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!


The Power of Words

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God, and the Word was God…”
(John 1:1)

I love words.  Words have rich meaning, paint beautiful pictures, carry authority and power.  The right word at the right time makes all the difference in the world.

I make my living studying and writing words.  I love the theater because it tells great stories through words acted out.  I love the Scriptures because these words convey truth and transform life.

Words have, by nature, definitions.  I know that seems obvious, but, especially today, this matters.  We seem to live in a time when words mean only what you want them to mean – marriage, morality, love, God, evil – everyone seems to be running around with their own definitions of these words.  If a word, though, does not have a clearly defined usage, then all we are left with is the chaos of Babel – we may be speaking the same language, but no one understands each other.

If, for example, I ask for a chair, hopefully you and I are both thinking of a legged piece of furniture that will support me in a seated position.  If, however, you bring me a Pineapple, I will know that there is a breakdown in our basic form of communication.

I heard, recently, a message on John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God, and the Word was God.”  I had hoped for an exposition on the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.  What I heard was a nebulous pondering on what God might sound like if He still spoke to us today (!?!?!), what that “Word” might actually be, and ultimately, a call to “Centering Prayer” otherwise known as Transcendental Meditation (for a good article on this click here), in which we were actually asked to close our eyes, empty our minds, and listen for God to speak to us inwardly.

(Disclaimer: 1) I did none of the above, but turned to Psalm 119 for my prayer, and 2) I should have known what was coming when the Scripture reading began with the phrase “Listen now for the word of God,” rather than “Listen now to the word of God” – like I said, words make a difference.)

How could someone stand in a pulpit and offer such an ambiguous message on the Word when words are meant to remove ambiguity, to drive away the clouds, to pull back the veil?  Whatever the message was, it was not a sermon that “convinced and converted sinners, or built them up for holiness and comfort” (WSC 89).  More to the point, never did we hear that the Word, which was with God and which is God, became flesh and dwelt among us.  The prologue to the gospel of Jesus Christ was read without anything pointing us to Jesus Christ.  The Word became flesh so that in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God could express all that we need to know for our salvation.  The Word became flesh in Christ so that in Him the love and grace of God could be perfectly, completely, and definitively revealed.

While I beat my head upon my desk in frustration, here’s a little excerpt from A.W. Pink’s Commentary on John:

Christ, then, is the One who has made in incomprehensible God intelligible.  The force of this title of His found in John 1:1, may be discovered by comparing it with that name which is given to the Holy Scriptures – “the Word of God.”  What are the Scriptures?  They are the Word of God.  And what does that mean?  This: the Scriptures reveal God’s mind, express His will, make known His perfections, and lay bare His heart.  This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done for the Father.  But let us enter a little more into detail: –

      1. A “word” is a medium of manifestation.  I have in my mind a thought, but others know not its nature.  But the moment I clothe that thought in words it becomes cognizable.  Words, then, make objective unseen thoughts.  This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done.  As the Word, Christ has made manifest the invisible God.
      2. A “word” is a means of communication.  By means of words I transmit information to others.  By words I express myself, make known my will, and impart knowledge.  So Christ, as the Word, is the Divine Transmitter, communicating to us the life and love of God.
      3. A “word is a method of revelation.  By his words a speaker exhibits both his intellectual caliber and his moral character.  By our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned.  And Christ, as the Word, reveals the attributes and perfections of God.  How fully has Christ revealed God!  He displayed His power, He manifested His wisdom, He exhibited His holiness, He made known His grace, He unveiled His heart.  In Christ, and nowhere else, is God fully and finally told out.

We have the Word of God, we are no longer left in the dark without a witness.  We have the Word of God, we don’t need to quiet ourselves and listen for the whisper of God.  We have the Word of God, we don’t need to empty ourselves to find what God is saying to us within.  If we want to know God, we must turn to nothing other than the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scriptures.  May this be our passion, our consuming desire, our great work, to reverently, humbly, daily, dwell upon the excellencies of our Savior as they are revealed in the Bible.

I love words.  More importantly, I love the Word of God.  The Word gives life meaning and beauty, it comes with authority and power.  Christ is the right Word spoken at the right time, and has made all the difference in the world.