Drollinger: God Sets a High Standard for What Comes Out of a Believer's Mouth


How disciplined are you in your speech? A person’s mastery over his tongue is extremely important.

In this study we are examining Ephesians 4:29, one of my favorite passages from the book of Ephesians, which deals with God’s expectations for the believer’s speech.

My prayer is that you will be guided by the truths of this verse. A person’s speech is a huge matter related not only to his personal character and witness, but also to the purity of the corporate testimony of the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:29 states, “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.”

The New Testament word for “unwholesome” (sapros) was commonly used by Greeks of that day to describe rotten fruits and vegetables. According to the direct command of this passage, all rotten words should be far, far from the mouths of regenerate individuals. To some degree, those who are truly saved will be characterized by speech becoming of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

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Philippians 4:8 states the basic virtues all believers should utilize to reprogram their thought life in order to achieve wholesome speech: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

The disciplined thinking commanded by and illustrated in this passage will most certainly affect a person’s speech. Even so, every believer to some degree will continue to struggle with unwholesome speech until he is glorified, i.e., until he goes home to be with the Lord. James 3:6-8 informs us of the reality of this lifelong battle with our fallen nature and tongue: “It is a fire. … No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

Accordingly, every believer needs to memorize and meditate on Philippians 4:8 so that the Holy Spirit can immediately bring to mind the truths of this passage when tempted, so as to speak no unwholesome word.

Proverbs 22:11 is an excellent summation of the connection between disciplined thinking, ensuing speech and increased outward effectiveness. Notice each in the following: “He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend.”

Unwholesome or rotten speech includes off-color jokes, profanity, vulgarity, sexually suggestive double entendre, coarseness, etc. Note what Paul says in this regard in Colossians 3:8 and Ephesians 5:4, respectively:

“Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

“There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

So why is a person’s speech so important to God?

If believers are called to be his emissaries, proper representation through holy living as manifested in pure speech is in order! A Christian’s speech is a proper be­havioral depiction of his high calling and assignment.

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Note 1 Peter 2:9 in this regard: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

The following verses in the book of Proverbs contain only some of the benefits of a wholesome vocabulary:

“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing “(12:18).

“Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment” (12:19).

“A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit” (15:4).

In the place of unwholesome words, speech akin to a fine wine or cheese — that is to say, A-G-E-D and seasoned enunciations — must proceed from your mouth. Words and thoughts that are Appropriate, Gracious, Edifying and Delicate must be true of both you and me.

Edifying speech can stem only from an inner attitude of humility. Matthew 12:34b states, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Your speech makes it clear to others whether you are in love with yourself or in love with Jesus Christ and others. The believer’s speech must be Christ-like, humble and others-centered.

Herein is the theology behind genuine humility: Only from a realization of personal brokenness and indebtedness to the cross of Christ can we possibly possess the motives that in turn manifest humility and ensuing speech that is genuinely edifying to other human beings!

The full Bible study covers many more points. Click here to read it.

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Ralph Drollinger, president and founder of Capitol Ministries, leads three Bible studies with political leaders every week. One on the Hill for U.S. senators and one for representatives, plus a weekly remote Bible study for state governors, former governors, and former White House Cabinet members and senior staff. Learn more at

Drollinger played basketball at UCLA under coach John Wooden and was the first player in NCAA history to go to the Final Four four times. Drollinger was taken in the NBA draft three times but chose to forgo the NBA to play with Athletes in Action, an evangelistic basketball team that toured the world and preached the gospel at halftime. Drollinger signed with the Dallas Mavericks in 1980 as a free agent, becoming the first Maverick in the history of the franchise.