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Disciples and Appropriate Speech
Scripture: Ephesians 4:29
Track 3 of 11 in the Life-Changing Words series
Running time: 37 minutes, 34 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, April 24, 2005
4th sermon in an 11 part series
"Disciples and appropriate speech"
"Life-Changing Words"
(Ephesians 4:29)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

These are actual announcements printed in church bulletins. This is an announcement for the National Prayer & Fasting Conference: "The cost for attending the Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals."

The sermon this morning will be: "Jesus Walks on Water". The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus".

Our youth basketball team is back in action Wednesday at 8 in the recreation hall. Come out and watch us kill Christ the King.

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.

Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM . Please use the back door.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

I didn't make them up! Honest!

We've been spending time talking about words. In fact we spent a whole series of sermons on words and why words are important and how they impact us and how they affect our lives. I suspect that everyone in here has at some time or another wrestled with that childhood adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" and decided that it was one of the biggest lies that you ever had told to you when you were a child. We have all suffered through some of the comments that other people have made. Words are powerful things. In fact, so much so, that Jesus spends a significant amount of time talking about how they impact life.

Our text this morning is Ephesians 4 but I want to read just a couple of statements for you from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 12 where Jesus begins this conversation, he says in Matthew 12:33 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Words have the ability to reveal, he says, what's going on down inside the human heart.

A couple of Chapters over Jesus has another statement, Matthew 15:18 right in the middle of this paragraph he says, . . . .the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart. . . . The heart is revealed by what the mouth speaks.

I've been thinking about this sermon for a long time. We've been doing this series of words and I have been wondering about this particular text that we were going to look at in Ephesians. I ran across this last January, actually, the Bloomington Pantograph. I wish you could see this whole thing. It's all about every day language and about swearing, cursing and using watered-down swear words and what are officially called "minced" oaths(??). It's actually quite an interesting article. It lists here six different books you can get if you need to know more swear words. Or you would like to know the history of some of them, at least.

I just call your attention to this one statement. It says toward the end of the article talking about this use of language, it tells you what a culture thinks is acceptable. Well, our speech in American culture tells us a lot then.

A linguist just recently wrote this article called "Profanity Versus Obscenity". I call your attention only to one line. Emily says, "We are all free to express ourselves in the way we choose. However, bear in mind that every word we utter is the yardstick by which we are measured."

Jesus says, what comes out of our mouth is nothing more than just a simple statement of what's going on inside the heart.

Ephesians 4:29 is the text we want to look at. It's a rather simple text. It simply says this. Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth but only such as edifies, that meets the need of the moment. I'd like you to look at that in the context, however, because it's such an important context in which it occurs. Ephesians begins in the second half of the book to unfold the practical reality of how you express the Christian faith that you have and he does it in such a way that it's just as bare bones and just as practical as he knows how to make it so that somehow you have an understanding of what the Christian life is supposed to look like as people see it.

He starts in Ephesians 4:17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. He starts this paragraph by simply saying, don't be like everybody else. He comes down a bit further in Ephesians 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; First thing he says, is don't be like everybody else. The second thing he says is, you used to be that way. Don't be that way any more.

Ephesians 5:1 comes at the other end of this paragraph when he says, Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. . . . .Don't be what you used to be. Don't be like everybody else. In fact, instead, be a lot like God who is most seen in Jesus. Then when you come in that context, you come down to this particular segment, Ephesians 4:25-31 and here is this simple list of comparisons. This is what the Christian life ought to look like. He says in Ephesians 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin". Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, etc. etc.

It's an interesting list of contrasts. Verse 25 - instead of lying to one another, speak the truth. Instead of being angry, develop patience. Verse 28 - instead of being greedy, express generosity. Verse 29 - instead of participating in "rotten speech" (that's what the word means - unwholesome) choose to be encouraging. Verse 31 - instead of being mean, opt for kindness.

