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A meditation on Ephesians 4:30


Have you ever noticed the context of the command ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God’? [Ephesians 4:30]

Verse 29 tells us that what comes out of our mouths should not be ‘unwholesome’, but should be the kind of speech that ‘builds people up according to their needs’. Most of us probably understand ‘unwholesome’ to refer to obscenities, blasphemies or dirty stories. Whatever ‘unwholesome’ is, it is something that is the opposite of conversation that helps and encourages people at their point of need. And whatever ‘unwholesome’ is, it grieves the Holy Spirit of God [verse 30].   

Does Paul give us any clue about what he means by ‘unwholesome’, about the kind of speech that grieves the Holy Spirit? Yes. He does. He gives us a list in verse 31. This unwholesome talk that grieves our God is talk that expresses bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. All of these emotions are expressed in our conversations with or about other people. This is the kind of talk that breaks people down rather than building them up. This is the kind of talk that pushes people further into need rather than lifting them up out of their need.  

Does Paul give us any clue about the kind of talk that does build people up, that meets their need, that pleases the Holy Spirit? Yes He does. He gives us a list in 4:31 and 5:1-2. Kindness. Compassion. Forgiveness. Love.   

In the context of these verses Paul gives us five points of reference, five points of motivation, for altering the content of our conversations so that they do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God: the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf [5:2]; the love of Christ [5:2]; the fact that we are now the children of a loving heavenly Father [5:1]; the fact that God, for Christ’s sake, forgave us [4:32], and the fact that we have been sealed for redemption by the Holy Spirit [4:30]. When God – Father, Son and Spirit – have done so much for us, sinners though we are – how incongruous it is to talk to each other in a way that causes him grief.  

But there is a sixth point of reference hidden in these verses, a sixth motivation for kind, compassionate, forgiving, loving conversations and speech. It is our brother’s need. Our brother, for whom Christ died, stands in need of our compassion. He needs us to speak to him, not with bitterness, malice and anger, but with love and forgiveness. And here we realize that we ourselves each stand in need of our brother’s kindness, our brother’s compassion, our brother’s forgiveness, our brother’s love. We also are the brother that needs building up. Just as he has a point of vulnerability, a point of weakness, a point of need, at which our words can destroy and discourage him, so we also have our points of vulnerability, weakness and need, when an ill-chosen unloving word from him can destroy us.    

So God commands us in our common fragility: ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’

Anything less grieves the Holy Spirit of God.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2011