meant in Ephesians 4:29:
Be very careful not to say anything that is spiritually or otherwise useless or harmful to the hearer. Instead, as a child of God, what comes out of your mouth should be only things which give Life – things which are of the Truth and are helpful and useful in building up the hearer into a realization and manifestation of their identity as a son of God and a member of Christ’s body. In so doing, you are literally acting as Christ – as a minister of God’s divine grace and Life and peace to that person – instead of a minister of self-awareness, death and condemnation.
A friend of mine once pointed out that there is a difference between things that are true, and Truth itself. Things that are true, also known as “facts,” are things which deal with the natural realm. Statements like “I feel sad,” or “the sky is blue” are in the realm of the “true.” However, Truth, with a capital T, is deeper, being exclusively reserved for the realm of the divine. Truth cannot be changed by what is “true” or by “facts.” Truth has to do with that which is part of the fabric of creation, of God’s nature Himself. Statements such as “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God,”3 like “one died for all, therefore all died,” like “(Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world,” are in the realm of Truth. Truth has to do with the heart and will of God for mankind, which was most clearly demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to ignore facts, but we cannot let facts (truth) become more real to us than Truth.
What I’m saying, and I believe much of what Paul was saying, is that those who are Christ’s MUST speak and call to the divine within each person, speaking the Truth of their identity and being as sons. This is what it means to speak things that edify, instead of things that corrupt. Pointing out sin, as many Christians have erroneously taken it upon themselves to do, only INCREASES guilt, shame, and condemnation in the world – it is literally anti-christ to act as a law-giver and bring guilt. It may be “true” that men are sinners, but it’s NOT Truth.
Finally, the member’s of Christ’s body cannot just “proclaim” Truth, we must embody it. IF and when we “see” Christ as our life, as the life of the world, we must let this truth permeate all of our being. While this is certainly a lot deeper than merely “say nice things,” it includes that! A better way of thinking about it is not to “be nice,” but to be Truthful and Edifying, building our world and it’s people into their identity as sons, rather than reinforcing a false identity as sinners, which just creates more sin and death (which scripture clearly says was the whole purpose of the law)! Amen.
- 1 Corinthians 13:2 WEB
- 1 Corinthians 8:1 WEB
- Colossians 3:3
- 2 Corinthians 5:14
- 1 John 2:2