“I tell you, on the day of judgment
people will give account for every careless word they speak…”
As I wrote last week on the Delight of Duty and the Celebration of Discipline, I failed to point out one of the hazards of the discipline of daily attending to the Word of God. As a pastor and a friend I should warn you: If you are reading scripture properly (that is, prayerfully and thoughtfully) you will find that it has less to do with God’s judgment of all the other people around you and more to do with the wickedness of your own heart and your desperate need for Christ Jesus as your savior. All who are in Christ are in the midst of their own sanctification. None of us has arrived, none has attained the perfection to which we strive (Phil 3:12-16), and so when we come before the Lord, we will be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
I came under the rebuke of the word this week in my reading through the Gospel of Matthew. I’m pretty familiar with Matthew’s gospel; I spent two and a half years preaching through the gospel. I’ve read it at least two times each year for the past four years using M’Cheyne’s reading program. I have sections of the gospel memorized.
Still, as I read through chapter 12 again this week, I heard these words anew, as if for the first time: “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 12:36-36).
Here’s where my mind went –
- How often have my words been thoughtless and careless? My mouth seems to run a twice the speed of my mind, and things come out that I immediately wish I could take back; a promise I cannot keep, a harsh word of criticism, a slanderous word spoken behind the back, the quiet words I mutter under my breath thinking no one will hear. These words reveal the uprightness of my heart (or the lack thereof). They are heard and known by God.
- How many of my sermons, how much of this blog, would be covered by the phrase “careless words”?
- Are my words “full of care”; care for the glory of God, care for the lost around me?
- How reluctant and slow are the words of praise and glory before the Lord? I am quick to talk about the movie I just saw, or of my hopes for my college team in the coming season, but I stammer and struggle to find the words to express my adoration and praise of my God and of my Savior Jesus Christ.
- If my words are careless, what of the activities of my mind, the way I spend my time? How much time have I wasted watching TV, or playing CandyCrush, time that would have been better spent in prayer, in the study of God’s Word, or in simply talking with my wife and children and leading them in worship?
If the words of my lips flow from the abundance of my heart (Matthew 12:33), then I can say with the Prophet Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst a people of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5). Yes, even as a pastor I come under the judgment of this text, and even a greater judgment, as James 3:1-2 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
James goes on to say, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Is there another passage of scripture that has more empirical evidence in the world today? We are all leveled and laid waste by the judgment of our careless words.
But we also have the promise of grace in Jesus Christ our Savior. In Isaiah’s vision, the seraphim comes with the burning coal from the altar and touches his lips, applying the cleansing mercy of God’s grace, and equipping Isaiah for the ministry of the Word. In the same way, when we are united to Christ, we are given a new heart (Ezek 36:26), we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), and from the heart of Christ in us springs the rivers of living water (John 7:38). By faith, through the leading of God’s Spirit and the instruction of His Word, I pray that each day there will be fewer careless words, and more words that are full of care, full of praise; words that build up others and bring glory to my Savior.
So then, here are some things that I will be working on, resolutions for the tongue, if you will (and these are things I have given carful thought to before sharing):
- I will speak to no one until I have first spoken to the Lord in prayer, and have attended to His word in scripture.
- I will not let a day end without having come before the Lord to give an account for the day in prayer.
- I will think of each conversation, every word written, as being spoken or written in the presence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, asking “Would I say this before my Lord?”
- I will strive for my words to be praiseworthy and encouraging, full of care for the glory of God, the building up of the body of Christ, and the reaching of the lost with the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ.
The chorus of the Hawk Nelson song “Words” comes to mind:
Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all!