The Lord’s Day
May 21, 2006
“Talk, Edification, the Holy Spirit, and the Glory of
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians 4. In this whole passage from Ephesians 4:17, running all the
way to Ephesians 5:4, Paul is calling us to live like Christians: to live out
the grace of God in our lives, and, in so doing, to promote the unity that God
has created in the body, and indeed, to promote His glory in our witness to the
And the Apostle Paul has made much in this book,
especially in chapter two, of the fact that God has brought a very diverse
people into His church. In the Ephesian church there were Jews and Gentiles;
there were slave and former slave, and free; there were barbarians and
Scythians; there were people from various backgrounds, both citizens of the
Roman Empire and non-citizens; from different socio-economic classes. And they’d
all been brought into one local church, and the thing that they had in common
was the gospel. The thing that they had in common was the worship of the one
true God, by Jesus Christ.
And the Apostle Paul said ‘Do you see what a
tremendous witness it is to the world that you, who are so different, are bound
together by this one thing, by this one Lord Jesus Christ, by this one
gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, that you
love one another and care for one another despite the fact that you’re so
different and you come from a dazzling variety of backgrounds and experiences?’
And Paul makes it clear in Ephesians that this is a display of God’s glory. This
is proof positive that God is saying to the world that ‘My grace is at work in
these people; these people would never be gathered into the same family were it
not for My grace; these people would never love one another were it not for My
Think how true that would have been for the Jews and
the Gentiles. The very law that the Jews had to follow out of the ceremonial
code kept them from being able to fellowship with Gentiles. They couldn’t eat
the foods that Gentiles ate, they couldn’t wear the clothes that Gentiles wear.
They had to observe different days and seasons that the Gentiles didn’t observe.
The very lifestyle commanded by the ceremonial law kept them from fraternizing
with the Gentiles: but now, in Jesus Christ, believing Jew and believing Gentile
could be brought into the same family, the same local church, and love one
another and care for one another, and look out for one another, and edify one
another, and the Apostle Paul says that’s a display of God’s glory. It’s God
saying to the world ‘Look at My grace at work in the lives of these people.’
And so the Apostle Paul throughout this chapter is
very interested in our being different from the world, so that the world can see
the difference that is in us and say ‘Ah! That could only come from God. Only
God could have created that in these people.’
But he’s also interested in our walking
differently from the world, because it actually promotes the unity of the body.
As we are unified in a commitment to leading a life of grace, it will have
specific particular effects on how we live in certain areas of our individual
and corporate lives, and we’ve already seen Paul in this passage listing some of
those differences. For instance, if you look back at verse 25, he starts off by
saying your truth-telling is both going to promote unity in the body, and it’s
going to set you apart from the world; by putting away lying and practicing the
telling of the truth, it’s going to unify the body. And then he goes on in
verses 26-27 and emphasizes that our managing and expressing anger appropriately
and our refraining from sinful anger and expression are going to promote the
unity of the body and be a display of God’s glory in the world.
And then, in verse 28 he tackles the issue of
stealing. And it’s obvious to us, isn’t it, how any of those wins would tend to
break down unity in the body? If we’re lying to one another, and if we’re
sinfully angry with one another, and if we’re stealing from one another, that
does not tend to promote unity in our body, in our family. And so, the Apostle
Paul says don’t do those things. Those things break down the unity of the
family, and they rob God of glory in this display of His glory in the church,
which is to be to the world a witness that God’s power is at work in us. The
world is able to look at us and say ‘Well, you’re no different from us, if you
do those things.’ And so the Apostle Paul wants us to be different.
I want to say again, the Apostle Paul is not
telling us how to be saved here. He is not telling us how to become
Christians. Paul’s words for how to be saved are not ‘make sure you do this, do
this, do this, and don’t do this, and don’t do this, and don’t do this.’ These
are not Paul’s words about how to be saved. Paul will give you his words on how
to be saved in various places. In II Timothy 3, he’ll tell you that salvation is
by faith in Jesus Christ – that’s how you’re saved. But now he’s speaking to
Christians, and he’s saying to them ‘This is how you live as those who are
trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, and, if you live this way, it will build
up the unity of the body, it will make you distinct from the world — so that the
world knows that God is at work in you.’
