“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." ~Matt 12:36-37
During a talk with a friend this week, this verse was brought to my attention. That night, I was trying to figure out what it meant. I had said that the verse doesn’t mean we have to talk theology all the time, but then I got to thinking: what can we talk about? By the time I was done looking at the passage, I realized that I was trying to make the verse mean what I wanted it to mean. I’m sure neither of us can say we always have wholesome speech. I sometimes find myself go through a whole day with only a few scattered things that could possibly be called edifying, but which are spoken in an un-edifying tone. That night, I was trying to justify my speech by adding meanings to this verse. So, as I mentioned earlier, I asked myself what can we talk about? Or conversely, what can’t we talk about? In other words, what is idle speech? The answer: idle speech is speech that is idle. It does not edify, encourage, or strengthen. It is not wholesome, nor pure, nor good. Though it may not be bad, per say, it is not good. In this passage, Jesus doesn’t give us a choice between mediocre and good; He commands us to reject the mediocre and embrace the good. In Isaiah 50:4, when speaking of Jesus it says, “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.” That is what we are to be speaking. We are to encourage, to strengthen, and to bear each other’s burdens. A joyful heart brings joy to the Lord, but be careful that it is not foolishness you are laughing at. As you may know, I have a strange sense of humor that leads to obscure and odd jokes that often result in making me laugh (though no one else usually does). Is this merely idle speech? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know where to draw the line on many things, therefore I can only give you the general guidelines laid out in Scripture: let your speech be wholesome and make sure what you say is worthy of being said. Can we talk about the weather, events, humorous stories, non-Christian literature, movies, meals, music, plants, or any of the other vast array of conversational topics? As far as my understanding reaches, there are times when we can speak of all these topics, for through them we can build relationships and bring joy to others. Yet in all this we are to keep the focus of our speech on that which brings God glory. So we are not to let a focus of strengthening relationships lead us to frivolous talk. As bearers of the image and name of Christ, we are to constantly bear witness of Him through our words and actions. Thus we have so many commands in Scripture to guard our tongues diligently. So my encouragement to you is this: “be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Meditate on what you are going to say. Before you talk, run a quick test and see if it meets the criteria. If you let yourself slip, an apology to the one you are talking to may be necessary. It is better to be humbled before man, than to lay up condemnation before God. May the Lord help us both in that task!
Your brother in Christ,