Taming the Tongue and Communication (Eph 4:25-32)


“25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:25-32, ESV)

One of the worst thing in life is finding out that you have been taken in by a lie. Whether it is a financial scam,a  lie from a friend, or a lie from a co-worker, it is unsettling to know that you were deceived. You act upon the information that you received and it turns out that it was a lie. And then the truth comes out. But no lie is worse than the lies that Satan puts out for mass consumption:

  •             People are good
  •             God keeps things from you
  •             You deserve happiness
  •             You’re not perfect, but you are better than others.

Unbelievers are those who have exchanged God’s truth for a lie (Rom 1) and a believer is a person whom God has opened their eyes and they see the lies about God and ourselves and then causes them to believe the truth. When we look at these truths in Ephesians 4:25-32,  we need to understand that Paul is writing to those who have been delivered from the lies of Satan. If a person has not been delivered or “saved” then they are still blind. But if you have been delivered, then you need to act in the truth accordingly! You should now live in the truth. Paul has spoken about what has been put off in the old life (v. 22) and what has been put on (v. 24) in the new life in Christ. We know that verse 25 is connected and dependant because it begins with “therefore.”

In other words, as believers, we need to live our lives in light of the gospel, which we have come to believe. And the first area that he addresses is the area of communication. Learning to communicate is crucial to the health of a relationship—no matter what the relationship. It is through good communication that relationships are built and it is through communication that relationships grow. It is through communication that problems are solved, and in marriage there is nothing better that builds a sense of closeness than good communication. Where there is no communication, relationships starve. Good relationships are built and sustained in an environment of good communication. What happens when people don’t communicate?

  • The relationship remains shallow and superficial. Small talk dominates the conversations. We do this with acquaintances, but should not do this with close friends.
  • Wise decision-making is not accomplished, because husbands and wives are not talking to one another (the same goes with older children, who will not or cannot communicate with their parents because communication has broken down.)
  • Issues that are unclear, such as expectations and demands, remain unclear and lead to hurt feelings and frustrations.
  • If there is an idea that is wrong or sin invades the relationship, there is no means by which that sin or error can be addressed properly and biblically.
  • Disagreements turn into fights, because we don’t know how to communicate.
  • And to make matters worse, some of us grew up in families that were messed up in this area—we never communicated about anything beyond a surface level. Forget about sex and money and politics and sin. Hurt feelings were buried and shoved down and nobody spoke about it.
  • But that is not how things are to be according to God’s word.

Notice in v. 25 the verb “Speak.” That is a command. It is not an option. There is no option for “clamming up” or the “silent treatment” or the answer to the question “What’s wrong?” with “Nothing.” But we have to do more than just speak. We have to speak the right way, don’t we? There is a lot of power in our words. The longer I spend with seminary students listening to at least 10 sermons a week, which works out to about 145 sermons a semester, it becomes clear that the way something is said is just as important as the content of what is said. Right?

  • Prov 11:9, 11, “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. …By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.”
  • Prov 12:18, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
  • Prov 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
  • James 3:5ff

To summarize, infinite good and pain lie in the power of the tongue. So in light of the importance of communication in our lives, I’d like to offer three mandates from God as to how we should speak to one another.

  1. Speak Honestly (v. 25)

Paul is saying in a sense, “Therefore, since you have laid aside Satan’s lie, lay aside lying and embrace truth.” Now of course, this means the overt, bald-faced lie, but it means more than this.

  • Deceit can refer to the speaking of truth, but it is only partial. You are holding back more information in order to give a wrong impression. That can be a form of manipulation.
  • Exaggeration is an embellishment of the truth. This can look like two words we can say when we get into an argument—“Always” and “Never.” Those are sweeping generalizations and seldom true—they are lies.
  • Evasion is a form of not telling the truth. We ignore or hide from our spouse something we don’t want them to know. We didn’t lie about our little shopping trip, we just didn’t tell them. Or it can look like changing the subject, or in an argument pointing to the other one’s fault to avoid the current problem about your self.
  • Innuendo or disguising the message. That can occur when you are afraid to come right out and say something, so you bury it. Dropping hints like , “Boy, Mike sure does care about his wife. Did you see what he did for her birthday?” What does that communicate? Or the husband, “Did you know that Wendy gets up at 5:00am to make Pastor homemade blueberry muffins and fresh coffee?” What does the wife hear?
  • The Conflict between what we are saying with our mouths and our non-verbal communication
  • Blame shifting
  • Not Keeping Promises when it is in our power

What is the motivation beyond our new life in Christ? At the end of verse 25 it tells us—“for we are members of one another.” I mean, this applies to Christians in the Body of Christ, but how much more and intimate as believing spouses are we members of one another in the covenant of marriage (one flesh) in Christ? Lying isn’t just wrong because God says its wrong and we’re Christians, so we shouldn’t lie—it’s wrong because it hurts those we are closest to and we love the most.

Many of our communications problems come because we are not honest, but we deceive, distort and manipulate the facts to our advantage—we re-imagine events and the facts pertaining to them, and sadly enough, we begin to believe our own lies. Lies can deceive both ways. But as Christians, who are to come out of the darkness and embrace the light and truth, we need to put away falsehoods. We are to declare the truth and live in the truth and promote the truth. The world follows its father, who is a liar, but do we want to be like the world? If not, we need to be honest and speak the truth.

