In This House: We Talk

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 In this House: We Talk

Sermons on family
This week we are starting a new series on family. Every year at about this time we try to do a series that touches on some aspect of family life. Whether it is marriage or parenting or just talking about love, I like to come into the start of the school year thinking about this aspect of life that is common to us all: we all have families. Either you are somebody’s son or daughter, or somebody’s husband or wife, or somebody’s mom or dad, or somebody’s brother or sister: we all have family. And there are times that we can all use some Biblical advice on being a part of a family.

We’re calling this series: “In this House: Grace.” We took that from…I don’t know exactly what to call it...I guess it is a poem…I first saw it on a wall hanging that Beth bought to give to somebody as a wedding gift…and I’ve seen it around, usually on a plaque…we’ve got a couple out in the entryway and the lobby—but it goes like this:

In this house we do second chances.
We do grace.
We do real.
We do mistakes.
We do I’m sorrys.
We do hugs.
We do family.
We do LOVE.

It’s a really nice thought. It’s almost like a blessing on your home. So when we were thinking about our theme for this year’s family series, this idea came to mind.

I read that blessing and what stands out to me is grace. That’s what it is saying. It’s saying that in our family mistakes get made, junk has to be dealt with, sometimes we have to apologize, sometimes we have to give second chances, but through it all we are trying to be a family where grace is present. A grace-filled family.

And so, that’s going to be the theme for this series. We’re not going to take every line from this poem—I’m not going to do a whole sermon on hugging, for example—but we’re going to try to hit on some of the themes of grace as it applies to our family relationships.

Really, it’s going to be a series on interpersonal relationships. I’m going to try to frame things in the context of family, but hopefully we’ll have wisdom from scripture that will be equally applicable at work, at church, in school, with your neighbors, and more.

And we’re going to begin by talking about talking. We’re going to start thinking about being grace-filled families by considering the words that are spoken in our homes. Our text is going to be Ephesians 4:25-5:2:

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 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.

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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Mistakes with Words
This is a sermon about words. This is a sermon about the words that we speak and the power they have for good and bad.

Words are funny things. Sometimes they can be easily misunderstood, or sloppily used. Take some of these signs, for example. You can probably figure out what was meant, but it isn’t exactly what is being conveyed.

Like this one: “Elevator is out of service. Please use Elevator.” It’s a really nice looking sign. Do you suppose the guy painting it, about the time he hit the “v” in that second “elevator” realized what he was doing, but just decided: ‘Oh well, they’ll know what I mean’?

Or this one: “Touching wires causes instant death. $200 fine.” Oh, sorry about that. Will you take a check?

Or this one: “Do not enter. Entrance only.” Definitely not a welcoming place.

Or this one: “Welcome to 99 cent plaza. Everything 99 cents or less—and up.” So, what you’re saying is: things could cost anything. Sort of like every other store in America.

Or this one: “Any 3 shoes for $25.” They charge an arm and a leg for that fourth shoe.

And finally, my favorite, from a church sign: “Don’t let worries kill you. Let the church help.” I think I’ve been in that church.

Those are some fun examples, and in most cases I don’t imagine any real harm was done.

But the point of our Bible passage today is that words have power. They can be weapons used to hurt people or they can be vessels used to carry healing and peace. Paul knows that the way we use words has a huge impact on those around us.

The key verse from our text is verse 29. It says:

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.

The things that come out of our mouths--the words we speak--can be harmful or helpful. Our words have power. And I think this is especially true in the context of family. I’ll put it like this—this will be our main idea today—In our families, words have power to either tear down our build up. The words that are spoken in our homes—and this goes for the words spoken by parents as well as the words spoken by kids--can contribute to that home being a place of grace and love or it can contribute to that home being a place of heartache and pain.

I went on the internet this week and tried to figure out how many words the average person speaks during the course of a day. It’s the internet, of course, so I saw a lot of different numbers, but the one that seemed the most reliable said 16,000. They based this on an experiment where they had people walk around all day with tape recorders attached to them, and then counted up all the word they spoke. 16,000 words a day. They said there was no appreciable difference between men and women, either.

16,000 seems a little high to me. My average sermon is about 3,500 words, and it takes me a half hour to preach it. And I don’t normally talk at that rate the rest of the day. So 16,000 seems a bit high.

But let’s assume that’s sort of accurate. If we all speak about 16,000 words per day, nearly 6 million words per year, then this verse is telling us that every one of those words has great power. It can either build up, or it can tear down.

So let’s consider both those ideas. We’ll begin with the power words have to tear down.

Rotten Fruit
Paul puts it like this: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Unwholesome talk. Other English translations use phrases like “corrupt”, “foul and dirty,” “harmful,” and “rotten.”

