Those careless words

If you read this blog regularly, you might be wondering where I’ve been. I apologize. It’s been a busy couple months, but thanks for sticking around . . . for good or bad, I’ll be blogging again, and I hope the Lord will use these thoughts to bless you in some way. I’ll try not to disappear again . . .

As a preacher and occasional writer, I use a lot of words, and that’s probably part of the reason this passage has puzzled—and scared—me. Maybe it’s bothered you a little as well.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

I’m pretty sure I use quite a few “careless” words, probably every day. Don’t you?

Maybe an off-handed remark to your spouse or child, perhaps an off-the-cuff comment to a co-worker. Some of our words are carefully thought out, while many, probably most, aren’t. What does Jesus mean? Did he intend to imply that our innocent small talk is wrong, like when we’re talking about last night’s rain or next week’s game?

I don’t think so.

It helps to read what the Lord said just before:

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil (Matthew 12:33-35).

Jesus is saying that our words matter because they reflect our hearts. Good people say good things, while bad hearts produce evil speech.

There’s an important implication here: we learn more about our hearts from what we say without thinking than we do by looking at our carefully rehearsed speech. This means that you’d learn more about who I really am by hearing how I speak to people conversationally than you do by reading this devotional. I’ve rewritten the words on this page several times, but my “careless” words—the ones I use in normal conversation—more likely reflect the real me.

What about you? Are your words too critical? Do they build up or tear down? Are they positive or negative?

Our words matter, but mostly because they say something about our hearts. We don’t really fix our speech by learning to speak more nicely and be more honest. Our speech gets fixed when our hearts grow closer to Jesus.

God cares more about what’s inside us than he does about what comes out of us. So we need to work on our hearts by spending time with the Lord. Loving him more, praising him more, wanting to please him more.

What Jesus said should cause us to think before we speak, but it should especially cause us to ask him to take control of our hearts. That’s where the words—good or bad—come from.

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