“Don’t we have to account for every careless word?” I was asked, by an individual, in a moment of self-appraisal. “Yes”, I said, but I was bothered that it didn’t seem to fit into my theology in general. Thought it might be worthy of further study.
Let’s start with the Biblical context. Turns out the phrase only appears once, in Mathew 12. Jesus says in verse 36, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” On its face, that gives me pause. I try to speak the truth in love. I try to make sure my conversation is full of grace, seasoned with salt. Yet, I carelessly joke, tease, grump, and complain with the best of them. Does that mean I’m in big trouble at the Judgment Seat?
As you look a little deeper you see that Matthew 12 records a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees. As the chapter opens the Pharisees are taking Jesus to task because his disciples were gleaning handfuls of grain as they walked the fields on the Sabbath. Jesus states that He is the LORD of the Sabbath and then asks them if they wouldn’t rescue a sheep from a pit on the Sabbath? Matthew 12 then records them accusing Jesus, after He cast out demons, of being in league with the Devil. Jesus’ response is to point out that if Satan’s house is that divided, it wouldn’t be standing, after which He pronounces judgment in this way:
He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
“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, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 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 12:30-37 – emphasis added
The warning against careless, or idle, words is given in the context of denial or affirmation of Christ’s deity. It doesn’t seem like Jesus has in mind a comment about the color of house you drive past or a quip during a canasta game with friends. He is cautioning us to speak carefully about His and the Spirit’s work. I’m not implying that it’s “anything goes” in terms of our speech; Ephesians 4:25ff, makes it clear that our speech matters, but the words by which the unrepentant will be condemned and the redeemed will be justified are the words of blasphemy of, or faith in, Jesus!
I, for one, need to trust more and worry less,