God forbids us from using words improperly, saying or writing anything that’s destructive or harmful, speech which isn’t edifying. He calls this corrupt communication, and says we aren’t to tolerate it within ourselves. (Ep 4:29) What He’s looking for is sound speech which shines under the strictest moral scrutiny. (Tit 2:8a)
Sound speech is speaking the truth in love (Ep 4:15), to move the hearer to a better place, springing from wisdom, knowledge and humility, encouraging others and ourselves in a godly way. Anything else is corrupt.
For example, if we say something arrogantly, proudly or maliciously it can’t be edifying (1Pr 2:1); this isn’t sound speech. If we’re seeking someone’s harm in an unrighteous manner, speaking ill of them (Ja 4:11), this can’t be helpful: it’s corrupt. (Ep 4:31)
If we speak simply to draw attention to ourselves, to exalt to boast or commend ourselves, this isn’t edifying. (Php 2:3) It may be edifying to point out our behavior and experience as an example or encouragement (Php 3:17), or to invite souls to rejoice with us in our accomplishments (Ro 12:15), or even to describe our faults and ask for prayer (Ja 5:16), but simply drawing attention to ourselves isn’t edifying. (1Co 13:4-5)
Certainly, no lie, false accusation (1Ti 3:3), or half-truth can be edifying because it seeks to hide the light from those who ought to know it (1Jn 2:10), and encourages them to remain in darkness. Even claims which might be true should not be stated as true unless we’re certain. Silence might be wisdom when speaking certain truths would not be edifying (Jn 16:12), but we should put away lying: whenever we do speak, speak only the truth. (Ep 4:25)
Also, we shouldn’t swear as a means of assuring others we’re telling the truth; that’s the way of lying. (Ps 119:29) No gradations are permitted in the Way of truth (30), everything we express must be completely and utterly aligned with what we know to be true. A simple Yes or No is sufficient when we’re walking in truth; anything less is corrupt. (Mt 5:34-37)
And what of exclamations, expletives, cursing and profanity? If we shall give an account for every idle word (Mt 12:36), how shall explain our use of these?Some seem harmless, but are they sound speech?
Using God’s name or title as any kind of expletive or exclamation is taking His name in vain, irreverently, not as intended, a violation of the 3rd Commandment (Ex 20:7), so it is corrupt. Similarly, cursing — invoking spiritual power to harm someone — is off limits. (Ja 3:9-10)
But what about words expressing anger, frustration, annoyance, surprise or even wonder? Expletives and exclamations, is this sound speech, or corrupt communication? A good test might be, “Do I see Jesus saying this?” (1Pe 4:11) In other words, can I say it in His name, on His behalf?” (Col 3:17) Does it glorify God? (1Co 10:31) Is it the most effective and efficient way to encourage or edify another? Is there a more precise way to express what I’m feeling or thinking? Is it something I need to express, such that I’ll be negligent and unloving if I don’t?
A general rule here might be: When in doubt, don’t. (Ro 14:23) Be swift to hear, but thoughtfully precise, selective and deliberate in speech (Ja 1:19), choosing words carefully, prayerfully and intentionally. (Pr 19:10) To the degree we don’t control our tongue, even when we’re surprised and excited, our religion is empty and pointless. (26)
And what of idle conversation, words filing the air just because we’re uncomfortable with silence? If it isn’t edifying, again, it’s not sound speech, it’s corrupt.
And finally, speech which weakens us, deprecating words designed to lower or belittle ourselves — this also is corrupt, unloving to both ourselves and others. Perhaps we’re afraid of the strength of those about us, wanting to make ourselves small so as avoid abuse or oppression, or we may be looking for sympathy, or forgiveness, or nursing a deep father wound and lack that robust, healthy self-confidence which is unashamed of God’s design and gifting within us. Whatever the root of unhealthy speech, if it isn’t grounded in the dignity and love of God, it’s corrupt, profane and vain babbling. (2T 2:16)
The overriding principle is edification: does my communication honor all people (1Pe 2:7), treating all – including myself – with love, wisdom, compassion and respect? (Col 4:5) Is God at work within and through my words, not to control and manipulate, but to empower in godliness? Am I considering others, where they are and what they need, deliberately enabling them in a right relationship with God (Col 4:5-6), laying a good foundation against the time to come? (Mt 12:37)
This is the high calling (Php 3:14), for sure. I count myself to have apprehended (13) and press forward toward the mark. To master the tongue in sound speech and not offend is to be mature, able to properly discipline the entire body. (Ja 3:2)
The ideal in Christ is sound speech that can’t be condemned, so when the adversaries come to accuse, they’ll have nothing to say (Tit 2:8), and then to hear God will say, “Well done!” (1Co 4:5)