“And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.” Matthew 12:36 (NASB)
Careless – Two stories capture the picture. The first comes from my childhood. I remember the day that I read one of those Christian comic book tracts. Its images burned in my brain as the character in the drama was called before the throne of God and shown video clips of his life, scenes when he spoke casually about someone or joked about something. According to the comic book theology, God now demanded this poor soul justify every word. The second story comes from the excellent movie, The Name of the Rose, a plot set in a medieval monastery where one monk attempts to eradicate the “idle” words of humor from the works of Aristotle. Religion is far too serious for such frivolity.
It may be that your upbringing was like mine. “If you don’t have anything nice to say about a person, don’t say anything at all,” set the tone for conversation. Spiritual people were circumspect to the point of being morose. Humor was the work of the devil. It’s too bad that this theological legalism didn’t pay more attention to the Greek text and less to the puritanical culture. The Greek word here is argos, essentially the negation of ergon. It means “without work or inactive.” Argos describes words that are not fulfilled, unprofitable or false. This is not gossip. This is promises not kept, vows broken, words spoken but ultimately without effect. Argos is not doing what you say you will do.
Remember that very unusual parable Yeshua tells about the two sons, one who says he will do what his father asks of him but doesn’t; the other who says he will not do what the father asks but later repents and does it? Which son displays argos? The son who is ultimately justified is the one who first refuses but later fulfills. The other son is the son of argos. His word is careless, idle. He will be judged accordingly.
We would like to think that Yeshua’s indictment does not apply to us. Perhaps that’s why we are comfortable with the King James translation “idle words.” We can pat ourselves on the back because we don’t gossip or joke or act frivolously (at least not most of the time). But we might not escape so easily when we realize that this judgment is about promises, vows and commitments. We will stand before the throne and be called to account for those broken words. They matter. It takes but a moment’s reflection to realize that we expect others’ words to mean something. We demand accountability for their promises. Should not “measure for measure” be our fate as well?
Oh, by the way, don’t try to squirm out of this by telling me that Jesus has forgiven all your sins. What does that have to do with integrity, commitment and loyalty? Does the removal of guilt exempt us from verbal guarantees?
Topical Index: careless, idle, argos, empty, Matthew 12:36
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