Words Matter!

By Mark D. Roberts

June 10, 2019

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:3-4

Words matter! So make your words count.

This is a Twitter-sized version of a major theme in Ephesians. We see this theme in Ephesians 5:4, which focuses on language we should avoid: “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking.” Why? In part, because words matter.

book being read by person in coffee shopWe find this same assumption elsewhere in Ephesians. In Ephesians 4:29 we read, “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 4:25 says, “[P]ut off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” This echoes Ephesians 4:15, which says that we grow up in Christ by “speaking the truth in love.” All of these verses assume that what we say matters, so we should be sure to say that which makes a positive difference for God in the world.

Ephesians 5:4, like 4:25 and 4:29, combines the negative (don’t) with the positive (do). There should be no “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). Don’t use obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. Do express gratitude. There is a play on words in the Greek original that doesn’t appear in English translations. The word for “coarse joking” is eutrapelia (you-tra-peh-LEE-ah), which can refer to clever witticism or, as in our case, negative humor. The word for “thanksgiving” is eucharistia (you-car-is-TEE-ah). Now you can see and hear the parallelism: no eutrapelia, rather eucharistia.

When we use our words to fill the air with nonsense and when we say things that are off-color, not only are we degrading ourselves and disobeying Scripture, but also we are missing an opportunity to use our words for good. Every time I choose to say something empty or inappropriate, I am choosing not to say things that are edifying to others and glorifying to God. I am neglecting the fact that my words matter. I am failing to make them count for good.

As you go through the day today, pay attention to opportunities to use your words to encourage others, to build them up, and to share a bit of God’s grace with them. Let them hear of your gratitude to God. May you live today with the knowledge that your words matter. Make them count!

Something to Think About:

Do you really think that your words matter? At work? At home? With your colleagues? Among strangers? At church?

If you were to take seriously the power of your words, what might you not say today? What might you say instead?

Something to Do:

In light of the last question, resolve either not to say something today or to say something (or maybe both!)


Gracious God, words matter to you. You created the universe with your words. You have spoken to us through words, words of law, words of prophecy, words of gospel. You have revealed yourself to us through the Word Incarnate.

Help me, Lord, to live today – and every day – as if my words really matter. May my words count as I seek to build up the people in my life and as I give thanks to you. Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful: Eucharisteo with Ann Voskamp

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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