Ephesians 4:29-30 Wholesome Edifying Speech

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 17, 2022

Ephesians 4:29-30 Wholesome Edifying Speech with Questions


29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:29-30).

The instruction on bad language in verses 29-30 is the fourth of five sinful traits the apostle targets. God empowers His people to break away from the old self’s ways to live under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul, in Ephesians 4:22-24, has given us three important “laying aside” principles, starting with breaking from sin (Stop the bad!).

Christians sometimes resort to bad language, but the Lord provides an exceedingly better way.

Let’s examine these terse, insightful verses from three perspectives: The prohibition of bad speech (4:29a), opportunities of beneficial speech (4:29b), and the key to our strength (4:30). We will later discuss whether or not the grieving the Holy Spirit is connected to the prior verses rather than the following ones.

1) Prohibiting Bad Speech (Eph 4:29a) 

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” (Eph 4:29a).

Bad language is often only thought of as “swear” words or those terribly rude words that a little child might say, but it also includes all words that seek to intimidate, humiliate, or hurt others. The Greek word (sapros) literally means rotten, putrified, and worthless. All such foul language is forbidden to exit our mouths. Like poison, they degrade and harm the hearers. The open use of debased speech as evidenced in our public broadcasts, recordings, movies, radio, and written social media all testify to our culture’s grave decline. 

Written words were much less common in the apostle’s day, but today serve as a powerful arm of speech, for evil or good, because of its permanent nature. Our written speech replays itself a hundred times, either extending its evil force or fostering wisdom, encouragement, and guidance.

The apostle challenges us to a completely different standard of speech. We are not to allow any unwholesome words to “depart” from our mouths—not one (“let no”). The reasoning is that we have put on Christ and only speak words that Jesus might speak if He lived among us. We can, by His grace, control our mouths and words as well as our bodies, as we serve the Lord’s greater purposes. 

The world insists that it has the right to blurt out anything it feels, whether it be true or false, hurtful, slanderous or helpful. The post-modern generation culture believes it is important to express whatever one feels without discerning the evil source that it comes from. When we worship ourselves, we expect everyone to put up with whatever we think and feel. We no longer feel obligated to first think about how our words might affect another. This is completely opposite to Paul’s advice to consider the needs of others (29b). 

Self-control begins by shutting our mouths and not allowing those foul things to exit our mouths. Our standards are reset when we apologize for all the rude words formerly spoken to children, parents, spouses, colleagues, etc. We have an obligation to apologize and tell them how we should have spoken. Let us step off of our thrones and unequivocally live for the Lord’s purpose.

Along with bad speech, we need to put aside disrespectful attitudes toward others, often filled with condescension and vile thoughts. We do not just eliminate four-letter swear words but as Paul expands in 5:4, “vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting.”

2) The Need for Edifying Speech (Eph 4:29b)

“But only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment” (Eph 4:29b).

but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it would give grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29b, NET 2)

To properly correct behavior, it’s essential to replace the bad habit with something good. While corrupt words have evil purposes, good words have efficacious purposes, that is, they encourage and build others up. “Good” (Greek: general word agathos) words help us fulfill our higher God-given purpose of helping others.

We can jump up to Christ’s level of speech, speaking only about what helps others. The word “need” can refer to either a person’s need or “the need of the moment” as translated here. I prefer the former one: complementing the “building up of the one in need” (NET). 

Instead of being self-absorbed, we focus on the needs of others around us. The talkative person needs to regularly think of how their words can positively help another instead of speaking what comes to their mind

 at the moment. The quiet person, on the other hand, must learn to minister with their words, even if rejected by others.

Three Life Principles from Ephesians 4:22-32

Constant perception of another’s needs must steer us to uttering helpful, encouraging, or even words of warning. The purpose overrides feelings and constantly guides us to speech that brings a blessing to others. 

The phrase, “that it may give grace to those who hear” adds a lofty dimension to our purpose. We not only edify, a broad term that means to build up but literally “gives grace” (Gr: charis), powerfully addressing others’ needs. Our speech can positively affect people, bringing healing, hope, and love. Jesus, full of grace and truth, imparted grace with His words (John 1:14).

Admittedly, most of us think we do well when we eliminate a swear word or skip a filthy movie, but Jesus calls us to join Him in an adventure to use Spirit-induced words to bring grace to others. If we are so attentive to the needs of others, we will focus less on ourselves and shift our conversation into encouraging and strengthening believers. Paul is not focused on pastors or elders but on the duty and ability of all believers, depending wholly on the Spirit’s work in us. 

3) The Spirit’s Claim on the Believer (Eph 4:30)

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).

While Paul refers to the “Spirit” in Ephesians many times, this third use of “Holy Spirit” brings a strong emphasis on His holiness, to keep us from defending our unholy practices. 

This particular usage of the Spirit’s sealing runs a close parallel to verse 1:13, “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The sealing similarly points to God’s securement of our salvation until Christ returns, the day of redemption, assuring the appropriateness of holy conduct.

Grieving (Greek: lupeo) the Holy Spirit provides unique insight into God’s character. The word means make sorrowful, sad, uneasy, and even grieve. The use of ‘grieve’ gives further evidence of the Spirit’s personhood rather than just a mere force that lacks personal responses.

The Holy Spirit can and does grieve over the inappropriate, unholy choices that believers make. While offended by our sinful choices, He delights in our conformity to God’s holy ways. Perhaps, Paul alludes to Galatians 5:25 where we walk in tandem with the Spirit.

Sometimes a parent subtly trains his child by putting on a sad face when the child says or does something inappropriate. The child, upon seeing the Dad’s sad face, retracts his ill behavior, does what’s right, and delights to see his Dad’s face brighten up. So, we too, need not grieve the Holy Spirit and learn, as His children, to please our Father (5:1).

Does this thought on the Holy Spirit better link to verse 29 on rotten language or verse 31 on bitterness? Since the Holy Spirit has sealed all His people into one body, it appears that bitterness strikes the worst blow against the Spirit-maintained oneness, “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). However, any ungodly behavior compromises the holy walk a Christian has with the “Holy Spirit of God” who lives in him. In any case, verse 30 buttresses Paul’s purpose of living in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Be other-focused, lovingly focusing on the needs of others. (Eph 4:29)

Bible Study Questions on Ephesians 4:29-30

Basic Study Questions On Ephesians 4:29-30

29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph 4:29-32)

  1. Why do some people object to cussing or swearing (e.g., say 4-letter words) (4:29)? Explain.
  2. What kind of words are included in “unwholesome” words?
  3. With what are we to replace these rotten words (4:29)?
  4. How do unwholesome words differ from edification in their effects on others (4:29)? Which do you prefer?
  5. Do you still use unwholesome words? If so, why?
  6. How are rotten words connected to bad attitudes?
  7. Verse 30 says that we should not “grieve the Holy Spirit”. What does that mean? What are some examples of what we do or say that grieves our Lord?
  8. Extra: When were believers “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (refer Eph 1:13)? Was it a one time event? How is it different from being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)?


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