August 18, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:29-30 (NRSV)
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
We know that words can hurt people. But the Bible teaches us that our words have the power to grieve the Spirit of God. When we use our words to tear down people rather than build them up, God is grieved. That’s a great reason not to wound people with words.
So far this week we have seen that our words have the power either to hurt others or to build them up. Ephesians 4:29 encourages us to use the power of our words to serve others as a channel of God’s grace in their lives.
The next verse in Ephesians reveals something quite astounding. It shows us that our words have additional power, perhaps more power than we would have imagined. Let’s look carefully at verses 29 and 30: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”
The placement of verse 30 links it to verse 29, as does the connective “And.” Verse 30 adds more about the danger of unwholesome talk. Not only does this talk tear people down rather than building them up, but also it grieves the Holy Spirit of God. Yes, our words can actually grieve God’s Spirit.
Now this, I suggest, is both stunning and unsettling. I don’t want to hurt people with my words (except, I suppose, for times when I’m angry or hurt and want revenge). But I really, really, really don’t want to grieve the Spirit of God. Not now. Not ever.
The verb translated here as “grieve,” lupeō in Greek, means “to cause severe mental or emotional distress.” Some commentators worry about the notion that our behavior can make God feel bad, emphasizing that this is just a figure of speech. Yet, given that we are created in God’s image, and given biblical language about God’s joy and delight in us (see, for example, Zephaniah 3:17 and Psalm 147:11), I don’t like to avoid the plain meaning of Ephesians 4:30. Though we cannot fully comprehend it, we can actually cause the Holy Spirit to grieve. We can hurt, not just people, but even the Spirit of God. We can do so, in particular, by using unwholesome words that wound others and shatter the Christian community. When we do this, God grieves.
Tomorrow, we’ll look again at this verse to discover more about why our words have the power to grieve the Spirit. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
Do you ever think that your words can grieve the Spirit of God?
How does this teaching make you feel?
Can you remember times when your words may have grieved the Spirit?
Do you think your words might also have the power to give delight to God’s Spirit?
If you’re reading this devotion in the morning, think about how you might use your words today to build someone up. Ask the Lord for help with this. Then do it. (If you’re reading this devotion in the evening, you can do what I’m suggesting tomorrow.)
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of your Spirit who lives within me, who guides and empowers me, and who helps me to be more like you. Forgive me, Lord, for the ways my words and deeds have grieved your Spirit. Help me to speak and act in ways that honor you, glorify you, and give delight to you. In particular, may I speak to others in ways that please you. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Psalm 147
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, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.