Words that Build Up

I was a young pastor, reading through the Bible for about the 5th time in my life when I hit this verse from Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (NIV 1984)

I underlined the verse, put a date by it, and memorized it. I prayed to God that Paul’s word wisdom would guide my words. Turned out I needed it sooner than I anticipated.

What road do your words build?

Later that evening, I went to visit some members who had not been around for a while. One of those surprise visits, just stopping by, and stopped into a meeting of 3 members, not 2. Turns out 1 member thought I had not acted properly, and I found myself sitting in a living room crashing a meeting looking to call me out. The 1 member had numerous pages of violations. All twists. All turns. All inaccurate.

My blood boiled. My mouth was ready to let it rip. And then I remembered, I remembered this verse — no unwholesome talk, only what is helpful, according to their needs — all my part of the equation. To benefit those who listen, their part of the equation.

We had an amiable conversation, but we did not agree. All 3 ended up leaving the church. But I learned a lesson in words — take the high road, seek to build people, guard what you say.

Why bring that up now? I have noticed a disturbing trend in reading online news. The comment section underneath. 1st it was sports articles, and trash talking among fans. Emphasis on the word trash — questioning motives, integrity, and my side’s better then your side.

Then it hit me when reading an article in USA Today about Billy Graham being hospitalized. I looked at the comments, expecting wishes for a speedy recovery. And there were some there, but then I saw people making horrific comments about wishing his death, questioning his integrity (seriously, questioning Billy Graham’s integrity?), and I was appalled.

Locally it has been a couple of east San Diego county tragedies, and seeking to catch the latest news and then reading the comments. People making spiteful, hurtful, illogical, inaccurate, and just plain mean comments. I wonder why?

Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 remind me that our goal as Christ followers (even as human beings) should be words that build up.  That’s my goal. That’s my challenge to you.

I remember a pastor saying to me as a 6th grader, you should become a pastor. My parents and friends support, you can do this. A dear woman each Sunday who thinks I hit another great message. Or perhaps my favorite word build of them all, every time my wife says, “I love you.” Words that build up.

We need more of them. We need to commit to use them. There’s enough words going around that tear down, how about committing today to use words that build up? What words are building your life today? Even more whose life are you building with the words you will speak?



Filed under Leadership and America

3 responses to “Words that Build Up

  1. Great post! I agree. Words are incredibly powerful.

  2. Diana Moore

    Richard Burkey, I sure enjoyed that short message and made me realize how much I miss your sermons. Even though it’s been 24 years since living in Camden, Arkansas I have yet to enjoy or understand the messages over the years from all of the pastors we’ve had. You are a special messenger and I hope you and Sharon are well. Randy & I still think about you guys. All our love.
    Diana Moore
    Randy, Reid & Amber
    Little Rock, AR

  3. Richard, I can empathize with your story of being a young pastor. It seems someone is always making out a list of shortcomings. I know Jerry Jenkins talks about developing a thick skin as a writer. It helps to develop a thick skin and a tender heart as a pastor. Good word. Thanks–Tom

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