Every Careless Word

“I tell you, on the day of judgment
people will give account for every careless word they speak…”

(Matthew 12:36)

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):

  1. I will speak to no one until I have first spoken to the Lord in prayer, and have attended to His word in scripture.
  2. I will not let a day end without having come before the Lord to give an account for the day in prayer.
  3. 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?”
  4. 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!


Keep Coming to the Gospel

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
John 6:66 (ESV)

As we have been studying and preaching through the Gospel of Matthew at Memorial Presbyterian Church each Sunday, two things have becoming abundantly clear:  Jesus is aggressive in dealing with sin; and, we don’t like that much.

I know this is upsetting to our “Sunday morning sensibilities.”  We prefer to think of Jesus as the happy, loving, kid-on-his-knee, flower-in-his-hair, Messiah who has come to tell us, “You’re all right with me!”  The problem is, that’s not the picture we get in Scripture.

Yes, Jesus loved sinners, but he told them to stop sinning (John 8:11).  Yes, Jesus loved and welcomed children, but he also condemned the wickedness and corruption of the human heart (Matt 15:10-20).  Jesus never hems and haws about sin, but he addresses it head on.  He tears down the walls we’ve built around our hearts, the self-justification, the rationalization of our sin, our spiritual sluggishness, and our arrogant independence.  Like a mighty warrior, Jesus enters the battlefield of the heart, He will not be denied his conquest.  The picture we find, when we really look at Jesus, is more like what the Book of Revelation gives us,

His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:12–16)

The thing is, when we truly read and listen to the words of Christ, there will be some things that bother us.  This is a natural reaction.  We are, because of the fall, rebels against the will of God.  Our hearts are not inclined to His and, in the hardness of our hearts, we reject God’s authority.  When we are made alive in Christ Jesus by the grace of God, our rebellion is forgiven and we are justified before God, but the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit continues.  We are continually learning to put to death the old way of life, and to take on the new (Col 3:5-17).

This struggle against the “old man” within is often frustrating.  He’s defeated, he just doesn’t know it yet.  And every time we read and hear the Word of God addressing those sins we once held dear, oh how he likes to “kick against the goads.”  Either the old man within will tell you that the Bible really doesn’t mean what it clearly says, or that you have fallen so far from it that you are beyond all hope.  The battle can be discouraging.

We’re not the first to react like this.  In the Gospel of John, after teaching the crowds that He was the bread of life, come down from heaven, many people started to leave.  His teachings were just too hard, he had offended them one to many times.  He had upset challenged their common assumptions, and shaken their beliefs.  The people began to walk away saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”

When you are attending a church that faithfully attends to God’s word in worship, teaching, preaching, and study, there will be times that you don’t like what you hear, when you don’t want to listen any more.  It can be frustrating, discouraging – you feel like you never want to go again because you just know the preacher’s gonna be meddling in your affairs again.  We hear Jesus’ words and they convict us.  We want to love Jesus, but we don’t like what he says.  We want to separate the man from his words – which in this case is impossible – He is the Word made flesh.

Friends, we must continually return to the Gospel, for only in the Gospel do we find life and peace.  We must continually sit at the feet of Christ, hear His words of discipline alongside his words of encouragement.  “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23).  Loving Jesus is directly related to hearing and keeping his word.

No, this is not easy.  But if the Christian life were supposed to be easy it wouldn’t be called discipline.  If this were not easy, we wouldn’t be told, “Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14).

The battle is not easy, but then, the battle is not yours.  The battle, the victory, belongs to God.

Let us with humility and joy submit to the words of our Lord and Savior.  They are the words of our Lord, our sovereign, our creator, the author and the finisher of our faith, to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.  They are His words of command, of correction, and of hope and life.  They are the words of our Savior, he who came to deliver us from death to life, from sin to holiness, from despair to everlasting hope.  So let us keep coming back to the Word.  Keep coming back to the water of life.  Like a slow moving stream that cuts its channel deeper and deeper into the bedrock below, the Gospel will continue to work deeper into your heart, cutting through the layers of self-justification to put sin to death and bringing healing and life.

As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternallife, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).