“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)
It’s widely accepted in our culture that what men do matters a great deal, but what they say is of little import. “Talk is cheap,” we say. Another popular idiom, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” makes this same point. But this is not the Bible’s view. For in Scripture it is words that are of primary importance, actions secondary.
The Scriptures begin with God speaking the heavens and earth into existence. Commenting on this, the author of Hebrews states that, “the worlds were framed by the word of God.” Or as John puts it, “In the beginning was the word…all things were made through him.”
And not only did God speak the world into being, but according to Hebrews he also sustains it by, “the word of his power.”
Furthermore, we cannot separate the word of God from God himself. Consider the following passage,
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, andis a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart. And ther is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb.4:12, 13)
In this remarkable passage the author of Hebrews begins by talking about the word of God and ends with a point about God the Word and, in the course of doing so, identifies them as one and the same thing. When we believe in Christ we belive his words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (Jn. 5:24)
Clearly, the Bible puts great weight on God’s words, but what about ours. How does God view what we say? Do our words matter to him, or is it only our actions that draw his approval of disapproval? Proverbs tells us that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. And Christ tells us that our words reveal the thoughts of our heart,
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good tresure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil tresure brings forth evil things. 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.12:33-37)
The immediate contex of this passage is the teaching the doctrines of God, metaphorically referred to as “fruit” by Jesus. But the severe warning that ends this passage is confined not only to what we say about God, but encompasses all of our thoughts. For Jesus plainly tells us that, “every idle word,” will be judged.
Jesus further illustrated this point in the Sermon on the Mount. For in his exposition of the sixth commandment, he refuted the popular rabbinic teaching of the time in this way,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matt.5:21, 22)
According to Christ, the prohibition of murder in the sixth commandment extended not only to the act of physically killing someone, but also to unwarranted anger and slander. And these evil thoughts, whether expressed aloud or not, of necessity call forth God’s judgment.
In conclusion, while our culture holds words to be of little value, they are of great importance to God. So much so that Christ makes the point that it is our words [note well that he does not say our actions] that will justify or condemn us. Therefore, in all of our speaking let us choose our words wisely.