And that brings us to the fourth particular
example that the Apostle Paul gives in this passage, and notice again how it
comes back to speech. We’re not done with speech yet. He’ll yet again come
to it before we’re done with this list, and that lets us know how important the
mouth, the tongue, the speech, our talk, is to our Christian witness and to our
growth in grace. Before we read God’s word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask
for His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your word, it is Your truth. We ask
that You would open our eyes first to see our sin in this area. Lord, if we’re
not trusting in Jesus Christ today and we see a sin in this area, help us not to
try and patch it up by pledging to do better, but help us to run to Jesus Christ
and say, “Lord Jesus, I can’t do this without You. I need to be changed. I need
to be saved.” And then, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can endeavor to live
as a Christian.
If we’re Christians hearing this word today, help
us again to run to grace, because we recognize that our behavior in this area
will never, ever, attain to what You would have us attain, if we are relying
upon our own strength. Lord, we need Your grace. We need Your grace to live like
this. Our Lord and our God, if we’re complacent about this area, convict us. If
we’re discouraged about this area, encourage us in Jesus Christ. But speak to us
clearly by Your word, and by Your Spirit apply its truth to our hearts. We ask
it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is
good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace
to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were
sealed for the day of redemption.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
In this passage the Apostle Paul is challenging
patterns of corrupt communication amongst the Ephesian Christians. Just as
he has challenged them in the area of telling the truth, just as he has
challenged them in the area of sinful expressions of anger, just as he has
challenged them in the area of stealing and respecting other people’s property,
he challenges them in their patterns of talking and their patterns of speech,
and he challenges them about corrupt communication, about unwholesome talk. And
he not only challenges them about their sins in that area, he commends and
commands them to be edifying in their speech; that is, to approach their talk
with the express goal of edifying their fellow believers, so that the one aim of
all their conversation is always to edify and to build up and to encourage
fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, he also in this passage bids them to take
care not to grieve the Holy Spirit with their talk. That is a stunning
statement that we come across in verse 30. I’m not sure that we can adequately
express all that it means, but Paul is very concerned…and, by the way, it’s
not just our talking. That expression that he gives us in verse 30 that we
not grieve the Holy Spirit has to do with the whole of our conduct as
Christians. It applies to all six of the particular examples that Paul gives in
this passage about distinctive Christian living. It applies to the whole of the
Christian life, and I want to look at those three things with you today.
I. Christians must, in reliance
on God’s grace refuse to speak harmfully.
First, the prohibition: the warning against
corrupt speech. You see it in verse 29, in the very first words: “Let no
unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.”
What the Apostle Paul is saying there is that
Christians must, in reliance upon God’s grace, refuse to speak harmfully. That’s
what unwholesome speech is. Unwholesome speech is speech which harms our
neighbor, harms our brothers and sisters in Christ, does not promote their
wholeness and holiness before the Lord. And he says ‘Christian, you must not
give way to speaking harmfully. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your
Now, harmful speech (or unwholesome speech) comes in
a variety of forms. It can come in the form of foul or vulgar language. I was
remembering just over the last couple of days a coach that I had in high school.
He clearly loved coaching; it gave him great meaning in his life. He was not a
full-time school teacher. He was a part-time school teacher, and he drove a
Coke® truck in order to make ends meet, in order to earn income to supplement
what he did as a part-time teacher and a coach. And he showed up early and he
always left late for football practices. He really cared about it a great deal.