Note how many of those have to do with speech, the disciple and his words or her words. It's a really rather simple text, Ephesians 4:29, the kind of thing that you could memorize in a quick afternoon. Let no unwholesome speech proceed out of your mouth except that which meets the need of the hour, that which is edifying, that which builds other people up. Two real simple lessons that show up in this particular text.

Lesson number 1) Some vocabulary is off-limits to believers. It's an interesting word here, unwholesome. It literally means to be rotten; rotten flesh, rotten fruit. In fact it's the word that Jesus uses over in Matthew 12 when he says a good tree does not produce "rotten fruit". That's this word, unwholesome fruit. And he says to the believer who is serious about his discipleship, don't let any unwholesome speech, let "NO" unwholesome speech. . . . . . It's an interesting word. It's the word "NO"

I decided that I would do a search last week and find out what it meant. It's used somewhere in the vicinity of 1600 times in the New Testament in one form or another. And guess what, the word NO always means "NO", none, nada, nil, zilch. So when he says let NO unwholesome speech come out of your mouth, he doesn't mean some, a little, partially. He just simply says NONE. Don't let there be anything rotten that comes out of your mouth.

I'm guessing that I was probably 12 or 13. That's about the time Jim and I got acquainted. Jim was a new kid in town. Lived just down the highway about a mile or so. Had a big barn on the back of his lot. He and I ended up there one day in his barn practicing our vocabulary. Now I probably have told you this before, so you won't find this as a surprise. I came up a pagan. I grew up in a bar. I had a pretty wide-ranging vocabulary. In fact, I was basically Mr. Answer Man on the school bus. If you had heard a word used that you didn't know what it meant and if it was vulgar or profane or obscene, I was the person you came to ask because I knew them all. I grew up listening to them.

So Jim and I are in the barn and we are using every profane word we know how to use. We have decided that we will shout every curse word we know. In fact, we even made some up.

I don't know how my parents found out before I got home. My parents were pagan. My parents could curse a "blue streak", but they would never allow their son to talk like that. That was the beginning of my own personal journey toward cleaning up my speech.

It wasn't probably two or three years later that I found a friend who was a Christian. In fact he ultimately was responsible for me becoming a Christian, except that our relationship was one of those fascinating relationships where everything that we did was basically return insults to each other. You've probably been in those conversations where if your mother wears combat boots then I can have something stronger than that to say back. In fact, that was, actually, the only way we conversed and we were really good at it. Well, if good is the right word.

At that particular moment in time, also, we were setting sprinkler pipes for farmers. We would leave our house about four o'clock in the morning. We would go out to the fields and we would set these sprinkler pipes before school and we would shout these insults back and forth to each other while we're working. It was our form of conversation. I'm not sure when it finally dawned on me that if he could hear me a half a mile that direction, as I was shouting at him, probably everybody in the county was listening to us insult one another.

Now I confess to you that it was all done in good fun. But it wasn't very long after that, that I was reading my Bible. It's a terrible thing by the way. I want to warn you. This book ought to come with a warning label. So if nobody else ever tells you this, you heard it here. Put your Bible away and stop reading it because it's just going to confront you over areas of your life and you're not gonna like it.

So, I'm reading through 1Peter and I'm coming to 1Peter 3:9 and here's what it says. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. . . . and I thought "how clear could that be?" What I'm doing I shouldn't be doing and it became one of those moments in my life when I had to say, "alright, it's time for you to clean up your speech". I mean, I had been working on that vulgarity and obscenities stuff 'cause I already knew that had to go when I became a Christian. But now he's taking away the insults. I don't even know if I know how to talk to somebody without being insulting toward them but it was a part of this personal journey of making my way into the Christian experience. It wasn't too much longer after that, that I met the lady who was about to become my wife and I discovered somebody that, in her entire life had never used a swear word nor a "watered-down" swear word.

I mean, if you need the official title, they're called "minced oaths"(??). There those words you use when you don't want to swear so you stick another one in its place. There all over the place. There are books full of them. You can actually go to web sites and be taught them if you don't know them. One of them is a French word sacre blu (??), which people used in _______ because it has to do with God, sacredness. And so you say that because you don't want to say something about God. And she began to call into question my use of 'watered-down" swear words. I mean I thought I was doing pretty good just to get to the place that I wasn't swearing about "stuff". We'd get out on the basketball court and I'd get angry over something and of course you can't swear at another person on a Christian team. So what do you do? You use a "watered-down swear word and she would begin to confront me about that.

