by Tom McLemore
A problem that many of us face in our daily lives is watching our language and trying to control our speech. A decent person is mindful of the effect our speech and language have on others, and this is exceedingly so with the Christian. Our Lord Jesus was well aware of this problem, and he addressed it in Matthew 12:33-37.
The Careless Word
In Matthew 12:36, Jesus declared, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” In the story, the Pharisees did not think before they spoke. They uttered blasphemous words without considering the consequences of their words (Matthew 12:24, 31).
It seems unlikely that it is possible today to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in the manner in which the Pharisees did. Careless words we speak may not be the unpardonable sin, but they may wound so deeply and inflict such damage that some victims may find it very difficult to pardon them. Even if the victims of careless words are able to pardon them, the hurt remains.
Words have tremendous power for good or ill. Words, once uttered, cannot be unspoken, so we must take great care in what we say.
The Careless Word Comes from a Careless Heart.
Jesus said, “You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Jesus teaches that the words originate in the heart. He teaches that careless words come from a careless heart. A careless heart is a callous heart, a heart that is unable or unwilling to consider the feelings of others.
The Pharisees cared only for having things as they wanted them to be, viz., for the people to revere them as the religious elite. They saw that could not compete with Jesus. Indeed, something greater than the Pharisees was here! They did not care about the poor demon possessed people who had been set free, but only about themselves. Thus, they accused Jesus of being in league with the devil!
When a husband puts his wife down, perhaps to coerce her into doing what he wants, he does not care about her, but only about himself. When a wife nags her husband or puts him down, perhaps to get him to do what she wants, she does not care about him, but only herself.
When parents belittle or ridicule their children, they do not care about them, but only themselves. When young people bully and make fun of other young people, they care only about how they look to their friends whom they want to impress, and have no regard for the feelings of their victims.
When church members criticize parents with small children who are rowdy or make noise during worship, they have no regard for the feelings of those parents. Ought not everyone rather to commend parents for bringing children to worship, to realize that they are already conscious enough about their kids’ behavior, and to encourage them not to be embarrassed about anything the kids might do? (Cf. Matthew 19:13-15).
When church members criticize and speak evil of church leaders, they are thinking only of themselves. When those who have been absent come back, and church members reprimand them, instead of welcoming them and encouraging them, church members are thinking only of themselves.
We learn from all of this that a careless heart is a callous heart because it is a conceited heart. All careless words that I speak are spoken because no one else matters as much as I. What I want or what I think is all that matters.
Jesus teaches that a careless heart belongs to an evil person. “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).
A Call for Carefulness
Jesus commanded, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:33-35).
Careful words come from a careful heart. What are the good principles that fill, that are treasured up, and that guide the careful heart? The careful heart remembers that we are members one of another (Ephesians 4:25). It recognizes that Christians are kind (Ephesians 4:32). It is directed to do unto others are we would have them do unto us and seeks to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 7:12; 22:39 [Leviticus 19:18]).
A careful word is the result of imperatives and principles that will enable greater carefulness. The careful word comes from letting our speech be gracious, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). It comes from the determination to let no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). It has been observed that there are three doors through which we must let every word pass: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?
Here is a call for consistency (Matthew 12:33). If we claim to be Christians, if we seek to be good people, Jesus demands that our words match our claim, because if they do not, it reflects on him. If we are going to speak careless words, Jesus says we will fail to prove to be good Christians. We must choose. We must make up our minds.
You may recall the auto insurance commercial on TV, promising to protect from “Mayhem, like me.” Careless words cause mayhem in people’s lives, and there is no protection from it except to cleanse our hearts of carelessness and cultivate careful hearts that overflow in careful words. By our words we will be justified or condemned. What if I have spoken careless words? Confess and ask forgiveness. There is a decision to make, the decision to be a good person. What if Iam the victim? Forgive the one who confesses. Learn to be more careful oneself.
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