But as I look back remembering him, I can remember only one thing that he taught
me with regard to the skill position that I played, in terms of the technique
that I was supposed to employ in playing the sport, and apart from that, almost
the only thing that I can remember about him was the ridiculously foul and
vulgar language that he consistently used, practice after practice, game after
game. In fact, when his name is called to my mind, I can immediately remember
seven or eight phrases that he used constantly that were vulgar and foul, and I
cannot remember a single other word that the man ever said to me.
And the Apostle Paul is saying that is not the kind
of speech that edifies, and that is not the kind of speech that a Christian
ought to use. And so foul and vulgar language falls into this category of
unwholesome speech. Think of it! That’s all that I can remember of that man’s
character now…just about all that I can remember of that man’s character. And
his speech so much characterized that character to my heart and mind. Is that
the impression that you want to leave on people years and years from now? The
impression of foul or vulgar speech?
But it doesn’t just mean foul and vulgar speech.
Paul is actually going to come back to that issue later in this passage. But it
also speaks, of course, of dishonest words, of gossip, of slanderous words that
undermine a person’s reputation and their character in the eyes of other people.
It refers to unkind talk that we may use.
And, you know, Paul’s words here not only have to do
with the words that we literally speak, they also have to do with the words that
we type. You know we live in a world of the internet today, and it is amazing
what some people will say on the internet that they would never, ever, say in
public, speaking face to face to a person…either words that are unkind or
untrue, or unwholesome. How are you using the internet when you blog? When you
enter into chat rooms? When you will a place out on MySpace or
Facebook? Are the things that you do in that sphere wholesome? Are they
edifying to other people? Are they things that you would be proud to have
flashed up on a screen before your dearest friends in Christ and let them see
and contemplate, maybe on a Sunday morning during Sunday School? Is your
language — whether you’re speaking it or on the internet — of the variety of
unwholesomeness, or is it pure and wholesome and edifying? Well, the Apostle
Paul is challenging you to take responsibility for your talk, for your
communication, and to see the importance of it. As far as the Apostle Paul is
concerned, unwholesome language does two things: It breaks down the unity of the
body; and, it mars our witness to the world.
On the plane coming back from a pastors’ meeting in
Chicago on Thursday of this week, I had a long conversation with a very
interesting man. He had gone to Bible college as a young man, served in the U.S.
Navy, and been an involved member of a local church. He had moved to another
city, and I asked him, “Well, what church do you go to?” And he said, “I don’t.
I haven’t in ten years.” (He had seen me reading my commentaries on Ephesians
and asked what I was doing.) He said, “I haven’t been to church in ten years.”
Well, it was a long story, but one of the big
reasons why was because of what he perceived and what probably was hypocrisy in
the people who populated the church in which he was involved.
The Apostle Paul says unwholesome talk allows the
world to say ‘They’re just a bunch of hypocrites. There’s no difference in them
from us, because we’re able to do that kind of unwholesome talk, too. There’s no
reality to the power of God’s grace in their lives.’ So Paul is concerned that
we understand the responsibility for our talk, that we see the importance of it,
and that we refuse to speak harmfully.
II. Christians must aim in talk to
But he’s not content simply to say
don’t do something; he wants to tell us ‘Do something.’ And so I want you to
look again in verse 29 at the exhortation that he brings. He says,
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as
is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will
give grace to those who hear.”
You see what Paul is saying there. He’s saying that
Christians must aim in their talk to edify and to bless their hearers. Paul is
saying to you ‘When you speak, Christian, you must have as your deliberate aim
to edify and to bless your neighbor, and especially fellow believers.’
The Apostle Paul knows that edifying, wholesome,
conversation does — what? It builds up the unity of the body, and it gives a
beautiful expression to the world that God’s grace is at work in us. It’s an
extraordinary thing, isn’t it? Paul is saying ‘In your talk you must always have
the aim, the goal, the desire, for edifying. You want to speak to people in such
a way that when they go away from that conversation they think ‘You know, I love
Christ more because of that conversation with that believer. I love God more. I
want to be a better Christian. I want to use my mouth for edification, after
Have you ever been with somebody who…after the
conversation, either because of the content of the conversation or because of
the way that the conversation was had, that you felt greasy when you left the
conversation? And you felt like you needed to go take a shower to cleanse off?
