Idle Words

In Matthew 12:31-37, Jesus issues a warning regarding the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. He concludes this warning by issuing a warning against “idle” words. What are “idle” words and why the connection with the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus of being in league with Beelzebub? The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge says the following: “a word that produces no good effect, and is not calculated to produce any”. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown states, regarding this passage: “They might say, “It was nothing: we meant no evil; we merely threw out a supposition, as one way of accounting for the miracle we witnessed; if it will not stand, let it go; why make so much of it, and bear down with such severity for it?” Jesus replies, “It was not nothing, and at the great day will not be treated as nothing: Words, as the index of the heart, however idle they may seem, will be taken account of, whether good or bad, in estimating character in the day of judgment.”” Indeed, the words we speak do serve as an index of the heart (v.35) and a person’s words reveal their true character (cf. James 3:1-12).child-1470646_960_720

It seems the religious leaders were so vehemently opposed to Christ that they gave up good sense in order to oppose Him. Jesus says as much in His response to them when He shows that a house divided cannot stand. What they were saying was illogical on its face. They were so blindly mad with envy and rage that they would literally say anything, no matter how ridiculous. It seems that they did not actually believe what they were saying, they were just letting words fly out of their mouths in opposition to Him, hoping something would stick. If I say something in anger and not really mean it, does that make it okay? Is it acceptable? Certainly a person will understand that I was angry and didn’t really mean any harm. After all, I’m only human and you can’t expect too much… Not so! We live in a very permissive culture where almost everything is excused and few, if any, are held to account for their words and actions. It is not so with Christ. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37, emphasis mine p.e.p).

When one uses profanity, he is uttering idle words. My father had a saying regarding profanity, he would say “Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully”. If these are not words that, as the TSK states “produce no good effect and are not calculated to produce any” I’m sure I don’t any. A person with a weak and undisciplined character has a feeble mind which produces idle words. Their words are idle because their mind is in idle. The mind needs to be always engaged in wholesome and productive thoughts (Php. 2:2, 5, 4:8). One of the most dangerous and least productive things a Christian can do is spend too much time (any time?) in front of the television. It has been well documented that television has a hypnotic effect on the mind. One’s mind is in “idle” and whatever suggestions the producers of popular media want to inculcate, they have receptive soil in which to sow their wickedness. If a person spends hour upon hour exposing themselves to popular media, soon he will be using the same “idle” words that have been planted into his mind, usually laced with profanity and vulgarity.

I remember having a conversation with an older woman who had attended church for decades. She stated that she prided herself on “speaking her mind.” She was well known (notorious?) for doing so and few people in the congregation took her seriously. I confess, I was much younger and was quite taken back by her statement. Unfortunately I had not, at the time, a proper response to her statement. If I had, it would have been something along lines of… “If you pride yourself on speaking your mind, then I think you should change your mind because your words are hurtful.” Neither youth, nor advanced age is an excuse for not properly guarding our words. We need to heed the words of Christ and take His warning seriously… every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

-Paul Pryor, St. Petersburg, FL

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