” . . . let’s step back and ask what Paul might mean by calling language evil or corrupt or unwholesome or rotten. If we think of spoiled or rotten fruit, like Jesus did, four implications come to mind.
First, rotten fruit does not nourish. Neither does rotten language. It does not strengthen or improve or help. It is not useful for food. It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
Second, rotten fruit will probably make you sick if you do try to eat it. And rotten language can make people sick, too. In other words, it not only fails to give positive nourishment, it can cause negative harm. Words can wound a person very deeply. Words can be like the virus that transmits the disease of meanness or vulgarity from parent to child or roommate to roommate or colleague to colleague. Rotten language makes people sick if they are forced to eat it.
Third, rotten fruit smells bad and makes the atmosphere unpleasant. I recall a couple of men in graduate school in Germany who seemed to carry the aroma of vulgarity about them. All they ever seemed to laugh at was sexual innuendo. The pitiful thing about it was that the nearer they got to the gutter the more they laughed. With their mouths they created an atmosphere like a stinking locker room. It was unpleasant for everybody but themselves. And it made noble and high and worthy thoughts all but impossible. It’s hard to savor beauty from a garbage dump. Can you stand in an “adult” bookstore and look through the window (if there were a window) and be moved by the beauty of a setting sun?
The fourth implication that comes to mind when we think of rotten fruit and rotten language is that it probably comes from a diseased tree. If the fruit is rotten as soon as it appears on the branch (as soon as the words come out of the mouth) then the tree is bad.
Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).
So if a person takes the name of God in vain, or trivializes the realities of hell and holiness, or turns sexuality into vulgarity, or makes words into weapons of one-up-manship and meanness, then we can say for sure, “There is a rottenness inside the tree as well as outside.” If the fruit is bad the root is bad.
If we see this, we won’t be as surprised with what comes next in the text. It is not what you might expect. We might expect Paul to admonish us to clean up our language. We might expect him to talk about words that are not vulgar or rotten or corrupt, but are pure and wholesome and creative and clear. But Paul doesn’t do what we expect.
Instead of proposing clean language, he proposes a whole new way of thinking about language. Instead of saying, “You don’t need dirty language to communicate your intention,” he says, “The root issue is whether your intention is love.” In other words the issue for Paul is not really language at all; the issue is love. The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace. You see he shifts from the external fruit to the internal root. He shifts from what we say to why we say it. That’s the issue.
Let’s read verse 29. “Let no rotten talk come out of your mouth, but only what is good for edifying, as fits the occasion (literally: good for edifying of need meeting a particular need is in view) that it may impart grace to those who hear.”
Do you see the shift? He doesn’t say, “Let no rotten talk come out of your mouth, but instead let fresh clean talk come out of your mouth.” He says, “Let no rotten talk come out of your mouth, but ask this: Is my mouth a means of grace? Am I meeting a need with the words that are coming out of my mouth? Am I building up faith into the people who hear?
This is a revolutionary way to think about your mouth…It is not Christian just to stop swearing. It is not Christian just to put good language in the mouth instead. It is Christian to ask the deeper, internal question: am I speaking now to edify? Is your mouth a means of grace?”
Is your blogging a means of grace to others?