  1. Speak Regularly (v. 26-28)

Anger is permissive, but if you are angry, there are limits to it, being careful not to sin. So, what is sinful anger and non-sinful anger? God is an angry God at times. Jesus showed anger. So, there is a non-sinful anger. It is not automatically sinful. But there is a sinful anger. Prov 22:24-25, “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” Prov. 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Allowed anger is simply getting angry at what God gets angry at—sin, injustice, God being maligned or his glory being stolen, unrighteousness, immorality, irreverence. We could use more of this type of anger, couldn’t we? But the problem is that this type of anger is such a small part of our experience with this emotion. Most of us struggle with anger is its many pervasive forms:

  • Sullenness
  • Resentment
  • Moodiness
  • Explosiveness
  •  Thoughts of revenge or hatred
  • Meanness or spite

Anger is sinful if: 1.) It is selfishly motivated—when your own perceived rights have been violated. Life is not the way you deserve it to be. So you clam up or blow up. 2.) If it is sinfully expressed—Maybe you are righteously angered at your spouse’s sin, but you do one of two extremes in response—you clam up or you blow up. Anger is simply a passion—but what is behind this passion? Is it glory for God or is it selfishly motivated and how do you handle it? What do we do if we exhibit such anger—we need to confess it, and repent and pray for God’s help to overcome this sin and to be angered only about the things he hates, and that we would handle it the way God would handle it. What is our motivation for such anger? Is it selfishness, is it because we don’t get our own way, as James 4 says?

But, our text says that we are not only to put off sinful anger, but that we are to put on something. We are not to let the sun go down upon our anger. That means we are to deal with it as quickly as possible. This is a proverb, and it does not mean that you need to deal with your anger before sunset. It does not even mean that you need to hash it out before you go to bed, although that should be done if possible. But you should deal with the problem of your sinful anger and selfishness as soon as possible.

Speak often to one another so that your relationship is not hindered. Don’t nurse it, don’t brood over it, don’t allow it to linger in your heart. Deal with your own heart, repent and then get it right. What happens if you don’t deal with it right away? It begins to affect other areas of your life—it begins to creep into other unresolved problems and bitterness and all the garbage comes out, it begins to seep into your times of physical intimacy, and effects your speech (sarcasm, etc); and bitterness, resentment and hatred don’t stay in neat cubicles in your heart—they sinfully begin to eat away at others, and the sinful anger problem you had with one person now has sinfully affected others. Notice v. 27, it also gives a foothold to the devil in your life and marriage. As you angrily lick your wounds, you are setting yourself up for a greater fall.

Satan loves to blow on those hot coals of anger and use them for his own ends. We need to deal with our problems and this requires us to be in continuous speech as it says in v. 25. The word “speak” in verse 25 is in the present tense in Greek meaning that this speech is to be ongoing. That means that communication is never to stop. And that keeps the anger from simmering and growing into bitterness and seething hatred. It allows for clarification and asking good questions to gain insight and wisdom.

When I speak to couples who literally hate one another—their communication had come to a screeching halt at some time in the past and they had no way of dealing with their sins against one another. Its like those garbage-man strikes where the truck no longer go out and pick up the trash. At first it’s a nuisance, then its disgusting, then its s serious health hazard. So, you’re going to go to the Lord and give him your sour attitude in repentance, but you are also going to sit down with your spouse and talk it over and as forgiveness, and get it right.

  1. Speak Graciously (v. 29-32)

Now, there are some people who may have gotten really excited about the last point to “speak regularly” because you want that—you want to sit down and hash it all out. But let me add caution to this, and ask you:

  • Is it because you like to wrangle words?
  • Is it because you like to be right?
  • Is it to win and come out on top?
  • Is it to attack the other person and put them in their place?
  • Is it to manipulate the other person so you can get what you want?

If these are your purposes, say it anyway you want—sarcasm works pretty good. Because if these are your goals, then you are not seeking to communicate nor are you seeking to please the Lord or help your spouse or the other person. But if you wish to help the other person and love them and bring the both of you into a right relationship with one another and the Lord, then these goals are unacceptable and need to be repented of.

The principle is in v. 29. It says we are to speak to the other person in such a way so that we are instructing, lifting up, and building up the other person, not tearing them down. This is the kind of speech that is fitting to the occasion. It might be gracious instruction, gracious reproof in love, gracious exhortation, rehearsing the realities of the gospel. What verse 29 really says that in this conversation, you are going to impart grace to them—you are going to be a blessing to them through this conversation. Now thinking back to our feeble attempts to do this, we can often see how we can go so wrong, when we intended to do right, can’t we? We can mow people down with the truth. We can beat people with our Bibles. We can choose the wrong occasion to deal with the problem. We can just “say what’s on our mind.” Keep in mind…

  • Be concerned with what you say. Choose your words wisely. Words are hurting and cutting. Some are skillful at cutting people up with their words. They are like the chefs at Benihana with their words. But v. 29 says we are not to let unwholesome words come out of our mouths. Corrupt, decaying words. Prov 15:1-2.
  • Be concerned with how you say it. Tone, pitch, volume, facial expressions, sarcasm, condescension, scoffing, mocking. All of these affect our communication, and can take words that are good and make them sinful with their intention. Prov 16:21; Col 4:6.
  • Not sure how what you want to say will come across? Try this. Ask yourself, does this fit along with what I am about to say in the way I am about to say it: “You stupid idiot.” If it fits, then don’t say it.
  • Be concerned when you talk. Prov 15:23; 25:11. Choose appropriate times to speak. This is hard work, to communicate in a God-honoring way! And there is an additional motivation given in v. 30. It tells us that when we sin in this way we grieve the Holy Spirit. When we speak to one another, there is another One listening to our conversation. And when we speak in sinful ways to others, we grieve him.

Ultimately it’s a matter of the heart-Matt 12:34-35. When we speak we reflect what’s in our hearts.

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