“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).

One of the distinctions between God and us is seen in the use of words. God takes care about what He says; we often fail to be careful about what we say. While emotions exist in God, God’s words are not chosen by His emotions; too often our emotions choose our words. God uses His words wisely; we often use our words regretfully. God knows the full context of what is said; we too often are deceived by adding or imagining context. God knows both the motives and actions produced by words; we do not. God is not deceived by words; we are.

On one occasion, those who led people religiously were certain that Jesus’ miracles could be “explained” as acts of evil. They accused Jesus of obtaining his power from Satan. Jesus declared the inconsistency between who they said they were and their acts. Jesus’ concluding observation is still chilling: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for 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).

Many years ago, I heard an illustration that focused on a dying man who had multiple sons. The sons could not get along. Just before death, the man asked all his sons to come to his bedside with a wooden board, a nail, and a hammer. The sons gathered around their father’s bed with the board, nail, and hammer. He asked the oldest to drive the nail through the board. He asked the middle son to pull it out. He asked the youngest son to pull the hole out. Then the father, looking at his sons, said, “Be careful what you say about each other.” Upon saying that, he died.

Too many times I have exerted every effort known to me trying unsuccessfully to unsay something I said in great confidence. Too many times I have been forced to watch the destructive impact of something I said. To say with heartfelt meaning, “I am sorry!” does not remove the hole left by what I said. God, deliver me from trying to fill the hole with self-justification, emotions I failed to control, or excuses!

Perhaps most painful of all is to discover years later (with greater spiritual maturity) the destruction caused by something I said. There are times in my study today at specific moments that I say to myself, “I said what?” There is little so foolish as the self-assurance of partial knowledge prancing in the deceptive costume of total understanding. If we could limit to ourselves the hurt done, that would be awful, but when that hurt envelops the blameless—that is horrible!

Why would Jesus include our words in our judgment? In the same incident, Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34).

“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:8-10).

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 7 February 2008

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