And maybe rotten is the best translation. Because the Greek word Paul uses is only used elsewhere in the Bible with regard to bad fruit. For example, in Matthew 12:33, Jesus says: “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.” The word for “bad” there is the same as the word for “unwholesome” in Ephesians. In other words, the image Paul has in mind is one of rottenness and decay. Something that is spoiled.

Think about that. Beth tries to keep some fresh fruit in the house, especially bananas. I don’t particularly like the taste or texture of bananas, but I try to eat them because they are so full of important vitamins and minerals, and they’re especially good for stiff legs.

Usually when you buy a bunch of bananas they’re a little underripe. That first banana is usually hard to peel and tastes a little green. But over the course of the week, the bananas start to ripen. The peels turn brownish, and the taste improves (as much as a banana’s taste can improve). And usually, by the last banana or two, they’ve started to turn. The peels practically fall off, and they’re extra mushy. And, every once in a while, if I don’t eat them fast enough, a banana will go too far. Those gnatty, fruit-fly things will start to hover around the kitchen and the banana will start to leak.

Have you seen this? Have you seen fruit that has started to rot? I mean, we get rid of them at this point. But if you’ve ever gone on vacation and left some fresh fruit on the counter, for like a week or two, you know it’s not good when you get back. It starts to stink, mold starts to grow, it kind of collapses on itself, fermentation is taking place.

I did an image search for rotten fruit. This isn’t the grossest picture I could find, but it’s bad enough. You get the idea. It’s nasty.

And what Paul is saying is that sometimes our words are like rotten fruit. Sometimes, when we use words to hurt people or lie to people or to curse them out, it’s like bringing a big pile of rotten, decaying fruit into the room. It’s not good.

In our families, we need to be mindful of the words we use. You know how sometimes you can walk into somebody’s house and you notice it has a particular smell? And you wonder if anybody who lives there notices? Well, in some houses the language smells. It’s unwholesome. In some houses language is used as a weapon to wound and cut, to jab and put down, to bully and intimidate. This can happen from one spouse to another, from parents toward children, from children towards parents, and amongst siblings. Rotten fruit words. It stinks.

Means of Grace
So Paul says we should get rid of the unwholesome talk. Don’t let it come out of your mouth. Instead, he says, we should use language that builds others up. We should use language as a way of doing good for others.

Look at the verse again. Here’s how Paul says it: “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Essentially, Paul is saying that every word we speak—each of those 16,000 words per day—is a little delivery system. Like the UPS guy pulling up to your driveway. Each of those words delivers a package to the person who is listening—and it can be a package that hurts or it can be a package that helps. It can wound that person, or it can help them.

Essentially, what Paul is saying is that our language can be a means of grace. The words we speak can be one of the best ways to bring grace into our homes.

I say that because the word translated as “benefit” in the verse is actually the Greek word for grace. It comes from the root word charis, one of the most beautiful and important words in the Bible.

Most of us know the word “grace” to mean something like “unmerited favor.” It’s the word we use to talk about God choosing to give salvation and forgiveness to us when we have done nothing to earn it. It’s an undeserved gift.

But “grace” is a very versatile word in the Bible. It can be expanded to mean nearly anything good, any gift, any helpfulness. And it’s in that sense that we’re using grace in our series title. We want to be families that are filled with good, helpfulness, and blessing.

And what Paul is saying here is that the words we speak can be one of the ways we build blessing into our homes. When we seek to use words that build others up, that are helpful to them, that address what they stand in need of, then our words become a means of grace.

So the key here isn’t just if our words are dirty and vulgar—this isn’t about always using the proper King’s English—but if our words convey love, care and concern for the people we are speaking with. Will we use our words to tear down? Or will we use our words to build up?

The Words to Speak
So let me see if I can give some examples of the sorts of words we should be filling our homes with. In the context of our passage, Paul actually mentions several different types of speech that should characterize a Christian.

So, 3 points of application. In our homes, we should seek to, first, speak words of truth. Get rid of lies.

The verse here is verse 25:

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

Dishonesty is not good for families. When there are lies and deception between husbands and wives, or between children and parents, there is distrust and disharmony. So Paul says we need to change our clothes. “Put off” falsehood, and put on truth-telling. Speak honestly to one another.

And notice the motivation, the reason Paul says this is important: “for we are all members of one body.” Paul is specifically talking to Christians, and he’s drawing on the metaphor of the church as a human body. But if that is true in the church, it’s equally true in our families. We are connected. We’re in this together.

So think about what would happen if the parts of your body started telling lies to each other. For example, if your eyes started lying to your hands about where your mouth is, you could end up stabbing your cheek with your fork. If your ears started lying to your feet about the direction that train whistle came from, your whole body could get crushed as you try to cross the tracks.

