Avoid Empty Words, Part 1

By Mark D. Roberts

June 13, 2019

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

Ephesians 5:6


Empty words. Empty words. As I reflected on Ephesians 5:6, I was struck by the phrase “empty words.” This seems like the perfect phrase for so many of the words filling our lives today. Yet obviously empty words were a matter of concern to the Apostle Paul as he wrote two millennia ago.

empty tables set with tableware, flowers, and candlesWe don’t know exactly whom Paul had in mind when he wrote “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” The context suggests that these deceivers might have claimed that immorality, impurity, and greed were really not such a big deal. Perhaps they were Christians who misconstrued God’s grace as an opportunity for ample sinning without consequences. Perhaps they were pagans who objected to the “narrow-mindedness” and “over-reactions” of Christians who rejected activities that were common in the Greco-Roman world but inconsistent with Christian discipleship.

No matter whom Paul was thinking of when he wrote, he characterized their claims as “empty words.” Why?

The Greek word translated here as “empty” (kenos) could mean “empty” in a literal sense (see Mark 12:3, for example). In Ephesians 5:6, kenos is used metaphorically. Empty words are those that lack substance, wisdom, or truth. They are words not filled with reality or matched with action. The famed fourth-century preacher, John Chrysostom, said when preaching on this verse from Ephesians, “There are always people among us who want to diminish the force of words. . . . Empty words are words that are for a moment attractive but in no way are proved by deeds” (Homily on Ephesians 18.5.5-6.1).

Paul was concerned that the recipients of his letter might be enticed by purveyors of empty words to reject a Christ-shaped perspective on life, especially when it comes to sexuality and greed. We have no shortage of such empty words today. In multiple ways, the empty wordsmiths of our world convince us that life is best when filled with sexual exploits and lots of possessions. We can begin to be persuaded that Christian morality is outdated, irrelevant, and oppressive. Thus, Paul’s injunction to the Ephesians deserves a new hearing today: Let no one deceive you with empty words. Listen for the truth of words. Seek their substance. Pay attention to those who lives reflect the solidness of their words. Let the words you speak be full of meaning and love.

Something to Think About:

When you think of “empty words,” what comes to mind?

Do you find yourself tempted to accept the counsel of those who use “empty words”? When? Why?

How substantial are your words? Are they full of truth and love?

Something to Do:

As you go about your day, pay attention to your words. Are they substantial? Are they truthful? Are they loving? Are they really worth saying . . . and hearing? Choose today to use words that are full of truth and love.


Gracious God, we have no shortage of “empty words” today. We can easily get caught up in the emptiness, filling our minds and our lips with words that are insubstantial, with words that are only spoken but not lived. Help us, Lord, to reject the empty words in favor of full words, words of life that come from you. May we be people who whose words are full of truth and love. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
In the Beginning was the Word (John 1:1-18)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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