That’s not what you want to do! You do not want to leave people feeling
like they need to go take a shower after conversation with you! They need to
feel edified. We are to edify our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ with our
And furthermore, Paul says that we want our
speech to be a blessing. Look what he says:
“Such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so
that it will give grace to those who hear.”
You want your speech to give grace; you want your speech
to be a gift to other people; you want your speech to be a blessing to those who
are hearing. And so the Apostle Paul is emphasizing to us that Christians
must aim in our talk to edify and bless our hearers.
I have a dear friend…and every time I’m in a
conversation with him, he edifies me. I come out of those conversations thinking
first of all, “Lord, help me to use my tongue, my talk, to edify people like my
friend edifies me.” I always walk away from those conversations wanting to be a
better pastor, or a better husband, a better dad, be a better friend, use my
tongue in such a way as to encourage and edify; and the Apostle Paul is saying
that’s what the Christian community ought to be characterized by.
Our speech is to be radically different from the
speech of the world. Think of it: in the world, much speech is simply about
getting what we want. It’s about getting our needs met. But for the Christian,
speech is about edifying others. Do you see the radically different direction
that Paul charts out in all four of these areas that we’ve studied so far? Lying
— does that edify a neighbor? No. Truth-telling — does that edify a neighbor?
Yes, it does. Sinful anger expressed — does that edify a neighbor? No. Is it
unwholesome? Yes. So, does a right display of anger and a management of sinful
anger edify the neighbor? Yes, it does. Stealing — does that edify your
neighbor? No. Does respecting your neighbor’s property edify your neighbor? Yes.
Wholesome talk — does that edify your neighbor? Yes, it does. Does unwholesome
talk edify your neighbor? No.
Notice, all of these things are designed for — what?
To express a life that is determined to do the best towards our neighbor,
towards our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. It’s a radically different
view of life and of the world as Paul is expressing it for us here today.
III. Christians must aim to
speak so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit.
But then, thirdly, Paul speaks about our
motivation for this. In verse 30, he says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of
God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
The Apostle Paul says here that Christians must aim to
speak so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit.
Now, that is a tremendous phrase. I’m certain that I
don’t understand all of it. But you understand what Paul is saying here: The
great blessing for the New Testament Christian is that, whereas in the Old
Testament God manifested His presence when the cloud of glory came down on the
tabernacle and on the temple, and so sent out a message to the people of God and
to the whole world that “I, God, am dwelling in your midst”, the great blessing
of the New Testament Christian is that the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles
have said that that Shekinah glory of God where He manifests His presence, that
the Holy Spirit of God dwells in us by grace individually and collectively: that
you are the temple that God is building.
You remember Jesus’ saying, “Tear down this temple
and I will rebuild it in three days.” Well, you know what He was talking about.
He was talking about you. He was saying that that earthly temple…no, that’s
going to be torn down in My day, but the temple that I’m going to raise up in
its place is a living temple, and the Holy Spirit of God is going to dwell in
it. And that Holy Spirit of God dwells in you, and He is holy. He loves all that
which is wholesome and which advances wholesomeness. He loves all that which is
edifying, and which advances edification of one another. He delights in it when
you are like Jesus; He works in you to make you more like Jesus. And the Apostle
Paul is saying you must understand that when you do not speak like a Christian,
when you do not speak like your Savior would speak, it grieves Him.
I can hardly take in what that means — to grieve the
Holy Spirit who dwells in us, who has given us life, who has united us to Jesus
Christ, who will raise us again from the dead and seat us in heavenly places
with Jesus Christ — that we would grieve Him…what in the world does that mean?
