James is not the only one who speaks about the tongue.
His passage in chapter 3 of his letter is an in depth discussion on how we use our tongues – that is our words – but he is not the only one that mentions our words.
I was reading Ephesians the other day, and when I came across chapter 4, towards the end Paul talks about putting on the new man, which involves righteousness and true holiness.
The thing that I had not noticed before is that the first thing Paul lists in his putting on the new man in this passage, is the putting away of lying.
Sometimes the order of these things is important, and sometimes it is not – it is not indicated that this is a particular order in this passage, but I noted that Paul begins with it.
24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
27 Neither give place to the devil.
28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
However, the thing that caught my attention is that the last thing Paul says to put away in this list of pursuing holiness and righteousness, is to put away “evil speaking” – another item of the tongue, of our words.
I am beginning to think that maybe Paul is deliberately beginning and ending with our words, and this is no random list.
In the middle of course Paul says “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”, so we have our words spoken of at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the list.
I think Paul is trying to tell us something.
So let’s have a quick look at this:
it begins with:
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another”
This is talking about how we talk to others – it should be without lies, and spoken in truth. You know you can say things in such a way that whilst you are not lying, you are not really telling the truth either. But the prime point of this particular verse is actually in the last part – we are members one of another – this is talking about how we talk within our church!
Surely we don’t lie to other church members do we?
Or do we?
Then we get to the middle “talk” passage:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
This is a broader phrasing that is used here. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth – this is a broader range of things covered – not just lies and truth, but nothing corrupt – now often we like to think of this as not using swear words, but it covers even more than that. It includes any form of talk that is corrupt. And the following phrase defines corrupt communications, by giving us the opposite: “that which is good to the use of edifying”.
So corrupt communication is anything that is the opposite of edifying speech. I think there is such a thing as neutral banter – stuff that is not edifying, but neither is it harmful. But this passage is talking about speech, words, talk, that is the opposite of edifying.
To put it simply, if it does not build up, or direct someone closer to the Lord, but instead tears down someone, then it is corrupt communication.
And to further that point, the last phrase adds “that it may minister grace to the hearers”.
It is not only edifying to the one spoken of, but also to the ones who are listening. It helps them to grow in grace.
The last part of this passage which is about taking away things while we put on the new man is:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:”
Most of these things are feeling, emotions, but the one that is clearly not an emotion, is evil speaking.
This probably sums up the other two we have looked at: to put it quite plainly, we should not be heard to have evil speech – this verse indicates that such speech – which would be considered to be “corrupt communication” is grounded in bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour, and malice, and is not edifying, nor does it minister grace to those who hear it.
Sound a bit like: Mat_15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
And remember that verse 25 places this section and teaching directly at the church members – we ought not to be heard to speak evil of one another.
This is something that we need to guard against with great diligence: for if we are heard to be evil speaking of each other, then it indicates an issue of the heart.