Recently, I have been pondering Ephesians 4:29 with my children and what it means for our conversations. It states, “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.” In this verse, two ways of speaking are contrasted: negative and destructive versus positive and beneficial. In personal interactions with others, we are called to imitate Christ and to use our words to strengthen and edify, giving grace to one another, speaking truth for the purpose of building up, not tearing down.
It’s obvious then (even to children) that insults and curses and other derogatory words are ungodly, but are they the only words that can be unwholesome? If the intent of Ephesians 4:29 is to call us to speak in a way that is constructive and edible versus that which is indigestible or rotten, are other conversations also in view? If the goal is for our words to give grace and life to our listeners, how else might this verse instruct us?
Have you ever seen the movie Super Size Me? If you have, you’ll know it is enough to keep you away from fast food for quite a while. It is great imagery for youth because it shows the cumulative effect of a pattern of behavior. In this documentary, one man takes a look at the effects of fast food on the human body, using himself as the test subject. For one month, he eats nothing but McDonald’s, ordering everything on the menu and “super-sizing” his order whenever asked. The result is a sobering examination of how people feed themselves and the role the food industry plays in it.
In less than 30 days, he goes from being a healthy, energetic New Yorker with normal blood counts and good cholesterol, to an unhealthy man who finds himself regularly nauseous, weak and lethargic. He is being physically weakened by the food he is consuming and the doctors involved in monitoring him urge him to stop the experiment. What he finds is that sustenance does not equate to nourishment. Simply putting food into your body does not mean it is good for you or holds any redeeming nutritional value.
This imagery is also true of our conversations with each other. How many families coexist for long periods of time living on “fast food” interactions? These conversations are quick, easy, and immediate. We talk about what is necessary to keep the family going. We say enough to make decisions, get through the day’s busy routine, or to provide correction to a child’s behavior. But we rarely stop and offer something constructive or something that edifies or gives grace. And though our speech may not be antagonistic or derisive, a steady diet of fast food interaction offers no nutritional value to your family, and over time, can become the very thing that erodes its relationships.
Instead, our conversations should reflect how Christ relates to us. We imitate him by cultivating deep, rich, nourishing conversations with our children that build relational bridges. We walk alongside them, mentoring them, helping them make sense of their day, school experiences and relationships. True nourishment comes from caring for their spiritual state. It helps develop a holy richness and vitality in our children’s lives by pointing them to Christ as the one whose wisdom and love will sustain and guide them.
This study of Ephesians reminds me that our words are not neutral. They provide value and nourishment or, like fast food, they lead to decay. We all need to find our conversations transformed by a desire to build up and give nourishment to each other for the purpose of drawing one another to Christ.