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with Ann Maniscalco
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” We teach our children this old saying, trying to keep them from being wounded by unkind or thoughtless words of others. However, anyone old enough to read this lesson knows this expression is far from the truth. We’ve all been on the receiving end of caustic speech, and the wounds go deep. And most of us will have to admit to delivering hurtful words as well.
This lesson’s theme, “Connected Through Words”, continues the topic we’ve been exploring this month: unity. In just a few brief verses, our text in Ephesians 4 has much to say about the use of that small organ that sits behind our teeth, and how it can make or break unity. King David realized the necessity of controlled speech. He penned a good verse to memorize, as well as a great prayer for beginning each new day: “Set a guard over my mouth, O, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3 NIV).
Verse 24 of our focal passage begins with the word, “Therefore”. It’s been said, when we see this in Scripture, we’d do well to look back over the previous verses to see what it’s “there for”. In this case, Paul reminds his Ephesian readers of their former way of life; of things pertaining to it that were to be “put off” (vs. 22), and of the “new self” that they were to “put on” (vs. 23).
The first thing to put off is lying. This moral fault causes long-term damage to one’s reputation. If someone is caught in an untruth, his or her credibility is in question from then on. Would it not be better to “speak truthfully”, remembering our one-ness in the body of Christ (vs. 25)? And, of course, our honest speech should reach beyond the church walls to our everyday conversations.
In verse 25, Paul tells us not to sin when we become angry. Sometimes, anger is acceptable, as in the face of injustice. It becomes sinful when it involves self-centered thinking on our part. When this happens, our speech and our actions can do damage. We’re not to “let the sun go down while you are still angry” (vs. 26). Anger can erupt with volatility, or it can be stuffed down and smolder inside. Neither of these is healthy for those desiring a close walk with the Lord, as they negatively impact the individual and others. The boundary of sundown reminds us to deal quickly with the root of anger, and take the necessary steps to put it aside. By not facing the issue, we “give the devil a foothold” (vs. 27).
The “put off” and “put on” concept continues in verse 28. Believers who were thieves before their conversion were instructed to now “make an honest living for themselves” (NCV). Instead of taking advantage of others, their rightly-received earnings would allow them to bless those in need.
Speech aspects come to the forefront again in verse 29. We are to avoid “unwholesome talk”. What does that include? Sarcastic remarks, gossip, negative comments, griping, and such would certainly qualify. A good rule of thumb: if we wouldn’t say it in Jesus’ presence, it shouldn’t be said. As we dismiss this unbecoming speech, we’re to replace it with words that build up and benefit the hearers.
In case the church at Ephesus still didn’t get the message, Paul gave some more examples of actions and attitudes that had no place in members’ lives: “Let there be no more resentment, no more anger or temper, no more violent self-assertiveness, no more slander and no more malicious remarks” (vs. 31 PHILLIPS).
Our words and our actions should be such that won’t “bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit” (vs. 30 NLT), who has taken up residence within us. Kindness, compassion and forgiveness should be readily evidenced in our lives. Remembering that God, through Christ, has shown us such great mercy, should give us the desire to treat others in like manner.
How can this lesson benefit you? Consider going back through verses 22-32, and make two lists, one of things to “put off” and one of things to “put on”. Make an honest assessment of your life. Do you struggle with some things on the “put off” list? Are you weak in some “put on” areas? Ask God for the empowering of the Holy Spirit to make the desired changes.
Maniscalco is a member of Lemoyne Boulevard Church in Biloxi.