In the complex web of human communication, words are like strings that can either damage or improve the quality of our relationships with others. Hence, the apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:31, mentions “evil speaking” (NKJV) as one of the things that believers should discard. The reason that evil and destructive speech should not come out of our mouths is that we have been “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (verse 24, ESV) and are “members of one another” (verse 25, ESV). Therefore, we should only speak things that are “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (verse 29, ESV).
Evil speaking is an English expression for the Greek word blasphemia, a combination of blapto (“to injure”) and pheme (“a saying”). These two words, taken together, refer to words that wound, defame, or slander. To grasp its full meaning, we must contextualize it alongside the other negative traits in Ephesians 4:31. Bitterness, wrath, anger, and clamor all stem from a hostile and divisive disposition that is driven by pride and self-centeredness. Evil speaking is the verbal expression of such a heart, spewing words that damage reputations, perpetuate falsehoods, and erode unity within the body of Christ.
Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (ESV). Our words, therefore, possess the incredible ability to edify or discourage, to heal or to harm. Evil speech encompasses not only blatant forms of slander, but also subtler forms such as gossip, backbiting, and unjust criticism. Regarding these matters, the apostle James warns believers about the consequences of misusing our tongues: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (James 4:11). When we engage in such behavior, we contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust and disunity within the body of Christ. Let us, then, be careful not to poison the well of Christian fellowship and hinder the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and local church.
In Christ, we are called to leave behind the old self with its sinful inclinations and clothe ourselves with the new self, renewed in the image of Christ: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10, ESV). To put away evil speech is to commit ourselves to a life characterized by grace, love, and edification (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:32).
Addressing the issue of evil speaking is not solely a linguistic exercise. To the contrary, it has profound implications for our day-to-day interactions. As believers, we are ambassadors for Christ, bearing His name and reputation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). Thus, our speech, both within the church and outside it, ought to reflect the status of our redeemed lives.