Well, I think I can maybe stab in the dark and
illustrate this. Think of someone now who has grieved you by the words that they
have spoken to you or about you. Now think of living with that person grieving
you by their words to you or about you every minute of the hour, every hour of
the day, every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the
year, of every year for the rest of your life. Now think of your grieving the
Spirit who dwells in you by your unwholesome and unedifying words every minute
of the hour, every hour of the day, every day of the week, every week of the
month, every month of the year, for every year of the rest of your life. Can you
imagine grieving Him so? He delights when He sees Christ displayed in our lives,
but it grieves Him when Christ is not displayed.
You know, one thing the Apostle Paul is doing
here is he’s reminding us that in every mundane act or word or choice or
attitude in the Christian life, there is always a spiritual battle being fought.
He reminded us of that back up in verse 27, didn’t he? He said with regard to
our anger ‘Watch out…watch out….’ He said. “Don’t give the devil an
opportunity.” Now the flip side: that in our speech (and of course, what Paul
says applies not only to our speech but our respect to the possessions of
others, and our right manifestation of anger, and for the truthfulness of our
conversation)…and he says ‘Watch out, because your conversation can either
delight or vex or grieve the Holy Spirit.’ And he’s reminding us that in every
action and word and choice and attitude of the Christian life, there is this
spiritual reality in and around and underneath it. Eternal things are being
dealt with day by day.
Young people, this is not just something for older
people. You know you don’t have to be around a playground very long to see young
people using unkind speech towards one another or about someone else. And, you
know, the sad thing is that doesn’t get better when we grow up, it just becomes
You know, we tell our children “Sticks and stones
may break my bones, but words will never harm me”–usually when they’re crying on
our shoulders about something that has been said to them or about them. And we
do that to remind them that there are worse things that can happen than to have
someone say something mean about them…but, you know, words can kill. And the
Apostle Paul knows that, and so he’s saying ‘Let this be your rule, Christian:
Let no unwholesome, unedifying word come out of your mouth, but aim in
everything that you say to edify and bless your brothers and sisters in Christ.’
This, he says, will bring greater unity to the body. It will be a glorious
witness to God in the world that He is at work in our midst, because, if you’re
like me, this is not an easy command.
Those of us who talk for a living are deeply tempted
in sins of talk. It is easy to excuse ourselves with gossip and wrong words
towards others when we use our lips so much. You pray for me that when I speak I
will edify, and I’ll pray for you that when you speak you will edify, because if
we were to become a congregation who really spoke for edification, it would be
patently obvious to the world around us, because we live in a world filled with
gossip and slander and harmful speech. It’s everywhere we turn.
You want to show that the grace of God is at work in
your life? Show it with wholesome speech. Now, you’ll need the Holy Spirit of
God to do this. You will not be able to do this on your own, Christian. You will
not be able to do this on your own. It will take the Spirit at work in you to
keep from grieving the Spirit. It will take the edifying work of the Spirit in
you in order to be edifying in your speech. And it’s just possible that there
are those among us this morning that don’t know Jesus Christ savingly, haven’t
trusted in Him for salvation, and perhaps you see now this sin in your life. You
will not be able to deal with this sin apart from Christ and apart from Him Holy
Spirit. You can’t turn over another leaf on this one. It takes the grace of God
to change a tongue from a harmful tongue to an edifying tongue. May God make it
so in us, dear friends
O Lord God, by Your Spirit, grant that we would
not grieve Him so, but would be edifying in every word that we speak. We ask
this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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Sunday, May 21, 2006
Ephesians 4:29-30 Outline
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is
good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give
grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you
were sealed for the day of redemption.
In this passage, Paul challenges corrupt communication by Christians, commands
us to be edifying in our speech, and bids us to take care not to grieve the Holy
Spirit with our talk (as well as our stealing, anger or untruthfulness).
I. Christian must, in reliance on
God’s grace, refuse to speak harmfully (29)
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, . . .
II. Christians must aim in our talk
to edify and bless our hearers (29b)
29 . . . but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need
of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
III. Christians must aim to speak so
as not to grieve the Holy Spirit (30)
30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of
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