I can't believe that she spent her whole life never saying a bad word. I mean, she's a "WIMP". Although I challenge you to try for twenty-four hours and just see how easy that really is.

Well it wasn't too long after that I started preaching in Oregon and Betty Delough had the audacity to not only ask me about those "watered-down" swear words, she wanted to know why I needed to say anything at all under those circumstances. I mean, after all, in the middle of a good heated church basketball game, you've got to say something when the jerk fouls you and you can't swear at them so you use some "watered-down" word. And Betty would say, "now why do you feel the need to say anything at all? All it does is reveal what is going on in your heart. So if you're going to say that you might as well just say it." And man! I thought she was taking away my whole vocabulary. I don't know what else I'm going to do if I can't say something. She began to help me understand that this wasn't just about words, this was about the heart out of which those words came.

Paul says in the most practical sense, don't let any unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth.

I began to ask myself, why in the world would we do that. Why would we swear? Why is it so important? And I came up with a couple of answers that were true to me. I don't know if they're true to anybody else, but they're true to me. I did it so I would fit in. I didn't want to be different from everybody else. I had enough trouble making my way through my teenage years as a bartender's son. I didn't need anything else to make it harder. And so swearing at things made it possible to be like everybody else and to fit in with my friends.

Sometimes we do it just to be accepted. Just so we don't stand out and be so weird. I mean after all, being a Christian is tough enough that you start looking like a Christian with a clean mouth. Now what are you going to do?

And sometimes people do it for emphasis. Legitimately, I've heard preachers do it for emphasis. Thinking somehow if they swear at something that will heighten our awareness of it. Well, it will. Tony Campolo did that once on one of our Christian College campuses. He swore in the middle of his sermon. And he said, "Now you're more concerned about the swear word I just said than you are about the topic that I'm talking about" which was Lost People Around the World. And it turned out he was right. They never asked him to come back. And you may think that's absolutely ridiculous and it probably is, but it made the point. People are influenced by our speech.

There's even, by the way, a Cuss Control Academy now. The business world has learned that bad language in the work place is not healthy and since about the mid-1990's there have been a number of consultants that have begun to surface and been actually paid real money to say things that I'm about to say to you. Here's the list of things that this particular James O'Conner takes into the work place when he goes. Here's his list.

1) Recognize that swearing does damages.
2) Start by eliminating casual swearing.
3) Think positively.
4) Practice being patient
5) Cope, don't cuss.
6) Stop complaining.
7) Use alternate words.
8) Make your point politely.
9) Think of what you should have said.
10) Work at it.

Now he's polite. Most peoples response to why people use swear words is because they have such a limited vocabulary. They don't know any real words.

I was going to bring to you a 19 page report about television and how swearing has increased on television but there's no sense reporting to you on the 19 page report, just turn your TV on tonight to any major channel and you'll hear things you didn't hear five years ago. It basically started with South Park and it worked its way into all the channels and it has been documented.

Paul says it this way. Some vocabulary is simply off-limits to believers. Instead, he says, speak in ways that edify. Speak in ways that build people up. Notice the text. Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up. . . . . It's really an interesting word, this word edify one another. It's actually used about 18 times in the New Testament. Three times it literally means a building. An edifice, if you will. Three times it's used metaphorically to talk about the body of Christ or the human body as a building. The other twelve times it's used to talk about encouragement. It's used to talk about building people up, encouraging them. Saying the kinds of things that meet needs in their life that build them rather than tear them down.

It's used for example, over here in the book of Romans when Paul is writing to the Romans in Chapter 14 he says this. Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do what it takes to build each other up. In Romans 15:2 he makes this comment. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. This word actually occurs a number of times in 1Corinthians 14 where he talks about worship. Worship that builds people up rather than tears people down.

