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Are Your Words Wholesome – or Unwholesome? It Matters!

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“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.” (Ephesians 4:29)

“Unwholesome” doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? After all, doesn’t it mean just a little bit dirty? It’s not like the inside of your garbage can that you take out once a week. Or is it?

I’m sorry to say that’s exactly what unwholesome means. It’s smelly, rotten, corrupt. And the funny thing about something that’s rotten, it doesn’t stay alone very long. Soon, it reaches out and spoils what’s around. Not only does the smell move out, so does the rottenness. It makes everything bad, unfit for use, worthless.

When the word “corrupt” comes up, it’s usually about someone else. Some politician got caught taking a bribe or stealing money from the government. It might be used of someone fixing a sporting event so those in the know will win. Or it can be used about scammers and schemers who are trying to get your money through lies and fraud.

Did you notice that in all these examples, corrupt always points to someone else? It’s them. It’s those people. It’s never us, it’s always them.

And for the most part, that might be correct. But the truth here isn’t about some scheme, it’s about our scheme. It’s not about their actions, it’s about ours. It’s not about their corrupt works, but ours.

The bar for unwholesome is not set very high. It’s not that you can have some rottenness, some corruption. There’s no room for any. Have you ever been served a meal, only to discover that there was a live snail in it? What would you do? Would you calmly reach in, pick out the snail, and eat the rest of the food around where the snail was? I don’t think so

Our words are to be helpful, building people up. Our speech is to have a purpose: making people feel at home. Helping them be comfortable. We are to use our words to give blessings and benefit.

But who gets the blessing? Who gets the benefit? Not everyone but only those who listen. Our words alone don’t do anything, it’s a partnership between the speaker and the listener. So, we have to be where people can hear us, and speak in a way that they can understand.

Which brings up another important question: why is unwholesome talk bad? It’s less about the words and more about what happens to the people who are around. Yes, the words are destructive and damaging, but the person who’s saying them rubs off and corrupts the people around them.

Where do unwholesome words come from? They come from deep down inside an unwholesome person.

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:18,19

So, how beneficial are our words? Do our words help people? Or are they shouting about how hurt we are? Are our words full of grace? Or are they spewing garbage from our life? Do our words make people feel relaxed? Or are they energized by the raging rebellion inside?

It’s more than just trying harder to control what we say. If it were that simple, we’d have fixed it long ago. If a three-point checklist could have changed us, then there would be no problem.

But the problem is much more significant than that. It’s deadly serious. In ourselves, we are unwholesome, rotten to the core. Not a very popular idea, but look at the news, what’s happening in our country and around the world. How much more evidence will it take before we will agree with those four small words: for all have sinned?

This is where the good news about Jesus comes to the rescue. He saw our corruption, and instead of running away, he ran to us. Instead of throwing us away, he threw himself into our place. Dying on the cross not just to pay for all our corruption, all our sin, but to remake us. Remake us for our short time here on earth, and for all eternity.

I know that you are hurt. I know that you are frustrated. I know that you are exhausted. But be encouraged. Not because I say so, but because of what God says and what he’s done. He refused to let us stay separated from him. He wanted us back so desperately that he was willing to put all our corruption on himself. Making us clean. Making us new.

Now those are words worth listening to.

Noodling Questions

  • Describe the last time you heard “unwholesome talk.” What was it like?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how helpful are your words? Why?

  • How do you figure out how to speak to be beneficial to listeners?


This article on unwholesome talk originally appeared here, and is used by permission.