It wouldn’t be good if the parts of your body were lying to each other. In the same way, it’s not good when family members start lying to each other. It hurts the whole family. Everybody loses. Trust is broken. Secrets are kept and fester. The family suffers.

So speak words of truth. Lies tear down. But honesty builds up.

Second, speak words of anger. Have the hard conversations.

Now, this is probably sounds weird. Obviously, angry words can quickly become rotten fruit words. Homes where angry words are always spoken are not pleasant places. We wouldn’t think of them as grace-filled homes.

But I want you to see what Paul writes, and think about what he’s getting at. The key verses are 26 and 27:

26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Notice that Paul says: “In your anger.” In other words, there is an acknowledgement that sometimes you will get angry. Being angry is not necessarily a sin. Anger is a human emotion. And some situations rightly call for anger.

You can find scriptural examples of Jesus being angry. The day He walked into the temple and saw the money changers, for example. Or the day He stood in front of the Scribes and Pharisees and called them a “brood of vipers.” Jesus was sometimes angry. But in His anger He never sinned.

That’s the key. That’s what Paul is getting at. There is a way to be angry without sinning. There is a way to confront problems and difficulties—and sometimes in the course of our family life there are problems and difficulties—there is a way to confront them without sinning. There is a way to speak angry words—words that address a conflict—and still season them with grace.

This is a fine line, of course. Paul is certainly not giving us permission to be constantly crabby and prickly. In just a few verses (as we’ll see in a minute) he tells us to get rid of rage and anger.

But to me, it seems that Paul is saying that issues must be dealt with. That’s what the phrase: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” seems to be getting at. Have the hard conversations. Deal with the conflict. Don’t brood and pout and nurse your anger. Get it out on the table, and work towards reconciliation.

Sometimes husbands and wives have to talk things through. Sometimes a parent needs to confront a child about certain behaviors. Sometimes children need to come to their parents and let them know what’s bothering them. There’s a way to speak angry words without sinning. There’s a way to do it with grace. But sometimes it has to happen.

Let me put it this way: homes where hard conversations never take place can be just as dysfunctional as homes where there is always screaming. When confrontations are put off and avoided, the psychologists call it codependency. I call it stuffing. Paul calls it giving “the devil a foothold.” The longer we pretend everything is fine and put on a false smile, the more opportunity we give the devil to work his way into the cracks and pull us apart from each other.

So speak angry words. Speak them without sinning (without tearing down), but in a way that builds up.

Then, third, speak words of kindness. Be nice to one another.

The key verses here are 31 and 32:

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Here, Paul gives us a list of rotten fruit words. Bitter words, rage words, angry fighting slanderous words, malicious words. These are all examples of speech that tear down and hurt. These are not words that are helpful or beneficial.

Instead, Paul says we should seek to be kind. We should seek to fill our homes with encouragement and blessing and forgiveness and compassion.

I know this doesn’t sound all that different from the advice your kindergarten teacher gave you, but it’s still pretty good advice: Be nice to each other. Use kind words.

The Heart of the Issue
So, we need to pay attention to the words we speak. Our words have incredible power. Power to hurt our help. Power to wound or heal. Power to tear down or to build up. This is especially true in our families, but it applies to every other aspect of your life as well. We should seek to make our speech a means of grace.

But there’s one more thing I want to point out. Ultimately, this isn’t about what comes out of our mouths nearly as much as it is about what’s in our hearts. Before it is a mouth issue, the words we speak are a heart issue.

I say this because of a verse I referenced earlier; words from Jesus in Matthew. Here’s the context: Matthew 12:33-37:

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. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 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. 36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The word Jesus uses for “bad” here is the same word Paul used for “unwholesome” in Ephesians. But what I want you to see is that Jesus is talking about how our hearts influence our speech. If the tree is bad, Jesus says, the fruit will be rotten. In the same way, if our hearts are bad, then our speech is going to be rotten as well.

And my point is that if you want to change your patterns of speech--if, during the course of this sermon, you’ve been convicted of using rotten fruit words: dishonest words, sinfully angry words, unkind words—then what you need to address is not your mouth, but your heart.

Your heart needs to change.

And for that to happen, you need Jesus.

Paul puts it like this, in the last two verses of our passage:

5 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

We’re not going to improve the speech heard in our homes just by screwing up our willpower and trying harder. That might work for awhile, but eventually the rotten fruit will come back. Instead, you need to fix the tree. You need Jesus to come and change your heart.

That’s what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross. That’s what He offers through His death and resurrection. If we will trust in Him, and give control over to Him, then our hearts can start to change, and so can the way we talk to one another.