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“Why do you have to be so stupid?”
“I wish I never married you!”
“I wish you never were born.”
“Why are you always so annoying?”

How often do you say something and wish you could take your words back? How often do you wish you could delete something you said like you can delete words with the backspace or delete keys? And how often do you wish you could erase something you shared like you can delete a Facebook post or Tweet?

Sometimes I say stupid and harmful things. On occasion, my tone is too harsh with my kids. Other times I’m not gentle in my pastoral counsel. And other times I try to one-up my wife.

I KNOW I’m not alone on this one. 15 years of pastoral marriage ministry has provided more than enough evidence of this universal problem.

We all have challenges with the ways we communicate. Whether it’s what we say or how we say it, our words often harm relationships instead of grow them.

I finally found the one question I need to ask myself before a word comes out of my mouth. Whether I’m talking with my wife or kids, providing counsel in a meeting, or teaching from the stage, this one question will largely determine the outcome or effect of the words I use.

I believe it can transform the way you communicate as well.

What is this magic question?

Will what I’m about to say tear someone down or build them up?

Ephesians 4:29 provides the basis for this foundational question. In the middle of a powerful section on communication and the words we use, Paul writes:

“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.”

Genius. Will my words build the listener up according to their needs or is it going to tear them down?

Three Brief Observations From This Verse.

1. Let No Unwholesome Talk Come Out Of Your Mouth.
The word pictures help me see that sometimes the words that come out of our mouths are rotten, putrid, and foul. Let the smell of rotten fish stick with you. Sometimes our words have that same effect.

A few questions about your talk:

Are you cussing or using inappropriate language?
Are your words rotten to the hearer?
How about gossip or thoughtless/biting putdowns?
Do you gossip about others behind their back to tear them down?

2. Speak Only What Is Helpful For Building Others Up.
We have a great opportunity to use our words to help others and build them up. Our words can edify (instruct or improve) and encourage others. So much of life and our world seeks to destroy. We feel beat down and discouraged by life and relationships. As followers of Christ, we can speak words that will strengthen others.

Are you going to use your words to build people up, or will use them like much of the world does—to tear others down?

3. Use Your Words “According To Their Needs, That It May Benefit Those Who Listen.”
What we say can help others with their needs and can benefit them in many ways. Another way to say “benefit” is that it “gives grace” to those who listen. When we want to grow in our relationship with Christ, we need grace from others instead of put-downs.

Does what I’m about to say help the other person and give grace or does it prevent growth and bring harm?

This doesn’t mean we always simply need to be so nice to everyone else. Be kind and gentle in your words and tone (see Romans 2:4, Galatians 5:22-23), but sometimes our words will wound others. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” When you lovingly wound a friend, you speak according to their needs, so you ultimately build them up.

Countless times in my life friends have lovingly wounded me with their words. In the moment it might not feel like they’re building me up, but in the long run, their words are spoken according to my needs to benefit me.

Memorize Ephesians 4:29 and think of the impact of your words. Does what you say tear others down or build them up?

Asking yourself this one question can transform the way you communicate.

Will what I’m about to say tear someone down or build them up?

To learn more about Scott Kedersha and his ministry to married couples, visit scottkedersha.com