It is impossible to overestimate the power of speech. It was by the word of God that the universe was established, and it is by the same word that it remains unto this day. Now we know that those powerful words spoken at the beginning of time were spoken by the Word of God, the eternal Son.
Age followed age, and from generation to generation the patriarchs and the nation of Israel rejoiced to hear “the word of the LORD.” What authority it spoke, what revelation it brought, and what comfort to those in despair! Yet the greatest advancement in communication came with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. No longer would people wait to hear the truth of God conveyed by proxy, but now they could hear it from the lips of God Himself. His were lips into which grace was poured. When Christ spoke grace, He did not compromise truth, and when He spoke truth, He spoke it with grace. Neither was dominant on His blessed lips – He was filled full of both.
The speech of Christ was so distinct that the men who were sent to arrest Him were themselves arrested. “No one ever spoke like this man!” they exclaimed. His voice comforted the broken, illuminated the ignorant, humbled the proud, and enlivened the dead. How differently He sounded from those around Him, for sin had spoiled the speech of humans. When they followed the Great Liar and abandoned the truth, the speech of men and women could not be trusted. Soon their tongues began to utter a flood of passions that could not be controlled. Moral corruption, hatred, deceit, crudity, profanity and their many allies became the regular communications on this rebel planet.
In Christ, God not only established a beach-head for truth and grace but liberally sowed His new sons and daughters into this alien world. These, who once felt at home in the world of corrupt communications, were now changed. They had been made alive together with Christ (Eph 2:5), and they had been raised with Him through faith (Col 2:12). In his letters to the saints at Ephesus and Colosse, Paul highlights the impact that grace has on how they now speak to believers and unbelievers.
Words of Grace to Believers
“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” (Eph 4:29 ESV).
Words of grace are uniting. To the Ephesians Paul presents the church as a body growing up to the Head. To facilitate this growth to the unity of the faith, Christ has given men as gifts to the body. The apostles and prophets have spoken the truth about grace as a foundation to the church, and the preachers and teachers have built this truth into each succeeding generation. Grace is not only the subject of the truth but also the way in which it is to be communicated to each other. Speaking the truth will strengthen the unity of the faith and speaking it with grace will help to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Words of grace are honest. There is nothing that destroys relationships as quickly as the dishonest words that characterize the ungodly. Grace will put away all such falsehood and speak the truth to our fellow members. If deception is discovered between believers, it will give the devil an opportunity to drive a wedge of bitterness between those whom the Spirit has united in Christ.
Words of grace are pure. Many of the world’s words are dirty and doubtful. The lurid practices of the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s generation are being repeated by the liberal societies of our generation. The dialogue of films, lyrics of songs, jokes of comedians, and memes of the internet are full of corruption. Such unholy talk must be avoided or else it will grieve the Holy Spirit within us.
Words of grace are forgiving. God, by His grace, forgave all our sins, and we have now the opportunity to extend the God-like grace of forgiveness to others. No member of Christ’s body should maintain an unforgiving grudge against a fellow member.
Words of Grace to Unbelievers
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:6 ESV).
Words of grace are powerful. To the Colossians Paul presents Christ as the Head of the body, from Whom the life of every member flows down. Such liberating life enables each believer to be free from the bondage of sin and superstition. The changed and counter-cultural life of a believer becomes a powerful witness in the societies in which they live.
Words of grace are fitting. There are many ways of turning everyday conversations to the hope of the gospel, yet our attitude must also be colored by the grace that saved us. A Christ-like patience and courtesy might open the door to personal witness, but a pushy or rude manner will probably slam it shut.
Words of grace are measured. Not every dish needs salt, and even if it does, we need to learn how much to add so that the dish will not be ruined. Likewise, not every conversation can be turned to speak of spiritual things. Sometimes an unwise presentation of the truths of the gospel can spoil the opportunity for further dialogue.
Words of grace are timely. Christ, the Great Soul-Winner, spoke grace by telling the truth. But He sometimes showed grace and moved on. We must develop the wisdom to know when to show grace and when to speak grace. Thus, grace on the lips of a believer can give a soft answer that turns away the wrath of an unbeliever who is opposed to the gospel. But words carelessly spoken can be like pearls cast before pigs and can make an unbeliever even more hostile to the truth.