By Linda Gilden
Words have the power to bless, encourage, and build people up. They have the power to uplift and turn an otherwise bad day into a day full of hope. Just a few well-spoken, appropriately delivered, and timely words can make a lifelong impact on someone.
Likewise, just a few badly chosen, unnecessary, and careless words can send a friend, family member, or even a stranger on a downward path that can take years to reverse. My mother used to tell me, “It takes many positive comments to undo a negative one, so think before you speak!”
As I recall things said to me growing up, negative remarks and those I perceived as negative lingered much longer in my thoughts than positive comments.
God’s Word tells us how to use our words to build up and edify those around us. Ephesians 4:29 states clearly, “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.”
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths . . .”
For years I assumed as long as I did not curse or swear I had complied with this command. I watched my selection of words carefully and made sure whatever I said would not hurt my testimony as a “good Christian.”
But were curse words the only words that could be considered unwholesome?
Unwholesome words may come in the form of negative comments, criticism, or words that would have been better left unspoken.
When I think about the impact words can have, I often think about a creative writing professor I had in college. She meant well, I’m sure, as she struggled to find something positive to say about my essay. She wrote, “You have nice handwriting.” To me her words were unwholesome and negative. Even though the words themselves could have been viewed as positive, the connotation was hurtful.
Her words stayed with me as I gave up my dream of becoming a writer for 15 years. My husband eventually convinced me to put aside my college memories and move forward toward my dream.
Just a few words of encouragement would have gone a long way in keeping my dream on track.
“. . . but only what is helpful for building others up . . .”
We should speak words of encouragement to others even when we feel like doing otherwise. A young girl from India lived with us for a year. She was part of a group that had come to America to sing and study. My friend Sheila also hosted an Indian girl from the group. Because Sheila taught school, I picked up Annie (Sheila’s Indian daughter) and took her to school every day.
One day we were somewhat rushed to get to school so my son, my Indian daughter, and I ran out the door grabbing lunchboxes and backpacks along the way. We jumped into the van and set our sights on getting to school on time.
Just as we turned into the driveway of the school, Kim, our Indian daughter, said, “Mom, what about Annie?”
Annie? Oh no! In our haste, I had forgotten to pick her up.
Dropping my children at the door of the school where I also taught, I returned to pick up Annie.
She greeted me at the door smiling, glad to have extra cartoon time because of the delayed departure.
When school was over that day, I sheepishly called my friend. “Sheila, I am so sorry I forgot Annie. We were in a hurry and I just turned the car toward school and totally forgot. Please forgive me.”
My sweet friend had two choices. She could express annoyance, or she could show love and forgiveness.
“I could have done the same thing. No harm done. Annie was safe in our house waiting for you and had no worries about what time she got to school. I am just thankful she has a ride every day!”
What a relief to have such a sweet forgiving friend.
The next morning I was determined not to forget Annie. As we went out the door I said to my children, “Let’s make sure to get Annie.”
We didn’t have to worry. When we got outside, there was my red van with a yellow balloon tied to the antenna. One word was written on the balloon—Annie!
“. . . according to their needs . . .”
Another translation states, “according to the need of the moment.” Both speak to the needs of those around us.
How do we know what those needs are?
Perhaps like my friend Sheila, you know the people around you well. Sheila knew I had a sensitive personality and if she had ranted about my failing to pick up Annie, I would have brooded about it for weeks. Instead, she chose to forgive and speak wholesome words.
Sometimes we don’t realize how important it is that those around us hear wholesome words, words that encourage and build them up. Often we feel prompted to call someone, text someone, or stop by for a chat. The need is there and the Holy Spirit prompts us to act. At that point we have two choices—obey or disobey.
Occasionally I hesitate when I feel prompted to act. Sometimes it is because I don’t know the person well. But I become aware of the need and want to do what I can to meet that need.
Not long ago I bought a dress that didn’t fit the way I wanted it to. I thought, Don’t take it back. Take it to Carol. She is the same size as you and really could use the dress.
I argued with the thought. How could I just go to this dear friend’s home and hand her a dress? Would she think I had lost my mind?
I decided to act on impulse and walked up to my friend’s door and rang the doorbell.
“Hi,” I said a little awkwardly when she answered the door. “I brought you a dress.” Pausing, I saw Carol’s face light up.
“How did you know I needed a dress for a dinner this week and hadn’t been able to get one?”
I told her about the prompting I had felt to give her the dress. “My only instructions,” I said, “are to give you the dress and tell you to feel God’s love every time you wear it. He wanted me to give it to you. He loves you very much.”
We can only give to others “according to their needs” when we are listening for God’s direction.
“. . . that it may benefit those who listen.”
Many of the words we speak are uttered in the presence of others and even though we may not be talking directly to someone, he or she could be influenced by what we say. Paul was aware of this as he wrote to the church in Ephesus. He was displeased not only with the way they were speaking to one another, but also because others were hearing their conversations. Our words must benefit and build up those to whom they are spoken and also encourage anyone around who may hear.
Growing up as a shy child, many of the greatest lessons my dad taught me were those I observed from a distance. I watched Dad interact and bless people everywhere we went.
“Hello, sir. How are you today?” Dad asked.
“Oh, not so good today,” some answered.
“Well, I just hope things get nothing but better,” Dad said. “May the good Lord bless you.”
I was surprised at how much happier folks seemed after a few words with my dad. And I was learning a lifelong lesson about the value of a few positive words.
In his foreword to Terri Blackstock’s book, The Listener (Thomas Nelson, 2005), Randy Alcorn writes, “Every day people with great needs pass beneath our radar. We need to change our radar setting and see those people and their needs. . . .” They need to hear us say, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’”
What about you? Do you make it a point every day to use your words to build up and edify those around you with wholesome words so that even those within earshot will be blessed?
Linda Gilden is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Meditate on God’s Words
This article helps us delve into Ephesians 4:29. Now take on a new challenge:
Go to www.biblegateway.com and read this verse in several different Bible versions. As you do, notice the subtle differences used to convey the meaning of this Scripture. Find deeper meaning and newer perspective with each version you read.
English Standard Version, American Standard Version,
The Message, New Living Translation,
New King James Version, New International Version