Song of Solomon 2:15 KJV Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
Ephesians 4:29 KJV Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
Ephesians 4:29 ESV Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29 MSG Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
Ephesians 4:29 NASB 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, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29 Moffatt NT Let no bad word pass your lips, but only such speech as is good for edification, as occasion may require, words that are gracious and a means of grace to those who hear them.
Ephesians 4:29 J B Phillips Let there be no more foul language, but good words instead—words suitable for the occasion, which God can use to help other people.
Ephesians 4:29 NLT Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
Thomas Manton—The tongue had need to be restrained with force and watchfulness, for it is quick and ready to bring forth every wicked conception. You must not only watch over it, but bridle it; it is good to break the force of these constraints within us, and to suffocate and choke them in the first conception.
Bishop Stevens—You can sooner make the condor of the Andes perch upon your wrist; you can sooner make leviathan sport with you in the cresting surf; you can sooner make the boa-constrictor coil harmlessly around your neck; you can sooner make the lion so gentle that a little child can lead him , the tame the tongue; for the “tongue can no man tame.”
Biblical References to Sinful Speech in Proverbs
The Bible is full of exhortations and admonitions concerning the tongue. In the book of Proverbs there are around sixty warnings and instructions of various kinds concerning the tongue. We find in Proverbs some of the following descriptions of the tongue and words in general:
- A lying tongue—Proverbs 6:17; 12:19; 21:6; 26:28
- A tongue of flattery—Proverbs 6:24; 28:23
- The tongue of the just—Proverbs 10:20
- A froward (disobedient; opposing) tongue—Proverbs 10:31
- The tongue of the wise—Proverbs 12:18; 15:2
- A wholesome tongue—Proverbs 15:4
- A naughty tongue—Proverbs 17:4
- A perverse tongue—Proverbs 17:20
- The tongue is powerful—Proverbs 18:21
- A kept tongue—Proverbs 21:23
- A soft tongue—Proverbs 25:15
- A backbiting (mean; spiteful) tongue—Proverbs 25:23
- A kind tongue—Proverbs 31:26
- There is deceptive speech—Proverbs 7:21
- There is excellent speech—Proverbs 17:7
- Words of understanding—Proverbs 1:2
- Words of the wise—Proverbs 1:2; 22:17
- Flattering words—Proverbs 2:16
- Words that snare—Proverbs 6:2
- Righteous words—Proverbs 8:8
- Grievous words—Proverbs 15:1
- Pure and pleasant words—Proverbs 15:26; 16:24
- Words of a talebearer—Proverbs 18:8; 26:22
- Words of knowledge—Proverbs 19:27; 23:12
- Words of truth—Proverbs 22:21
- Hasty words—Proverbs 29:20
From these few references we can see how important the tongue and the patterns of our speech are.
What Jesus Said About the Impact of Careless Words
Matthew 12:36-37 KJV But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.  For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
Passages like this are good at assisting us in our walk in holiness. Passages like this should trouble us to the extent that we are willing to let the Holy Ghost guide and direct us in correct direction of life. We are going to be accountable for the words that we speak and there will be a great accounting at the Day of Judgment.
Idle words are those words that come from pride and deceit. The proud words are those which are perceived as boastings of a vain fellow. The deceitful words are those cunning words that work toward deceiving someone so that an ill-gotten gain may be enjoyed. Idle words can be those words that are heard as they report various kinds of misinformation that maims the reputation of another person. Idle words are those words of an idle mind and come forth as impure and polluted with lust. Idle words can be useless and insignificant themes of a mindless nature. The reality of the matter is that our words are a very clear reflection of our heart.
Another way to describe idle words would be careless words. John MacArthur in his commentary on this verse gives it in this manner:
The basic meaning of careless is useless, barren, unproductive, or otherwise worthless. Such words include those that are flippant, irresponsible, or in any way inappropriate. Hypocritical words are among the most careless and worthless that men speak and are, unfortunately, among the most common. When men self-consciously keep their vocabulary orthodox, moral, and evangelically acceptable while among fellow Christians—for the sake of impressing them or to keep from embarrassing ourselves—those words are careless and worthless in God’s sight, and He will render them against their account. The calculated hypocrisy of such “holy talk” is a stench in His nostrils. (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 8-15; p. 320)
Idleness of speech opens the heart up to begin to use words that are even more destructively evil.
- Words expressing lust (Prov. 5:3-4)
- Deceit (Jer. 9:8)
- Cursing and oppression (Psalm 10:7)
- Lying (Prov. 6:12; 12:22)
- Destruction (Prov. 11:11)
- Vanity (2 Peter 2:18)
- Flattery (Prov. 26:28)
- Foolishness (Prov. 15:2)
- Verbosity (Eccles. 10:14)
- Falsehood (Titus 1:11)
- Pride (Job 35:12)
- Vulgarity (Col. 3:8)
- Hatred (Psalm 109:3)
- Gossip (Prov. 26:20)
A Mouth-Guard—Psalm 141:3
Psalms 141:3 KJV Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
We briefly noted what the Proverbs and Jesus had to say about the way of speech. Before progressing to the text in Ephesians, one last reference to what David said about the mouth is helpful.
If you read Psalm 141:4 also, you discover David that also wrote of the heart of man. His mouth and his heart are very closely related. David wanted the Lord to set a watch on his mouth so that when his heart was overwhelmed, he would not falter. Often emotional and unadvised words leap from our mouth when we are under the pressure of outward circumstances, especially that of persecution. David desired for the Lord to help him to guard his tongue when he entered into these kinds of situations. He wanted to be very careful that he did not dishonor God in the eyes of others who had confidence in him. David had gleaned a great principle of life in that he could not prevent the attack of evil outsiders that would provoke him to impatience or hastily answer in the heat of the moment. But David could ask the Lord to set a watch on his mouth so that he would not let those hurtful and angry words pour out of his mouth.
David knew the importance of this prayerful request because in another reference in Psalm 19:14 he had prayed that the words of his mouth and the meditation of his heart be acceptable in the sight of God. He was concerned again with the heart as well as the mouth. This is an effective prayer that we can also interject into our Christian walk to help us to fully honor and obey God.
I must put a guard on my mouth. It is crucial to do so. When I consider the calling, there are times that I am so humbled and so overwhelmed that God would call any of us into the ministry, that I cannot help to think, "we cannot do this without God's hand." With that in mind, consider what Robert Murray McCheyne had to say to men who need pure words, clean souls, and clear heads:
Robert Murray M’Cheyne: Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth.
Source: Robert Murray M’Cheyne, letter dated March 22, 1839, to Rev W.C. Burns, who had been named to take M’Cheyne’s pulpit during the latter’s trip to Palestine. Andrew Bonar, ed, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Banner of Truth, 1966), 273-74.