No Unwholesome Talk (Tek)
Here’s the second of Tek’s guest posts for this month. He talks very openly and convictingly about a topic I struggle with every day, a topic I think we tend to ignore. I would say more, but I refuse to dilute the power of his words with my own.
Ephesians 4:29 – “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.”
This verse is an exceptional one to me for a variety of reasons, three of which I will share henceforth. First, it offers both a do not and a do in order to present its topic – what proceeds out of our mouths – as thoroughly and decisively as possible. Second, it breaks down into segments numbering three, a rather practical split (and one which is dear to me, owing to my own history with a Trio). Third, it affords a chance for a (basic-level) economic discussion. Bonus! Let’s start at the top, then, and work our way through this concise smorgasbord of iridescent direction.
The first segment proceeds as follows: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths…” This is about as direct as Paul can get. No unwholesome talk ought to proceed out of our mouths – or our hands/paws/hooves, whichever respective carpal appendage we prefer to assign to ourselves. But what of lighthearted jokes, merriment with a bit of a bad take on things, conversation relating to subjects that are far from righteous or even healthy? What of them, indeed? Surely Paul is not asking us to speak only in flat, dull, monotonous language – or to regurgitate nothing save for those tacky catchphrases on those tacky T-shirts from the Christian bookstore that probably could stand to offer more than the latest Selah CDs, with nary an apologetic dissertation in line of sight. Well, then? What else? Reading further into the verse will clarify this unconscionably mind-melting dilemma. (Or, perhaps that was just my own?)
The second segment proceeds as follows: “…but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…” Now this is where the verse turns from simple and straightforward to endlessly fascinating. The goal, as seen to be stitched across the two segments, is to provide others with support, encouragement, affection, solidarity, and love. These can all take myriad forms and constructions, but the central idea is to build up somebody whether they ever even hear it or not. According to this verse, we should not be so ceaselessly sarcastic, sardonic, cynical, or aloof. Far too often, it is all too easy to laugh aloud at the negative (while disregarding the positive, a topic surely rich enough for another day’s post). Schadenfreude taking the place of compassion is a heartbreaking transpiration indeed. Instead of indulging those twisted times in which we might derive self-esteem (and, God forbid, meaning) from relishing others’ foibles and missteps, we should rightly be offering up a shoulder and comfort and forgiveness. In building them up according to their needs, we will be renewing those around us – people who can then take their own turns heeding this call and building us up in our own times of desolation and disrepair. Melt a frosty heart, and a heart of true love and friendship may emerge from the glow.
The third segment proceeds as follows: “…that it may benefit those who listen.” Now, this is where my proclivity toward economic analysis jumps into play (albeit, briefly, and only in a drifting vapor). Everything I run through my personal financial system undergoes the same basic cost/benefit analysis: Will this benefit me enough to justify its cost? This applies not only to the obvious costs and benefits but also to the less obvious: time spent/cleared up, space occupied/organized, wants appeased/fulfilled, needs postponed/supplied, scenarios such as those. Here, Paul is directly stating that our words which build others up according to their needs will be able to benefit them, should they listen. (Whether or not they listen is largely irrelevant, from my perspective, unless it is clear that certain individuals have closed themselves off for the time being and should therefore be approached in a different manner.) The opportunity to supply love, joy, hope, inspiration, peace, security, and comfort well ought to be enough to satisfy the benefit side of the analysis. Where, then, is the cost side of the analysis, if their hearing and receiving our constructive talk constitutes the benefit side?
The costs, quite simply, are our own. We may pay the “cost” of not telling that obvious vulgar joke. We may pay the cost of not sarcastically deriding that one person’s admittedly unimpressive achievement. We may pay the cost of not straining to gain attention in a crowd of over-amplified voices desperate to present their importance to the world. We may pay the cost of not joining in with the gossip and idle chatter that might permeate a portion of our social or familial circle. We may pay the cost of not acquiescing to lower common denominators than what would be prudent for building others up as well as compassionate in order to soothe a verbal wound or secure a mutual trust or substantiate an otherwise superfluous conversation. The costs, as they were, would take the form of holding our tongues and subduing our obnoxious – and noxious – egos. Can we absorb those costs if the benefit of absorbing them is the construction of friendships, preservation of innocence, and/or proliferation of holiness? Can you absorb those costs? Can I…?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’m imperfect, and I will almost certainly fail to prevent unwholesome talk from proceeding out of my mouth some time in the future.
But I want to try. Either way, I want to try.