A pastor friend once mentioned that Christians had enough information but not enough
application. It’s a generalization, but I often find his words applicable as a biblical counselor. For example, communication is one of the most common presenting issues in marriage counseling. Do you suppose the couple does not know how to communicate, or is it that they communicate in ways that tear down rather than build up?

I am unsure how many Scripture passages say something about communication; I know there
are many. I ran a search asking how many there were, and the highest number I came across
was 157, although I think that’s too low. In other words, the Bible has much to say about communication (information), but couples in conflict do not apply them. Let’s briefly look at one familiar verse.

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)

The first observation I’d like to make is that “Let” indicates an imperative, a command. The
term “Let’ sets off the rest of the passage by not allowing corrupting communication and
encouraging communication that builds up. The word “Let” makes it an obedience issue, so
disobeying the command is a sin issue.

Some may argue that anger is the culprit and that the other person’s words have made them
angry, so their corrupting talk is somehow justified. The problem with that reasoning is that you
cannot find a Scripture passage to back it up. Paul seems clear in implying that Christians ought
to have a measure of self-control in their speech in their circumstances. Being angry does not negate the command. Unrighteous anger just makes corrupting communications worse.

So what is corrupting talk? The NASB substitutes the word “unwholesome” for corrupting. The CSB uses the term “foul” for corrupting. My preference is corrupting or foul words because they convey a sense of rottenness as if something has spoiled or died and is giving off a putrid odor. The category is broad enough to include any language out of character to a Christian’s new life in Christ. Paul does not merely command believers to put off using corrupting language but to put on language that builds up. What does that mean, especially during a war of abusive words?

I like how the John MacArthur Study Bible explains the meaning:

The Christian’s speech should be instructive, encouraging, uplifting (even when it must be corrective), and suited for the moment. 1

I often assign Ephesians 4:29 to couples whose speech patterns are not helpful even when they are not fighting. Why? Because the passage encourages giving grace as a habit. Paul gives a similar command in Colossians 4:6:

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)

Again, we see an apostolic command emphasizing gracious, wholesome speech as a habit of the heart. When I see communication as a presenting issue on a Personal Data Inventory alongside marriage, I assume a considerable measure of corrupting talk and absence of gracious speech. The first step in putting off corrupting speech is having the presence of mind to just shut up and obey the command. This is called self-control, which can become a habit when a person takes the command seriously. Learn to pray and apply Psalm 141:3:

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psa. 141:3)

The second step is to say something that lowers the temperature, something like can we pray right now that our language glorifies the Lord? Saying something like that invites God into the situation. Too often, God is forgotten, as winning the argument is more important than solving problems in God’s way. Be aware, especially in the more challenging moments we live in, Coram Deo, or before God. Let that be an incentive to develop a new habit of the heart.

  Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? (Psa. 139:7)

1 John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville,
TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Eph 4:29.

Pastor Bruce Roeder

Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor
Bruce is an Elder/Pastor at the Vine Community Church in South Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2) and IABC. He is married to his wife Elizabeth of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three grandkids. 

Pastor Bruce and his wife also serve as counselors one day per week via Zoom at Reigning Grace Counseling Center (RGCC) in KC, MO. RGCC is a parachurch organization that provides biblical counseling for applicants across the country, Follow the link for more information.