“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.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)

I do a fair volume of relationship and family counseling; husbands and wives, parents and children, a married couple and one set of their in-laws—you name it, I’ve probably engaged in some variation of it. These are often quite painful. And, living in a world that is consistently telling us we are entitled to our own way, only further complicates these unpleasant dialogues. I have watched too many families self-destruct.

Considering this, I would thus submit to you, that it is essential to grow in relationships—specifically with those we live with. It sets a much-needed foundation for the future. And to do that, we should be thankful that God has given us practical instruction to accomplish this with relative ease. For example, passages like Ephesians 4:29 are very helpful. This verse provides a helpful lens through which we can see application for communication that builds up. From complementary passages then, we’ll find the specifics of application to ensure our home environments are filled with life-giving and helpful communication in both this situation and well into the future.

Before the practical application, we need to look at the big picture of Ephesians 4:29. The instruction from this verse on how to speak to one another is sandwiched in the greater context of Ephesians 4:17-32. Paul addresses the differences between the lives of Christians and non-Christians, highlighting changes in thought, desire, and behavior. He expands his instruction by offering practical insight into a number of specific areas required of a follower of Jesus, including this helpful insight into communication.

In verse 29, “corrupting talk” refers to something rotten or putrid. To give you some unpleasant visuals, think of vomit or a rotting apple. Paul is emphasizing that no one should want these things coming out of their mouths any more than they want to put them in. The writer then emphasizes that our communication should only build one another up. This means that it should be constructive and life-giving. But equally important is his note that communication “fits the occasion.” This means that each conversation is unique and situation-specific. Few conversations should have repeated talking points, but instead, be constructive and helpful for each new opportunity to dialogue. Think of each conversation as an individual investment in someone else. It gives grace to those who hear by means of being beneficial and strengthening, as opposed to being corrupting and vile.

The perspective offered by the Apostle Paul here should be the lens by which we see all communication. From it then, the following are some practical tools you can use in your homes in an effort to practice Ephesians 4:29.

What does communication that builds up look like in this season and the days beyond?

It Practices Respect

Proverbs 15:1, 4 complements Ephesians 4:29. They respectively read…
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
    but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”

These verses encourage communicators toward respect. Respect here takes shape in soft (15:1) and gentle (15:4) responses with the focus on the individual being communicated with. It is considerate of their thoughts and emotions, as well as meant to invite their investment in responsive conversation (not to be confused with reactive conversation – more on this below). While there may be a (needed) agenda for the conversation, especially if it is related to parenting or clarification about a given situation, it does not seek to bully someone into submission or simply get its own way. Instead, respect invites others in, demonstrates care and concern, and is likely to bring about the best potential outcome.

It Avoids Being Reactionary

Continuing the themes available in Proverbs 15, when stuck in a somewhat confined space for a prolonged period of time, even the best of communicators can become a little reactionary. What happens, subtly, is sin begins to creep into our thinking and tells us we can take other people for granted. Right now, sin will tell us things like: “Well it’s not like they can go anywhere anyway, so they just have to deal with it” “or “I’m right, they’re wrong, and I’m going to prove it to them…” When we begin to think like this, it is easy to become reactionary. The signs of this are matters like…

  •  Listening in order to respond rather than to hear someone (Proverbs 15:7, 14).
  •  Manipulative outbursts like passive aggression, tears, or rolling one’s eyes to shut down communication (Proverbs 15:12, 31).
  •  Weaponizing emotions like anger, to get one’s way (Proverbs 15:1, 12, 18).

Obviously, there are others. But each of these reactions is liable to not just cause communication
breakdown, but fracture relationships and make your environment very tense. Communication
that builds up pursues…

  • Active listening for the sake of gaining wisdom and understanding for each person in each situation (Proverbs 15:7, 14).
  • A commitment to wise words that create the process of change and correction for the betterment of others (like children) to not incite outburst-reactivity (Proverbs 15:12, 31).
  • The choice to be soft, not harsh, in words or tone, give and receive needed reproof and be slow to become angry (Proverbs 15:1, 12, 18).

It Doesn’t “Beat a Dead Horse”

Complementing Ephesians 4:29, Proverbs 17:9 reminds us that sometimes the best thing one can do to build another up in communication is to let love cover an issue and not repeatedly bring it up (or gossip). The verse reads…
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”

The Bible rightly shares that repeatedly bringing up a broken area of communication in a contentious and critical way will result in the fracturing of close relationships. Right now, as tension can be high with our loved ones in close proximity and little personal space, it can be tempting to push a matter past the point of being wise. We may think ourselves justified in harping on an issue to simply feel like we have some sort of control in an uncontrollable situation. Thankfully, God provides a simple instruction: seek love. It is an act of love that forgives. Love is patient, kind, humble, not easily angered, and enduring (1 Corinthians 13). If the matter can be covered in love and let go of in forgiveness, it is prudent to follow this instruction.

It Chooses the Right Occasion

However, not every communication breakdown can be left unaddressed. Sometimes, there are repeated patterns of broken communication that have to be addressed with loving confrontation. In this case, returning to Ephesians 4:29 and Paul’s writing of the phrase “as fits the occasion,” timing is everything. The best thing to do, in the heat of the moment, is stop. When all involved are frustrated, it is unlikely genuine resolution will occur. The occasion is wrong. Instead, stop, take a break, pick an agreed-upon time (maybe 5 minutes later), and then attempt to bring about resolution. Create a new occasion. If you need a bit more time, that’s absolutely fine. But the sooner the better. The point here is to choose a better occasion to maximize the healing effects of reconciliation of a relationship and resolution of conflict. Friends and healthy communication in relationships are essential. In following these biblical principles, we preserve, if not enhance them. As Ephesians 4:29 encourages, “Give grace to those who hear.” May we be people who build one another up in this way.

Stephen Ganschow, Ph.D.

Biblical Counselor, RGI Training Program Instructor

Stephen Ganschow, Ph.D., has been with Reigning Grace since its inception. While he provides some long-distance counseling, his current role is strategic development, consultation, and teaching within Reigning Grace Institute as an instructor. Additionally, he serves as the Pastor of Counseling at Bethel Church in northwestern Indiana. He is a Level II-certified biblical counselor with the ACBC, is certified by the IABC, and has various specialty certifications in a wide array of counseling disciplines. Additionally, he is pursuing an Ed.D. in Community Care Counseling, with an emphasis on the pastoral counseling and the local church.