It's easy to look at verse 31 and begin to understand, Ephesians 4:31, to look and see what it doesn't mean. He says in Ephesians 4:31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Obviously edifying speech does not do words that are hurtful. It does not speak in ways that are unkind or demeaning or angry. In fact, he says in Ephesians 4:30 that kind of speech grieves God's Spirit.

So why? Why are we careful about the words we use with each other as we try to build each other up? Well Ephesians 4:25 makes it pretty clear. He says this in Ephesians 4:25 . . .each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. It's because we're related to one another. We're part of the same family. It's because we're a community of believers that we care about our speech. We care about other people sitting next to us in the pew; other families and how their life runs. We care enough about each other to monitor our speech and never say anything that is hurtful or demeaning but always to put our speech in a way that we edify and build and encourage the people who are with us in the faith.

I remember Connie coming to church one day. There was a small group of us adults that she had become fairly well acquainted with and Connie said she was going to get married. She was excited. She had been dating this fella for quite awhile and she announced to this group of us that she was getting married. And Jim turned to her and he asked her this question. "Connie, is he a Christian?" And she said, "well, no he isn't." "Then do you think you should marry him?" To which her response was, "What business is it of yours?" To which he said, "You are my sister. That's what business it is of mine and I care about you." See that's the nature of the community of faith. We care about each other enough to invade the private territory of other persons lives and speak to them words that have the ability to encourage and to develop the kind of life that God desires for them to have.

We will do what we have to do to help people grow because we are a part of this family. All of you know that words have the power to shape lives. They make enormous difference, what we say to each other; what parents say to children, what teachers say to students, what Christians say to each other. We have the ability to develop in each other confidence in ourselves; ego-strength to be able to endure. We have the ability to speak into peoples lives the courage that it take to be what they're supposed to be if we use the right kinds of words.

I ran across this speech. It was done by Elijah Cummings who happens to be the 7th District Representative from Maryland. It was delivered at the 2000 Education Leadership Summit at Howard University, December 4, 2000. Cummings says, "This morning, as I drove through the early morning South Baltimore traffic toward I-95 and Washington, I passed near the elementary school that I attended nearly 40 years ago. I spent most of my elementary school training as an unhappy member of what then was called the '3rd Group' - what we today call 'special education'.

To this day, I remember the cold, incredulous, rejecting words of my 6th grade school counselor.

'You want to be a lawyer? Who do you think you are?' When I think back to that time, I do something I have done every morning of my adult life. I thank God for the wonderful adults who gave me my head start in life: I thanked God for Mr. Hollis Posey, the sixth grade teacher who listened to my dreams, who believed in my potential as a human being, and who taught to my strengths, not my limitations. And I thanked God for my parents, who convinced me that I could become whatever I decided to be.

I made it out of the 3rd group. I graduated second in my class from Baltimore City College High School. I became a Phi Beta Kappa at Howard University. I became a lawyer at the University of Maryland. I was elected to public office and rose to the position of Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates. Today, I serve the people of Baltimore as a Member of the Congress of the United States of America.

I survived and succeeded because of positive parental involvement, and because of Mr. Hollis Posey's belief in me."

The power of words. For one says, "You want to do what?" And the other one says, "You can do anything God leads you to do."

I remember with great fondness, a cold November day in St. Louis. I was running to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was one of those nasty, cold, bitter days. I had done fairly well up to this point. Had seen my family two or three times along the route. I was climbing the hill up past the 25 mile mark and they went by me one more time and noticed that I wasn't doing so well. I got to mile 25 and standing on the side of the road was my high school daughter. She was dressed in Levi's, Penny loafers and a leather coat and she said, "Can I run with you?" And from mile 25 to mile 26 my daughter ran beside me saying, "Dad you can do it. Come on dad you can make it. You can do this. Don't quit! Speed it up, dad. Longer stride. You can do this." That's edifying speech. That's what it means to be a part of the community of faith. To come along side people who are struggling in their life and say "YOU CAN DO THIS!" That's the speech that characterizes a disciple. Not destructive, not demeaning, but edifying speech.

