Idle Words

December 13, 2020

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 (Matthew 12:36-37).

The New Testament Theologian Donald Guthrie cites this text as one of the more difficult sayings of Jesus. The reason is because of the words ‘idle’ and ‘judgment’ and the relationship between the two. Will God hold us accountable for every off-hand word we speak? If so, what will the judgment be? How long will it take for a person to account for every ‘idle’ word that he/she speaks on the day of judgment? Is this the point Jesus wanted to make with the Pharisees?

What constitutes an ‘idle’ word? An idle word is a vain, thoughtless, useless word; a word that serves not good purpose. To the Jews an idle word was light conversation, then vain or empty conversation. In our text it means a wicked, injurious, false, or malicious word because that is what the Pharisees were guilty of.

When you consider the millions, if not billions of words we speak in a lifetime, how many of them would be considered ‘idle’? 

Jesus made a startling and solemn declaration of judgment on the Pharisees for their malicious and unsubstantiated criticisms toward Him. In His words Jesus revealed a moral principle, which is that a man’s character is revealed by his words. He so much as said so in vv. 33-35. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus spoke of judgment based on our deeds. Both are real tests of actual character. 

The point Jesus makes is that words and works are evidences of the true character of a person. They betray our best efforts to conceal the real person we are. The Pharisees were good at it. Many people today are the same. We hide ourselves behind a facade, not wanting to be vulnerable to others. But Jesus knows us to the very core of our being. He knows our thoughts, motives, intents, etc. He is not betrayed by our words or our works (Matthew 7:21-23). 

What judgment do we face for the idle words we speak? For those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that judgment has passed. This is not a license to throw off restraint in our speech - we still need to guard our hearts and our words. All that we do and speak should be to the glory of Jesus Christ and the advancement of His Kingdom. 

“Father, may Your Holy Spirit guard my heart, my mind, and my spirit so that who I am and all that I say and do brings glory to You, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Remind me again who and what I was without You. Remind me who and what I am because of You. Thank You for Your Son, Jesus. Amen.”


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