Be the Antidote to Rudeness: Avoid “Corrupting Words” (Ephesians 4:29)
Updated: Jul 25
Ephesians 4:29 reads: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that may give grace to those who hear.” This verse speaks directly to the circumstances we face more and more these days. You cannot turn on the news without seeing demonstrators for one cause or another yelling profane epithets at each other. You cannot drive down the street without impatient, angry drivers beeping the horns and yelling obscenities at each other. A lot of people these days are just plain rude. What is a believer to do?
The answer to this question is found in Ephesians 4:29. God calls you, me, and other believers to be the antidote to the rudeness and hurtful behavior that has become so common in contemporary society. Being nice to people is the opposite of being rude. This is good news because being nice costs nothing but can return huge dividends. Being nice means interacting with others in ways that are pleasant, considerate, and mannerly. Being rude, on the other hand, is the opposite of these things; it is behaving in ways that are hurtful.
Think about it. How much would it improve your day if people could be counted on to be pleasant, considerate, and mannerly? I am sure that on occasion you have to deal with people who are rude, irritable, impatient, inconsiderate, and ornery. In short, they are hardhearted. Hardhearted people don’t care if they ruin your day. They are focused solely on themselves and their own problems. Unfortunately, rude people are never in short supply.
Encounters with hardhearted people are like an emotional slap in the face. Instead of lifting you up, they drag you down. To make matters worse, prolonged exposure to hardhearted people can cause you to become hardhearted. That’s right. Negativity is contagious. Spend too much time interacting with hardhearted people and you run the risk of becoming infected by their negativity and becoming like them. Fortunately, being nice is also contagious. This is why it is so important for you to be nice to the people you interact with.
Being nice to people is the theme of Colossians 4:6 where we are admonished to let our speech “be gracious.” You know how it feels to be confronted by rudeness, irritability, and impatience. Don’t inflict that negativity on others who are probably already hurting. Don’t let your negativity add to their burdens. Finally, don’t contribute to turning them into hardhearted people by treating them in a hardhearted manner. If you are going to infect others with your attitude, make sure it’s a good one. If they catch something from you, let it be a commitment to kindness.
Over time, human behaviors can become habitual. We get into a pattern of behavior and the pattern becomes our normal way of doing things. The behavior becomes habitual. This being the case, it is important to ensure that being pleasant, considerate, and mannerly becomes your habitual approach to human interaction. To get into the habit of being nice to people begin by conducting a brief self-assessment. Ask yourself the following questions:
Are you typically pleasant to people?
Can you disagree without being disagreeable?
Are you typically considerate of the feelings and circumstances of others?
Are you well-mannered in human discourse?
If you can respond with an unequivocal “yes” to all of these questions, feel free to stop reading right now. You are to be commended. However, if you are like most people and have to answer “sometimes” or “no” to these questions, read on.
BEING PLEASANT TO OTHERS
Too often we let others dictate how we treat them. If they treat us well, we treat them well. If they treat us poorly, we treat them poorly. Although this approach is understandable in human terms, it falls short in Biblical terms. Titus 3:4-5 reminds us that Christ saved us because He is merciful not because we are righteous. In other words, He saved us even though we did not deserve to be saved. Christ’s example is the one we should follow when interacting with others.
We are called to treat people well, not because they deserve it but because Christ expects it. We are called to treat others the way we would like them to treat us. This is the message in Luke 6:31, the message often referred to as the “Golden Rule.” As in all situations, Christ’s is the example we are called to follow. If Christ can extend grace to us, we should be willing to extend grace to the people we interact with, even when they don’t deserve it or, better said, especially when they don’t deserve it. We have not met the test of Scripture until we have been nice to people who are not nice to us.
Part of being nice to people is being pleasant. Being pleasant to others means being welcoming, genial, good-humored, personable, amiable, approachable, and enjoyable. It is the opposite of being irksome, tedious, dismal, disheartening, or joyless. Being pleasant to people lifts them up in a world that often drags them down.
BEING AGREEABLE TO OTHERS
When I encourage counseling clients to be agreeable in their interactions with people, they sometimes confuse my meaning. Some think I am advising them to agree with others when, in fact, they disagree with them and probably should. Others think I am advising them to accept behavior or opinions that are clearly unacceptable. Neither of these interpretations reflects the Biblical meaning of being agreeable. Being nice does not require you to accept behavior or opinions that are at odds with the teachings of Scripture.
The meaning of being agreeable in the Biblical sense is described in 1 Peter 3:8-11. In these verses, we read that being agreeable means being “sympathetic,” “loving,” “compassionate,” and “humble.” Correspondingly, it means avoiding certain behaviors such as “retaliation,” and “sarcasm.” Verse 11 sums up succinctly what God means by being agreeable: “Snub evil and cultivate good; run for peace for all you’re worth.”