Some of you recognize the name Jean Nidetch. Others of you will recognize Weight Watchers. She's the one who founded it. Born back in 1923 in Brooklyn, she was a child who had excess weight problems all of her life. She enrolled in a weight control program sponsored by the New York City Board of Health. She was given a diet which she followed and she managed to lose some weight. But what she discovered was, after a few weeks it got really hard to do by yourself. And so she got some of her friends together and they began to meet in her apartment for encouragement. Word began to spread about what was happening and after about three months, 40 (now this is their wording, not mine) 40 squeezed into her moderate apartment. In the 36 years since that day, 37 million people have participated in Weight Watchers. Some of you know the value of that program and you know it's not the diet. It's the mutual encouragement that comes with meeting with people who are like you in the struggle and helping each other along. It's the power of edifying speech. It's the power of encouragement.

The One Minute Manager author, Ken Blanchard has made famous the story of the goose. I have no idea if he's telling us the truth or not but his answer to the question, "What are the geese honking at?" as they fly over is this. They're encouraging one another not to give up.

So what can you do? Use your words wisely. Speak like a Christian. Just simply follow the text. It's such a simple thing. Let no unwholesome speech proceed out of your mouth except that which meets the need of the hour, that which edifies, which builds someone up.

We're going to give you that opportunity here in just a few minutes. There are note cards in the pews in front of you. Pencils, pens. We're encouraging you to write one of four people during the next two or three songs that we're going to sing together. Words of encouragement that edify, to build. Give you the opportunity to write to Karen Kuo in North Korea or the Matthews' over in Africa or Casey & Molly Bell who are headed off to Taiwan or to Crissy Stevens who is going to be spending her time in North Africa this summer.

I do need to make this very clear. If you write to Karen Kuo, do not use God or Jesus or praying or church because we won't be able to send the notes. She is in a

Communist country where her mail is being opened by censors at the border and if you write those kinds of things you could cause her a great deal of difficulty. So if you choose to write to Karen, be vague at best.

So what do you do? You encourage people. You speak Christianly. You allow your speech to represent what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Why does it matter? Well, I need to be sure and tell you this. This is not a salvation issue, okay? If you've got a "potty mouth" it's not going to send you to HELL! Alright? I just need to make that clear. There's nothing in Scripture that says swearing or using watered-down swear words is going to cause you not to get to heaven. This is about discipleship. This is about your relationship with other people. This is about expectations.

Yesterday, I had enough time to play the home owner for a little while and I needed to find an "O" ring. I dressed for the weather so I had my heavy sweatshirt on. It actually was a gift for me from some students on the east coast. They gave me an MIT sweater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So I'm down on my hands and knees. Have you ever noticed that in a hardware store, everything you need is on the bottom row? I'm on my hands and knees. I'm going through this pile of "O" rings to try to find an "O" ring and the guy comes up to help me and I turn and look at him and he reads my sweatshirt - MIT - and he says, "well, somebody from MIT doesn't need any help." Little does he know. If I were a graduate of MIT I would not have needed help with an "O" ring. When somebody reads your sweatshirt and it says "Christian", they just have a certain set of expectations about you.

This isn't about your salvation, but it might be about theirs. Because they may make a choice of what it means to be Christian based on what they hear coming out of you. So why do we do this? Because we value people.

Now what we want to do is give you an opportunity to write. There are cards and pens and there are names for you to write to during the first couple of songs we're about to sing. Write! Write a note of encouragement to one of these people. If nobody up here strikes your fancy, write a note to somebody else.

When you're done writing start singing. At the appropriate time in the service, the men will come and collect the offering. You just take your note and put it in the offering plate with your regular offering and we will sort them out and we will get these to these people as statements from Madison Park about our desire to encourage people in their work for the Lord.

So what's this about? It's about a disciple and his or her appropriate speech. Let no unwholesome speech proceed out of your mouths, but only such a word that edifies.