Rotten Words


At the tender age of 14 I spent most Saturdays bagging groceries and doing general gofer work at the United Food Store in my hometown.  One of the exciting side tasks was sacking up potatoes from the bulk bin in the back room. Invariably I encountered a putrid smell that I soon learned meant that rotten potatoes were hiding in the bin, usually at the bottom. As I uncovered the layers of potatoes the stench almost made me gag. After nearly diving into the bin, I would find the reeking offender and banish it to the garbage. Most of the time I also discovered about a half dozen others that had been spoiled by the one rotten critter.

For me, this childhood memory is a vivid reminder of the awful power of rotten speech spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 4:29 (NAU), " Let no unwholesome word ( λόγος ) proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

"Unwholesome" is a vivid description of the words that too easily tumble out of our mouths. The term (σαπρὸ) literally means "decayed" or "rotten" (Gingrich p 179). The English adjective "saprogenic" picks up the same notion of putrefaction.  

Speech is a two edged sword. James teaches us this huge truth in 3:9 "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way" (NAU). On the one hand, our words have the power to wreak havoc in our relationships with others. On the other hand, our words can also be a healing balm.  By using the term “edification”, Paul holds out the possibility of words being a building block rather than a wrecking ball.

So what’s the secret to speaking edifying words? Simply put, it is an intentional willingness to stand guard over our month so that we monitor our speech. Choke the putrid utterances before they escape and do irreparable damage. Be ruthless. That’s the implication of the direct statement made to us, the readers, “You let no proceed from your mouth...." We must do it; certainly we need God’s strengthening grace to accomplish this, but He won’t do it for us!

Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2015. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.