We are called to “snub evil and cultivate good.” What this means in practical terms, at least in the current context, is that we should disagree with that which is wrong but should do so without being disagreeable. By disagreeing without being disagreeable we “snub evil” without condemning the individual who suggests it. Never forget that even the worst sinners can repent, seek forgiveness, atone, and enjoy the mercy and grace of Christ. How we go about disagreeing with people who are wrong might be a determining factor in whether or not they choose to do these things. Never let your response to sin be a barrier between sinners and the cleansing blood of Christ.
Cultivating good and being a peacemaker are the other aspects of being agreeable. You are agreeable when you seek reconciliation rather than revenge or retaliation. You are a peacemaker when you obey the admonition in Ephesians 4:29 about avoiding “corrupting talk” such as sarcasm. There is nothing nice about sarcasm. It is neither uplifting nor helpful. Rather, it is mean-spirited and hurtful. But being agreeable means more than just avoiding sarcasm. It also means refusing to fight fire with fire; refusing to respond in kind to sarcasm, impatience, and irritability. It means obeying the admonition in Colossians 4:6 to “Let your speech always be gracious…”
BEING CONSIDERATE TO OTHERS
An important part of treating people well is being considerate. Being considerate means intentionally trying to avoid hurting, inconveniencing, or offending people. Considerate people are compassionate, accommodating, empathetic, discreet, and respectful. Inconsiderate people, on the other hand, are thoughtless, uncaring, heedless, selfish, and uncharitable. To be considerate of others requires you to consider their circumstances, feelings, and burdens. If you aren’t aware of an individual’s burdens, being considerate means assuming they have burdens and acting accordingly. Here are some examples of what being considerate to others can look like in practical terms:
Lightening the burden of someone else by helping her with pressing obligations when you know she is overbooked or suffering in some way. This could mean helping a colleague at work complete an important project, a fellow student with her assignments, or a fellow soccer mom who is supposed to take her kids and others to practice but has an emergency to tend to. These are examples of compassion.
Deciding to call off a late afternoon team meeting because a member of the team needs to attend the viewing for a friend who has died. This is an example of being accommodating.
Taking a meal to a family whose child is in the hospital. This is an example of being empathetic.
Keeping the confidence of a friend who admitted to you recently he was struggling with marriage problems. This is an example of being discreet.
Showing proper deference to an elected official even though you disagree with her position on a given issue. This is an example of being respectful.
BE MANNERLY TOWARD OTHERS
When I was a youngster, manners were taught in the home and then reinforced in school, at church, and in the public square. They don’t seem to be taught much anymore except by a few parents and grandparents. What a difference time has made. As a student in elementary and junior high school, I and many of my friends had to copy page after page out of Emily Post’s tome on etiquette as punishment for failing to use good manners. It was a time when society expected good manners. To fall short when it came to manners reflected badly on your upbringing. I fear good manners are no longer universally taught nor expected, a fact that makes it all the more important for you to exhibit good manners when interacting with people.
Manners are the oil in the gears of human interaction. They keep human relations running smoothly. The tenets of etiquette aren’t just a bunch of “stuffy old rules invented by some prudish grandmother,” as a counseling client once told me. Rather, they are rules of human interaction for being considerate of and respectful to others. They are also mandated in Scripture.
When we are told in Leviticus 19:32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man…” we are being told to be mannerly and respectful to older people. When we are told in Romans 12:10 to “Outdo one another in showing honor” we are being told, among other things, to display good manners in dealing with each other. When we are told in Matthew 15:11 that it’s what comes out of the mouth not what goes into it that “defiles a person” we are being warned to remember our manners when talking with people.
It would take a book the size of an encyclopedia to comprehensively cover all of the rules of good manners, a book like Emily Post’s Etiquette. That much detail is beyond the scope of this article. However, there are several essentials we should all keep in mind as we interact with people:
Say “please” and “thank you” in conversations.
Say “excuse me” if you inadvertently interrupt, jostle, or accidentally intrude on someone.
Turn your cell phone off or silence it when talking with someone.
Do not use your cell phone to talk, text, or tweet in group gatherings, meetings, or other public settings.
Shake hands with people you greet. Make sure your handshake is firm but not crushing nor limp like a wet dish cloth. As you shake hands, look the individual in the eyes and smile.
When people speak to you, listen without interrupting and focus on what they are saying. Do not let your mind wander to other things. Give them your undivided attention.
In summary, be nice to people. Being nice means being pleasant, agreeable, considerate, and well-mannered. It is especially important to be nice to those who aren’t nice to you or to others. Hardhearted people need to observe your example of being nice not because they deserve it but because Christ expects it. When you respond in-kind to rude, inconsiderate, and impatient people, you just reinforce these negative characteristics. However, when you choose to be nice to people—even those who aren’t nice to you—they see a better way; the way of Christ. You never know when Christ might use your example to improve the attitudes of other people.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.